A Forum for and the Background of the Mediation of Dialogue in Ancient and Modern Academies

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Της Ιθάκης. Της επιστροφής. Captive in one's own language.

René Magritte. 1928

Ἅπανθ῾ὁ μακρὸς κἀναρίθμητος χρόνος
φύει τ᾽ἄδηλα καὶ φανέντα κρύπτεται.
Σοφοκλῆς, Αἴας

I do not know whether it could be held that part of what people have meant when they have said "You cannot change the past" is that, for every type of event, it is in principle possible to know whether or not it has happened, independently of one's own intentions. If so, this is not the mere tautology it appears to be, but it does indeed single out what it is that makes us think it impossible to bring about the past.
Michael Dummett, Bringing About the Past

Agendas for blogs are not set in stone. What is initially sketched out, will be realised step by step, and slightly and sneakily modified and redefined through the passage of time. My blog has been evolving into a treasure of various experiences of beauty in arts and worth mentioning aporias and undertakings in my academic endeavour, which I regard as worth sharing. All these brief posts cannot and should not accompany texts, either notes, articles or books. For, the latter should rather stand on their own and speak for themselves without any history of their genesis. The posts hint instead at the kind of background against which the particular productions arise and the concrete stages emerge. 

The present note concerns a very special language experience, an alienating experience in my own language, which I had this summer, and which even to make articulate is a challenge. I usually take beautiful challenges, so let me try. I spent some time on Ithaca in my summer holidays. I had some good stuff in my suitcase, some good Irish wit (Joyce's Ulysses), some British sagacious wit (Dummett's Bringing about the Past), a book to review, whose content and style was a joy to read and re-read, despite some substantial disagreement, some Plato and Aristotle on pleasure, and someone out of competition, namely Sophocles. This time I wished to check whether there is a passage in his Philoctetes, which is more philosophical than the so characterized Trugrede in his Ajax, his monologue before his committing suicide, the beginning of which I quote above. (No success. The verses of Ajax excel philosophically). What an irony, as Peter commented, to characterize a Trugrede as the most philosophical piece in Sophocles! He then agreed, and suggested that I read Jan Kott on Philoctetes, in his book The Eating of the Gods. I am very much attracted to writings that manage to say something substantial in each and every sentence. It was a delight to read Jan Kott's analysis and sentences.

And there I was: on Ithaca. With my quest on mixed and pure pleasure and inevitably on different experiences of our being-in-time. When taking a break, I usually take my philosophical questions with me and try to approach them from different angles, be it literature, psychoanalysis (mit Vorsicht zu geniessen!) or whichever field I can and wish to address. The question I took with me to Ithaca was whether return is possible, I mean possible at all. The return I was interested in was the return in time, and not to places, needless to say. The return to one’s past. And one relevant question, was whether we can do otherwise but continually change our past. My intuitive answers to both questions was no, but I wanted to think about them, leaving the libraries behind me, and swimming while thinking about them. So I took my questions in my baggage to the most beautiful seashore in Greece. Ulysses stranded exactly there, so they say, after the chain of adventures he had, his Phaeakean ship turned to stone by Poseidon: a small rocky island now, easy to reach by the ones who prefer swimming to sun bathing. After reading them, I left Dummett, Joyce and Plato on the shore. They were having an argument. Dummett was trying to reveal all the logical presuppositions in Plato's myth in the Statesman, Plato remained sceptical, and Joyce was "languaging it" brilliantly (my "English") and poking fun at both Dummett and Plato. It was high time for me to swim. For, I could not bear the tension. 

Some time afterwards, I started writing in my own language, which I had not done for quite some time. I wished to find a narrative for the sake of a doxology ( a kind of a praise of "It was, it is, it will be"). I was looking for a time, appropriate to bear this narrative, and I found it, where else than in the myth! While doing so, my Greek language grasped me and kept me captive for a long time after Ithaca. After so many years of my negligence, and after being a guest in hospitable and patient languages, I was captive in my native language! I will not say more about the story than that it includes a chartography of Ithaca during a dialogue between two persons without a name. They are not looking for their name or an author. Their dialogue takes place in one moment or...an eternity. What I am more concerned with here than with content is that intense summer experience in my own language, that sweet return. I have not worked at my desk so fervently, almost "chained", as in September, elaborating my ancient and modern Greek, refining the matter and form of my sentences, and feeling the unity of my language to the bone while reading Homer and New Testament and modern Greek poetry (above all Ritsos) and listening to Greek composers (mostly Kaloudis' album "Truth", Lantsias' "Return" and "Diary of Dreams" and Karaindrou' s every single piece). The experience was no way enthusiastic, but rather a timely return to my own language and a peaceful meal at my familiar table. And it lasted long, this meal. Long did my language keep me at our table.

Let us get back to the winter perspectives now. They have their own attraction. Best wishes to all my friends. 


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