Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The Owl’s Legacy: Castoriadis on democracy

I’ve been looking for Chris Marker’s The Owl's Legacy for ages and have finally found it. The 13-part series was made by the French avant garde film-maker in 1989 and is a veritable who’s who of intellectuals of the period – mostly French and Greek – pontificating on the cultural legacy of classical Greece on the modern world, each 25-minute programme discussing a particular theme – Olympics: or Imaginary Greece; Democracy: or the City of Dreams; Nostalgia: or the Impossible Return, and so on, you get the idea: this is an attempt to provide – as much as a TV series can provide – a fairly sophisticated account of the way Greece has shaped Western civilisation.

Interestingly, the series also wants to explore the owl’s legacy on modern Greece and how modern Greeks have navigated the culture they have been bequeathed – especially since that culture has been filtered to them through the imaginations of others, notably European classicism, in the form of German romanticism and so on.

You can watch the entire series here. It seems to have been uploaded from video tape, so the visual quality is not that good, but this really is the best non-Greek documentary series you’re likely to see on Greece, so it’s tolerable.

The video above, which gives a good indication of the style and content of the series, is part three, Democracy: or the City of Dreams; which starts off with legendary Greek-American film director Elia Kazan’s silly observation that Athens was a slave society and therefore could not have been a democracy – the epitome of democracy, for Kazan, being America; but continues with Cornelius Castoriadis, the Greek philosopher, explaining the essence and depth of Athenian democracy and making clear that it is a misuse of the term and misunderstanding of the concept to suggest that modern liberal societies are ‘democratic’.