By Ari Badaines, Ph.D.
Review of History, Politics and Dreams by Yannis Andricopoulos. Publisher: Grosvenor House, 2015.
When I was a kid (in the USA) I loved watching 'You are There', the TV program that brought to life major U.S. historical events such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Actors in full costume would represent the major people involved, and none other than Walter Cronkite (who would in later years become America's most trusted newscaster) was the 'reporter/commentator'.
Reading Yannis Andricopoulos' book, 'History, Politics, and Dreams' reminded me so much of that program. His engaging story makes you feel as if you are there, re-living the 20th century turbulent Greek history and recapturing the intense feelings behind the events.
Narrated by a reporter detached from petty party politics, the book’s pages are rich in fascinating stories that shaped the author’s own personal journey and in comments peppered by his distinct and highly entertaining sense of humour.
The book deals extensively with the corruption in the author’s own country – an issue, he says, which he had raised often with his countrymen but to no avail. Once, when he spoke out against this on Skyros island, a local took him aside, put his arm around him ‘as if he needed sympathy after a near-death experience following an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack' and calmly re-assured him not to worry. 'It's all ok…' In another instance, he quotes the niece of a former prime minister who held the political and financial elite responsible for the ensuing Greek collapse. ‘That is’, Andricopoulos says, ‘as if all the others had been innocent bystanders familiar only with sports, food, sitcoms and children’.
Highly critical of both our contemporary society in which selfishness and superficiality prevail and of politics, which is based on the most immaculate conception of self-interest, Andricopoulos quotes Darius, the Persian king, who according to Herodotus, said that ‘men lie when they want to profit from deception and tell the truth for the same reason’.
But he then adds that politics is only the mirror in which society sees its reflection. Structures, he says, are the creation of individual perceptions as much as the latter are the creation of the former. He quotes in this respect Aristotle who said that politics begins with the family. To have a well-run and just world, the individual has to be good, because the polis depends on it. But the goodness of all is necessary for the goodness of each, which means that the polis has to ensure that a man becomes and remains a good man.
'It is because of this', Andricopoulos says, ‘that we need to look both inwards, into our own selves that keep pulling us apart from community and nature, and outwards into the culture and the socio-political institutions that express but also fortify our disengagement from the world of values. ‘Inner and outer are not two sovereign republics. They are part of the One, in constant dialogue with each other, affecting each other even when the dialogue seems to be conducted between the deaf.'
In these ideas can be traced the philosophical underpinnings of the well-known and highly-regarded Skyros Holidays, which was established back in 1979. Born out of the author’s own struggle to overcome a cynical and uncaring world, the venture placed the emphasis on character rather than personality, substance rather than image, doing rather than having, creating rather than consuming and becoming rather than being.
The question posed by our need to live in a world that makes sense does not, however, according to the author seem to have an answer. It is, indeed, bound to remain unanswerable for ever. Residing within our own selves, the forces mitigating against the Right and the Good are beyond the limits of our power.
‘The world turns and the world changes’, T.S. Eliot said, ‘but one thing does not change: the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil’.
The battle for the Right and the Good is, therefore, bound to continue until apocalypse changes the script. Hence Heraclitus’ understanding of Justice had nothing to do with ‘love’. ‘Justice’, he said, ‘is strife’, ‘war’, so that all things end in tune ‘with what they must be’. Wars and battles may have been terrible ever since Claucus of Chios discovered the art of welding, but, as Porphyry, the Neoplatonist philosopher, explaining Heraclitus’ views said, ‘they all contribute to the harmony of the universe’.
I expected this book to be a difficult read in the sense that I would have to concentrate heavily and move slowly, a bit at a time. Instead, it reads smoothly, is gripping and entertaining and I did not want to put it down – something about the personal with the historical, and the integration of ideas from Greece's Golden Age that makes its reading compelling.
So does, of course, its humour. The shortest book ever published, Andricopoulos wonders before informing us: one hundred years of German humour! Enjoy!
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