Τhe city of Thebes forms the background to many a Greek tragedy. In Sprouts of a dragon’s teeth, Greek filmmaker Danae Io shows us the reality of modern-day Thebes. The poet Stathis Gourgouris provides us with the words that describe the human element, while the images reflect on the land, the surroundings and on decay.
WORKSHOP, READING AND CONVERSATION
DANAE IO AND STATHIS GOURGOURIS: ON THE POETICS & POLITICS OF MYTHS
Saturday 18 February, 12–2pm and 3–4pm
UKS, Keysers gate 1
The event is free of charge
“Even when it tells stories, myth is not narrative; it is poetic and performative. As such it also eludes definition, and this is precisely what makes it adaptable to how societies make history. Because this history-making process is ongoing, myth is not archaic; it is always contemporary. It is the realm where societies imagine themselves (and their others, their adversaries), where they create conditions for themselves in the manner of poiesis, and they do this not with words, but with performative actions.”
Stemming from their year-long collaboration on the film Sprouts of a dragon’s teeth, shown as part of the exhibition OPEN SYSTEMS, Stathis Gourgouris and Danae Io host a workshop and conversation on the poetics and politics of myths in contemporary societies. The workshop and talk can be experienced separately or together.
A workshop on the role of myth as a performative system of poetics pertinent to how societies imagine and create their worlds. Participants are invited to read and write together through small exercises to think through questions such as: How do we read ancient texts and figures in a contemporary world? How do we understand performative action as history-making? Where do we find the poetics of form – of creating new forms – in a world controlled by technological repetition?
Please send an e-mail to email@example.com to reserve a free ticket for the workshop.
3–4pm: AUTOCHTHONOUS STONES – READING & CONVERSATION
Ruination, pollution, autochthony (the indigenous inhabitation of a country, including mythological figures) and myth: Danae and Stathis read poems written during their conversations and correspondence over the past year, which extend the themes set out in Sprouts of a dragon’s teeth. The reading will be followed by an open conversation with the audience.
Danae Io (b. 1993, GR) is an artist whose work is shown in OPEN SYSTEMS at UKS.
Stathis Gourgouris (b. 1958, GR) is a poet, essayist, translator and sound artist, living between New York and Athens. He is Professor of Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University, New York.
They say that, once upon a time, natives were many, but now there are none.
Another side of the story suggests the earth opened up and swallowed them. Exactly like, once before, it spat them out into the center of the world.
Not surprisingly, earthquakes happen daily in Thebes. Earth chasms open up and everyone gets lost in them.
Others say that from the depths of Thebes sprout foreigners.
Passing pilgrims who carry their place inside them.
Even when they lose their way, they find somewhere to ground their touch. Then they look around and, with their eyes, they shape familiar horizons. And there, they breathe.
Strange how so many people find their oxygen in breathless spaces. They filter the polluted air—centuries of carbon and magnesium, ancient quarries of manifold earth stone. It’s difficult to tell what is carved by humans and what by time. Assorted ruins.
Who ever thought of nature as a production engine of ruins? And yet. Time never showed mercy on anyone. But time has loved the space dimension from the outset. And so, Thebes remains Thebes, with all the refuse of existence exclusively its own.
Lichen in the scattering
of marble stones.
What lives until when, what
in this abandoned there
In the end, horses remain and roam free in fallow earth, wandering amidst the solar panels.
From the standpoint of astral light, the scattered and assorted is indivisible. Perhaps in black- and-white font over some canvas that moves not in the rhythms of life, but motion pictures.
In this film where no stars find a spot, every ray of light deposits folds of the universe. And if lichen turns rays into morning hew, and if the horses get hot under their manes, the lustrous metal forests that sprouted in the last ten years translate each ray, fold by fold, to electricity exported to Germany.
Thebes has always been a passage. On its crossroads patricides took hold and later turned into plagues. The ground was polluted by unburied oracles of killing kin.
In underground tunnels still wanders the ghost of Antinymphē, who claimed the customs of the gods in order to escape from the settling of accounts, a genuine false step imprint of native affliction.
Nowadays, high voltage wires signal paths of migratory miscegenation.
If I were a migratory bird flying at such height, I would hear the high-pitched frequencies of current in perfect sonic detail.
You would hear the syncopated cut of my wings like electric guitar feedback in midair.
The ancients would hear the sound of the infinite inside their caves.
Nowadays, the nomads from the East stay up all night to the sound of belly-dancing flowing from inside their rusty pickup trucks.
Thebes has always been a passage. Here, millions of all-resourceful travelers distinguished themselves and only the stones can be considered native. It makes you wonder.
Three specific ways to approach Thebes
First, from above. Descending Kithairon—a legendary mountain range, whose domain is divided between kings and shepherds.
On Fikyon mountain—a summit that sprouts from a highlands plateau overlooking the city—is where the Sphinx killed herself. No one will ever know her desperation. Do you know what it means to lose an ultimate secret that lives inside you? Others called it a riddle, but for the Sphinx it was her child, it rose from her inner folds.
All of the world’s suicides are Sphinxes. When you wrench from inside them what remains untold, they fall off a cliff and shatter.
The ultimate secret of ancient Thebes was Oedipus. Thebes still lives and kills itself from self-made oedipal complexes, which were never meant for Freud. Complexes of an indigenous and chronic pathology of secrets. That’s why the Thebans were never fond of the Athenians, since those wretched people stole their myths and turned them into theater.
Postscript from another past era: In Vilia, a mountain village above Thebes, old bourgeois Athenians used go to enjoy the snow when they got tired of excursions to Mount Parnas. But they never descended to Thebes below. To do what down there, with such over-repeated stale myths?
The other way to approach Thebes is level. The perspective of the plains, of lines without corners. This can only be mapped by migratory birds and high-tension electrical wires.
Always exposed from everywhere, Thebes developed the highest military art. Level thought.
Armies populate the entire history of Thebes. From Kadmus to Alexander, conquerors operated along the same line. Oriented to the south. Never the reverse—except for the Athenians. Thebes was traversed by Byzantines, Slavs, Arvanites, Turks, and Germans. Tourists, almost never.
Really, why would you build a city on such an open plain? Everyone gazes at you without qualms. Everyone covets you, and permeates you throughout the centuries.
Passing through the walls upon entry, you now see quarries, sewage pipe factories, accessories of agricultural machinery, cotton ginning plants, aluminum refineries, factories of industrial insulation, condensing unit repair shops, phosphoric fertilizer depos.
At one time here, Izola and Petzetakis were kings, industrial divinities that had contempt for both Mount Olympus and their own sense of honor. Now, in the ruins of their temples, abandoned factories, pillagers and grave-diggers revel in blithe dance.
Postscript on present level: In the cafés, black-clad youths aspire to a new performance of the Sacred Band of Theban warriors.
Even if no one can quite stand it, there is a third way: the subterranean approach.
Not that anyone opens tunnels, passages to the underworld. The ground under the city is really hard. Nothing sprouts from it.
The subterranean passages concern the indigent, those who have lost their way while seeking. Or, the eternal nomads. The first ones end up in confinement camps, the others remain on the road. Migrants, refugees, and gypsies: equally without resource, foreigners indefinitely, they leave their traces with an underground auditory ringing, black leather shadows that fall naked over the stones.
Thebes has always been a passage. Here millions of indigents lost in aporia were dragged through the mud. Only the stones can be considered native. It makes you wonder.
Snow and Teeth
The snow concealed Thebes from every side, dense and soft like pale ash.
In such cases, you don’t look for what stands out, what exceeds the horizon past the point where the eye ceases to distinguish. The snow, the ash, streamlines all dimensions and softens the unconcealed like a veil.
I could have dug down deeper, to find where the sprouts began—if they existed. To find the buried teeth—if they existed. Because, centuries now, the gods have spoken: myth has no dragon.
If we found the teeth, we would stand proud, as criminologists, that myth is alive. Precisely because we found its corpse, or in any case, its scattered remains: petrified bones or destinies, calcified signals, like chalk that sometimes draws fables on the ground and other times is shattered to a pale dust that stains.
Yet, teeth remain solid. Thousands of years later they continue to emanate.
From buried teeth we discover hidden truths of the past, like yesterday when it was revealed that Pablo Neruda had been murdered by poison fifty years ago.
As if, surely, we didn’t know. Verification already lies in the poem.
And this is precisely the point:
Myth is alive. The teeth are the poems. The sprouts are us. The criminologist myth-mongers.