Kalamata International Dance Festival, the most important contemporary dance event in Greece, returns for its 24th edition in the city of Kalamata, in the picturesque region of Messinia. For ten days, on July 13-22, 2018, acclaimed Greek and international dancers will present their work to art lovers from around the world. The programme includes indoor and outdoor performances as well as workshops.
This year’s edition features performances by Greek and foreign internationally recognised dancers and choreographers, in performances that range from contemporary circus to street dance. For the first time, outdoor performances free of charge will also be taking place daily in the city’s central square. The programme also features workshops by dance masters (including one for children and one for people with disabilities), a photography exhibition and a Latin/jazz evening.
The Festival is an initiative of the International Dance Centre of Kalamata, established in 1995 as part of the Municipal Society for the Cultural Development of Kalamata. Its aim is to support and promote the art of dance and the organisation of the Festival has become one of its central purposes, helping it place the city on Europe's cultural map. The Festival’s artistic direction was assumed in 2017 by Linda Kapetanea, who was the one to introduce the outdoor dance performances.
Linda Kapetanea (photo: Mike Rafail)
Linda Kapetanea is a dancer and choreographer, with studies in Athens and New York. She performed with several dance companies in Greece and abroad, including the Flemish company Ultima Vez for three years. In 2006 she and Jozef Frucek formed the dance company RootlessRoot as a vehicle for their own productions, research and teaching. Together they have developed Fighting Monkey, a practice with applications in various fields such as dance/movement therapy, sports and art. We interviewed* Linda Kapetanea on her aspirations for this year’s edition of the Festival.
What did you have in mind when you put yourself forward as a candidate for the position of artistic director? Do you feel that the programme of the Festival’s 24th edition fulfills your vision?
I wanted to show the audience and young dancers my perception of contemporary dance. I have witnessed its power, and I wanted to share with others what I have seen and been touched by.
(Photo: Didier Carluccio)
I have the feeling that this year's Festival will leave a strong imprint on the city and on Greek cultural life. My vision stems from the ways young people learn how to move, dance and perceive life through the art of dance, as well as the ways in which the audience reflects on dance. I would like for the Festival -and not just this year’s edition- to function as a school for everyone, for both audience and dancers.
The Kalamata Dance Festival is an internationally acclaimed institution. How did you manage to successfully organise an event of this calibre, while also a practicing dancer and choreographer with the Rootless Root dance company?
The overall success of the event will be evaluated in the end. Thus far, we can talk of specific accomplishments. As far as my other endeavours are concerned, I think one can see that I engage in activities that stimulate and invigorate. This is the way I live. For now, I have sufficient stamina and, of course, excellent colleagues, wonderful friends and immense support from my family.
(Photo: Saris & den Engelsman)
Is this experience as fulfilling as your more physical ventures as a dancer / choreographer? Did it open up new artistic perspectives?
There are many instances of stress and anxiety, a lot of work to be done and a great deal of communication with people who understand things very differently to the way that I do. All this has been a great source of knowledge.
A new initiative of yours has been the public outdoor performances: every afternoon, in the central square of Kalamata, a dancer or a group of dancers taking part in the Festival will be offering a free performance. How did you come up with this idea? Do you think that we lack initiatives of this type, bringing the general public in contact with contemporary dance?
I wanted to do something for those who consider dance boring and would not be willing to buy a ticket, as well as for those who would love to watch dance performances every day but could not afford to so. The central square of Kalamata is ideal for opening the city to the art of dance. I had experienced this practice as a dancer many times in various European cities and I really loved it.
(Photo: Mario Arturo Martinez)
Do you already have some thoughts regarding the Festival’s future editions? Will it still be priority for you to attract young people?
I am drawing a plan as regards the style and character I would like next year’s edition to have. Yes, young people and children are among my priorities because I am concerned about the way in which the next generation of dancers and spectators will develop.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Remember MacGyver, the 80’s action series about an inventive guy who could make explosives with chewing gum? What would MacGyver do in the YouTube era? Film maker Dimitris Tsilifonis offers an answer to this critical issue in his film titled “Do it yourself”. “DIY” is an escape film about a small-time crook, Alkis, who agrees to star in a video that will be used to restore the public image of a corrupt businessman. When Alkis realizes that his accomplices are going to kill him, he only has a few hours to organize his DIY escape from the porn studio in which he is imprisoned, using his wit, digital skills and a toothbrush.
Dimitris Tsilifonis probably doesn’t know MacGyver. He was born in Athens, Greece in 1991. He is an American Film Institute fellow, holds a BA in Communication, and has worked extensively in the film industry. “Do it yourself” is his directorial debut feature. It received the Special Youth Jury Award at the 58th Thessaloniki IFF.
Tsilifonis talked to Greek News Agenda* about “Do it yourself” underlying his intention to mock the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up expectation in the viewer. As “DIY” is an intertextual film full of references to other films and viral videos, Tsilifonis stresses that he makes no effort to hide his cinematic influences as a film director. The same goes for the characters in his film, who feel very wary of the situations they are in, comparing them to their favourite crime dramas. Tsilifonis concludes that through its mocking of cinematic conventions, “DIY” is exploring what is real in the “fake news “ era and tries in its own way to urge the audience to “Search for yourself”.
Konstantinos Aspiotis, "Do it yourself" (2017)
What made you decide to do a Greek action film?
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as an action film, although there are action scenes in it –but I get your point. I wanted “DIY” to be a mainstream, yet entertaining cinematic experience. The whole film in a way mocks the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up in viewers. I thought the tragic consequences of pretending to be “James-Bondish”-awesome, would be interesting grounds to explore. I mean, our biggest inspiration with our fight choreographer, Chris Radanov, were Jackie Chan and the Bridget Jones fight scenes. At every opportunity, we tried to infuse comedy into them. “The dudes, who don’t know how to fight, but are trying their best”, that was our motto. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iapVomK4eFA)
Christos Loulis, Mirto Alikaki, "Do it yourself" (2017)
What are your cinematic influences and how did you incorporate them in your film, which as you have said, is a very personal project?
Themis Panou, Konstantinos Aspiotis, "Do it yourself" (2017)
How did you overcome budget limitations?
By planning. A LOT. Me and my Director of Photography, Angelos Papadopoulos, knew very well that time and money weren’t on our side, so creating detailed shot-lists as well as visual photoboards was the only way to achieve the shots and performances we hoped for.
Our preproduction lasted a bit more than 3 months, and it focused on specifying exactly what we would do each quarter of our 20 shooting days. I think at the end, 70% of our shot-list ended up making into the film, exactly as it was photographed. Finally, the script was written intentionally in a way that afforded us to save money on the majority of the movie, but allowed us to “splurge” on the bigger heavy-action set pieces.
Makis Papadimitriou, Argiris Xafis, "Do it yourself" (2017)
The vast majority of the personae in “Do it yourself” love videogames, technology and refer to films or viral videos. Are these mostly characteristics of the millennials? What do you think is the influence of digital technologies in everyday life?
I feel it depends on how a person chooses to lead their life. For me, a big immersion breaker is when characters inside movies pretend they’ve never watched a movie before. Zombie/ Alien invasion films are usually the biggest perpetrators of this. So, I wanted my characters at least, to feel very wary of the situations they were in. They had sort of seen these circumstances play before in their favorite crime dramas. As for the influence of digital technologies in everyday life, I am not sure. I only have anecdotal evidence, but I feel there is a healthy majority of millennials, who aren’t necessarily involved with videogames and/or films. More and more people become tech savvy, millennials and older generations alike. I have to admit that it was a very pleasant surprise, when a lot of people in their 40s or even 50s approached me and told me how they spotted some of the most obscure references I had placed inside the film. So, yeah, I don’t think I have a good answer here.
According to Collins dictionary, “fake news” was the word of the year 2017. “Do it yourself” is at heart a film about fake news. Would you like to comment?
Yeah! It’s funny cause I wrote the first draft in 2014, and even then, I felt it was a prevalent topic. We’ve yet to find a good way to combat fake news, and it doesn’t look like we’re near a solution. Critical thinking is the foremost important element we all need in our lives. In its own way that is what “DIY” is trying to urge the audience to do. Search. “Search for Yourself”. “Investigate for Yourself”. “Do It Yourself”.
What are your future plans?
Right now, I am developing a near-future science fiction VR film and working on my next screenplay. It’s hard to say, what’s going to come first, but I promise it will be worth the wait!
* Interview with Florentia Kiortsi
Ithaca laundry is a mobile laundry service aimed at homeless people in Athens: a van fitted with washing machines and tumble dryers, collecting unwashed clothes from people residing in the streets and returning them clean and dry. It has been founded by a group of young people and operates thanks to the support of partners and sponsors and to the work offered by volunteers. The Operations Manager for Ithaca, Dimitra Kountourioti, spoke* to Greek News Agenda about this initiative, which was recently featured in a short documentary film by Nick Holland for BBC World Hacks.
When and how was the mobile washer launched? How was this idea concieved and to whom does the initiative belong?
The organisation was founded in 2015 by a group of three people, Thanos Spiliopoulos, Fanis Tsonas and Andili Rahoutis. Thanos was inspired by a similar initiative in Australia and, given the socio-economic situation in Greece, he decided to create a mobile washer for the homeless of Athens. We ran as a pilot programme from April to December 2016, and since January 2017 we have been operating regularly, 5 times a week.
How did you join the group?
I started in January 2017 as Managing Director because Thanos and Fanis had to perform military service. Since then, I have taken up the duty of running the day-to-day management and operation of the organisation on all levels, and the founding group has a predominantly advisory role and is actively involved in the decision-making process (board of directors).
How does it actually work? How do people who are in need of your services become aware of your actions?
At this point, we operate 5 days a week, based on a specific schedule and timetable. The van has 2 washers and 2 tumble dryers, washing takes 40 'and drying another 45'; those who come to us give us some contact info and get a queue number. Those benefitted by the service have come to know us and there is a steady turn-out.
At each spot, we work together with partners and groups that provide additional services to the people we tend to (food, medical assistance, psychological support, etc.), so it's easier for people to know about us.
How many are now involved in the project's operation? Does the team include only volunteers?
Since January 2017 we have created, apart from my own post, two more part-time jobs that were given to people from socially vulnerable groups. Specifically, our first employee, Christos, was benefiting from our services at Athinas street, where we operate every Wednesday and Sunday.
Our goal is to give them an actual job opportunity, providing them with the necessary support for a period of 10-12 months so that they can be reintegrated into society and the workplace, and become able to get a full-time job. In April 2018, Christos already found a new job and two new employees were recruited to fill his position.
Of course, we also have a team of 15 volunteers who either run the mobile unit every Sunday, or work in other positions (photographer, driver, social media manager, administrative support, etc.). Volunteers are vital for our operation, because they are active members of civil society and play an important role in exposing and fighting against the social exclusion faced by the homeless.
How do you manage to provide these services for free? Have you received support from private and / or state institutions?
Since the beginning we have received support by sponsors and donours. Also in the spots where we operate, water and electricity are provided by partners (organisations and municipalities). The main sponsor is the company LG, which, in addition to providing the appliances we use in our mobile unit, has also supported us financially to create the first job positions.
We have a lot of support from other companies (P&G, SANITAS, ENDLESS, COSMOTE, etc.) and we are trying to attract more donations from institutions and individuals. We must also mention that an important factor in our development was the fact that for our first 2 years of operation, our offices are hosted by HIGGS, an NGO which aims to support and reinforce other non-profit organisations.
How many vans do you have now? Is the existing number sufficient or are you hoping for further additions?
At this time we have a mobile unit with two washers and two tumblers and we operate 5 days a week. At present, it is sufficient for the number of people who seek our services. Soon we hope to add two more operating spots to reach even more people in need of our services, and then we want to carry out a survey on their needs as well as on possible new operating spots.
In what ways can one contribute to your project?
What is the most valuable lesson or experience you have gained from the project? Is there any advice for someone who would like to launch a similar initiative?
I think I learned my most important lesson by people who have worked for our group, who were long-term unemployed and either were homeless or faced the risk of being. I saw how important it is to give someone in dire need the opportunity to reintegrate and become an active member of society. We witnessed obvious changes in the psychological state and self-confidence of our first two employees already within their first 3-4 months with us. They now show more faith in themselves and have regained the courage to try and improve their everyday life.
Also, providing cleaning services to people who do not have access to something most of us take for granted, proves the great importance of hygiene in reclaiming one’s dignity and self-esteem. One recent example was a message sent to us by a former beneficiary, who had found himself displaced in our country; he was thanking us very warmly and telling us how important our services had been for him, at a time when he was struggling to survive this hardship.
My only piece of advice to someone with a similar idea is to give it a try, because it is important to offer to others and try to help them overcome the problems they face in our society.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Thomas Maloutas on the “Athens Social Atlas” project; Teaching refugees in Greece how to code; Social Solidarity Policies: Establishing a Welfare State that Contributes to Development
The Annecy International Animation Film Festival, established in the 60’s, is the top reference for animation worldwide, while its International Animation Film Market (Mifa) is the animation industry's foremost showcase in terms of co-producing, purchasing, selling, financing and distributing animation content for all broadcasting platforms.
For the second consecutive year Asifa Hellas - Hellenic Animation Association will participate in the Festival, with 16 projects which include 4 feature and 4 short films with the support of the General Secretariat for Media and Communication (GSMC) of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media. GSMC is actively committed to the development of Greek audiovisual production, with a focus on animation and video games and it has undertaken a series of initiatives for the promotion of Greek Video Games and Animation community, including the new legal framework for the development of the country's audiovisual sector (L. 4487/ voted by the Greek Parliament in August 2017) and the establishment of the National Center for Audiovisual Media & Communication (EKOME S.A.).
“Man Wanted”by I. Zhonga, Stop Motion Animation, 9 min
During a press conference that took place at the GSMC, the Anima Syros team that will travel to Annecy -Vassilis Karamitsanis, President of Asifa Hellas and the Anima Syros International Animation Festival + Agora, Panayiotis Kyriakoulakos, Vice president of Asifa Hellas and lecturer at the School of Engineering of the University of the Aegean, and Marineta Kritikou, film, stage and multimedia director and Agora moderator, who will promote the Greek projects at the Annecy Film Market (Mifa) - presented Asifa and its work.
Karamitsanis presented the results of the cooperation between the GSMC and Asifa Hellas, emphasizing the support that the GSMC has offered aiming at the export of Greek cultural products and the attraction of foreign investments. Asifa Hellas is the Greek branch of Asifa International and represents Greek animation. It cooperates with the GSMC in the context of the National Plan of Action for Animation and Games. A product of this cooperation was the campaign #GreekAnimation Rocks in a series of actions promoting Greek animation.
“Markos”, by Th. Kunstler, stop motion animation, 105 min
Panayiotis Kyriakoulakos further elaborated on the actions of the Greek Animation Rocks campaign for the year 2017, namely the first Greek participation in the Annecy Festival (June 12-17. 2017), where Greek Animation Rocks presented the history, the present and the near future of Greek animation, unveiling a cultural and business plan for its development, showcasing the projects and creators who dare to overcome the nation’s socioeconomic crisis and aspire to the development of international co-productions. The action was supported by the Hellenic Secretariat for Information and Communication, the Greek Film Centre, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), and the French Institute of Greece.
“Tag! You’re it” by M. Kakaridi Deligianni, 2D Animation
ASIFA HELLAS also supported the introduction of a 25% cash rebate scheme for all audiovisual production expenses in Greece. AH supported five projects at the Pitching Session of the Animasyros 10th International Animation Festival’s Agora (Syros, Greece 27 September - 1 October 2017). Moreover, it signed a cooperation protocol with ASIFA China to strengthen bilateral business and cultural ties in the field of Animation (Xiamen, China 12-17 October 2017). It also organized a celebration of International Animation Day at the French Institute of Greece. And in cooperation with the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) it showcased the results of Greek Animation Rocks so far at the 58th TIFF (Thessaloniki, Greece 2-12 November 2017).
“Karim and Hercules” by T. Deligiannis and V. Tsiouvaras, 3D Animation, 8 min
Marineta Kritikou stressed that this year’s Greek presence in Annecy will be more powerful and presented the 16 projects that will travel to Annecy this year, which include
4 feature films: “Markos”, by Th. Kunstler, stop motion animation, 105 min, “The Night with the Kalikantzarous”, by Sp. Siakas, 3D Animation, 70 min, “Walie Walnut and the Christmas tree” by T. Ioannides, musical animation, 70 min and “Tag! You’re it” by M. Kakaridi Deligianni, 2D Animation
4 short films: “Same Life, Different Day”, by K. Economou, Live Action/Digital Drawings, 6 min 30 sec, “The animated story of Breaking Bad”, by A. Smirniotis, Rotoscope, 1 min 10 sec, “Karim and Hercules” by T. Deligiannis and V. Tsiouvaras, 3D Animation, 8 min and “Man Wanted” by I. Zhonga, Stop Motion Animation, 9 min;
3 TV series: “Mentor”, by A. Rouvas, 3D & 2D Animation, Special TV, 30 min “Future postman”, by S. Kotsovoulos, 2D computer/cut-out, TV series, 13 X 5 min, “The treasure at the roots of the tree of earth” by V. Karadimas, 2D CG / Digital Puppetry, TV series, 17 X 7 min;
2 miniseries: “Save your planet" by T. Kotsiras, 3D animation, TV series, 20 X 2 min and “Month” by A. Dimitra, 2D Animation, TV series, 12 X 2 min;
a pilot episode: “Mythland” by Kl. Kyriakides, 2D, 3D, Puppet, Hand draw animation, Pilot TV episode, 12 min 31 sec
and 2 interactive web flipbooks: "A Letter - A story" by A. Papadaniel and S. Madouvalou, interactive web-based animation and Telis” flipbooks, “Pocket Cinema” series by A. Papadaniel, 2D Animation, Prod: Syllipsis Ltd
Interview with Vassilis Karamitsanis
Greek news Agenda interviewed* Vassilis Karamitsanis on the current Greek animation production, the cooperation between Asifa and GSMC and his expectations from the Greek participation at the Annecy Festival.
Born in Athens, 1976, Karamitsanis is a lisenced attorney-at-Law by the Athens Bar Association He has a degree in Law from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and completed his post-graduate studies in the Universities of Rotterdam, Hamburg and Aix-Marseille III. He's president to ASIFA HELLAS - and Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora. He was recently elected member of Board of Directors of CIFEJ (International Centre of Films for Children & Young People).
“Mentor”, by A. Rouvas, 3D & 2D Animation, Special TV, 30 min
Law 4487, voted by the Greek Parliament in August 2017, sets the new legal framework for the development of the country's audiovisual sector. How do you think it will help animation production?
The new legal framework set out for the support of audiovisual productions is the first one entirely treating cinema as a vehicle of social and financial development. This is a very encouraging fact, as we all know that cinema in low-capacity European countries like Greece has been rather underfinanced by both private and public sources over decades. More precisely, in the field of animation, we believe that the new incentive providing a substantial cash rebate of 25% will soon bear fruit. Especially for international co-productions, as well as large-scale national initiatives, the rebate may prove to be a long-term tool for better produced and distributed animation works that could turn our growing animation community among the most dynamic players in our region.
“The treasure at the roots of the tree of earth”by V. Karadimas, 2D CG / Digital Puppetry, TV series, 17 X 7 min
Would you like to tell us a few things about ASIFA's collaboration with the General Secretariat for Media and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media? How did it start and what are its accomplishments so far?
Since its beginning in the 00's, ASIFA HELLAS - Hellenic Animation Association has been forging ties with competent public authorities in Greece and the EU, aiming both at financial support and the endorsement of joint activities for the promotion of Greek Animation. 2015 was a milestone year for us, since it marked 70 consecutive years of Greek Animation history. It was on this occasion that, together with the competent General Secretariat for Media & Communication, we outlined a multi-year development plan for the strengthening of our community, the enhancement of its actions worldwide and its gradual evolvement into a considerate international player. Since then, we’ve had the pleasure of reaping an impressive number of rewards, most notably the hosting of numerous selected Greek Animation tributes around the world at festivals and other events, the successful launching of our ongoing multi-action campaign #GreekAnimationRocks and, of course, the radical increase of Greek Animation visibility in media and audiences globally.
"A Letter - A story", by A. Papadaniel and S. Madouvalou, interactive web-based animation
What do you think about current animation production in Greece?
We are very optimistic. Greece is at a developing stage towards becoming a regional player in the animation industry, thanks to a large number of avid, highly-educated animators becoming active along the way. We are delighted that new animation businesses start up every year in our country. To be honest though, it’s been a decade now that Greek Animation has been growing increasingly important in the international animation scene. The interest of a global audience at last year‘s #GreekAnimationRocks at Annecy has been remarkable. We still have a long way to go however, as we join forces with all stakeholders and the Greek State striving for a better future for our national animation community.
“Same Life, Different Day”, by K. Economou, Live Action/Digital Drawings, 6 min 30 sec
What are your expectations from the Annecy Festival?
It is the second time that the Greeks peacefully invade the French Alps. Following last year's positive outcome, this June we plan a stronger presence at MIFA, the Annecy festival's market. We have a larger and better placed pavilion, we produced a comprehensive printed Hellenic Animation Guide for the first time and we’ve scheduled a range of communication events throughout the Festival’s duration. With a rich portfolio of completed works and works in progress from Greece, Cyprus and the Greek Diaspora, we intend to make our presence more powerful this year, building links with existing and new partners, enhancing the visibility of Greek talent worldwide and discussing synergy schemes to be developed in time.
“The animated story of Breaking Bad”, by A. Smirniotis, Rotoscope, short film, 1 min 10 sec
You are the President of Anima Syros International Animation Festival and Agora. What is its contribution to the enhancement of Greek Animation?
Since its establishment in 2008, Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora has been advocating the empowerment of Greek Animation by showcasing the best of our national animation cinematography. We have been lucky enough to witness an impressive growth of national production over the years. Furthermore, we’ve organised a number of initiatives bridging Greek animators with key-players of the global industry. Our most important achievement is the establishment of the Agora in Syros, a unique regional market place for animation professionals from Europe and around the world. For the first time this year, we host the Athens Animation Agora just prior to the festival in September 2018. In this new endeavour, we are proud to receive the endorsement and support of the Hellenic General Secretariat for Media & Communication.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read also: General Secretariat for Media and Communication boosting Greek Gaming & Animation, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, One more reason to film in Greece: A new legal framework of economic incentives, General Secretariat for Media and Communication boosting Greek Gaming & Animation, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, 10 Reasons to film in Greece, “Filming Greece”: our new series of interviews on Greek Cinema.
As of September 2018, Dr. Gonda Van Steen takes on the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language & Literature at the Department of Classics of King’s College in London, at the same time assuming the directorship of the Centre for Hellenic Studies. Professor Van Steen is a devoted scholar and avid researcher of the language, literature and history of Ancient as well as Modern Greece, whose interests, research and publications cover a vast area, from Classics and Archaeology to chapters of 20th-century Greek history, obscure to most people outside Greece.
Having graduated with an M.A. in Classical Philology in her native Belgium, Van Steen continued her studies in the USA, where she went on to pursue a brilliant academic career. She is the current holder of the Cassas Chair in Greek Studies at the Department of Classics and Center for Greek Studies of the University of Florida. She is also an esteemed member of the Modern Greek Studies Association of North America, where she served as President (2012-14) and currently holds the position of Executive Director. Apart from her knowledge of Ancient Greek, Gonda Van Steen is also fluent in five modern languages, including Greek.
The modern interpretation of classical theatre has been a major theme in several of Van Steen’s publications, such as Venom in Verse: Aristophanes in Modern Greece (Princeton University Press, 2000), which was awarded the London Hellenic Prize, and Theatre of the Condemned: Classical Tragedy on Greek Prison Islands (Oxford University Press, 2010) which discusses the production of ancient tragedies by the political prisoners of the Greek Civil War. Her current book project, Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece focuses on Greek adoption stories that become paradigmatic of Cold War politics. Professor Van Steen spoke* to Greek News Agenda about her interest in Ancient and Modern Greek culture, and the ways these can affect our perspective today.
How did your interest in the Ancient Greek language and literature begin?
As a teenager, I was interested in the myths and monuments of Greece. That fascination led me to the Ancient Greek language, itself the key to Ancient Greek literature, which I have loved ever since. I studied classical languages through middle and high school, and I continued on in college in Belgium and through graduate school in the United States. But my interest really piqued as soon as I was able to travel to Greece, which is also what opened my eyes to the need to study Modern Greek. Since my first trip to Greece in the early 1980s, I have fostered a lifelong fascination with all things Greek, starting with the Classics and with archaeology, language, and literature, to then discover Byzantium, Modern Greece, and the complexities of their contemporary histories and cultures.
Gonda van Steen with staff and students after an open workshop at the Faculty of Theatre Studies, UoA in June 2018
So it was through your classical studies that you discovered Modern Greece. However, although many non-Greek nationals engage in the study of Ancient Greek Culture, few have examined the intricacies of 20th-century Greek history.
Indeed, I followed the path of the classicist who discovers the richness of the Modern Greek language and culture. For me, however, that encounter with contemporary Greece was a path of no return, and I threw myself wholeheartedly into the study of everything Modern Greek but especially of the theater, history, and politics of twentieth-century Greece.
You don’t hesitate to explore sensitive issues, such as the recent history of Greece: the military dictatorship and the Civil War, a touchy subject for many. Is your interest in the political as strong as your love for the artistic and cultural aspects of Modern Greece?
I like to approach Greek politics from a somewhat oblique angle, such as through the lens of theater, which I see as a mirror of and on contemporary society and intellectual life. Also, I find myself attracted to topics that have not yet been properly explored, such as the theater of the prison islands of the Greek Civil War, or the performance and censorship phenomena of the Greek military dictatorship. Overall, I shy away from “loud” politics, but I relentlessly pursue the study of the impact of politics and the arts on the margins.
One particularly interesting publication of yours was Theatre of the condemned, a study on the performance of Greek tragedies by political prisoners in Greek internment camps during the Civil War period. How did this subject come to your attention, and what can be learned through this research?
I had read bits and pieces about theater productions staged on the prison islands of the Civil War and its aftermath. But I felt that these performances needed to be studied in their own right, not as vehicles for partisan political comments. That is how I started to read historical and political works on the time period in question and also many memoirs written by the political prisoners themselves. In addition, I conducted numerous interviews with former detainees and was constantly struck by how they felt that theater and culture, and the group collaborations they required, had sustained them through one of the most trying ordeals of their lives. I learned that, among the isolated or the “condemned,” the collective effort that a theater production demands, can be one of the most inspiring and also gratifying commitments.
You are currently studying another issue linked to that era: the mass international adoptions of Greek-born children by USA citizens in the 1950s and 1960s, a fact unknown to many. You have actually been involved in this issue in a more personal manner, rather than purely academic – what made you passionate about it?
I started pursuing the topic of the Greek-to-American child adoptions as another inroad into the politics of mid-twentieth-century Greece. But I soon discovered how much potential this international adoption movement, as a historical and again understudied phenomenon, holds for a deeper engagement with the (most intimate) social history of postwar and Cold War Greece. I offer a historical study of the what, why, and how of this Greek adoption movement that placed hundreds of children in the USA and also in the Netherlands. I delve into Greek, American, and Dutch archives to present a complete historical record. Once again, however, I enrich this study with, and I have personally been much enriched by, the many conversations with Greek-born adoptees, now American and Dutch adults who are looking for their roots in the home country to which they have never been thoroughly exposed. These adoptees’ quests and their first adult experiences of Greece open up a chapter in transnational studies and in “life writing” that is again worth investigating, by lifelong students of Greece and by the broader public alike.
You have recently been appointed to be the next Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language & Literature at King’s College, London. What do you hope to contribute to this position? You stated that you intend to “delve deeper into twentieth-century Greek social history”.
At King’s College, I hope to offer courses in reception studies, language, and literature, and I will indeed delve deeper into twentieth-century Greek social and family history. I am excited to start working with graduate students and colleagues in KCL’s Centre for Hellenic Studies, and I aim to build bridges across UK campuses, to the Greek diaspora community in Britain, and also to the rest of Europe, while maintaining professional contacts with colleagues in the USA.
My prior book and article publications have foregrounded Modern Greek receptions of the Classics. Most recently, I published Stage of Emergency: Theater and Public Performance under the Greek Military Dictatorship of 1967-1974. My current book project, entitled Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece, is the above-mentioned Greek adoption ethnography, which is set against the backdrop of the global Cold War. This project is taking me into the new, uncharted terrain of Greek adoption stories that become paradigmatic of Greek postwar history and international Cold War politics.
What do you believe the study of the social history of Modern Greece can offer to people from the rest of Europe and the world?
The study of Modern Greece and of its social history, especially, is one that offers deep perspective, a rich vantage point of comparison, and also a complex warning signal of how to read and what to negotiate (or avoid) when it comes to state or private interventions (whether the handling of the current economic crisis or the condoning of the mass adoption movement of the postwar past).
You are the Executive Director -and also a former President- of the Modern Greek Studies Association, a US-based institution aiming to “showcase the merits of the Modern Greek tradition and contemporary Greek culture”. Would you share with us a few words about the MGSA’s initiatives and the ways it advances research in this field?
The Modern Greek Studies Association of North America functions as a professional organization of all those involved with the study of contemporary Greece and Cyprus. The MGSA’s journal, the Journal of Modern Greek Studies, is a highly acclaimed, peer-reviewed periodical that features scholarship across various disciplines but always related to the Modern Greek world. It is a truly interdisciplinary journal, and that cross-disciplinarity is also reflected in the spirit in which our biennial symposia, or three-day conferences, are conducted. The latter feature presentations by neohellenists from across the globe and also promote the participation of graduate students in the field of Modern Greek Studies. The MGSA further functions as a clearinghouse of information related to the field and devotes special attention also to the teaching of Modern Greek as a second language. The association was founded in 1968 and celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Read also via Greek News Agenda: 100 years from the founding of the Koraes Chair at King’s College, London; Rethinking Greece: Roderick Beaton on the study of Greece and modern Greek achievements; An Englishwoman in Evia: Publisher Denise Harvey on her love for Greek literature and culture
The 18th Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival will be held on June 4-10, 2018, at the Technopolis City of Athens venue, offering music lovers a week-long jazz experience. This year, once more with the collaboration of the Οnassis Cultural Centre Athens (OCC), the festival features one of its most comprehensive line-ups, with performances by twenty-one bands, plus a number of parallel events, exhibitions and some surprises. These include NEW GENERATION 5, the fifth edition of the Greek Jazz Panorama, hosted at the upper stage of the OCC, where virtuosi from the Greek jazz scene share the stage with the new generation of musicians.
The festival’s artistic director for the 2018-19 season is Antonis Zouganelis. Zouganelis has been active in the music and events industry since 2000. Having worked as Strategy Manager for Warner Music, he later created the Archangel Music company, which initiated the music site Jumping Fish for the promotion of young artists, and ARK festival. Since 2014, he has been working as an Event and Sponsors Consultant at the Technopolis City of Athens, as well as being in charge of the concerts programme. We interviewed* Antonis Zouganelis on this year’s Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival, and his hopes for the organisation’s future.
Who had the original idea for the Technopolis Jazz Festival? How did your involvement begin?
The Festival was founded by Technopolis in 2000, conceived and initiated by Fotis Papathanasiou, then Managing Director of Technopolis, and Hirst Deinwaller, then director of the Goethe Institut in Athens. Now, eighteen years later, the festival has become international, is of a weekly duration, with performances by more than 23 artists and 40,000 visitors each year. Until last year, the embassies and educational institutions engaged in the project, together with the Technopolis’ Cultural Department, were in charge of the event’s artistic direction.
Starting this year, and always in collaboration with our partners, we have decided to give the Festival a specific orientation and a new identity within jazz music and steer it onto a new course following the latest trend in contemporary jazz around the world, hosting some of the best young jazz artists and rising stars in the world.
How hard is to sustain such a project in Greece?
Now that the Festival has grown bigger, and with the support of its patrons and sponsors, it has become more sustainable. The festival’s audience has expanded and it has become a staple as the launch of the summer concert season in Athens. Without the support of Technopolis and its partners, however, it wouldn’t have come so far. It is the vision of the Technopolis team, the support of the partners and the response from the people, which has made such a project possible, after many years of commitment and hard work. For a new project of this sort to succeed today, it would require significant investment from a private company, an institution or state agency and still that would be just the beginning. Consistency, hard work and a clear vision are some of the key features a team needs to achieve such a goal.
Are you satisfied with the Festival's progress so far and the people’s response? What do you think it has offered to music lovers?
The Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival is now hailed as one of the city’s foremost cultural institutions – and not by chance. Each year it gets better, with regard to both artistic content and event planning, featuring notable participations from Greece and abroad. The great turnout and response point to an audience with a real interest in jazz, in tune with developments on the jazz scene. This of course creates a responsibility towards them. Every year we strive for a perfect artistic result, we network, we partner up with more and more institutions and foreign organisations.
In these difficult times for our country, our festival has managed to maintain free admission to the events, without giving anything up in terms of quality; it is financially self-sufficient, thanks to its sponsors and partners, something we try to do for every Technopolis production.
What makes this year’s line-up “better than ever”?
This year we’ve added an extra day to the programme, a “Greek showcase” day, giving the audience the chance to watch and discover some of the best jazz artists in Greece and the best jazz projects of the past year. So on Monday, June 4, the John Balikos Trio, Mihalis Kalkanis, the Athens Big Band featuring Dimitris Tsakas and Vasilis Xenopoulos, the Drums & Voices Jazztronica Duet and Alex Dante will welcome the audience on the main stage and on specially designed stages in the premises of the Industrial Gas Museum.
Over the rest of the week, 18 more up-and-coming jazz artists from the international scene will appear, completing the best and biggest line-up in the history of the Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival. Do not miss Binker and Moses from England, who have entered the list for the world's best dynamic jazz duos for 2017, Theo Croker from USA, a trumpeter performing with Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Sebastian Studnitzky from Germany, the man behind XJAZZ, the most hyped jazz festival in Berlin.
Would you give us a taste of the surprises promised in your press release?
Running parallel to the concerts in the course of the festival you will find the Meet Market’s Jazz edition, Dinner in the Sky, and three photo exhibitions - two of which by Greek instagramers. Moreover, the "Booknotes" project, combining jazz with literature, comes to the Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival on the sidelines of Athens 2018 - World Book Capital, after two years of successful book-jammings at Jazz Point Cafe. There will also be many creative learning programmes, workshops and educational programmes for children and families. You will find all the information on our website and on the website of Technopolis.
Is there anything more you hope to achieve in the future? Are you confident that the Festival will continue for many years to come?
Of course! The Festival has proven to be a sustainable project, evolving each year, thanks to the right management and the team’s vision.
What we are currently working on is a special edition for the Festival’s 20th edition, in 2020; we want it to feature many of the best up-and-coming jazz bands from around the world on the three stages in Technopolis, to “open up to the city” through parallel events in various spots around Athens and to form a “club night line-up” expanding the festival’s programme to many Athens music venues. Our goal until then is for Athens and its citizens to discover and experience jazz in every corner and city square, for the duration of each Festival; for Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival to become a meeting point and a magnet for music lovers internationally.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Paschalis Nikolaou is Assistant Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University, Corfu. His writings on translation studies have appeared in such publications as Translation and Creativity: Perspectives on Creative Writing and Translation Studies; reviews and translations have been widely published in journals in Greece and abroad. He is the editor and co-translator of 12 Greek Poems After Cavafy (Shearsman Books, 2015) and has co-edited Translating Selves: Experience and Identity between Languages and Literatures (Continuum, 2008), The Perfect Order: Selected Poems 1974-2010 by Nasos Vayenas (Anvil Press Poetry, 2010), a volume shortlisted for the Criticos (now London Hellenic) Prize, and most recently, Richard Berengarten: A Portrait in Inter-Views (Shearsman Books, 2017). He is currently reviews editor of the academic journal mTm, consulting editor to the International Literary Quarterly, as well as a regular contributor to the Greek literary journal Nea Efthyni.
His most recent book titled The Return of Pytheas: Scenes from British and Greek Poetry in Dialogue (Shearsman Books, 2017) is a study of poetry and poems through and across two language traditions – Greek and English. While the main focus is recent and contemporary, exchanges reach back as far as Aeschylus and the Iliad. Across four chapters populated with poems compelled by the sharing of reference and imagination, Nikolaou delves into associations that are as constantly desired as they are auspiciously productive, including the endlessly varied conditions and factors that bring poets together as they pursue transfers of self, place, experience, and longing. The result is a close-range mapping of an entire community of poetic dialogues that are intensely lived as they are lived in, constantly revitalizing themselves as they carry into the 21st century.
Paschalis Nikolaou spoke to Reading Greece* about The Return of Pytheas commenting on the encounters between Greek and British Poetry, as well as on the reception of Greek poetry – both ancient and contemporary – by 20th and 21st century British poets, and, their impact on Greek literary production. He talks about the challenge of moving beyond long-standing stereotypes and the contribution of poetry to this end, while he also discusses the role of translation in the diffusion of literature beyond national borders. He concludes that "there is much to accomplish still in improving, coordinating, and deepening, exchanges", noting that "improved results will come from forming networks of universities, and through systematic discussions between them, state structures and private bodies in the future".
In your latest book The Return of Pytheas: Scenes from British and Greek Poetry in Dialogue, you comment that “the figure of the ancient Greek seafarer comes to symbolize a rich panoply of encounters: of a poet with another land and people; of expressions and revolutions in verse of the experiences of travel, long stays abroad and relocation”. Tell us about some such encounters between Greek and British Poetry.
Αbove all, it serves as a reminder to us that in both traditions, themes of exploration were always strong. There is closeness to the sea; our history is also a maritime history. And of course, in some British poets, we come across actual references to the figure of Pytheas, direct treatments. We soon realize interesting contrasts, or rather, interesting asynchronies – in Empire and post-Empire Britain, or a modern Greece that is too often (mis)understood in relation to the classical world, and its inheritance. Some relationships may seem lopsided; the one with Homer going back to Chapman, imports and negotiations of modernist values through Seferis and other poets of his generation.
When it comes to Greek (cultural) space, poetic dialogues are entangled with notions and experiences of travel. Even before Byron, visits to Greece coincide with diary records, dramatizations – and of course, poems. In The Return of Pytheas I am attempting, for the most part, to look at a number of cases post-1960. There are poets who have built a steady relationship with certain regions and islands after long stays in Greece. Sebastian Barker or Kelvin Corcoran for instance, the latter even producing an anthology of Greek-themed poems. British influences, place-names can be found in poets like Nasos Vayenas or Haris Vlavianos but also in the writing – the structuring of collections even – of poets who’ve been to Britain post-1990, often initially as students. Krystalli Glyniadakis comes to mind.
The underlying intention here, of course, is also to ask ourselves about boundaries and borders, interpenetrations which may have already happened: because there are also poets of Greek ancestry who write in English and publish their work in Britain, like Alice Kavounas or Fani Papageorgiou. Τheir poems often contemplate what it means to be Greek, half-Greek, living abroad, pursuing connections with individual and collective memory. So these dialogues can be many-sided, and often internal. On the other hand, there’s a deep, ongoing relationship with Cavafy in poets like Josephine Balmer and Christopher Middleton; again, Vayenas’s resourceful re-transmitting of Gavin Ewart; several of these dialogues happen through translation, or variously reconsider its practices.
How would you comment on the reception of Greek poetry – both ancient and contemporary – by 20th and 21st century British poets? And, in turn, what has been the impact of British poets on Greek literary production?
The impact of British poets is perhaps more diffused, a bit harder to assess. Τhough you can certainly trace resulting inflections and re-arrangements in Dionysis Kapsalis and, from the poetic voices emerging in recent years, the work of Maria Topali, Thodoris Rakopoulos, Katerina Iliopoulou and Yiannis Doukas. A sense of discipline in composition, renewed interest in formal features and narrative appears to follow such encounters (often initially taking the form of translation). Their products are well spread – which means there’s still much more for us to study here – in journals like Poiitiki, Nea Efthyni or Odos Panos. I am talking about the recent past, of course, because shifts occurring in the wake of literary modernism are well-studied. But even earlier, there are such scenes: for instance, Cavafy attempting translations of Tennyson, Shelley and Keats in the 1890s.
British poets – I mentioned this earlier – have been aligning with Homer for centuries, with three notable examples in the 20th and 21st centuries being Logue’s War Music, Walcott’s Omeros of course and Oswald’s more recent Memorial. Dramatic works, Sophocles and Euripides in particular, have appealed to Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage.Τhe result can be staged performances, or meaningful fragments embedded within individual collections, in dialogue with original poetry.
Then there’s the example of Cavafy which is absolutely unique, not only looking at the incredible number of book-length editions, especially post-2001, but also translations done by poets like Don Paterson and John Ash, as well as Cavafy-inspired poems, even collections of poems. Seferis and Ritsos recur less in this sense, but we still come across negotiations of style and themes in a sequence like Richard Berengarten’s Black Light: Poems in Memory of George Seferis, published 35 years ago. Τhe Greek translation, by Vayenas and Ilias Lagios appeared in 2005. David Harsent has put out some mesmerizing versions of Ritsos. I haven’t seen any engagements with Elytis for some time, though the late Sebastian Barker was fascinated with him and often channeled him into his work. Greek poets writing today are even less visible.
David Connolly supports the idea that “many contemporary poets who have failed to make an impact in English translation have undoubtedly suffered from the legacy of Greece’s ancient past and from a particular perception of Greece by Westerners”. How challenging is itto move beyond long-standing stereotypes and form a new imaginary about the country? Could contemporary poetry help to this end?
It is worth noting that Connolly discusses this in introducing his English translation of Yannis Kondos’s collection O Athlitis tou Tipota (1997), itself an example of ‘best practice’, of how to conquer certain problems. Absurd Athlete was a bilingual edition, published relatively close to ‘real time’, and within a series of books of contemporary poetry – Arc Publishing’s Visible Poets, still going strong – that took particular care of details that matter. There’s a point to make, incidentally, with respect to what counts as modern or contemporary verse, for readers in other languages and traditions. Τhe translated Seferis, Fokas, or Anghelaki-Rooke are in some respects nearer in time to the Anglophone reader than they are to us. We need to synchronize our watches a bit more. There aren’t as many examples like Absurd Athlete as we would like (but I happily note the recent translation of Phoebe Giannisi's Homerica), that is, in terms of us thinking beyond a possible Selected Poems, more assertively situating the translation of a poet who is writing in the here-and-now. In 2018, several Greek poets have produced work worthy of this treatment. When it comes to stereotypes, the visual aspect too can be important: we resisted – the poet also – a blue cover initially suggested to us by the publisher for Vayenas’s Selected Poems. (The final cover was exactly the same, but a shade of brown instead of blue.) One realizes how very many book-covers of translated poetry from Greece use blue. Even such colour-codings – or other visual shortcuts – activate a set of responses, and resupply readers with stock images, well into the 21st century. I suspect that until we move beyond a stage of anthologies, a few poets rising above current groups, with recognizable, individual themes and formal concerns, it’s going to be naturally easier for editors or publishers to suggest – or impose – a direction. I’d rather have a particular poet’s perspective, sense of things (not necessarily of Greece) emphasized, a poet that happens to be Greek.
What is more, we’ve noticed in the past that when there’s survival of poetic voice(s) beyond a given frame, beyond the initiatives – commendable as they are – of translators, editors, publishers and so on, this is often precisely because their verse becomes transfused, assimilated, imitated, re-expressed by fellow poets. This would be the case of say, a Cavafy-inspired poem written by Christopher Reid or Evan Jones, who have clearly read Cavafy in translation first. Again, there’s an extra step involved here; when translation leads to something else. Not many poets have endured simply by virtue of their presence in ‘translation proper’. Other echoes, filtrations are necessary. When we start reading poems ‘in the manner of’, then we’re on to something.
Theodoros Chiotis claims that “this particular historical circumstance might be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for contemporary Greek literature to be diffused outside Greece”. Yet, could contemporary poetic voices extend their presence in English beyond the current socio-political frame?
Arguably there are already some distances involved, yet even when the effects of the crisis on Greek society were overwhelming, poetic writing was not decisively bound to social and political circumstances.Poetic voices can extend their presence beyond this sort of frame, and if anything, they must – poetry strives for a different kind of duration, I think. Particular events, behaviours intensifying in those years, are naturally reflected in some form in the literature produced in the period. I believe it happens more effectively in prose fiction than in poetry. Even so, some poets have focused on the socioeconomic crisis in parts of their work (and many more spoke about the crisis).
There is, inevitably, poetry written during the crisis. Whether it’s thematically, formally, tonally different enough from what has gone on before…that’s a harder point to argue. One dominant mode includes disjointed aphorisms, an often unearned lyricism that may even be counterintuitive to absorbing and truly describing the impact of events. On the other hand, when one is editing a book, and working out the ideas and structuring principles behind it – this can sometimes be more clearly part of the poetry of its time. The book enters a critical legacy of the period, and may reveal the way we see, or want to see, ourselves.
I think it’s preferable to consider larger categories, and if one does that, the time soon comes to champion specific poets, to progress beyond groups. And several groups were indeed formed during the crisis – that’s true. Again, ‘opportunity’ is not a word I would use, though I can sense how it is primarily meant; and I agree with Chiotis when he suggests that there needs to be a more consistent book policy, a more intelligent approach to getting people excited about contemporary poetry from Greece. It is, however, a long game; it will take time for a small set, of 2-3 poets to have their names truly recognized outside of Greece – for them to enter, really and consequentially, a literary elsewhere.
When translating from a so-called “minor” to a so-called “major” language or literature, translators do sometimes hold remarkable power, including the power to produce what will in many cases become the only interpretation of a work of literature available in a given language. How do you respond to this power?
Well, it’s true. In most cases, a poet will only get one shot. Cavafy is the exception to the rule perhaps, but we’ve long passed the point since he became part of world literature. Literatures in major languages may often be voracious, but attention-spans can be limited – and sometimes this applies to key poets, Nobel-winners: even recognition on that level won’t necessarily guarantee a continuously maintained existence in this or that literary or cultural memory.
In terms of translation, any such project attempts to take into account several, often competing, intentions. And there’s always a balance to be struck between verse that is representative of someone’s work – those key poems that unquestionably should be repeated across languages – and some titles that lend themselves particularly well, to, say, English or Spanish. Translators need to be involved, I feel, in most aspects of a book’s presentation and reception, including, as I mentioned earlier, the cover. Paratexts, their combined length and balance, need to reflect a good understanding of our intended readers, the amount of information they will normally seek, or be able to absorb. Emphasizing or clarifying intertextual relationships is often a priority.
Even more so in the case of a Selected Poems, there are connections and analogies that readers may be encouraged to pursue. For a poet like Vayenas, whose work I co-edited and co-translated some years back, it was crucial to communicate to English readers his activity as a critic, so Richard Berengarten and I thought it was important to include a brief selection from Vayenas’s essays. And a bilingual chapbook of Greek Cavafy-inspired poems I edited in 2015 also was a chance for English readers to glance at some little known Greek poets.
Overall, one needs to be patient, in so many ways, during the making of a translation and what surrounds it – even more so in cases of collaboration; and then stay involved in variously ensuring this work remains visible, long after it has been translated and published, of course. And yet, one may do everything right – and I’ve witnessed this often – the writer can be truly important, and still not much happens; the moment passes. So, at the very least, you want to be very capable and active in a number of areas, beyond actual translating – as translators, our work is often very close to that of an editor or literary critic, and this is something we also try to communicate to students of literary translation.
In your book you conclude that “there is much to accomplish still in improving, coordinating, and deepening, exchanges”. Could you elaborate on that?
Certain organizations, the Onassis Cultural Centre or the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center for instance, are already doing great work in encouraging dialogues between scholars and poets. A rejuvenated Greek National Library (which has recently moved to the Faliro bay site of the Niarchos complex) has given signs of an ambitious schedule of events, which will hopefully include future invitations to writers working abroad. And there have also been efforts already in managing Estates and Archives of Greek poets. When done right, this kind of activity enhances our knowledge and leads to more consequential dissemination of work – especially when it comes to some key, yet lesser-known names. New discoveries often occur, when drafts and manuscripts are ordered and digitized – and such processes can later be connected to translation. We sometimes think the position of a poet within a culture is stable: non-improvable – or unassailable. But that’s precisely where translation begins. Nor is it just the younger poets that deserve our attention. Re-examinations of tradition, appreciating anew – first of all within Greece – the significance of a number of 20th century poets (Zisis Oikonomou, for instance), republishing them … These are steps that should never really be ‘skipped’.
There used to be some funding programmes, like the often-lamented ‘Frasis’, suspended during the years of the crisis. Re-instating a version of it could be crucial, and ideally, more financial sources should be directed expressly towards translation from some of the private institutions too – involving, even, stable collaborations with publishers abroad: it would be interesting to have a series of books by Greek poets, with a recognizable design and with a solid team of editors/translators attached to it. So it’s not necessarily a case of returning to anything as centralized as just one, state-run programme. Yet this is an environment where co-ordination through the entire chain is truly important, from early presentations of translations, to launching and promoting published books.
There are also certain prizes and awards that draw attention to Greek literature and its study, such as the Runciman, the London Hellenic Prize, the Edmund Keeley Book Prize… The first two sometimes honour translations, but it would be even better once again to see a prize dedicated to translations of Greek literature into English.
Finally, to my mind, few things work better than finding ways to have writers, scholars, and if possible, translators, around each other. A small literary gathering, a ‘summer school’ or ideally, a festival like the one we hosted at the Ionian University in October 2017, when we invited four Irish and four Greek noveliststo Corfu. This kind of event creates a wealth of connections, inspirations, and even sometimes, unexpected collaborations. It may still include academic sessions, book launches, roundtables, various workshops. Early translation efforts and contacts with publishers can all happen in this context. Depending on interesting funding bodies of course, I know there’s no lack of organizations and venues that would host such events; the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting where I’m based, certainly pursues such opportunities. Improved results will come from forming networks of universities, and through systematic discussions between them, state structures and private bodies in the future.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Where is the limit between fiction and reality in a documentary? How does one compose the portrait of a dear friend when he has stepped into the hereafter? In her recent documentary "Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope", director Eleni Alexandrakis portrays Kostis Papagiorgis, an important essayist and translator. Avoiding sentimentality, her film is a refreshing exercise of intertextuality, in which excerpts of his texts along with testimonies coming from important representatives of the Greek intellectual scene compose an image of the late essayist.
Eleni Alexandrakis was born in Athens in 1957. She studied film at the Sorbonne University, Paris I and at the National Film and TV School of England. She has written, directed and produced several fiction films and documentaries, among which: "A Drop in the Ocean" (fiction, 1995), "Easter is in the air" (documentary, 1999) "The Woman who longed for Home" (fiction, 2004) "Angel and the Weightlifter" (fiction, 2008). She has received several prizes in Greece and abroad.
Alexandrakis talked to Greek News Agenda* about her latest documentary "Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope" (2018) that won the Greek Association of Critics Award at the 20th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. As there was scarce visual material of Papagiorgis, Alexandrakis stresses the difficulty of composing his image from scratch based on the testimonies of the intellectuals, artists and people close to him. A dear friend of his and his wife, Alexandrakis says she was compelled to reread his books after his death, which was the inspiration for the film. Alexandrakis also talks about the inextricable link between his course of life and spiritual evolution which is reflected in his works.
Photo of Kostis Papagiorgis in "Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope" (2018)
Your documentary undertakes the difficult task of visualizing the absence of an important intellectual like Kostis Papagiorgis. Papagiorgis avoided appearing in the media. How did you deal with the absence of visual material depicting him?
Kostis Papagiorgis avoided self-exhibition like the plague, so one can’t find any live pictures of him anywhere. The only live images that exist and that I used in my documentary are various home movies, and some silent shots of him that Nikos Perrakis had filmed in 1994 for his documentary “Polis” (shots that he ultimately never included in the his film). So I had to compose a jigsaw puzzle of Kostis’ personality through the images that his texts inspired in me, combined with the words of the people who knew him. That was extremely challenging for me as I felt that I was rebuilding his image from scratch and that I was creating a ‘musical score’ of the ‘notes’ that compose his life. Intellectuals, artists, relatives or ordinary working people added their own touches to the portrait.
What prompted you to do this film and what was the influence of your friendship with him on the final product?
I was friends for 20 years with Kostis Papagiorgis and his wife Rania. Missing him after his death plunged me into rereading his books so as to “bring him back” or, at least, to shorten the distance between us and the “beyond”. Very soon, without realizing it, I started imagining a film, which was inspired by his words. I was also impressed to discover, in a different way now, how similar his life was to his writings. Without being autobiographical he writes about life and the “human condition” through his own experience with an incredibly clear insight. His texts are very personal, he has a very particular use of language and his approach to passion and philosophy is totally unconventional. The fact that I was seeing his features so clearly in his books gave me the urge to narrate in a film the story of his life through his thinking.
"Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope" (2018)
Although Papagiorgis did not pursue an academic education, he attended philosophy courses freely during his stay in France. To what extent do you feel that this “French period” influenced him?
Papagiorgis was self-taught as he always despised academic education and positions. He was too much of a rebel to be a classic student. He had such self-discipline and a brilliant mind that he managed to learn French entirely on his own and to study philosophy by himself. While Kostis lived in Paris, locked up for days and nights in his little “chambre de bonne” he read Heidegger’s “Being and Time” forty times, among the many other books that he also studied. Papagiorgis admired western civilization, and as he used to say, he really started to understand Plato through reading Heiddeger. This of course influenced and inspired his thinking, as well as the 19th century novel, which he adored. But all this served mostly to make him look inside his heart and soul and through this inner gaze to look clearly at the particularities of his own personality and country. After returning to Greece he felt he should stop writing “with his hand on the library” but he should be writing “with his hand on his heart” which led him to write experientially on passion, drunkenness, jealousy, misanthropy, death, sympathy, Greek history, Papadiamantis Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and a multitude of other subjects. Writing through his own experience he expresses himself on the universal problems of humanity and mankind. After living for eight years in Paris, he translated 54 books from French of the biggest thinkers of western civilization.
Agyris Pantazaras in "Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope" (2018)
Papagiorgis’ rich oeuvre of translation includes works by Βalzac, Foucault, Cioran, Lyotard, Pascal, Sartre, Bergson, Derrida etc. Who were his favorite thinkers?
I believe Balzac, Cioran, and Pascal are probably among his favorites. To show his love of Balzac I give you below a small extract of Papagiorgis’ introduction to his Balzac Anthology of “The Human Comedy”:
“Including in his capacity as a novelist the historian, the physiologist, the alchemist, the psychologist and the sociologist, Balzac achieved the impossible for today's circumstances: he became the mirror of a society that had been struck from the effects of French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and the Restoration.[…] It would not be inappropriate to think that this hypothetical interview* with Honoré de Balzac allows us to sketch the features of the 19th century itself.”
*Kostis means here that the anthology that he has made of Balzac's phrases is like a hypothetical interview
Akilas Karazissis, Agyris Pantazaras in "Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope" (2018)
Which aspects of his personality did you focus on?
Kostis always said that to write a book he needed to have experienced a stirring fact or event. He needed something that would create a shaking turmoil in his heart. While preparing the script and during the shooting of my documentary, I was permanently looking through his writings to discover those stirring moments and details of his life that made him write each one of his books and the crucial points that made him go so deep in the research of his subjects. I kept trying to understand what was his relation to misanthropy and to negativity, as he proves to be especially accurate in describing those concepts. I tried to find in every book of his the extract that I thought reflected his character in the best way. I also wanted to show that, regardless of the fact that he wrote so often about the dark side of things, he was a very sweet man who never thought highly of himself. In fact, Papagiorgis is characterized by a duality. That is the reason why in this documentary / portrait of his, I chose to have two different actors reading his texts. Argyris Panzaras reads extracts from Kostis’ notebooks and rare interviews in the press, and Akilas Krazissis reads extracts from his books.
"Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope" (2018)
Poetry is often mentioned in your documentary. What was Papagiorgis’ relationship with poetry and how did you balance between poetic vision and realistic depiction, fiction and reality in your film?
The poet Michalis Ganas says in the film that although Kostis pretended not to like poetry, in fact he understood and loved poetry very deeply and selectively and actually Papagiorgis’ writings are so poetic that any poet would envy them. In my documentary / portrait of Kostis Papagiorgis, who is one of the most important essayists of contemporary Greece, I spontaneously followed the inspiration that my late friend and his writings gave me. This ended up necessarily as a poetic approach: I set up images that I mixed with the people who speak about the essayist, respecting a rhythm and a melody that, I believe, makes this film true and non-academic, and possible to follow even for those who are not familiar with Kostis’ books - and, I hope, enjoyable.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi with the contribution of Magdalini Varoucha.
Κostis Papagiorgis, the sweetest misanthrope | Trailer
Thanos Papakonstantinou is a stage director and actor who, despite his young age, has already earned the recognition of both peers and critics, having directed several productions staged by prestigious institutions. A graduate of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Law School, he went on to get a Diploma from the “Empros Theatre Workshop” School of Drama in 2009, while in 2011 he became one of the founding members of the Helter Skelter Theatre Company.
As part of the Helter Skelter Company, he has directed four plays at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation, including his trilogy Carnage, based on Aeschylus’ Oresteia. In 2014 he participated in the Athens Festival with Yannis Mavritsakis’ Redwards Shift, while in 2017 he directed Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo at the Megaron - Athens Concert Hall. This summer, on July 20-21, he directs Sophocles’ tragedy Electra, in a production by the National Theatre of Greece presented at the Epidaurus Festival. We interviewed* Papakonstantinou on the challenges of first time directing of ancient drama.
Your ties with Greek mythology have been steadily present throughout your work. Your most recent production was an experimental staging of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, at the Athens Concert Hall, a collaboration with conductor Markellos Chryssicos. Has that been the only time you were a stage director for an opera?
Yes, for now.
Left: L' Orfeo at the Athens Concert Hall (Photo by Efi Gousi) Right: Electra at the Epidaurus Festival (Photo by Elina Giounanli)
Would you want to do that again?
Definitely! I absolutely love this genre; I have been listening to opera from a very young age, it was something I was very happy doing, and I’d be glad to be given this chance again in the future. It was also great to start with this particular work, based on this subject and widely considered to be either the first or one of the first operas; moreover, I was grateful for the opportunity to work with Markellos, one of Greece’s most devoted Baroque music scholars, who had the original idea for the production. I hope to repeat the direction of this particular production, since it was very successful and I loved the result, and of course to work on an opera again.
You have directed the Carnage trilogy, consisting of the plays Venison (2012), Pedestal (2013) and Colossus (2017), which you wrote, inspired by the tragedies The Eumenides, The Libation Bearers and Agamemnon, respectively.
In fact, I wrote the last two in their entirety; in Venison, I had incorporated several texts by Dostoyevsky.
Yes: Aeschylus’ Oresteia signals a transition from a retributive society, where the “eye for an eye” justice of the Furies prevails, to an organised society, a democracy governed by laws and rules, a justice epitomised by the institution of Areopagus, dictating the way citizens should conduct themselves. What interested me, however, was to demonstrate a movement towards the opposite direction: how we often drift from an organised society into disarray. The plays were arranged in that inverted order so that it all ends with Colossus, where everything traces back to this mother, this woman, who takes apart the world she created; all she gave birth to, she sucks it back in just like a black hole.
So everything goes back to zero, that is, to the acceptance that in order to start anew, all things must be destroyed and then created on a completely new basis. In Aeschylus’ trilogy, instead, everything works towards reparation. Of course, our world is totally different compared to that of Aeschylus’ world; in our world, the sequence I propose seemed more consistent.
Colossus at the M. Cacoyannis Foundation (Photo by Stavros Habakis)
In a previous interview, you stated that the reason you chose to write your own plays was to shine a light on what has touched you personally in these tragedies. Now, with Electra, directing for the first time a tragedy in its original form, how different will your approach be?
There will surely be a different approach since, in my entire trilogy, I didn’t use anything from the original texts; my trilogy was the dramatisation of the myths and the material used in the tragedies, in my creative interpretation; these were independent works, based on the tragedies’ core, the way I perceived them, but definitely not actual renditions of those plays.
In Electra, Sophocles’ text is used; but what is of interest το me is how the material I handled in the previous productions will co-exist with the original text in this production. To me, this is the next stage of my involvement with tragedies. Since this play also forms part of the Mycenaean Saga, I pick up where I had left off, focusing on the same elements that interested me in the Oresteia – I don’t start off from a different perspective. These are the concept of ritual, the emphasis on visual imagery, the use of parallel action, the strong presence of sound and music and the musicality of speech; all elements which I hope will be functional within this new production.
You have also spoken of the decisive role that the venue and its stage play in your work as a director. This is your first production in an open air theatre. Will this determine your approach?
Absolutely. This is what has concerned me more than anything as a director: how to handle open-air space. I have never done it before and I actually like closed spaces in my work. I consider space to be of paramount importance in the work of a director, the way what you do function within the surroundings. Each venue, and especially open-air, sets its own rules; of course we each make our own choices, but to me it is essential to create something that makes sense in this particular setting, not something that would fit an indoors performance. This is a tough bet, but also an interesting quest.
There are different rules concerning, for example, acoustics and the placement of actors on stage. It’s not enclosed, so it is not easy to create an illusion – something that has been very important in my work, visually. I think there is a way to achieve that in an open space, but it is completely different. Everything seems to happen in the open, literally; there is no way to conceal something and then reveal it. Besides, I think the element of ritual is even stronger there; it’s like witnessing a sacrament, as in the Eucharist. So the illusion can be created through completely different means than those used in a roofed space, the audience is approached differently.
Electra by the Greek National Theatre at the Epidaurus Festival (Photo by Elina Giounanli)
And what about the fact that this is not just any open space, but the famed Epidaurus theatre with all of its historical weight?
Well, that! It makes things much harder. First of all, I must say I am extremely happy and honoured to have been chosen by the National Theatre of Greece as part of its participation at the Epidaurus Festival. It is wonderful to see such important institutions give younger directors a chance to measure themselves with such a task. But this of course puts great pressure on a director: it’s the Epidaurus, and it’s an ancient tragedy. This theatre is of unique and great value, and it’s only right that it only hosts such productions. But it also carries such historical weight, there is this lore surrounding it; it can make someone -or at least me- think about the wrong things, as in how to differentiate oneself, how this or the other director have approached a play. I don’t think all this leads to anything useful. What matters in any staging is the way the text touches each artist, how it can initiate a personal dialogue between the author and the director. This is where you need to start from.
Where do the rehearsals take place?
At one of the National Theatre’s stages, but we will later have some time to rehearse in an open space, and just a few days of rehearsals on the actual stage of the Epidaurus theatre, before the premiere.
And how do you deal with this added difficulty of having to design you compositions and rehearse on a completely different stage than the one destined for the performance?
With a great deal of imagination! You have to really use your imagination to make up for it. I also drove off to Epidaurus and thought about how I would use the space. There is not much else you can do at this point. I try to familiriase myself with the open space, to sense it: just by standing there, you understand it has some obvious rules you need to comply with; one could of course also ignore them, but I believe you can’t help but follow them. The way this space is configured - without a roof, no walls, the stage being a circular orchestra, the audience surrounding the stage and looking down from above - all these and much more have to be kept in mind or it won’t work out.
Do you form part of the cast in this production?
No, I only direct.
Yet you have often performed roles in your own productions in the past. Is it more or less difficult to direct if you are also one of the actors in the show?
The way I work, I understand what it is that I want in a production even looking from the inside, as an actor on stage. It is of course more exhausting, but it’s something that can be done. I, in fact, have found myself in much more difficult or awkward positions in situations when I functioned solely as a director, rather than when I held this dual role. I actually think I have somehow a better perception of the requirements of a production when I find myself on the actors’ side as well; when I’m just on the other side I feel kind of cut off (laughs).
As you’ve said before, one shouldn’t compare himself with other directors. Have you however found yourself watching someone else’s productions and feeling envious, wishing you had thought of that idea yourself?
Definitely; I have felt very envious of Romeo Castellucci, Robert Wilson, Christoph Marthaler, Thomas Ostermeier, Frank Castorf; but also of Greek artists I admire, like Theodoros Terzopoulos and Dimitris Papaioannou.
And do you sometimes incorporate in your works some ideas you first encounter in someone else’s direction – not plagiarising but rather receiving influences?
Definitely – there‘s no other way to move forward. It sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t, but in any case I feel like this starts off a dialogue with all the people I admire, either living or dead, not just stage directors but also cinema directors, writers, poets, painters; I think this dialogue is very obvious in my work, I want this and never cared if someone might think that I imitate the works of others.
Electra by the Greek National Theatre at the Epidaurus Festival (Photo by Elina Giounanli)
We have a great quantity of theatrical productions in Greece. Do you believe quality is also high?
Yes, we do have many interesting creators. Things had actually started to change around the time Yorgos Loukos took over as artistic director of the Athens Festival, opening it up and bringing us in direct contact with developments in the international theatre and performing arts scene. I think this benefitted the younger generation of artists immensely, since it’s very different to attend these shows live instead of watching a recording, keeping up with contemporary artistic production. Of course, there is no gain without loss, and these same conditions have also generated some coarse influences and hollow experimentations, but this is what always happens, and I don’t exclude myself.
The main reason for this is that modern Greece lacks a solid artistic tradition; artistic developments came to us late, often as unrefined influences brought here by the few who had the opportunity to travel abroad and have access to original ideas. But we haven’t had the opportunity to form a distinct identity for Greek dramatic arts. There was a rather abrupt transition in the late 80’s and early 90’s, which didn’t result from a gradual evolution based on a solid foundation, as was the case, for example, in British or French theatre. Hence, now there are those who show consistency in their creative quests and those who don’t.
Apart from director and actor, do you also consider yourself a playwright?
No, not at all; I like writing, meaning that I can, in fact, function as an author, but I always have in mind one particular stage composition. The text doesn’t precede the directing concept, it results from it; wording has never been my starting point. I start off with a character, a theme, a myth that interests me, I conceive the idea for the direction and then I move on to the dialogue. In my productions, the text doesn’t have a central role, it is equally important as all the other elements of this synthesis. So I don’t feel like a playwright at all.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Conductor Markellos Chryssicos on Baroque music and its dialogue with the Greek tradition; “Epidaurus Lyceum” Ancient Drama School comes back this summer; Kostas Georgousopoulos on contemporary Greek Theatre
Denise Harvey is a small independent publisher, working from Evia (or Euboea), a large island not very far from the Attica region. Born in the UK, she moved to Greece more than fifty years ago, enchanted by its history and natural beauty. As she says in her site, living there made her realise that “there was a Greece to pursue beyond the demarcations of history and dates and its physical beauty [...] something beyond that which immediately gives [people] delight and pleasure in the Greece they encounter today”.
Denise Harvey’s publications feature books that are primarily, but not exclusively, concerned with various manifestations of the culture of modern Greece: its literature, history and music, “its natural beauty and forms of life in both city and country, how Greek people see themselves and others, and how others see them, and the Orthodox Church that is the matrix within which much of what can be defined as modern Greek culture has been formed”. We interviewed* Harvey on her experience of living in Greece, her perception of contemporary Greek culture and the struggles of maintaining a small book publishing company today.
Denise Harvey with Philip Sherrard
What is it that attracted you to Greece in the first place?
I seem to remember that the seed was sown by a travel article in an English Sunday newspaper about Monemvasia which had been sent to me by a friend: it described wonderful stone houses, narrow streets, no electricity, a handful of people still clinging to their traditional way of life. I was at the time living and working in Germany for USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe) at Weisbaden. The base had a magnificent library facility for its personnel, with a most sympathetic librarian in charge of it, so I went there to find some books about Greece, present-day as opposed to ancient Greece, and came home initially with a book entitled The Pursuit of Greece, an anthology of writings selected by Philip Sherrard, with many evocative full page black and white photographs by Dimitri Papadimos.
That book made an enormous impression on me. Its Introduction explores the spell that Greece has cast over so many people and how its modern post-Byzantine image assumed new dimensions, a new complexity. In it I read my first translations of Greek poetry — Sikelianos, Elytis, Seferis, Karouzos — and texts by such people as Patrick Leigh Fermor, Alexandros Papadiamandis, Robert (not Lord) Byron, Fotis Kondoglou, Kevin Andrews, and Silouan of the Holy Mountain. It was as if I had come under the spell without even having set foot there. Not many more months passed before I did.
In your site you quote Philip Sherrard (many works by whom have been published by you): “Greece is not and never has been a lost paradise or a haven for tourists or an object of study, and those who approach her as if she were any of these will always fail to make any real contact with her”. Does this phrase express your own thoughts? How do you think Greece can be really understood?
This quotation comes from the end of the Introduction that I refer to above and I do agree with it, although of course for many it has been a lost paradise, tourist haven and an object of study. The first important influence on Philip was George Seferis whose poetry he began to translate into English shortly after his first visit to Greece in 1946. Lines from a letter that Seferis sent him particularly impressed him:
‘There is a process of humanisation in the Greek light . . . Just think of those cords that bind man and the elements of nature together, this tragedy which is at once natural and human, this intimacy. Just think how the light of day and man’s blood are one and the same thing.’
Of Seferis, Philip later wrote:
‘It is as if Seferis thought, not by discursive reasoning but intuitively, in terms of natural objects, in terms of sensual images. It is as if the subject of his thought revealed itself to him not as an abstraction divorced from the rest of life, but in all its relationships not only to other ideas but to nature as well.’
I think these two quotations help to explain the ‘real contact’ Philip writes of in his Introduction, which, to quote him again, he saw as a search for ‘the living fate of Greece, which is not a doom but a destiny, a process rather in which past and present blend and fuse, in which nature and man and something more than man participate.’
As to the reason why I have published many works by Philip Sherrard, it is simply, but not only, that some ten years after I borrowed that book from the library in Germany I actually met him in Athens, and went on to marry him, and have since reprinted a number of his writings when the original editions went out of print, including — how could I not! — The Pursuit of Greece.
How did your interest in Modern Greek literature develop?
My first two years in Greece I spent in Mani, then moved to Athens in 1969. The dictatorship notwithstanding, and in some ways because of it, it was a very exciting place to be. The cost of living was minimal and rents were cheap and enabled a bohemian way of life that was very attractive to aspiring poets, writers and young scholars, mainly non-Greek, most of whom, like me, had come to Greece before April 1967 when the colonels staged their coup. The Greek element of serious committed literary people was always present at our gatherings; many were the evenings when the tavern owner closed his shop down and left us at his tables with a good supply of wine and we talked through the night. Not a small number of our company were active in the resistance to the dictatorship, and not silent about it either. During those years, in addition to other jobs I worked as a ‘stringer’ and journalist -I remember one of the pieces I wrote was on Greece being a nation of poets with statistics on how many volumes of poetry were published each year, an unbelievable number- and I also produced books for the academic publisher Adolf Hakkert and an occasional volume for Oxford University Press. Those activities brought me in touch with a lot of people in the literary world in Greece.
Do other foreign nationals share that interest? Have your publications managed to attract a viable readership?
I hope they do but fear that now a great many of them probably do not. Greece is no longer a haven for penniless foreign writers who are the most faithful supporters of small publishers like myself when it comes to buying books about the literature and culture of the country they are presently living in. One can no longer live in Greece on a shoestring. It would seem to me that foreign nationals with sufficient money to buy books are for the most part in the business world and on the whole they simply do not have the time to search out and read such books. Another factor is that, because of the economic crisis, the majority of bookshops still surviving in Greece are unable to stock books on their shelves as they used to in the past, and so they mostly upload titles with limited popularity on to their websites and only order them if they get an actual firm order for a particular title. That’s a very different way of finding a book which one maybe is attracted to read. Lost is the delight of discovering something which really interests one among a host of others on a shelf in a bookshop, and then flicking through it to get a taste of it; and not only that but having the opportunity to appreciate the quality (or not) of the publication, its design and general feeling. A book is a material thing and its content should participate in and contribute to its physical presentation, but that seems to happen less and less nowadays.
So, along general lines, I have to say that my readership is really very much on the edge of being ‘viable’. My two publications on rebetika music (one in English, the other in Greek) still sell steadily albeit slowly after many years, for which I am grateful, and somewhat surprisingly the translations of Papadiamandis haven’t done so badly, and neither have the poetry translations, but, for instance, the selected essays of Zissimos Lorenzatos (The Drama of Quality), who was one of modern Greece’s most significant men of letters, hardly sells at all. Also, my most recent publication, Loxandra by Maria Iordanidou, which is about a Greek family living in Constantinople before the first World War and which has been and still is one of the best selling titles of all time in Greece that one might describe as an iconic book for Greeks, has been almost totally ignored by the English book buying public in Greece and Greek booksellers generally. The biggest surprise is the book I first published in 2005: Wounded by Love, The Life and Wisdom of Elder (now Saint) Porphyrios, which was translated from the Greek original published by the Holy Convent of Chrysopigi in Crete. It is a very unusual book, and written in a way totally different from most hagiographic books published in Greece, and is constantly in demand, a revealing indicator of spiritual hunger — ‘man is . . . thirsty like the grass’ as Seferis puts it his long poem ‘Last Stop’.
Since the outbreak of the crisis, has foreign interest in Greek literary production been affected negatively or positively?
I’m afraid that I can’t answer that. Working from my home on a Greek island, Evia, albeit an island that is accessible to the mainland by road, and no longer being in Athens, or in London, or some capital city somewhere, I am very much on the fringe of things, and although I keep in touch with what is being published in English translation from the Greek I don’t know how successful those publications actually are. To move permanently from Athens to Evia was my choice of course, and I don’t regret it. Decentralisation was for me an important thing even before the ‘crisis’ hit. I think it is an important concept for Greece generally, for all those who can manage it, and especially now with the present economic situation.
Among your publications of works of fiction or poetry we find almost exclusively titles from modern classics. Is it because you find no particular interest in recent contemporary Greek writers or does it have to do with a specialisation, a specific profile you want to maintain for your editions?
Alas, the lack of contemporary Greek writers in the books I publish is mostly due to economic reasons. In the ‘old days’, let’s say from the First World War onwards, people interested in literary treasures from another culture, if they had the capacity to do so, translated those texts into their mother language out of love and admiration for the original texts. They were not commissioned to do so, and I think they were very rarely paid for it except perhaps after publication, if in fact the work was subsequently published; their satisfaction came from the delight of sharing it with others, and it was also a way of establishing their credentials as a literary person, especially through the medium of literary journals where such translations were mostly first published. Then, in Greece anyway, and I am sure elsewhere, there were also some writers who had the economic facility to pay a translator to translate their work or works in the hope they would subsequently interest a publishing house outside Greece. This rarely happens anymore.
If somebody would come to me with a fine English translation of the work of a contemporary Greek writer, of course I would consider it for publication and I would especially welcome that. But with regard to your question of ‘viability’ above, the chances of it selling in sufficient numbers to cover even its production costs is for me something of a gamble, which concomitantly means that usually I am not in a position economically to pay for its translation as well. I don’t have the promotional machine that is needed nowadays to launch and sell a book as they are presently marketed by major publishing companies; selling books has become, like so much else, something of a cut-throat business and I have to rely on the work’s intrinsic quality for it to sell — which I do, and which, with considerable patience, pays out in the end. That is not to say that if I suddenly found myself with a best seller on my hands then of course there would be provision for its translator to benefit as well.
Does Greece lack a comprehensive state policy related to the support of publishers and the promotion of Greek book production?
At present I would say it does, not in principle but in kind: but how could it be otherwise these days given the country’s ‘hard times’? Fortunately there are a number of Greek philanthropic organisations that try to fill that gap, and all must be grateful to them, as one must also be to a surprising number of people who do not necessarily have an obvious connection with Greece but who support cultural endeavours within it in many and often unsung ways.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
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