Saturday, 28 June 2008

Plato's Stepchildren



I've been watching series six of the original Star Trek and as well as being very good entertainment it is also as clear cut an exposition of American ideology as you are likely to get, as the multiracial, multinational Starship Enterprise under the leadership of Captain James T. Kirk, modelled on President John F. Kennedy of course, traverses the universe representing the post-ethnic, post-national United Federation of Planets spreading the virtues of equality, compassion, fairness, multiculturalism, tolerance, human rights and individual liberty – through example if possible, but through brute force where necessary.

Star Trek also displays an interest in the culture of ancient Greece, and, indeed, the adventures of the Enterprise are in the tradition of The Odyssey, The Voyage of the Argo and even Herodotus' Histories, its fascination for other civilisations, not so much for their intrinsic merits but for their ability through their otherness to expedite self-definition.

Of the 12 episodes in series six of Star Trek, three have explicitly Greek titles or themes: Whom Gods Destroy, about a revolt on a prison planet holding the criminally insane; Elaan of Troyius; about a beautiful princess from the planet Elas – who bears a striking resemblance to Queen Cleopatra – who refuses to marry the ruler of Troyius to seal a peace pact between Troyius and Elas; and Plato's Stepchildren, the episode above (also watch it here), which is about the philosopher kings and queens of the planet Platonius, who have established a Republic after Plato, and through meditation and study developed extraordinary mental powers but at the cost of having become lethargic, indolent, vain, cruel, selfish and arrogant, neglecting feeling and emotion, which are far more important to American ideology, better ways to access truth in American culture, than intellect and intellectual endeavour, and whose way of life the democratic, egalitarian Captain Kirk finds obnoxious, contemptible and wishes to dismantle.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Fires of St John

Our fate: spilled lead; our fate can’t change –
nothing’s to be done.
They spilled the lead in water under the stars, and may the fires burn.

If you stand naked before a mirror at midnight you see,
you see a man moving through the mirror’s depths
the man destined to rule your body
in loneliness and silence, the man
of loneliness and silence
and may the fires burn.

At the hour when one day ends and the next has not begun
at the hour when time is suspended
you must find the man who then and now, from the very beginning, ruled your body
you must look for him so that someone else at least
will find him, after you are dead.

It is the children who light the fires and cry out before the flames in the hot night
(Was there ever a fire that some child did not light, O Herostratus*)
and throw salt on the flames to make them crackle
(How strangely the houses – crucibles for men – suddenly
stare at us when the flame’s reflection caresses them).

But you who knew the stone’s grace on the sea-whipped rock
the evening when stillness fell
heard from far off the human voice of loneliness and silence
inside your body
that night of St John
when all the fires went out
and you studied the ashes under the stars.
(Giorgos Seferis)

■ Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard in their translation of the Collected Poems of George Seferis regarding the Fires of St John write: ‘On the eve of the feast day of St John (24 June), it was customary in Seferis’ childhood village of Skala near the town of Vourla in Asia Minor – as in other Greek villages generally – for the children to light small fires in the streets after sunset and jump over them for good luck. Among the various divinatory rituals practiced by unmarried girls on this feast day are the two mentioned in the poem: 1) The girl drops molten lead into a container filled with “silent” water (i.e. water brought secretly from a spring by a young girl or boy who is forbidden to speak to anyone on the way), and the shape the lead takes on cooling indicates the trade or profession the girl’s future husband will follow; 2) The girl undresses at midnight and stands naked before a mirror, invoking St John and asking him to reveal the man she will marry; the first name she hears on waking the next morning is that of her future husband.'

*Herostratus, in 346 BC, burned down the famous Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in order to make his name immortal.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Stroppy Turks find American shoulder to cry on

The Cyprus talks are, as expected, going nowhere, with the Turkish side not prepared to consider anything which deviates from its preferred solution of two separate and sovereign states on the island.

Indeed, this week the Turkish side got in such a strop over the pointless and harmless UK-Cyprus Memorandum of Understanding recently signed by President Christofias and Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London – in which 'both countries commit themselves to working together to reunify the island… based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and political equality, as defined by the relevant UN resolutions and the principles upon which the EU is founded, [with] a single sovereignty, international personality and a single citizenship' – that it decided to harden its position in the meetings of the so-called technical committees and working groups supposed to prepare the ground for direct talks between Christofias and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Mehmet Ali Talat.

According to this report in Politis newspaper, the Turkish side has been putting forward proposals that envisage no return of territory, property or refugees; the absolute maintenance of Turkey's rights of intervention on the island; and the right to stay on Cyprus and receive Cypriot citizenship for all Turkish settlers, who number between 150,000-200,000. Obviously, these proposals are absurd and cannot form the basis of any serious negotiations.

While the Turks may be upset with the British, they can still rely on the Americans to do their bidding. The adoption, yesterday, of a UN Security Council resolution aimed at renewing the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Cyprus should have been a straightforward affair but was almost scuppered by the Americans, who, acting on Turkey's behalf, all of a sudden, at the last moment, despite the text of the resolution having been agreed the day before, intervened to try and remove references in the resolution to a Cyprus settlement being 'based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and political equality, as defined by the relevant UN resolutions', which, Turkey, having been served Cyprus on a plate by the Annan plan, is no longer interested in.

The Americans failed in their efforts to persuade the other 14 UNSC members to reopen the debate on the resolution, though not before the Americans made it clear that they supported the Turkish position of a Cyprus solution being based on a partnership of two constituent states, which is code for partition, with the Turks masters in the north and partners in the south.

American hostility to Greek national interests is nothing new, of course; but it is worth pointing out that should John McCain win the presidential elections this autumn, Greek and American interests are likely to diverge even further.

This article makes clear that McCain is a stalwart supporter of the view that Turkey is America's most important strategic partner in the Balkans, Middle East and Caucasus, and that America to enhance its alliance with Turkey should unhesitatingly promote Turkish interests, however nefarious. As such, McCain has consistently opposed Armenian genocide resolutions in the Senate, supported Albanian nationalism in the Balkans and, as this article shows, was one of only 27 senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush urging him to support religious freedoms for the Greek minority in Constantinople.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Radio Akritas: Alkinoos Ioannidis

I’ve made available in Radio Akritas some tracks from the album of Cypriot folk songs 'Που Δύσην Ως Ανατολήν (From West to East) sung by Alkinoos Ioannidis. The songs are

1. Ασερόμπασμαν;
2. Ψηντρή βασιλικιά μου;
3. Κόκκινη Τρανταφυλλιά Μου;
4. Τρείς Καλοήροι Κρητικοί.

Ασερόμπασμαν
Ασερομπάζω τζαι έρκουμαι
αυκήν στην γειτονιάν σου
να δω τα μαύρα μμάθκια σου
ν'ακούσω την λαλιάν σου.

Έχω κοντά σου μιάν ριτζάν
τζαι καρτερω να περάσει
ν' αφήκεις το κορμάκιν μου
στ'αγκάλια σου να πνάσει.

Ξύπνα δκιαμαντοπούλλα μου
τζαι ήρτα στην γειτονιάν σου
να δω είντα εννά μου κάμουσιν
τα γειτονόπουλλά σου.


Ψηντρή βασιλικιά μου
Ψηντρή βασιλικιά μου και μαντζουράνα μου
εσύ θα με χωρίσεις από την μάναν μου

Έβκα στο παραθύριν κόρη το γυάλλενον
να δω το πρόσωπόν σου το σιμιγδάλενον

Στην σκάλαν που ξεβαίννεις να ξέβαιννα κι'εγιώ
σκαλίν και σκαλοπάτιν να σε γλυκοφιλώ.