Monday, January 9, 2012

Poetry and Politics

Poetry and politics

By Pantelis Boukalas for The Ekathimerini Newspaper.
Could it be that our political leaders have suddenly developed a soft spot for Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and decided to adopt his clear warning?
It sounds implausible. Nevertheless, their New Year’s messages urging us to take our fate into our own hands were reminiscent of some words we used to hear in the early years after the fall of the 1967-74 military dictatorship in Greece: “The future will not come of its own accord; we must take measures.”
If I say implausible, it’s because no members of a ruling elite would adopt the words of a revolutionary with ease. Particularly for the leadership of the Greek Communist Party (which should in theory be fans of Mayakovsky), a “cursed” poet will always be cursed -- at least until he or she has been rehabilitated, as it were -- especially a poet who committed suicide as a result of his “defeatism.”
Rather, it would make more sense to say that the New Year’s messages of Greece’s political leaders were influenced by a homegrown poet, Odysseas Elytis, especially his early period, when he felt strong enough to say: “One and two: No one will speak our fate. One and two: We shall speak the sun’s fate.”
But again, the worn-out, dry words that constitute a national address can hardly bear any relationship to poetry. For what can be the connection between the art of poetry which, being a complete stranger to limits, tries to purify words and ratify their deeper meaning, with the so-called “art of the possible,” an art which abuses and corrupts precious words and the ideas they seek to convey?
Who can talk about “direct democracy” with a straight face after George Papandreou’s ridiculous treatment of the concept? And, similarly, who will dare to talk about “transcendence” following Antonis Samaras’s use of the word in the past (it is no coincidence that the New Democracy chief has shed the word from his political vocabulary).
In any case, the New Year’s messages saw our political leaders stand in front of the camera, put on their fake smiles and read out a brief essay as if they were students taking part in a national exam.
Virtually all of them urged us to “take fate into our own hands.” They most likely meant that we ought to vote for them in the coming elections, given that each of them is sober enough to pose as the most efficient administrator of our collective fate.
But taking one’s fate into one’s own hands via a representative, in fact via a representative who will soon forget who he represents and for what reason, has no meaning whatsoever, be it in poetry or politics.

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