Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Christianopoulos: no to state prize, yes to Tsitsanis

I noticed (here) that in the Greek State Literature Prizes for 2011 announced yesterday, the poet and rembetologist Dinos Christianopoulos was awarded the most prestigious distinction, the Great Prize – for his overall contribution to Greek letters. Not that Christianopoulos was enamoured by the award:

‘I will not appear to receive the award or stretch out my hand to take the prize. I don’t want their prize or their money… I’m against any kind of honours. There is no more disgusting ambition than to want to stand out; this horrible 'triumph over others' (υπείροχον έμμεναι άλλων), left to us by the ancients. I am against prizes because they diminish man’s dignity.’

You can go here for an interview in Greek with Christianopoulos, in which he discusses Elytis, Ritsos, Seferis, Kiki Dimoula, Hellenism, the Macedonia name issue, the future of the Greek language and so on. While Christianopoulos doesn’t seem to have a good word to say about the above-mentioned poets, he heaps praise on another ‘poet’, Vassilis Tsitsanis.

‘It's been some 25 years since Tsitsanis’ death. Normally, you would have expected him to be forgotten. But the opposite has happened. He is more loved and in demand than ever. A similar phenomenon to Cavafy. Even though many years have passed since their deaths, their worthiness hasn’t been extinguished; rather it has soared.’

Christianopoulos has not only published three books on Tsitsanis and rembetika, but also created Η παρέα του Τσιτσάνη, to perform songs from Tsitsanis’ repertoire. The video above is from a concert Η παρέα του Τσιτσάνη gave on Greek TV.

You can go here for  examples of Christianopoulos’ poetry, in Greek with English translation. Below is his Ithaca:

I do not know if consequences forced me to leave
or because I needed to escape from myself—
from that narrow-minded Ithaca of little grace
with its Christian organizations
and its stifling morality.

At any rate, this was not the solution, but only a half-measure.

From then on I wallowed from street to street
acquiring wounds and experience.
The friends I once loved have now vanished
and I have remained alone, fearful that someone may see me perhaps
to whom I had once spoken of ideals...

Now I have returned with a final attempt
to seem irreproachable, integral; I have returned
and I am, dear God, like the prodigal who has forsaken
his vagabond wanderings, embittered, and returns
to his good-hearted father, to live
in his bosom a private prodigality.

I bring Poseidon within me,
who always keeps me far off;
but even if I could put into harbor,
could Ithaca possibly find me the solution?


Anonymous said...

Wow what a treat. However Christianopoulos's stern words to the crowd at the beginning certainly put a dampener on their enthusiasm. It's a little weird to hear tsitsanis being performed live before such a subdued audience.

John have you ever featured or come across any video clips of Mihalis Daskalakis?


John Akritas said...

His harshness is quite funny; but I guess what he's trying to do in urging the audience to be silent and engage in 'mystagogia' – a mystical experience – is reproduce the atmosphere of early rembetika, of a few people, probably stoned, in a tekke. Not for him the electric bouzouki, the big clubs and audiences and the fancy orchestrations.

Hermes said...

It is indicative of the continuing degeneracy of Greek culture that people, supposedly learned, elevate the Tsitsanis above Elytis. Of course, Tsitsanis (and Vamvakaris) was a genius. He created some of the most memorable melodies of all time but to claim that he is more worthy than Elytis and Ritsos smacks of an unthinking hatred of elitism and an increasingly outdated laikismo. An idolatory (usually KKE inspired) of the simple working man at the expense of complexity, profundity, scope and so on.

In contrast, when Solomos wrote in accessible demotic he meant to come down to the people in order to take them higher, not to keep them there, like Christianopoulos.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Greece's cultural degeneration has to more to do with it's penetration by and subservience to European capital.

The modern hero in Greece is not the simple working man but the crass and vacuous bougeois who is openly disdainful of his people and his nation and secretly dreams of becoming a French or Italian bourgeois.

The KKE is part of the rotten political establishment. It's cultural heroes are not simple working men but baroque
self parodies like Markopoulos and in previous times, Theodorakis.


John Akritas said...

What do you mean baroque self-parody? How on earth do you equate Markopoulos and Theodorakis with Greece's 'cultural degeneration'? And is it really your considered opinion that in Greece, the 'modern hero' is the bourgeois who aspires to be French or Italian?

Anonymous said...

I don't equate Theodorakis and Markopoulos with Greece's cultural degeneration. I just think that they take themselves far too seriously and their music is over orchestrated. My opinion.

The dominant images in Greek media are of the Greek bourgeois not of the simple Greek worker; and yes I believe he is suffused with a disdain of his countrymen and his nation. How do you explain the flight of capital from Greece, massive tax evasion, lack of civic responsibility and this class's cultural cringe. 

In any case I was responding to Hermes's statement that the degeneracy of Greek culture could be located in the "idolatry of the simple working man".

Hermes said...

And why does Christianopoulos feign this anger to the audience? Is this affectation a put on to make him, and his work, look more important than it really is? From what we know of Tsitsanis he would have been horrified with this sort of behaviour being associated with his music. He was a gentle soul. And his music was not meant to be delivered with this type of "German seriousness". God, I am so sick of these pseudo-Greek intellectuals blowing hot air of self importance.

And the audience is also to blame. Why are they sitting there like its a university auditorium? What an awful environment to hear Tsitsanis's songs.

John Akritas said...

Poor old Christianopoulos; he's just a harmless old guy who lives alone with his cats and his books who likes to play the cantankerous gadfly and aggravate people. I find him quite charming. He's not responsible for Greece's decline. Tsapanidou has the right attitude towards him: indulgence and amusement:


John Akritas said...

Not that in his 'confrontation' with Tsapanidou, Christianopoulos doesn't speak some truths. It's not all just an act he puts on for laughs.