Print article


Yannis Livadas .jpg



The 30’s generation of Greek poets and its correlations to contemporary Greek poetry*.

                                              “When there is no way, even zero has angles.
                                               Because when there is a way, there is nothing else.”

                                                                                                        Yannis Livadas


Whenever we speak of ‘periods’ and ‘generations’ there is a real possibility of missing the shifting of coordinates and the position of the new signifier. Examples abound of this kind of congestion.

The vortex of the unfulfilled wishes of readers and interpreters is possibly the least appropriate guide in exploring literary issues. The critique of such issues presupposes the doing away with all expectations, so that even a fraction of a second before the start of the critique, the scales are absolutely steady. There is no literary charlatan who isn’t up in arms about the devaluation of the arts or of education. That is why it is good to adopt an attitude of indifference towards the references and criticism of those who are effectively only clearing their throat or covering their embarrassment by means of the texts they write.

The present, ephemeral, exploded view was certainly not written in the spirit of catechizing from the pulpit of publicly owned criticism. As the well-known saying has it: it is easy to exert criticism when you don’t have any actual responsibility for a given situation. In this particular case, an appraisal is expressed that is based on nothing other than poetic consistency; not as self-aggrandizement but as consequence, effect or distillation. Its actual aim is not the generation of the 30’s as a conclusion, but the beneficial relationship among its traits, with an emphasis on the European-American correlations, also observable in the underpinnings of today’s poetry.

The only criterion for this exploded view has been that of tearing down completely and of completely re-erecting. The poet cannot be a poetologist. But he may, if circumstances require, subvert even as a commentator of the established submissiveness, the orchestrated silence. The species is orgiastic and solitary. The plural belongs to indecisiveness. There is no strain due to overwork to be found in the poetic art. 

At every truly nodal or ‘turning point’ in the history of literature two possibilities obtain: either the renewed expression of the poetic art and its full emancipation from previous practices or the most determined holding on to them, where all the freshly shined spokes, anointed with the attributes of ‘modernity’, support the same wheel and lead it repeatedly to the same peripheral, one-way-street of aesthetic restraint. In the case of the so called 30’s generation, the latter was the case. And all that has been said so far as well as everything that follows, comprising an attempt on my part to elaborate on the correlation between the poetry of the 30’s generation and the poetry of today, has as its indisputable context the international history and production of literary criticism and appraisal; not, the obsession with the ‘sun streaked threshing floor’ of Greek abstruseness.

What exactly does that mean? Let’s take Odysseas Elytis as a case in point, which very satisfactorily covers my definition and general position on the literature of the generation of 1930. 

Elytis was considered a ‘vanguard’ of the so-called generation of 1930, which exemplified in the most conclusive way the inability of Greek literature to reject the dead weights of modern literary ‘tradition’. Elytis undertook to create a kind of collective identity, using aspects of the so called popular tradition and bits and pieces from European modernism. Considering the contemporary Greek’s ongoing failure to embody a rounded education and cognitive self-definition, I also consider that the work of Elytis reflects that circumstance. At the same time, however, this does away with the possibility of assessing the totality of his work in its specificity and interaction with the wider field of world poetry; and that is what is of paramount importance, since poetry concerns global society and the human condition in toto. Yet, it is my belief that the poetry of Elytis constitutes a reductive and unabashed instrument of the local congestion that typifies most of the Greek modern literary production at large. On these grounds follows, too, the phenomenon of the partiality of his aims since in his work is found a) only the predisposition towards, not the evidence of a totality and b) in consequence, a solemn, indeed, but ineffectual approach to both aesthetic and spiritual depth, due to certain choices but mainly due to that attachment to the haphazard, opportunist light of things, which he could not discern as being, by selection and modification, the mantle of darkness wherein other more critical and catalytic aspects may be discovered under the auspices of a different type of advanced poetic illumination. The illumination, namely, of self-sacrifice. By means, that is, of a much higher infiltration in the paths of poetic exploration where the poet analyzes, and annihilates himself by degrees, producing the illumination necessary for the adventure in lieu of stampeding within a few heroic square inches of awakening which borrow the unrelenting democratic light of some subsidiary, leading force. Elytis, finally, exhausted himself in monumentalizing the forms of certain select popular beliefs to do with the self-evident.

One may argue that the generation of 1930 managed to impact a large part of what is called collective consciousness, ‘hellenicity’ (which is wildly confounded with ‘localness’) and of that there is no doubt; one may, however, also successfully argue that the generation of 1930 was poles apart from any form of collectivity and that there was no substantiated ‘hellenicity’ since, just as in the present, at no point in modern history did the Greek nation, ‘Greek society’, institute, posit or fight for a unifying cause or anything that might have become the basis of a primary, common agenda – of any description. But either way, the role of poetry in relation to reality is downgraded whenever it is used as a credential. That entire period, then, did not substantiate hellenicity but an aesthetic/cognitive structure of ephemeral value which was not much different than the level of attainment of the 1930’s generation. The underlying assumption being that all this could be creatively transformed into community, into some kind of common foothold; which may well be an inopportune expectation since poetry itself is partial to the peak experiences of those which belong nowhere, who are part of no system (however they may be categorized or classified) and remain the poets of a future world, not of one that has taken place, that has been concluded; “Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)”, to quote Walt Whitman’s dramatic reminder.

The advent of modernism, on the other hand, happened on terms of complacency rather than creative innovation. From one point of view, it might be considered that there is no blame in this given, for instance, that even T. S. Eliot (on whose shoulders the alligators of the Anglo-Saxon intelligentsia offloaded European modernism, a fact both unacceptable and, according to the official sources of global literature, actually mistaken), despite being a select and active member of the Anglican church, sought refuge, urgently, in the rhetoric and system of knowledge of eastern philosophies in order to achieve(?) the modernization of poetry, since his own guilt-ridden and deeply alienated thinking (similar in these respects to that of the generation of 1930) was not up to the task. Eliot’s well known, discounted offer was always trapped in the original-sin-derived need for finding a less mature predecessor. The reason Eliot was cowered by poetry was simply that he lacked the readiness necessary to become the poet he had in mind. He himself repeatedly used the term ‘escape’ in formulating his poetic worldview. Indifference or quackery turned out to be especially challenging forms of alienation that weren’t going to allow him to become favored by his times.

There is no question that escape, too, may turn to poetry, provided it creates the proper conditions. That relies, or is conditional on two other things: whether the escape has been fed with satisfactory quantities of poetic inventiveness and whether that inventiveness has eventually gained primacy as abstraction, as disclosed marrow. It is hugely important that the escape be unassailable by any insinuation of salvation. Therefore, escape may only acquire significance as a symbolic episode that preordains the even deeper engagement with the integrity of zero. Eliot, however, raised it to a religion with wordy sermonizing as its ultimate aim. But great poets exist in the name of their destiny, just like their poetry does, not in the name of those they evoke.

Eliot’s endeavors (and here the word is literally used) yielded something which I personally call incidental writing; he was closer to the predefined outcome of a successful banner headline than to what was unique. That kind of writing, both because its facile dogmatism and its accomplished technique of prismatic diversion, was, with the addition of a Christian mantle of ‘tangible good fortune’, appointed top place on the literary pyramid by those who were looking for a reality tailored to their measurements like a suit so they could take out daily the dog of ‘inner life’ in the plazas of the fearfulness.   

All these ‘Eliot-isms’ which were also identified in many other European ‘master builders’, were introduced into Greek poetry and criticism as a panacea. The complementary appearance of serenity «the acceleration of a shiny bicycle»*, worked to support the entrenchment and positive need for the wider acceptance of the ‘new loftiness’, since its deviation was restricted to the form of an aesthetic subdivision of the whole endeavor and its influence was to stall rather than empower. In many cases, at that, the more it trumpeted its ‘fervor’ the more it established its underlying connection to its alleged rival. The sparks from the grinding initially elicited strong emotions but it was soon discovered that, rather than a tool, it was a piece of brittle metal grinding on the anvil.

Thus, the outcome was both expected and inevitable. Incidentally, on the other side of the Atlantic, certain (authentic) American modernist poets had discerned from the outset modern poetry’s relation of expansiveness with many of the ideals disseminated by ancient Greek literature. And that was something never acknowledged on paper by the so-called Greek modernists. Let us quote a second time from Whitman’s genius who was, among other things, the sentinel, the organic rapporteur of poetic modernism internationally, several decades before its formal advent - an excerpt that also bears directly on Greek inferiority of this certain period: “The poetic quality is not marshaled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to thing nor in melancholy complaints or good precepts, but is the life of these and much else and is in the soul” (Walt Whitman, 1855).

In any case, the overcoming of insufficiency did not seem possible, at least not to the extent that a real attempt at redefinition was. A poetic diversion, to be sure, which is to say a modernist approach, yes, but modernism? Not certain at all. Hence my espousal of the idea that the presentation of the methods, aims and demands of a literary movement, of a turning point in the course of poetry - such as that of ‘modernism’ for instance - at a level of a ‘news item’ or ‘project’ within the poem, does not constitute modernism, but merely a certain acceptance of modernism. The modernist poem, on the contrary, is the outcome to the experiment or the probing, where modernism isn’t attempted but revealed. The same is the case, correspondingly, with every other contemporary movement or idea. 

Everything that is attained with poetry as its aim, or by means of poetry, has significance. Any predisposition can be just as ingenuous as the impulse to overthrow the poetic ‘psychosis’ which infringes and installs itself in the forehead of its underling, like a third eye. This is a congestion of uniqueness. The poet, however, is at least two people, two devastations, two joys – at the very least; he is something more than a printed signature. Therefore, the poeticizing impulse (which, for some incomprehensible reason, has been granted the right to go by the name of poetry) no matter its intensity or extent, remains just that, an impulse. The transition from the poeticizing impulse to poetic creation is the originality of the gift of the void, it is poetry’s great opportunity.[i]

We are talking, then, not merely about a new possibility, that of open tollgates, cultures and ideas but, rather, about the disclosure of an indubitable truth; namely, that the partiality and mental laxity that spring from therapy-lust (whose roots are deep, all-powerful roots and enjoined with the concern with local acclaim) are incapable of reorganizing art.

That is precisely what happened to the poets of the generation of 1930, not, of course, regarding the entirety of their works but, quite specifically, their poems which are considered ‘modernist’ or ‘more modern’, exempting the remainder of whatever good poems there were, which it wouldn’t be advisable to treat as anything other than what they actually were i.e., literally, transitional. This, despite the fact that the new point of transition was only the defining boundary of that period: the bifurcation of the big decision, the nodal point of choice.

One observes, then, that everything relating to the poetry of the generation of 1930, will vacillate between being for or against sacred ideals and homesteads which have suffered the ultimate ruination. Visits to these remnants now resemble the guided tours of groups visiting ancient Greek ruins; afterwards comes forgetfulness, then Greek salad and syrtaki.

The positions of Georgos Theotokas in the ‘spiritual manifesto’ of the generation of 1930, the essay titled ‘Free Spirit’, despite everything good and fair about it and the fact that that article – rather than essay – could as easily appear in the Greek press today and create, yet again, a stir (since extremely few things among the many he justifiably criticizes have been changed or ameliorated) at the same time represents a typical case of discrepancy between words and deeds. The never-ending Greek drama. Several points in Theotokas’ article were voiced from the position, virtually, of a bohemian of the times, whereas the literature he produced was anything but emancipated from aesthetic strictures and moralizing prescriptions. Theory not accordant with practice.

That was, to me, the model of ‘the new greekness’ and the poetry of the generation of the 30’s and I very much fear that, in different proportions and conditioned by the contemporary dynamics of the poetic art, it continues to be the model (having far exceeded the average) in the present as well.

A proof to that effect is the fact that, even today, at the threshold of the twenty first century, Greek literature, with extremely few exceptions, either persists in its attempts to conquer ‘greekness’ or, faced with the chaos of reconverging with the Greek cradle (what keeps mistakenly being referred to as ‘antiquity’) plays innocent or obsesses about insubstantial ‘explorations’ of literary currents overseas – without finally any real achievements since the outcome (if one disregards the faint and pointless ideological colorings) remains the same: every generation still flounders in the vortex created by the determinant literary movements which refashioned the global literary tradition or, they remain ‘absorbed’ in the quest of a greekness that appears to be hiding (for what reason?) in the most inaccessible recess.

How then can anyone describe a generation like that of 1930 as having bequeathed a tremendous amount, when it primarily assimilated, rather than created? When it sought refuge, like an orphan, in the European attainments instead of a) delving into its own, long inactive, bone marrow (which would be a challenge indeed) and b) by such means, innovating on the developments in America and Europe? Instead of, in short, reversing the roles and assuming the lead.

Certainly, the American and European literary movements and several independent poets, not identified with any group, did manage what had been hitherto unthinkable – compared to our generation of 1930 which was not that taken with the unthinkable, opting instead for a kind of literary pantomime, which, nevertheless, proved capable of stirring the existing, heavy atmosphere, this side of the border. One may well observe at this point that even the insights of Konstantinos Kavafis and Kostas Karyotakis, who might initially have functioned as double mentors for the generation of the 1930, were not put to use.

It is consequently amiss to describe the generation in question as unworthy of mention because, finally, its weaknesses and shortcomings revealed the reason why plaintive introversion still holds sway: nobody knows in which of the vandalized tombs the Indigen lies – though it is not amiss to apportion to that generation responsibility for failing to emancipate the newer literature not from its recent past, because it did do that, to a degree, since the recent past did not present any great impediments (and since, there was essentially no ‘past’ as such, only a completely silly, imaginary fixation, on which the imported modernism could exert no effects; on the contrary, a purely Greek reappraisal would be able to overturn the structure and the content, creating a new tradition), but for the failure to reconfigure the art of literature, for its failure to promote it in time and place it on an equal footing and on a parallel track with European, or even international, literature – something which was not countered by the two Nobel prizes or the Lenin prize, since the awarding of prizes has only ever been concerned with one limited aspect of the appraisal of poetry or, rather, with its tactical utilization.

Real impetus and meaningful regeneration began, for the first time, with younger, isolated (and a lot more important) creators, starting in the 60s with foremost among them, in poetry, Nikos Karouzos, Dimitris Papaditsas, Hector Kaknavatos, Vassilis Steriades and Alexis Traianos; and in prose, Yorgos Maniatis; each one of these separately expressed what were possibly the most important trends of that period.

It is useful to also mention the mistaken identification of modernist slivers with those necessary shifts taking place every so often in large areas of literature, as imperative maturation, without, that is, the commitment of writing to radically project itself to the future, passing instead almost unwittingly through the new channels of literature like an indifferent or tepid visitor who has no real affinity with the art of writing. This is a kind of reversible turnabout; a trait that has assumed epidemic proportions in contemporary poetry all over the world, and, also, is the main reason a sane person cannot take a position in relation to a literary work, since there is a colossal difference between a pianola and a piano.

These are then the two axes which both sum up and simultaneously interconnect the case of the generation of 1930 with today.

Imports: the perception of new poetic theories and practices from abroad repeatedly presents the following trait: everyone treats arbitrarily the form and essence of the things perceived. That very arbitrariness is the most basic negative constituent of the attempt for a renewed formalization or for the exploration of semantic singularity. It is even the case that, the more avant-garde the import is considered, the more brutal is the treatment reserved for it. Following that, what is to be the local ingredient, the Greek additive that will complete the experiment? In the alchemical mixture, there is no place either for bottled milk or for Coca Cola. The ‘admixtures’ abound in the numerous laboratories of constructive activity. Yet, there are no alchemists to be found.

Locally: not a few contemporary Greek poets attempt to restore the typolatry of the old (meaning indifferent and outdated) poetry, pretending they are reforming a ‘new 30’s generation’, approaching with deadly reticence or lack of understanding (though always with an abundance of boasting) the newer trends or, even, taking on themselves the ‘complete reinstatement’ of forms even older than those of the 30’s generation – such as, for instance, the re-introduction of metric, rhyming verses and other such approaches to poetry, failing all along to grasp that in literature, even form may be part of the content, that the period in which rhyme and meter served their purpose in poetry is over and also confusing meter with rhythm, melody and harmony.

Today the poetry of rhyme is the expression of a recycling of coordinates, it has nothing to do with the interminable recurrence of the cycle. Rhyme nowadays is a circle made out of joining dots and connecting lines, for the sake of the past, a circle that never does acquire a natural curvature like the one it did have in the past. That circle is now schematic and static, it has been replaced by its new self, which is not rhymed, and which not only is far from the opposite of a circle but makes up an organic part of the circle, it is the circle’s interminable motion. It does not bear a relation to the circle, it is in the circle. After all, it was rhyme and meter which pointed to the urgent need for moving on to non-rhyme and non-meter: for the poet to be granted speech outside the ‘due’ reflexes, away from the make-believe freedom and naive quarrels within the spiritual whorehouse that is called ‘artistic fecundity’. Poetry in rhyme is now a simplistic grimace, in is no more than the expression of a flattering idolatry. The free(er) verse is the expression of the nature of the uroborus, the certainty that the creator will keep deluding himself ad infinitum.

Apart from that, the matter of intensive fixation on things old, in the spirit of a poeticizing naiveté, the fixation, that is, on anti-poetic thinking, on anti-poetic life, is ample proof that the largest sector of contemporary Greek poetry lets itself off lightly, on the grounds of having signed a contract of stability with spiritual vampirism.

Yet another consideration that bears on both the generation of 1930 and on the poets of today, sometimes merely as a surface attribute and at others as something ‘natural’, is that poetry was and is situated behind someone, that there is always someone who prejudges, presupposes and, finally, indirectly defines the ‘poetic melodrama’. In the generation of the 30’s for instance, poetry was, by and large, written under the protection and blessings of the overseers of the alleged ‘defense of Greek tradition’, in the clutches was defined the ‘good and proper percentage of acceptance’ of European modernism. Today, by and large, poetry is written hidden behind the finger of the crushing misreading of almost everyone, and continues for decades to hide behind the hysterical – in relation to poetry – normality of thinkers such as Lacan, Derrida, Levi-Strauss, Barthes and other more recent and much more important theorists; this, despite the fact that psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic theory, philosophy, hermeneutics and linguistics are the ones who stand to be (and, indeed, have been) instructed by poetry, and not the other way round. Poetry today is found hanging on the rafters of the discredited, so-called, “schools of poetry” whose main concern to be always preoccupied with the opaque density of meaning, for the sake of a more methodical analysis, is, apart from a redundant repetition in the flow of the history of poetry, also a negation of its intent and capacities; it is a concern that subverts the art of poetry insofar as it assumes that meaning is a calculation, rather than an excitation. Poetry today is being written behind the appearance of generality, behind the deafening collision of utter indifference with the psychoanalytic overshadowing of existence where the latter is either persecuted or imprisoned. But within this ending, a new beginning will emerge.

Returning at this point, to the poetry of the generation of 1930, I believe that without the accompaniment of so many interpretative essays written along the way, it wouldn’t have managed on its own to acquire, with the aid of the intervening time, its specific identity. That feverish race of attaching so many critical works/essays on the 30’s generation (which I greatly fear are successive, ‘creative’ imitations of older, preexisting essays – a practice that still goes on today with innumerable imitations of a few ground-breaking essays, and with writers who have not gone to the trouble of reading the original works) constitutes for some, endorsement of its ‘value’, though for others it is but a spontaneous, unselfconscious attempt to glaze over its role as possibly the most effective crutch of modern ‘Greek’ reality, which eventually solidified into a mixture of obsessions and defeatism that quite frequently brush right up against mass paranoia. My assessment, finally, is that the generation of 1930 was not the first ‘generation’, the first important period during which Greek poetry came into its own but was, on the contrary, the last ‘generation’, the end of a period during which the space was gradually being founded for the reception of novelty and of poetic renewal. With the generation of the 30’s, the preparations were almost complete for novelty and for ferreting out every literary popular opinion, every neurotic dogmatism, which had their gaze turned to what was permissible, and their backs to what was ecumenical.

Therefore, in fact, the generation of the 30’s as a ‘summit’ is the outcome of the convergence of certain commentators who are also the devout practitioners of the methods and perspectives of a particular ‘spiritual hygiene’, hostile towards a worldly view of art, whose moral-aesthetic censorship, particularly regarding poetry, was gradually reinstated by the so called ‘generation of the 80s’, who delivered it to those who followed, as if it was the third tablet of Moses’ commandments.

The ways (and the understanding of the ways) in which poetry ‘interfaces with society’ are absolutely interwoven with the potentiality that is cultivated among the ranks of a large part of the intellectuals and within the pool of readers; here, ‘intellectuals’ and ‘readers’ are used to signify the vehicles for the endorsement or rejection of artistic feats. More often than not, these vehicles haphazardly take on board the new trends and excesses of poetry, rather than treating them in a critical spirit; though that is unfortunate, it happens because the vehicles in question are incapable of comprehending poetic intent and so try to refashion it, from a noetic/creative activity into a means of control under false principles and ideological imperatives, which by definition antagonize art and poetry, and so, they end up legitimizing antagonism towards humanity itself. Anyone can write about communication, but the poet creates as community. That means that poetry is a closure on its own right, with no use whatsoever for superficial transformations: it is so close to what is human, that it can only be subjected to nothing. It is well-nigh impossible for it to be used by systemic principles (politics, ethics, aesthetics).

The main reason, then, that the phenomenon of the generation of 1930 continues to preoccupy and actually affect a very large part of the current literary state of things, has little to do with its ‘successes’ or ‘pursuits’ and more with the fact that the gravity afforded it, (out of acquired velocity, so that the real problems of literary history could be swept under the carpet) reinforced the already overblown, yet hollow and insubstantial, academic and ‘scholarly’ critical appraisal so that a) a ‘messianic’ generation could emerge that would absolve every ill and b) in that way, the further hardening into place could be achieved of moral and aesthetic weaknesses which continue to this day to be counted as high attainments; the upshot has been the perfect complacency reigning in the corridors of the decomposing Greek academy but also the streets and alleyways of ‘poetic activity’, haunted time and time again, by timidity and partiality.

The variations and copies of copies of preexisting poetic texts which make up a resounding ninety-five percent of the Greek poetry being published today are bound to run dry at some point and, besides, they are but one facet of the generalized Crisis in which the country has fallen. A Crisis, moreover, that is not at all incomprehensible in relation to the practices of the publishing world which are modeled on the politician, the hooker and the ignoramus over and above all other models but, especially, that of the poet.

In addition, the actual reading audience of contemporary poetry is shrinking because ‘readers’ turn into poets – as if there was a dearth of poets, as if there was an overabundance of readers. That is really the best way for so called readers to save themselves from poetry. They manage that way to put poetry to death, in the service of their own self-interest. It is either that or poetry putting them to death, in the context of their superstitious life. It was the former that took place, so that the stupid patent of ‘becoming a poet’ could acquire a social dimension; the kind that is not interested in poetry, because (poetry) it is not itself alone.

It is in poetry’s nature to expose its character and its motives in the most forthright way. Honesty, for example, is absent from a poem that attempts to gain your trust, like courage is absent from a poem that does not subvert. There is no other additional role for the poet or reader to play. Poetry is an accomplished destroyer of precaution and of acquired gains and that is why it won’t put up with risk-taking and dilemmas. All ‘risk-taking’ (sic) unlike what is erroneously repeated by poetry’s red-faced trustees, who have conceived the notion of using a ‘poet’s mantle to cover the inability to create and live, is nothing but an attempt to obfuscate the truth.

A ‘poetry of allusions’ can only ever promise itself what is ‘rare’. Swooning caused by the orgasms of guardian cherubs. Modern life minus living. Scheduling to carry through with existence but with the self inviolably well-schooled. As if poetry was a hideout and not a point of discovery, of revelation: a point where one cannot drop anchor since, immediately upon arrival, the point automatically becomes a pointer for the continuation of the work begun.

The hope of communication will always be the pretext, but authenticity remains the most serious irreverence in the interests of humanity. «Il s’agit d’arriver à l’inconnu par le dérèglement de tous les sens».

The pen pushers will be drowned in the laurels they duly exchange among themselves, in honor of their exceptional works and following that, no remorseful restitution will take place in the form of acknowledging the true poets but, on the contrary, they will start a pogrom, a genocide of true poets. If it has not already begun.

For the benefit of ink production and it’s trading, all views and ideas merit support, bar one. Namely, the idea in this text which I wasted in vain a few hours writing about. Which is no other than that of unreserved, useless authority. May the few become fewer, that is to say, younger. All maturity degrades.

Paris/ June 4, 2013

* Part of the volume of essays and notes on poetry, “Anaptygma” (Koukoutsi 2015).