Kidnapping and Theft

Antiphanes, fr. 75 (=Athenaeus 490a)

“But I will tell you clearly:
If you know anything about the kidnapping of my child,
You need to tell me quickly before you’re hanged.”

ἀλλ᾿ ἐγὼ σαφῶς φράσω·
τῆς ἁρπαγῆς τοῦ παιδὸς εἰ ξύνοισθά τι,
ταχέως λέγειν χρὴ πρὶν κρέμασθαι.

Philo, On the Special Laws 339 (Full Greek text on the Scaife Viewer)

“The penalty for kidnapping and enslaving those from another country should be whatever the court will charge, but for those who kidnap and enslave their own people the penalty should be death without any appeal. For these people are your relatives, neighbors not far off from blood at a greater distance”

δίκη δ᾿ ἔστω κατὰ μὲν τῶν ἑτεροεθνεῖς ἀνδραποδισαμένων, ἣν ἂν τιμήσηται τὸ δικαστήριον, κατὰ δὲ τῶν τοὺς ὁμοφύλους πρὸς τῷ ἀνδραποδίσασθαι καὶ πεπρακότων θάνατος ἀπαραίτητος· ἤδη γὰρ οὗτοί γε συγγενεῖς εἰσιν οὐ πόρρω τῶν ἀφ᾿ αἵματος κατὰ μείζονα περιγραφὴν γειτνιῶντες.

Euripides, Children of Herakles 813–817 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“This man who does not respect the people who listen to his words
Nor feel shame at his own cowardice when he’s a general,
Does not dare to come near a brave spear
But he’s the worst. Does a man like this
Come here to enslave the children of Herakles?”

ὁ δ᾿ οὔτε τοὺς κλύοντας αἰδεσθεὶς λόγων
οὔτ᾿ αὐτὸς αὑτοῦ δειλίαν στρατηγὸς ὢν
ἐλθεῖν ἐτόλμησ᾿ ἐγγὺς ἀλκίμου δορός,
ἀλλ᾿ ἦν κάκιστος· εἶτα τοιοῦτος γεγὼς
τοὺς Ἡρακλείους ἦλθε δουλώσων γόνους;

kidnap
From Woodhouse Greek-English Dictionary

Four Years of Presidential Memories: The Illegal, Murderous Rapist, Or Herodotus Subtweets a Tyrant

Herodotus 3.80 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“Otanês was first urging the Persians to entrust governing to the people, saying these things: “it seems right to me that we no longer have a monarchy. For it is neither pleasing nor good. For you all know about the arrogance of Kambyses and you were a party to the insanity of the Magus. How could monarchy be a fitting thing when it permits an unaccountable person to do whatever he pleases? Even if you put the best of all men into this position he might go outside of customary thoughts. For hubris is nurtured by the fine things present around him, and envy is native to a person from the beginning.

The one who has these two qualities possesses every kind of malice. For one who is overfilled does many reckless things, some because of arrogance and some because of envy. Certainly, it would be right for a man who is a tyrant at least to have no envy at all, since he has all the good things. Yet he becomes the opposite of this towards his citizens: for he envies those who are best around him and live, and he takes pleasure in the worst of the citizens—he is the best at welcoming slanders.

He becomes the most disharmonious of all people—for if you admire him only moderately, then he is upset because you do not support him ardently. But if someone supports him excessively, he is angry at him for being a toady. The worst things are still to be said: he overturns traditional laws, he rapes women, and kills people without reason.”

᾿Οτάνης μὲν ἐκέλευε ἐς μέσον Πέρσῃσι καταθεῖναι τὰ πρήγματα, λέγων τάδε· «᾿Εμοὶ δοκέει ἕνα μὲν ἡμέων μούναρχον μηκέτι γενέσθαι· οὔτε γὰρ ἡδὺ οὔτε ἀγαθόν. Εἴδετε μὲν γὰρ τὴν Καμβύσεω ὕβριν ἐπ’ ὅσον ἐπεξῆλθε, μετεσχήκατε δὲ καὶ τῆς τοῦ μάγου ὕβριος. Κῶς δ’ ἂν εἴη χρῆμα κατηρτημένον μουναρχίη, τῇ ἔξεστι ἀνευθύνῳ ποιέειν τὰ βούλεται; Καὶ γὰρ ἂν τὸν ἄριστον ἀνδρῶν πάντων στάντα ἐς ταύτην τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐκτὸς τῶν ἐωθότων νοημάτων στήσειε. ᾿Εγγίνεται μὲν γάρ οἱ ὕβρις ὑπὸ τῶν παρεόντων ἀγαθῶν, φθόνος δὲ ἀρχῆθεν ἐμφύεται ἀνθρώπῳ. Δύο δ’ ἔχων ταῦτα ἔχει πᾶσαν κακότητα· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὕβρι κεκορημένος ἔρδει πολλὰ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα, τὰ δὲ φθόνῳ. Καίτοι ἄνδρα γε τύραννον ἄφθονον ἔδει εἶναι, ἔχοντά γε πάντα τὰ ἀγαθά· τὸ δὲ ὑπεναντίον τούτου ἐς τοὺς πολιήτας πέφυκε· φθονέει γὰρ τοῖσι ἀρίστοισι περιεοῦσί τε καὶ ζώουσι, χαίρει δὲ τοῖσι κακίστοισι τῶν ἀστῶν, διαβολὰς δὲ ἄριστος ἐνδέκεσθαι.

᾿Αναρμοστότατον δὲ πάντων· ἤν τε γὰρ αὐτὸν μετρίως θωμάζῃς, ἄχθεται ὅτι οὐ κάρτα θεραπεύεται, ἤν τε θεραπεύῃ τις κάρτα, ἄχθεται ἅτε θωπί. Τὰ δὲ δὴ μέγιστα ἔρχομαι ἐρέων· νόμαιά τε κινέει πάτρια καὶ βιᾶται γυναῖκας κτείνει τε ἀκρίτους.

Image result for medieval manuscript manuscript
Image from here

Four Years of Presidential Memories: Plutocrats, Listen Up, Equal is Better Than More

Diodorus Siculus, History 9.12 (Full text on Lacus Curtius)

“There is also the story that when the people of Mitylene allowed Pittacus to have half the land over which he fought in single combat, he would not take it. Instead, he assigned an equal portion to each man, saying that an “equal amount is greater than more”. For, since he took the measure of what was greater by fairness not by profit, he judged wisely. He believed that fame and safety would follow equality while gossip and fear followed greed, and they would have quickly reclaimed his gift.”

12. Ὅτι τῶν Μιτυληναίων διδόντων τῷ Πιττακῷ τῆς χώρας ὑπὲρ ἧς ἐμονομάχησε τὴν ἡμίσειαν οὐκ ἐδέξατο, συνέταξε δὲ ἑκάστῳ κληρῶσαι τὸ ἴσον, ἐπιφθεγξάμενος ὡς τὸ ἴσον ἐστὶ τοῦ πλείονος πλεῖον. μετρῶν γὰρ ἐπιεικείᾳ τὸ πλεῖον, οὐ κέρδει, σοφῶς ἐγίνωσκεν· τῇ μὲν γὰρ ἰσότητι δόξαν καὶ ἀσφάλειαν ἀκολουθήσειν, τῇ δὲ πλεονεξίᾳ βλασφημίαν καὶ φόβον, δι᾿ ὧν ταχέως ἂν αὐτοῦ τὴν δωρεὰν ἀφείλαντο.

Cf. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 1.75

“Then, the Mityleneans honored Pittakos powerfully and gave the rule of the state to him alone. During the ten years he held power, he also corrected the constitution and then surrendered power even though he lived ten years more. The Mityleneans gave him some land, but he donated it as sacred. The plot is called after his name even today. Sôsicrates says that he cut off a little bit for himself, saying that “half is greater than the whole.”

[75] Τότε δ᾽ οὖν τὸν Πιττακὸν ἰσχυρῶς ἐτίμησαν οἱ Μυτιληναῖοι, καὶ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐνεχείρισαν αὐτῷ. ὁ δὲ δέκα ἔτη κατασχὼν καὶ εἰς τάξιν ἀγαγὼν τὸ πολίτευμα, κατέθετο τὴν ἀρχήν, καὶ δέκα ἐπεβίω ἄλλα. καὶ χώραν αὐτῷ ἀπένειμαν οἱ Μυτιληναῖοι: ὁ δὲ ἱερὰν ἀνῆκεν, ἥτις νῦν Πιττάκειος καλεῖται. Σωσικράτης δέ φησιν ὅτι ὀλίγον ἀποτεμόμενος ἔφη τὸ ἥμισυ τοῦ παντὸς πλεῖον εἶναι.

The idea of “half being greater than the whole” is likely proverbial, showing up as well in Hesiod’s Works and Days where the narrator uses it when he complains about how the judges act unfairly in their evaluation of cases (by taking bribes): “the fools don’t know how much greater the half is than the whole” νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς.

Diodorus Siculus’ statement that “an equal part is greater than more” is probably a clever departure from the Hesiodic statement. Hesiod’s statement seems to be about greed (wanting more than your due), as glossed by Michael Apostolius:

13.77

“They don’t know how much greater the half is than the whole”: [this is a proverb used] for those who desire more and lose what they have.

Οὐδ’ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός: ὅτι οἱ τῶν πλειόνων ἐπιθυμοῦντες καὶ ἃ ἔχουσιν ἀποβάλλουσιν.

A unifying theme between the two versions is that in early Greek culture that which is isos is not fair in terms of being equal but it possesses equity in terms of being proper to the recipient’s social status. So, Diodorus’ isos share can map out onto Hesiod’s “half” share.

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Another proverbial moment for Pittakos:

Diodorus Siculus, History 9.12.3 (Full text on Lacus Curtius)

“When Pittacus finally caught up with the poet Alcaeus, a man especially hateful to him who had mocked him savagely in his poems, he released him, remarking that forgiveness is a better choice than vengeance.”

ὅτι καὶ τὸν ποιητὴν Ἀλκαῖον, ἐχθρότατον αὐτοῦ γεγενημένον καὶ διὰ τῶν ποιημάτων πικρότατα λελοιδορηκότα, λαβὼν ὑποχείριον ἀφῆκεν, ἐπιφθεγξάμενος ὡς συγγνώμη τιμωρίας αἱρετωτέρα.

On Ghosts & Apparitions

For Cihan Erdal #freecihanerdal

John Flaxman; The Ghost of Patroclus Appearing to Achilles; 1792-3 (c) Royal Academy of Arts

Homer, Iliad 23.65-76

And there appeared to him the ghost of poor Patroclus
all in his likeness for stature, and the lovely eyes, and voice,
and wore such clothing as Patroclus had worn on his body.
The ghost came and stood over his head and spoke a word to him:
You sleep, Achilles; you have forgotten me; but you were not
careless of me when I lived, but only in death. Bury me
as quickly as may be, let me pass through the gates of Hades.
The souls, the images of dead men, hold me at a distance,
and will not let me cross the river and mingle among them,
but I wander as I am by Hades’ house of the wide gates.
And I call upon you in sorrow, give me your hand;
no longer shall I come back from death, once you give me my rite of burning.

ἦλθε δ᾽ ἐπὶ ψυχὴ Πατροκλῆος δειλοῖο
πάντ᾽ αὐτῷ μέγεθός τε καὶ ὄμματα κάλ᾽ ἐϊκυῖα
καὶ φωνήν, καὶ τοῖα περὶ χροῒ εἵματα ἕστο:
στῆ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς καί μιν πρὸς μῦθον ἔειπεν:
‘εὕδεις, αὐτὰρ ἐμεῖο λελασμένος ἔπλευ Ἀχιλλεῦ.
οὐ μέν μευ ζώοντος ἀκήδεις, ἀλλὰ θανόντος:
θάπτέ με ὅττι τάχιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περήσω.
τῆλέ με εἴργουσι ψυχαὶ εἴδωλα καμόντων,
οὐδέ μέ πω μίσγεσθαι ὑπὲρ ποταμοῖο ἐῶσιν,
ἀλλ᾽ αὔτως ἀλάλημαι ἀν᾽ εὐρυπυλὲς Ἄϊδος δῶ.
καί μοι δὸς τὴν χεῖρ᾽: ὀλοφύρομαι, οὐ γὰρ ἔτ᾽ αὖτις
νίσομαι ἐξ Ἀΐδαο, ἐπήν με πυρὸς λελάχητε.

Ghosts, apparitions, miracles, supernatural events, to what extent do we believe in them? And if they were to be real, how much would they differ from each other? At first we need to begin by establishing what we understand by supernatural. If we refer to occurrences that fall outside the laws of nature, then the scope of these events has immediately enlarged, considering that we do not live in nature, but in a world – a human product. Nowadays many things have gone missing from that world; people, places, events. And these disappearances, through quarantine, incarceration or simply prolonged absence, are a kind of supernatural event in reverse – a sudden dis-apparition. But the missing haven’t been abandoned, instead, they lie in a state of abeyance, without being immediately present. With the irresistible and ceaseless flow of time — paraphrasing here Anna Komnene — we begin to question their reality.

Have these things and persons in abeyance then become ghostly presences or apparitions? I like Derrida’s idea that ghosts today are but the return or persistence of elements from the past, because it instantly complicates matters around ghostliness: Since elements from the past are always around us, can we really talk about absence or ghosts? Would it be correct to identify all absences as ghostly? Not sure here what it is exactly that returns or reappears.

We need to turn to dictionaries now, but they aren’t of much help. The only antonyms of ghostly (what is the opposite of a ghost?) that I could find, were the terms ‘natural’ and ‘angelic’, both of which do little in reference to the world, so that there’s not an exact territory of coincidence between ghosts and death. A dictionary of classical literature, on the other hand, tells us that ghosts are difficult to distinguish from supernatural entities or delusions, and yet the really striking part of the definition is that while ghosts seem generally ‘powerless and ineffectual’, they are persistent. I am fascinated by this combination of both persistence and powerlessness in the ghost, because of what it has to say to us about contemporary political narratives.

An example of this persistence comes down to us from the Iliad: Without a proper burial, the ghost of Patroclus, Achilles’ companion, is condemned to wander around the house of Hades for eternity. It would be hard to overstate how important burials were for antiquity (and continue to be so for us, for no clear reason, accounting for the shock at the mass graves of Bergamo and Hart Island during the pandemic) but I don’t want this commonplace trope to distract us from the mysterious apparition. It is one of the strangest dreams in classical literature and the only ghost to appear in the Iliad: Breaking away from the pattern of Homeric dreams, which generally involve divinities that bring knowledge of the future (following a structure of apparition at night when the person has retired, speech, departure, reaction and then dawn), dead Patroclus’ apparition in book XXIII makes no real sense, and it doesn’t bring any new information or steer the narrative in any direction.

The strangeness begins earlier, when Achilles himself performs two unusual tasks one after another (18.316-317): First, he attempts to summon Patroclus back to life by the uncommon gesture of placing his hand on the chest of the dead body as if it were alive and then he greets Patroclus with the formal χαῖρέ (hail!), establishing a distance between himself and Patroclus, implying a separation between them that is hard for Achilles to grasp — is he alive or dead? This attention to detail might seem pesky but given that the repertory of epic is so limited, any deviation in patterns of speech and behavior is telling us something; an innovation is taking place. After the funeral feast, Achilles slumbers into sleep by the seashore, and Patroclus appears to him ‘all in his likeness’ (23.66) with a puzzling request to be buried as soon as possible, given that Achilles had already decided to bury him the next day.

Gregory Buchakjian, photograph of Istanbul’s Tarlabaşı neighborhood that was due to be demolished. May 2013, a few weeks before the Gezi Park demonstrations started. Courtesy of the artist.

Patroclus is dead (at the hand of Hector, who was in turn subsequently slain by Achilles — the heart of the epic) but he hasn’t entered Hades yet. He finds himself in an in-between space, a uniquely hybrid dream/underworld scene where, far from heroic convention, this meeting about memory and the past, is still possible. And yet Patroclus asks Achilles to give him his hand for the last time for he’s nevermore to return from Hades after his burial (23.75). In spite of the immense affection between them, when Achilles tries to embrace him, the shadow suddenly turns into nothingness and dissolves into air (23.99-101), ‘with a shrill cry’. This extraordinary moment of tenderness, apparently innocuous, happens at a pivotal moment in the epic, when the death of Achilles is near – this was no news. Achilles himself is too baffled, and speaks with sadness about Patroclus’ weeping and wailing (23.106), before lighting the funeral pyre, followed by the long funeral games, a series of competitions held in honor of Patroclus and that take up most of the book.

The ghost appears thrice in the book, however on the last appearance (23.221-225), there’s a heartbreaking scene: a distraught Achilles is said to call upon Patroclus’ ghost for a last time, ‘as a father mourns the bones of a son, who was married only now, and died to grieve his unhappy parents’ and ‘[Achilles] dragged himself by the fire in close lamentation’. It seems as if the span of the apparition has come to an end, yet something is about to occur that makes the brief encounter with Patroclus gain immense depth. In book XXIV, Achilles is still agonizingly mourning Patroclus and abusing Hector’s body, dragging it around his friend’s tomb – Hector’s mother Hecuba remarks that even that did not bring Patroclus back to life (24.755-57). The apparition of Patroclus in fact restored Achilles’ humanity which had been buried in his anger and pain. A moment of reckoning arrives here: now he begins to see all the desolation that his anger has caused and there’s a final encounter with mortality in which Achilles accepts Patroclus’ death and also his own.

Commentary on the Iliad is long and intricate – it is a song about war and its disastrous consequences, but also one about political foundations and origins. But I want to dwell on the neglected figure of the ghost. Homeric terminology for the ghost is complex and “Psyché” encompasses meanings as diverse as both life and departed life, and is also used indistinguishably with other terms for soul and mind. As we had earlier seen, the status of the ghost is undefinable, and therefore it stands outside of and sometimes in opposition to the order of memory that establishes a polis upon return to the homeland from the battlefield. In the world of epic, commemoration of great deeds from the past is caught between two temporal modes: Remembering the life of a hero who has already died (remembrance of Achilles from a future standpoint) and preserving that memory as something not forgotten (the lasting permanence of the past), therefore the appearance of the ghost of Patroclus breaks down here the collective recollections of victory and turns inwards, towards remembrance of the past together with Achilles but not collectively with others (23.78).

Though we speak a lot about memory-narratives in the present, collective memory is a function of the regime of history, where things and events have already consolidated into a foundation (or against foundations). Whether the permanence of the memory that founded the body politic in the first place undergoes change, the substance of the space of the polis goes back to a single source. What I want to propose here is an idea of ghosts as communities of memory, distinct from but parallel to political foundations. What if it were possible for memory to become fragmented into different filaments of remembrance of things past and future articulated around the present and stemming from different sources?

A notion of ghosts as communities of memory came from recent work by Turkish sociologists Cihan Erdal (a young scholar now imprisoned in Turkey alongside thousands of other students on bogus charges of political activities) and Derya Fırat, on ‘presentism’ and the temporality of Gezi, the popular uprising that took place in Turkey in 2013 and after which the political landscape of the country has significantly deteriorated into authoritarian rule. Erdal and Fırat question the defeatism of the Western and Turkish Left in regard to utopian moments and whether something remains from them? Has the defeat of Gezi in anyway affected our sense of temporality?

Gezi Park protests graffiti, “The solution is Gandalf, what’s up Derrida?”, Istanbul, June 2013, photograph by the author

On a close reading of Enzo Traverso’s work on the melancholy of the Left, and his assertion that utopias have become a historical form of the past, they speak about the presentism after 1989 that absorbs the past and the future through the opening up of a self-dissolving, sparse present tense, so that this present-timeism builds a thick wall between the present and the past, putting an end to the transference of experience […] particularly in the absence of an alternative model of society. Following from that, their central argument is that the Gezi Park protests attempted to establish a new radical imagination of time (moving simultaneously between past and present, memory and expectation) that disrupted the current neoliberal presentism, and that they did so by imagining utopias both past and future – as a dialogue between different moments of mourning and memory, and between different ghosts that return and persist.

A few words on presentism would help to clarify the extent to which the Iliad as a foundational narrative is able to time-travel in order to tell us something about the present: Admittedly there’s no concept of linear time in Homer, in the same way that our fractured temporality — the temporariness of life under presentist authoritarian regimes, we’ve been ejected from time — attempts to grasp the past in order to imagine other possibilities: The subject of the Iliad is time itself and the durability of memory that withstands the withering flow of this ever-present time. Achilles’ most famously referred description as κλέος ἄφθιτον (of unwithering glory) expresses this desire as an action yet to be completed (9.410-416) simultaneously in the past and future. Time might be abstract but it is also a force that produces change, and this is what presentism (in Homer as the returning cycles of nature and in our times as the capitalist eternity of markets and the internet) is attempting to erase by collapsing the future-orientation of utopia or memory into an obsolete historical form, predicated on the ends of history: This is the best of all possible worlds.

While it’s been constantly argued that memory and mourning is the way out of the amnesia of presentism (why are we so shocked about Bergamo and Hart Island but not so much about the mass graves of wars elsewhere within the same time period?), the politics of ghosts proposed by Erdal and Fırat reframes this work of memory beyond both static remembrance of the past and restoration of past utopias. Remembrance becomes here a different orientation, which created means of communication between different historical moments and social movements, preventing the present or the past from exercising authority over each other. Ghosts from the past are speaking to each other in the here-and-now, expressing not only the”no longer” that has passed, but a sense of continuity anchored in “not yet” and “would be” referred towards the future — a typology of Iliadic time.

The ghosts that we are dealing with in here are moments of upheaval, uprising and utopia that have been deeply buried in the collective imagination but that have the power to return any time – the function of latency – without destroying the fabric of time by attempting futile restorations. These ghosts are not only moments of political action, but also catalysts thereof, such as commemorations of events and memories of violence.  In the context of Gezi, for example, Erdal and Fırat mention that when Taksim Square was banned for workers in 1979, the symbols of the left factions were hung on Konak Square in the city of Izmir, a gesture that was repeated in 2013 on the facade of the Atatürk Cultural Center in Istanbul. As a checkpoint in political memory, the building was subsequently demolished, and yet this doesn’t guarantee that these ghosts will not return again and again: Apparently, the trade-free shopping between ghosts continues. Within the world of the Iliad, physical objects, decaying structures — of ships and tombs, and moments lost in time provide a record of the past that continues to exert force upon the present.

The fundamental problem that Erdal and Fırat see with with the work of mourning (over utopian pasts) is that it requires a dead body and a burial, but how can something be buried if it is absent or has never been completed? For Derrida, the ghost cannot even be called a being, because it doesn’t exist – it is both present and non-existent, and therefore one cannot enter into mourning with ghosts, because ghosts never die, they always keep coming back. The recognition of the presence of the ghost in its unburied state, is also a call for practical justice and therefore, a reinscription of experience within time, rather than against it: This proposal is also a formulation of justice so that time out of joint can be rectified. It is one that will provide an exit from the present in crisis and will bring us to justice by building this new relationship with both past and future. It is a politics of ghosts that, on the one hand, aims to put an end to the violence of the present against the past, and on the other hand, it will overcome the possibility of the past and future to dominate / erode the present.

Atatürk Cultural Center, Gezi Park protests, Istanbul, June 2013, photograph by the author

In a time of global upheaval, although we are still trapped in the presentism of catastrophe and disaster which is one of the most common narratives of capitalism — the emergency, the possibility of closing the distance between the present and a horizon of expectation about the future has not been completely closed. The future is still a latent possibility that might awake again at some undefined point. Is this future coming from the past? There’s no assurance, sometimes the future arises out of itself, but the cancellation of movement inside historical planes is not a viable solution when the present alone is too fragile to hold institutions and moral reflexions. In a world replete with ghosts – paraphrasing Derrida – the supernatural is no longer an extraordinary occurrence, but the nature of all political action. Insofar as all human action remains unpredictable, in both motive and intended goal, it is always miraculous and supernatural in the sense that it is highly improbable and yet actual.

But if all worldly existence and political life is invaded by ghosts, how to distinguish then between the ghost and reality? We think that memory should be reconstructed today and considered as a radical invitation to democratize the relationship between generations in political space. Political space is always a term that brings us back to the Iliad again: This isn’t only a concept of memory, since physical spaces as the containers of memory, are replete with debris that functions as “clocks” measuring time through both deterioration and durability. The constant apparitions of the past in these spaces remind us that although encounters with ghosts are ephemeral, they can serve as markers of the short distance between no longer and not yet, as expressed in the “now” emphasis in the words of Menelaus in the Iliad, while remembering Patroclus in such a way that this now, although stemming from the present, becomes a memory for a would-be future:

Homer, Iliad 17.670-672

Now let each one of you remember poor Patroclus
who was gentle, and understood how to be kindly toward all men
while he lived. Now death and fate have closed in upon him.

νῦν τις ἐνηείης Πατροκλῆος δειλοῖο
μνησάσθω: πᾶσιν γὰρ ἐπίστατο μείλιχος εἶναι
ζωὸς ἐών: νῦν αὖ θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα κιχάνει.

Here the conversation about ghosts and the supernatural is also a conversation about very long spans of memory across time: While all politics is grounded in human action and all human action is supernatural, our standard liberal model of society attempts to dovetail action and do away with politics by reducing it to bureaucratic administration and the satisfaction of human needs in nature, therefore its alleged emphasis on the social and economic question. But it was at the very beginning of our tradition of politics, in the Iliad, when the ability to change the flow of time in any direction, was considered the benchmark of rising above the cycles of nature, and therefore making action and speech identical with freedom. Anthropologists David Graeber and David Weingrow speak about freedoms that were common to many early human societies in the past and that we have abandoned: The freedom to refuse orders, to move away and to create entirely new social orders or move between different ones. This ability for new beginnings is at the heart of the Iliad‘s struggle against the destructive influence of time.

Little did they know (they couldn’t), Cihan Erdal and Derya Fırat, at the time their work was published in the end of 2019, that the politics of ghosts would become a mainstay of political life only a few months later when we would temporarily lose the world, and become entirely surrounded by ghosts. But interestingly enough, they do mention at the end of their essay the songs of Victor Jara rising from the squares and balconies in the capital Santiago in Chile or the yellow vests in the streets of Paris as a part of the conversation between ghosts. Only a few days ago, a referendum in Chile overthrew the constitution from the Pinochet dictatorship, even as many other uprisings are taking place and failing elsewhere. The ghost dialogue about new beginnings continues…

‘Being here, today, is accepting to live with our ghosts, to long for them, to feed them’ said Lebanese artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige years ago (I know the quote is real, but I cannot locate its source, therefore it remains itself a ghost), speaking about incomplete mourning: these ghosts are present among us, and the spaces they occupy are irredeemable – a gap that cannot be closed, but they can suddenly break out of the present by throwing us back into the future, a future that can be remembered and over which it is also possible to act. In a fragment from the Myrmidons, a lost play of Aeschylus, recounting aspects of the story of Achilles and Patroclus, unknown or too obvious to the Iliad, Achilles scolds his comrade Antilochus, reversing the nature of mourning over his companion Patroclus – we are not in mourning over the missing, but over ourselves:

Scholia to Aristophanes

Antilochus, bewail me, the living, rather than him, the dead; for I have lost my all.

᾿Αντίλοχ’, ἀποίμωξόν με τοῦ τεθνηκότος
τὸν ζῶντα μᾶλλον.

[Fragments in italics, from Cihan Erdal and Derya Fırat, “Toplumsal Hareketler ve Bellek İlişkisi: Yas ve Anmadan Hayaletler Siyasetine” (The Relationship Between Social Movements and Memory: From Mourning and Remembrance to the Politics of Ghosts) Birikim, December 2019, translated and paraphrased by the author]

Cihan Erdal, courtesy of Omer Ongun

On September 25, 2020, Cihan Erdal, a 32-years-old PhD researcher in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University in Canada, was arrested in Istanbul. The charges stem from events back in 2014, which are being used to continue persecuting members of the leftist HDP political party. Erdal and 81 others have been targeted because they are all signatories to a letter calling for the government to protect a Kurdish town under ISIS attacks. He was placed in solitary confinement in Ankara until October 23, 2020. No indictment and no hearing date has been announced yet. If convicted, he might be facing a potential life sentence. Some 2500 academics worldwide have signed a petition for his release. As an LGBT person, he is at risk of additional persecution over his sexuality. Cihan has been based in Canada since 2017 and his research is largely focused on youth-led social movements in Europe, including Turkey. Learn more about the case at https://freecihanerdal.wordpress.com/

Send letters to Cihan Erdal:

Cihan Erdal adına
Sincan 2 Nolu F Tipi Yüksek Güvenlikli
Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu
06930 Yenikent/Sincan-ANKARA

Acknowledgements: Gregory Buchakjian & Joana Hadjithomas in Beirut for (almost) a decade of conversations, both present and absent, about ghosts, our own and others’. Dedicated to Cihan Erdal, for your prompt liberation.

Demolition of Atatürk Cultural Center, Istanbul, May 2018, photograph by the author

Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Istanbul. He’s also tweeting about Classics, continental philosophy, contemporary art and Turkey/Greece.

Bibliography:

Arie Amaya-Akkermans, “Revolution or Redemption? The Middle East” in Revolutions: Finished and Unfinished, from Primal to Final, ed. P. Caringella, W. Cristaudo & G. Hughes, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012, pp 329-249

Hannah Arendt, “Introduction to Politics” in The Promise of Politics, Schocken Books, 2005, pp 93-200

Hannah Arendt, “What is Freedom?” in Between Past and Future, Penguin Classics, 2006, pp 142-169

Hannah Čulík-Baird, “The Fragment as Form”, UT Austin Lecture, 25th September 2020, online.

Cihan Erdal & Derya Fırat, “Toplumsal Hareketler ve Bellek İlişkisi: Yas ve Anmadan Hayaletler Siyasetine” (The Relationship Between Social Movements and Memory: From Mourning and Remembrance to the Politics of Ghosts) in Birikim, 368, December 2019, 35-43

R.K. Fischer, “The Concept of Miracle in Homer”, Antichthon, 29 (1995), pp 1-14

Lorenzo F. Garcia, Homeric Durability: Telling Time in the Iliad, Hellenic Studies Series 58, Center for Hellenic Studies, 2013, online.

George Alexander Gazis, Homer and the Poetics of Hades, Oxford University Press, 2018

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years, Melville House, 2012

Agnes Heller, A Philosophy of History in Fragments, Wiley-Blackwell, 1993

Nat Muller, “What Was Lost: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige in conversation with Nat Muller” Ibraaz, 2012, online.

W.B. Stanford, “Ghosts and Apparitions in Homer, Aeschylus and Shakespeare” in Hermathena, No. 56 (November, 1940), pp 84-92

David Wengrow, What Makes Civilization: The Ancient Near East and the Future of the West, Oxford University Press, 2018

Four Years of Presidential Memories: Asylum, Greek and Latin Word, Sacred Right

Appian, Roman History, 9.8

“…By the shared law of all humans, according to which even you accept those who are refugees from other places.”

κοινῷ γε πάντων ἀνθρώπων νόμῳ, καθὰ καὶ ὑμεῖς τοὺς ἑτέρωθεν φεύγοντας ὑποδέχεσθε.

asulon

Aeschylus, Suppliants 605-622

It seemed best to the Argives and it was so unanimous
that I felt young again in my old heart
for the air was thick with the right hands
of the whole people as they approved this plan:
that we strangers should have the right to settle
here freely, safe from arrest or attack from mortals,
that no one domestic or foreign might drive us away.
And if force is used against us,
that any citizen who does not help us
may lose his rights in exile from this country.

The leader of the Pelasgians persuaded the people
when he spoke about us, warning about how the rage
of Zeus the suppliant god might fall in future days
on the city, promising a double curse
on citizen and foreigner alike, emerging for the city
to be an insatiable parent of pain.
When they heard this, the Argive public voted
without the official call to approve the asylum.”

ἔδοξεν Ἀργείοισιν, οὐ διχορρόπως,
ἀλλ᾿ ὥστ᾿ ἀνηβῆσαί με γηραιᾷ φρενί—πανδημίᾳ
γὰρ χερσὶ δεξιωνύμοις
ἔφριξεν αἰθὴρ τόνδε κραινόντων λόγον—ἡμᾶς
μετοικεῖν τῆσδε γῆς ἐλευθέρους
κἀρρυσιάστους ξύν τ᾿ ἀσυλίᾳ βροτῶν,
καὶ μήτ᾿ ἐνοίκων μήτ᾿ ἐπηλύδων τινὰ
ἄγειν· ἐὰν δὲ προστιθῇ τὸ κάρτερον,
τὸν μὴ βοηθήσαντα τῶνδε γαμόρων
ἄτιμον εἶναι ξὺν φυγῇ δημηλάτῳ.
τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔπειθε ῥῆσιν ἀμφ᾿ ἡμῶν λέγων
ἄναξ Πελασγῶν, Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου κότον.

Euripides, Medea 727-728

“If you can make it to my home on your own,
You may stay there safely [in asylum]; I will surrender you to no one.”

αὐτὴ δ᾿ ἐάνπερ εἰς ἐμοὺς ἔλθῃς δόμους,
μενεῖς ἄσυλος κοὔ σε μὴ μεθῶ τινι.

From Lewis and Short: A Latin Dictionary

ăsȳlum , i, n., = ἄσυλον,

I.a place of refugea sanctuaryan asylum: “servusqui in illud asylum confugisset,” Cic. Verr. 2, 1, 33: “Romulus asylum aperit,” Liv. 1, 8: “lucum asylum referre,” Verg. A. 8, 342: “Junonis asylum,” id. ib. 2, 761: “asyla statuere,” Tac. A. 3, 60: “lucus asyli,” id. H. 3, 71Gell. 6, 2 fin.: de asylo procedere, * Vulg. 2 Macc. 4, 34 al.

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 32.13

“Here, the convoy fleeing from their own homes met an armed force which was being taken for the food-gathering there to be safer; the disorganized and unarmed crowd which was mixed as well with noncombatants was murdered by armed men.”

hoc sedibus suis extorre agmen in praesidium incidit quod ad Thaumacos quo tutior frumentatio esset ducebatur: incondita inermisque multitudo, mixta et imbelli turba, ab armatis caesa est

flight
From The Walters Museum MS W 188

Four Years of Presidential Memories: “Come, Let Us Build Walls”

Pindar, Fr. 194

“Come, let us build walls now,
A speaking, intricate, construction of words”

εἶα τειχίζωμεν ἤδη ποικίλον
κόσμον αὐδάεντα λόγων

Dio Chrysostom, Diogenes, Or On Tyranny (6.37)

“And still when he was awake, he would pray to be asleep to forget his fears. But when he was asleep, he jumped up as soon as possible because he believed he was being killed by his dreams, that the golden-plane tree, all the mansions of Semiramis, and the walls of Babylon were useless to him”

ἔτι δὲ ἐγρηγορότα μὲν εὔχεσθαι καθυπνῶσαι ὅπως ἐπιλάθηται τῶν φόβων, κοιμώμενον δὲ ἀναστῆναι τὴν ταχίστην, ἅτε ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν τῶν ἐνυπνίων ἀπολλύμενον, τῆς δὲ χρυσῆς αὐτῷ πλατάνου καὶ τῶν Σεμιράμιδος οἰκοδομημάτων καὶ τῶν ἐν Βαβυλῶνι τειχῶν μηδὲν ὄφελος γιγνόμενον.

Diogenes Laertius, Antisthenes 13

“[Antisthenes used to say] “rational thought is the mightiest wall. It never falls apart or betrays you. We must build walls in our own unconquerable calculations.”

Τεῖχος ἀσφαλέστατον φρόνησιν· μήτε γὰρ καταρρεῖν μήτε προδίδοσθαι. τείχη κατασκευαστέον ἐν τοῖς αὑτῶν ἀναλώτοις λογισμοῖς.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.7

“Value nothing which compels you to break your promise, to abandon your honor, to hate, suspect or curse anyone, to be a hypocrite, or to lust after anything which needs walls or decorations.”

Μὴ τιμήσῃς ποτὲ ὡς συμφέρον σεαυτοῦ, ὃ ἀναγκάσει σέ ποτε τὴν πίστιν παραβῆναι, τὴν αἰδῶ ἐγκαταλιπεῖν, μισῆσαί τινα, ὑποπτεῦσαι, καταράσασθαι, ὑποκρίνασθαι, ἐπιθυμῆσαί τινος τοίχων καὶ παραπετασμάτων δεομένου.

Aristotle, Politics 1276a

“Imagine that a set of people inhabit the same place, what should make us believe that they inhabit a single state? For, it could not be walls since it would certainly be possible to build a wall around all of the Peloponnese.”

ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ12 τῶν τὸν αὐτὸν τόπον κατοικούντων ἀνθρώπων πότε δεῖ νομίζειν μίαν εἶναι τὴν πόλιν; οὐ γὰρ δὴ τοῖς τείχεσιν, εἴη γὰρ ἂν Πελοποννήσῳ περιβαλεῖν ἓν τεῖχος·

Dio Chrystostom, The Euboean Discourse 50

“But you will give us a home there, or how will we be able to survive the cold? You have many homes in your walls left empty. One of them is enough for us.”

ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως δώσετε ἡμῖν ἐνθάδε οἰκίαν· ἢ πῶς ὑπενεγκεῖν δυνησόμεθα τοῦ χειμῶνος; ἔστιν ὑμῖν οἰκήματα πολλὰ ἐντὸς τοῦ τείχους, ἐν οἷς οὐδεὶς οἰκεῖ· τούτων ἡμῖν ἓν ἀρκέσει.

Cicero, Republic, 1.19

“Don’t you think that we should know what affects our homes—what is happening and what occurs in a home which is not bounded by our walls but is instead the whole world, the dwelling and homeland the gods gave us to share, since, especially, if we are ignorant of these things, we must be ignorant of many other weighty matters too?”

An tu ad domos nostras non censes pertinere scire, quid agatur et quid fiat domi, quae non ea est, quam parietes nostri cingunt, sed mundus hic totus, quod domicilium quamque patriam di nobis communem secum dederunt, cum praesertim, si haec ignoremus, multa nobis et magna ignoranda sint?

[for the the theme of being a citizen of the world, see this post]

wall

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 4-5

“We do not shut ourselves up in the walls of a single city as proof of our great souls, but instead we enter into exchange with the whole world and claim the world as our homeland so that we are allowed to give our virtue a wider field.”

Ideo magno animo nos non unius urbis moenibus clusimus, sed in totius orbis commercium emisimus patriamque nobis mundum professi sumus, ut liceret latiorem virtuti campum dare.

Wall Hating

In Honor of Labor Day: Collective Action and the Maturation of Rome

Livy 2.32 Secessio Plebis, 449 BCE

“A fear overcame the senators that if the army were dismissed, then secret assemblies and conspiracies would arise. And thus, even though the draft was made by a dictator—because they had sworn a consular oath they were still believed to beheld by this sacrament—they ordered the legions to depart the city on the grounds that the war had been renewed by the Aequi. This deed accelerated the rebellion.

At first, there was some interest in the murder of the consuls (to absolve them of their obligation); but when they then learned that no crime would release them from their oath, they seceded on to the Sacred Mount across the Anio river, which is three miles from the city, on the advice of a man named Sicinus.  This story is more common than the one which Piso offers—that the secession was made upon the Aventine hill.

There, the camp was fortified without any leader with a trench and wall quietly, as they took nothing unless it was necessary for their food for several days and neither offended anyone nor took offense. But there was a major panic in the city and because of mutual fear all activities were suspended. Those left behind feared violence from the senators because they were abandoned by their own class; and the senators were fearing the plebians who remained in the city because they were uncertain whether they stayed there or preferred to leave. How long could a mass of people who had seceded remain peaceful? What would happen after this if there were an external threat first? There was certainly no home left unless they could bring the people into harmony; and it was decided they must reconcile the state by just means or unjust.”

  1. timor inde patres incessit ne, si dimissus exercitus foret, rursus coetus occulti coniurationesque fierent. itaque quamquam per dictatorem dilectus habitus esset, tamen quoniam in consulum uerba iurassent sacramento teneri militem rati, per causam renouati ab Aequis belli educi ex urbe legiones iussere. [2] quo facto maturata est seditio. et primo agitatum dicitur de consulum caede, ut soluerentur sacramento; doctos deinde nullam scelere religionem exsolui, Sicinio quodam auctore iniussu consulum in Sacrum montem secessisse. trans Anienem amnem est, tria ab urbe milia passuum. [3] ea frequentior fama est quam cuius Piso auctor est, in Auentinum secessionem factam esse. [4] ibi sine ullo duce uallo fossaque communitis castris quieti, rem nullam nisi necessariam ad uictum sumendo, per aliquot dies neque lacessiti neque lacessentes sese tenuere. [5] pauor ingens in urbe, metuque mutuo suspensa erant omnia. timere relicta ab suis plebis uiolentiam patrum; timere patres residem in urbe plebem, incerti manere eam an abire mallent: [6] quamdiu autem tranquillam quae secesserit multitudinem fore? quid futurum deinde si quod externum interim bellum exsistat? [7] nullam profecto nisi in concordia ciuium spem reliquam ducere; eam per aequa, per iniqua reconciliandam ciuitati esse.

The secessio plebis was repeated at key times in Roman history and became a fundamental instrument to force the ruling (and moneyed/landed) class to make political compromises with the larger number of citizen soldiers upon whom the city (and the Republic) depended for its safety (and, really, existence). Modern labor strikes are not directly related to this Roman action–they developed with the rise of the Industrial state. In a short analogy, labor is to capital as the army was to the Roman state.

Labor unions are, in my ever so humble opinion, probably the last possible bulwark against not just the corporatization of higher education but also against the completion of our anglo-american metamorphoses in to technology-driven plutocracies. (And it may be too late.) But I take the limited coverage in our presses as a sign that such subjects are threatening to the very media corporations that deny collective bargaining to their ‘workers’ in the gig economy. 

Caesar, Civil War 1.7.5-7

“Whenever in the past the senate has made a decree asking officers to make sure that the republic meet no harm—and in this wording the senatus consultum is also a call to arms for the Roman people—it has been made under the condition of evil laws, a violent tribune, or during a secession of the plebs when they had occupied the temples and mounts. [Caesar] explained that these examples from an earlier age were paid for with the fates of Saturninus and the Gracchi. (At that time none of these things were done or even considered. No law was suggested; no assembly was called; no secession was made.)

quotienscumque sit decretum darent operam magistratus ne quid res publica detrimenti caperet, qua voce et quo senatus consulto populus Romanus ad arma sit vocatus, factum in perniciosis legibus, in vi tribunicia, in secessione populi, templis locisque editioribus occupatis. 6Atque haec superioris aetatis exempla expiata Saturnini atque Gracchorum casibus docet. (Quarum rerum illo tempore nihil factum, ne cogitatum quidem. Nulla lex promulgata, non cum populo agi coeptum, nulla secessio facta.)

Cicero, Republic II.58

“For that very principle which I introduced at the beginning is this: unless there is equal access in a state to laws, offices, and duties so that the magistrates have sufficient power, the plans of the highest citizens have enough authority, and the people have enough freedom, the state cannot be guarded against revolution. For when our state was troubled by debt, the plebeians first occupied the Sacred Mount and then the Aventine.”

Id enim tenetote, quod initio dixi, nisi aequabilis haec in civitate conpensatio sit et iuris et officii et muneris, ut et potestatis satis in magistratibus et auctoritatis in principum consilio et libertatis in populo sit, non posse hunc incommutabilem rei publicae conservari statum. nam cum esset ex aere alieno commota civitas, plebs montem sacrum prius, deinde Aventinum occupavit.

 

Cicero, Republic II.63

“Therefore, because of the injustice of these men [the decemviri], there was the largest rebellion and the whole state was transformed. For those rulers had created two tables of laws which included most inhumanely, a law against plebeians wedding patricians, even though marriage between different nationalities is permitted! This law was later voided by the plebeian Canuleian Decree. The [decemviri also pursued their own pleasure harshly and greedily in every exercise of power over the people.”

ergo horum ex iniustitia subito exorta est maxima perturbatio et totius commutatio rei publicae; qui duabus tabulis iniquarum legum additis, quibus, etiam quae diiunctis populis tribui solent conubia, haec illi ut ne plebei cum patribus1 essent, inhumanissima lege sanxerunt, quae postea plebei scito Canuleio abrogata est, libidinoseque omni imperio et acerbe et avare populo praefuerunt.

Here is the opening summary from Brill’s New Pauly on the secessio plebis (2006: von Ungern-Sternberg, Jürgen)

“Roman tradition terms as secessio (from Latin secedere, ‘to go away, to withdraw’) the remonstrative exodus of the Roman plebeians from the urban area delimited by the pomerium on to a neighbouring hill. This action was on a number of occasions the culmination of confrontation between the patricians ( patricii ) and the plebs . The first secessio in particular may have been instrumental in the formation of a self-conscious plebeian community under the leadership of at first two, later apparently five people’s tribunes ( tribunus plebis ), to whose protection all plebeians committed themselves by a lex sacrata (‘law subject to the sanction of execration’)”

Related image

“Come, Let Us Build Walls”

Pindar, Fr. 194

“Come, let us build walls now,
A speaking, intricate, construction of words”

εἶα τειχίζωμεν ἤδη ποικίλον
κόσμον αὐδάεντα λόγων

Dio Chrysostom, Diogenes, Or On Tyranny (6.37)

“And still when he was awake, he would pray to be asleep to forget his fears. But when he was asleep, he jumped up as soon as possible because he believed he was being killed by his dreams, that the golden-plane tree, all the mansions of Semiramis, and the walls of Babylon were useless to him”

ἔτι δὲ ἐγρηγορότα μὲν εὔχεσθαι καθυπνῶσαι ὅπως ἐπιλάθηται τῶν φόβων, κοιμώμενον δὲ ἀναστῆναι τὴν ταχίστην, ἅτε ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν τῶν ἐνυπνίων ἀπολλύμενον, τῆς δὲ χρυσῆς αὐτῷ πλατάνου καὶ τῶν Σεμιράμιδος οἰκοδομημάτων καὶ τῶν ἐν Βαβυλῶνι τειχῶν μηδὲν ὄφελος γιγνόμενον.

Diogenes Laertius, Antisthenes 13

“[Antisthenes used to say] “rational thought is the mightiest wall. It never falls apart or betrays you. We must build walls in our own unconquerable calculations.”

Τεῖχος ἀσφαλέστατον φρόνησιν· μήτε γὰρ καταρρεῖν μήτε προδίδοσθαι. τείχη κατασκευαστέον ἐν τοῖς αὑτῶν ἀναλώτοις λογισμοῖς.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.7

“Value nothing which compels you to break your promise, to abandon your honor, to hate, suspect or curse anyone, to be a hypocrite, or to lust after anything which needs walls or decorations.”

Μὴ τιμήσῃς ποτὲ ὡς συμφέρον σεαυτοῦ, ὃ ἀναγκάσει σέ ποτε τὴν πίστιν παραβῆναι, τὴν αἰδῶ ἐγκαταλιπεῖν, μισῆσαί τινα, ὑποπτεῦσαι, καταράσασθαι, ὑποκρίνασθαι, ἐπιθυμῆσαί τινος τοίχων καὶ παραπετασμάτων δεομένου.

Aristotle, Politics 1276a

“Imagine that a set of people inhabit the same place, what should make us believe that they inhabit a single state? For, it could not be walls since it would certainly be possible to build a wall around all of the Peloponnese.”

ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ12 τῶν τὸν αὐτὸν τόπον κατοικούντων ἀνθρώπων πότε δεῖ νομίζειν μίαν εἶναι τὴν πόλιν; οὐ γὰρ δὴ τοῖς τείχεσιν, εἴη γὰρ ἂν Πελοποννήσῳ περιβαλεῖν ἓν τεῖχος·

Dio Chrystostom, The Euboean Discourse 50

“But you will give us a home there, or how will we be able to survive the cold? You have many homes in your walls left empty. One of them is enough for us.”

ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως δώσετε ἡμῖν ἐνθάδε οἰκίαν· ἢ πῶς ὑπενεγκεῖν δυνησόμεθα τοῦ χειμῶνος; ἔστιν ὑμῖν οἰκήματα πολλὰ ἐντὸς τοῦ τείχους, ἐν οἷς οὐδεὶς οἰκεῖ· τούτων ἡμῖν ἓν ἀρκέσει.

Cicero, Republic, 1.19

“Don’t you think that we should know what affects our homes—what is happening and what occurs in a home which is not bounded by our walls but is instead the whole world, the dwelling and homeland the gods gave us to share, since, especially, if we are ignorant of these things, we must be ignorant of many other weighty matters too?”

An tu ad domos nostras non censes pertinere scire, quid agatur et quid fiat domi, quae non ea est, quam parietes nostri cingunt, sed mundus hic totus, quod domicilium quamque patriam di nobis communem secum dederunt, cum praesertim, si haec ignoremus, multa nobis et magna ignoranda sint?

[for the the theme of being a citizen of the world, see this post]

wall

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 4-5

“We do not shut ourselves up in the walls of a single city as proof of our great souls, but instead we enter into exchange with the whole world and claim the world as our homeland so that we are allowed to give our virtue a wider field.”

Ideo magno animo nos non unius urbis moenibus clusimus, sed in totius orbis commercium emisimus patriamque nobis mundum professi sumus, ut liceret latiorem virtuti campum dare.

Wall Hating

Gazing from Within a Cyclops’ Cave

The Disturbing ‘Veil’ and “Double-Vision” of the Naïve White Liberal Anti-Racist Gaze

In the Odyssey, ancient Odysseus and his men accomplished yet another great feat of survival, blinding the one-eyed Cyclops to escape from his cave. One wonders today about the blinded single-eye of the good-natured, white liberal democrat: a view that sees itself as rabidly pro-justice, freedom, democracy, and the rest of the ideals that descend from the Western Enlightenment (made by and for white European men in the 18th century).

And, yet, this strange creature has a split double vision from its one eye.  It ‘feels’ the dual threat of both Trumpian, right-wing, anti-democratic authoritarianism and the diverse social movements and protests against anti-Black racism leading to the tearing down of statues and what the right and left alike calls ‘cancel culture’ or the right asserts as the ‘indoctrination of the left.’

A first century CE head of a Cyclops, part of the sculptures adorning the Roman Colosseum

 

Is it fated for someone in a position of power to feel threatened at all times? If we turn to W. E. B. Du Bois’s ingenious insights on the ‘veil’ and ‘double-consciousness’ of being Black in America, one can think of another, inverted ‘veil’ and ‘double-consciousness’ of this blinded white liberal view today. The blinding strike of our historical present has led to a split within a single vision that lies beneath a kind of veil.

One can say the white liberal, democratic, maybe even progressive socialist and leftist view sees the world from within a veil that is not lifted.  On the one hand, they see themselves through the eyes of two other groups: they claim how horrifying and vile white nationalism, supremacy, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and mostly anti-Black and other anti-Indigenous and POC, for example hatred of Latinx and Asians, are. They say in a silent voice of rage and hatred, a mixture of shame, guilt, and revulsion, that ‘we cannot be one of them,’ and that ‘the legacy of slavery and colonialism is not ours,’ as the philosopher Shannon Sullivan noted in her trenchant critique of white liberalism. The good-natured ones call those evil barbarians who espouse biological racism today the abhorrent ‘other,’ while reserving for themselves some sense of decency in claiming ‘we are different.’

But then, on the other hand, they see the other group of BIPOC facing multi-generational and daily humiliation, violence, and death: torrents of waves where past, present, and future co-mingle, at once stemming from both systematic and systemic racism that derive from and transcend white nationalists, the KKK, and Neo-Nazis.  For this oppression permeates every institution and aspect of American society.  Why not?  Does it not come down to a fascination with ‘whiteness’ for those who live it and critique it?  To them, the white liberal says, ‘I cannot possibly understand what it’s like to endure that racial oppression of non-whites,’ and ‘I want to speak out from within my silence but words escape me, and I relapse back into the silence I inhabit within the veil.’  Therefore,  ‘I am in this world but not of it’ to quote the Gospel.

What can we learn from this split vision of positing and negating when it comes to two other groups that the white liberal tries to see and understand apart from itself?  White supremacy is decried but also distanced so far to the point of paralyzing inaction while BIPOC suffer and die everywhere. They suffer at the hands of everyday white civilians, the militarized police, the heartless state, and the avarice corporations and their environmentally damaging atrocities, the terror continues.  BIPOC, as the ‘other’, witness their suffering pornographically fetishized in white liberal discourse, but only to have this suffering doubled when  the old discourse of the ‘free exchange of ideas,’ ‘tolerance of differing perspectives in a civil manner’ kicks in again. That old stalwart thinking quickly returns to diagnose the evil disease of ‘cancellation culture’ and ‘indoctrination of dogmatic intolerance’ in the ‘new religion’ of anti-racism, for example BLM.

What are we to make of this twenty-first century wounded Cyclops?  The creature retains privilege as in the original myth since everything was provided for them, and they don’t have to work for what they have inherited. And that is called the utter, unfathomable, historical accident of either being born ‘white’ or ‘white enough to pass’ as such.  If Marx analyzed the commodity, no one to this day has comparably or sufficiently analyzed ‘whiteness’ or ‘white passing.’

The self-denying person who says they are not reduced to biological ‘whiteness’ is the ultimate white liberal, democrat anti-racist.  And this occurs across generations in our historical present, across the different generations who think they inhabit one single time-line.  Here we find white supremacy and white privilege in a blind coexistence as it relates to the problem of time and therefore historical time. No whiteness exists apart from white supremacy. Color-blindness is privilege. So the blinded, fractured Cyclops does not see that problem.

They must consume everything that crosses their path in this split, double-vision, not even a double consciousness that is forever ‘irreconcilable’ for Black people as Du Bois said nearly 120 years ago and one can attribute to other POC today, albeit in intersectional terms.  But this ruptured one-eyed giant called ‘white anti-racist liberalism’ doesn’t live in a cave, because there is no inside or outside distinction in the world of an eternal racism.

In some respect the veil – -as an illusion of real self-consciousness because one is always seeing oneself in relation to and different from the other — is itself the ultimate blind spot: the veil doesn’t exist at all.  Rather, white supremacy becomes the mirror’s taint called ‘white liberalism’ and the objects that appear in the mirror are dialectically exchanged in the stasis of a perpetual motion: the white liberal must say I am not a ‘white supremacist’ while also failing to see the impossibility of pure connection with BIPOC because white liberals have the privilege of whiteness, and hence an-other type of ‘supremacy’ we are trying to name here.

This schizophrenic four-fold vision of identity and difference in the self-consciousness of the white liberal needs a new name: to be the same and different from white supremacy and same and different from BIPOC oppressed groups means one is never fully synthesized in two different ways.  One can say that the ultimate giant, whose ideas shaped the white modern  world to an extent like no other of his time, namely the imperialist Hegel, knew this well and suffered from it in the phantasm of truth called his ‘system and philosophy of world history.’

The dead bodies and skeletons  slayed by systemic racism over colonialist centuries doom us to atrophy and entropy.  At some point, this wounded creature will also perish on the lands they neither built nor own, and hopefully leaving a new world created not by the privileged gods but by a diverse, more humble humanity.  We can call it the world after ‘Floyd.’

Rajesh Sampath is currently Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Justice, Rights, and Social Change at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. He completed his PhD at the University of California, Irvine in the humanities with a concentration in modern continental European philosophies of history and critical theory at the Critical Theory Institute. He studied under the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, the founder of deconstruction. His areas of specialization center on the philosophy of history, historical time, and epochal shifts.   

Twenty Links for Twenty Days of Protest

“Surely, justice will overcome the architects of lies and their false witnesses.”

καὶ μέντοι καὶ δίκη καταλήψεται ψευδέων τέκτονας καὶ μάρτυρας.

Heraclitus, fr. 118

αἱ εἴκοσι ἡμέραι, “twenty days”

We have now seen 20 days in first local then international  protests over the death of George Floyd, police violence, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We are only at the beginning of our shared action and responsibility. (And not near the end of the protest: Breonna Taylor‘s killers have bot been arrested and Rayshard Brooks was killed mere days ago.)

Below are some resources and links I have found helpful and hope others will use to think about our place in this particular space and time and our obligations moving forward. Since this is a Greek and Roman literature blog with a focus on Classical Studies in general, a good deal of the material assembled  is concerned with that.

As Classicists, we have a lot to think about, but our thoughts and actions need to be for the long term in support of what the protests achieve and to help advance and solidify their aims. One question as a starting point, how is a canon like a statue?

N.B. Please do let me know if you want anything else added to this list. I have assembled this mainly for those who don’t spend a lot of time on twitter, etc.

Resources for action and education

  1. A homepage for resources to engage in protest and support Black Lives Matter. See also the Movement for Black Lives homepage
  2. Mariame Kaba on Defunding the Police
  3. Collection of Resources for Anti-Racism compiled by Rebecca Futo Kennedy (see also her blogposts about the racism intrinsic to the concept of “western civilization“). See this Anti-racist reading list too and this slightly older one.
  4. Keeange-Yamahtta Taylor:  “How Do We Change America?
  5.  If someone doubts police brutality: a list of videos.
  6. Education from Academics 4 Black Lives Video
  7. Racism in Publishing

Statements 

  1. The SCS Statement is pretty good and the ACL Statement shows much improvement thanks in part to the activism of Dani Bostick and others like Ian Lockey. As a long time member, I would like to single out the CAMWS Statement for its weakness (a call for “robust, respectful dialogue” but no mention of black lives, police violence, white supremacy or the complicity of classical education).

    Screenshot 2020-06-14 19.34.38
    Just in case they edit the statement….
  2. Multiculturalism, Race & Ethnicity in Classics Consortium (MRECC) Statement in Solidarity and Action Plan
  3. EOS (Africana Receptions of Greece and Rome) and their special session of EOS Reads. My colleague Cat Gillespie and I are bringing this to Brandeis.
  4. Asian American Caucus’ Statements of Solidarity and links for donations.
  5. A Student response to the Oxford Classics Statement (statement here)
  6. Classics and Social Justice Statement
  7. Brandeis’ Statements: followed by a community meeting and a two-day workship: President’s call for proposals and the superior statement by students in the Justice; and a presentation on America’s Racial Reckoning by Chad Williams, Anita Hill, Leah Wright Rigueur, and Daniel Kryder. My department has not issued an individual statement because we stand by our institutional response and believe that we need to listen and learn before making significant changes to our policies and our curricula. I say this as Chair of the Department and with deep respect for my colleagues at other institutions who have felt compelled to make statements of solidarity: statements are not enough from our field.

Voices

  1. Sportula and Sportula Europe. Just donate to them.
  2. Vanessa Stovall’s  “A Tale of Two Creons: Black Tragedies, White Anxieties, and the Necessity of Abolition.”
  3. Pria Jackson’s “Fight or Die: How to Move From Statements to Actions.”
  4. The Our Voices: A Conference for Inclusive Classics Pedagogy actually happened in this calendar year
  5. A personal account of how racism and ableism in Classics can drive someone out: Stefani Echeverria-Fenn’s “On Classics, Madness, and Losing Everything
  6. The Queer Classicist on Racism in Classics

Black Lives Fucking Matter“, “A.C.A.B.“, and “Fuck 12” graffiti on a looted Target store on Lake Street in Minneapolis the morning of May 28, from Wikipedia