GREEK MEDIA AND CULTURE AT A NEW JUNCTURE
(Editor’s note: The following text is the Editorial of the new Journal of Greek Media and Culture, which will appear later in September both in print and online version)
At a time of increasing global interconnectivity, the launch of a new journal with an area demarcation at its title may seem anachronistic. Why would we need a journal dedicated to Greek media and culture? Yet, it is precisely the ever-expanding and increasingly faster exchange of information and ideas enabled by new technologies of communication that intensifies the need for such a platform of scholarly debates. For Greek media and culture is not, and should not be seen as, a set of insular practices relevant only to those living within the geographical boundaries of the Greek nation state, or accessible only to those who speak the Greek language. The main aim of this interdisciplinary journal is to enable productive dialogue on and about Greek media and culture at an international scale. The gradually increasing publication in English on topics related to Greek media and culture shows that such dialogue has already begun; however, the dispersed nature of the sites of publication, and the difficulties in reaching relevant readership, intensified the need for a periodic platform that would act as a hub for such exchanges. The Journal of Greek Media and Culture aims to fill that gap.
At the start of this decade, Greece found itself at the forefront of a multifaceted crisis that not only affected lived experience in the country, but was also seen as threatening to the European project as a whole. Greece’s presence in the international political and media stage exponentially increased, thus reflecting the perceived urgency of its problems. The aim of the Journal of Greek Media and Culture, however, goes much further than such ephemeral notoriety. Our aspiration is that the journal will set the foundations for a sustained, serious and extensive engagement with Greek media and culture that will not only enlighten some of its particular manifestations, but will have methodological relevance and implications that extend beyond its specific field of study. Greek media and culture can thus become a ‘limit case’ that will test the value and rigour of critical positions in the debate around Europe’s cultural unity and diversity and instigate important theoretical and methodological enquiries around cultural exchange and media interaction in the context of both specifically European but also global debates. In that respect, while focusing on a national cultural formation the journal aligns itself with transnational and transcultural approaches.
While taking its cue from the contemporary, the journal is by no means exclusively dedicated to it. Historical dimensions and theoretical considerations triggered by cultural manifestations related to Greece are more than welcome. As a platform for interdisciplinary debate, we welcome contributions from a range of disciplines, predominantly – but not exclusively – from the humanities. Our role as editors is to enable the expression of a range of different scholarly preoccupations through which we can communicate the pulse of current thinking and research on Greek-related topics. In our ‘Reviews Plus’ section we host not only traditional books, festivals and conference reviews but also visual essays, interviews with practitioners as well as dossiers focusing on particular debates, thus expanding forms of expression of ideas to more unconventional formats.
The first issue of the journal is the result, predominantly, of our open call for papers – just as the majority of our issues will be. We will, however, also host a number of special issues on focused topics thus stimulating thinking on particular areas of current relevance. As an open issue, its contents do not pursue a particular agenda, nor do they prioritize specific topics or approaches. They do, however, very appropriately reflect the academic rigour and engagement that we expect our journal to establish.
The issue begins with two articles that examine artistic production in Greece in relation to the recent crisis – one with reference to cinema; the other to contemporary dance practices. Through a detailed examination of the films directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (2009 and 2011) and Athina Rachel Tsangari (2010) that brought Greek cinema to international prominence at the start of the decade, Alex Lykidis argues that they can be read as prescient of the broader crisis in the fabric of Greek society that erupted in this period. While acknowledging that none of these films are explicitly about the crisis in Greece (nor are they literally products of the crisis), Lykidis argues that the depiction of power structures in their fictional worlds, and the formal means through which these are conveyed (through use of language, acting, cinematography) expose the ‘crisis of sovereignty’, that is, the lack of meaningful democratic representation in contemporary neo-liberal societies. In this sense, while the films can be considered as symptoms, or allegories, of the socio-political malaise that emerged explosively in Greece in this period, they can also be seen to express a much broader disarticulation between popular will and governmental structures in contemporary western democracies.
Betina Panagiotara and Steriani Tzinziloni, on the other hand, focus on contemporary dance practices from Greece that actively engage with, and explicitly respond to, the conditions of crisis experienced since 2010. The authors focus on two particular aspects of such performances: their engagement with history as an archival resource that enables performers and audience to redefine their relationship to the present; and the works’ collective, egalitarian and participatory modes of production which depart from established author-centred and easily commodified models of artistic production. The case studies are drawn from a range of dance performances developed between 2012 and 2014, the majority of which took place in the alternative space of the Embros theatre. The authors’ exploration of the new dynamics of creativity and audience participation that these works introduced in the dance landscape of Greece, not only challenges the perceived ephemerality of dance, but it also testifies to the ways in which dance can be political – and therefore particularly relevant at times of crisis.
Political concerns also inform the approach of Vassiliki Petsa, whose article offers a reading of two fictional works by left-wing author Dimitris Nollas as modern tragedies. Nollas’s prose focuses on characters involved with militant political action in their past, and explores both the internal moral dilemmas and the external conflicts they are faced with in the present. After a thorough consideration of the concept of the tragic in different literary and philosophical contexts, Petsa explores how the central characters in the two books embody particular versions of the tragic. Psychoanalytic theory is employed to elucidate the role of guilt and remorse in the psychic negotiation of internalized tensions, while the ultimate point of the analysis is to foreground how the two different works project dystopian visions of the future.
Two films from the 1960s are examined from two very different approaches in the next two articles in which political considerations are present, but only indirectly. Eleftheria Thanouli focuses on Kostas Manousakis’s 1964 film Prodosia / Betrayal in order to explore questions of history and representation through Thomas Elsaesser’s concept of ‘parapraxis’. This is a ‘double-sided and self-divided concept’, which can refer both to the ‘failure of performance’ (the politics of parapraxis) and to the ‘performance of failure’ (the poetics of parapraxis). Thanouli focuses mainly on the latter, and uses it to explore the film’s construction of its central character, a (betraying and betrayed) German Nazi soldier. The article exposes the ways in which the film visually and narratively choreographs the central character’s ‘performances of failure’, thus exploring traumas of the past through parapraxis. Thanouli concludes by foregrounding some of the ‘politics of parapraxis’ evident in the austerity-ridden context of early 2010s Greece.
Vassilis Kroustallis offers a detailed reading of Grigoris Grigoriou’s film O Adelfos Anna / Brother Anna (1963), foregrounding questions of gender, sexuality, queerness and religion. An unconventional adventure-thriller, the film centres on a Jewish woman disguised as a monk in an all-male Orthodox Christian monastery, and a hunt for a holy cross. Kroustallis deploys Emile Durkheim’s distinction between the sacred and the profane to map out some of the binary oppositions that organize the film, and that can be used to explain aspects of its, at times, rather incoherent narrative logic. Queerness, here, is understood in a broad sense, as a (temporary) suspension of established sexual identities, and a play with (unrealized) possibilities. The article also highlights how the narratively marginalized Jewishness of the disguised central character, combined with her newly found Christian pathos, serve as keys to releasing her otherwise oppressed sexuality, and lead the story towards its partly conventional, partly suspended, closure.
Television is represented in this issue by an article by Anastasia Stamou and Theodora Saltidou that offer a sociolinguistic examination of the Greek sitcom Deka Lepta Kirigma / Ten-Minute Preaching from the early 2000s. The two social scientists apply a ‘micro-level discourse analysis’ on the way in which the characters’ speech is constructed. The authors focus mainly on the teenage characters’ verbal utterances and demonstrate how, despite the polyphony represented through the wide range of young characters depicted in the show, and the extensive inclusion of youth-oriented language, ultimately the portrayal of young people (as evidenced from the analysis of their speech) reverts to stereotypical perceptions that reflect an adult perspective.
The last two articles in this issue focus on questions around modernity: one in relation to urban development; the other through experimental cinema. Georgia Giannakopoulou uses the concept of ‘modern antiquity’ to explore the ways in which the landscape of the Greek capital has been shaped by a series of un- (or semi-) realized urban plans, legislations and historical contingencies. ‘Modern antiquity’ refers to the idealized view of the city, whereby the classical past would define the new capital’s modernity. This approach led to the capital’s ‘cleansing’ of other layers of its past, such as its medieval remains, but also, ironically, many of its ‘lesser’ neoclassical buildings. While offering a detailed outlook of key stages of the transformation of Athens, as well as of the ideological impetus behind them, Giannakopoulou concludes by bringing us to the present of the city of ‘concrete modernism’ and celebrating the possibilities offered by such an impure, ‘ugly’, but living modern city. Finally, Konstantinos Vassiliou explores Thanassis Rentzis’s two experimental essayistic films from the 1970s, Bio-Graphia and Corpus, which utilize pre-cinematic techniques of collage in order to explore questions of audio-visuality and spectacularization. Following a close analysis of their formal structure, Vassiliou unpacks the films’ purpose and argument, which is to expose the dynamic link between life and the audio-visual apparatus by emphasizing the ‘physiological force within the rise of audio-visuality’ and avoiding technological determinism. Walter Benjamin and the situationists, but also the philosophy of Schopenhauer, offer conceptual frameworks within which Vassiliou examines Rentzis’s work and foregrounds its contemporary relevance.
The ‘Reviews Plus’ section concludes the issue with a joint interview with novelists Michel Fais and Christos Chryssopoulos about the use of photographs as part of their writings; a visual essay by Theodoros Chiotis on the use of street art (graffiti) in the streets of Athens since the crisis; a review of Vangelis Calotychos’s book on Greece and the ‘Balkan Prospect’, and a report from the Sixteenth Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (March 2014). The aim of this section is to bring to our readers a more immediate engagement with recently published or produced cultural events and artefacts, and open up a less formal dialogue on various topics of relevance. It is our aspiration that the Journal of Greek Media and Culture will become the site for productive and forward-looking explorations of a wide range of cultural expressions related to and/or emanating from Greece, but relevant to all. We count on your support and future contributions to bring this vision forward.