ARCHiPELAGOS / Passages
VII. IMAGINARY ISLANDS
An Island, Utopia • Penelope of Ithaca • Lost Kids
In that name without a place / without knowing where to be
it’s out there and ever-changing / so inviting but eluding
there’s something we have found / something that no one can reach.
Something we can say it’s perfect / between the recto and reverso
sweet and bitter, warm and chilly, / it’s an island…
Something that can liberate / and confine and cause pain
and enslave, also relieve, / it’s an island whose name is Utopia.
In the more absurd desire, / or in the darkest of darkness,
or in a box that is empty, / it’s an island…
Telling us about a house, / a foreigner away from home;
an Odyssey of the idea that created the illusion
of this island whose name is Utopia.
Eternizing horizons / far away beyond horizons
in the night or in the day / fog is out there in the distance
vision is blurred, imprecise, / where myopia itself
is an island whose name is Utopia.
• Utopia: an imagined community or society with highly desirable or nearly perfect conditions for its citizens. Utopian ideals place emphasis on egalitarian principles, with the method of implementation varying according to the ideology of each proposal. The term utopia was coined by Thomas More for his book Utopia (1516), describing a fictional island society in the Atlantic. The word comes from the Hellenic οὐ (not) and τόπος (place) and means no-place. Eutopia, from the Greek εὖ (good) and τόπος, meaning good place, is the correct term to describe a positive utopia. Utopia and eutopia in English are homophonous; thus they became synonymous, as well. The opposite of eutopia is dystopia – from the Hellenic δυσ- (bad) and τόπος, i.e. cacotopia, or anti-utopia. • Plato‘s Republic is sometimes being described as a dystopia. Τhis book, one of the most influential works on philosophy and political theory, is chronologically the first recorded utopian proposal. The citizens are categorized into a rigid class structure of golden, silver, bronze and iron socioeconomic classes with limited social mobility (reminding us of the Indian caste system). The golden citizens are trained in a rigorous 50-year-long educational program to be benign oligarchs, the philosopher kings. The wisdom of these hereditary rulers will supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources. True knowledge, however, is reserved for the elite, while the lower classes are expected to fulfill their functions to the state loyally until the end of their lives. Censorship is common, to prevent impiety and immorality from corrupting the youth. The Platonic Republic has few laws, practices a form of eugenics to weed out the disabled, and deliberately hires mercenaries to conduct war in the hope that the more warlike populations of surrounding countries will be eliminated (what the Punics did until finally Carthage was razed to the ground). Indeed, who would like to live in such a harsh, unfree utopia, if his/her metal were not noble? In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper singled out the Platonic Republic as a totalitarian dystopia, with a government composed only of a distinct hereditary ruling class, while the lower working class is given no role in decision making and treated as human cattle. Undoubtedly, the greatest utopia is to expect solutions from such philosopher kings, even though they are world-famous and have influenced generations upon generations of thinkers. • Alexandrou, Aris (Ares; real name, Aristoteles Vasiliades; 1922 – 1979): a Greek novelist, poet and translator. Always on the Left but unconventional (I belong to the non-existent party of poets), he is the author of a single novel (To Kivōtio, Mission Box) which is widely considered to be among the modern Greek classics. He was born in Petrograd to a Greek father and a Russian mother; they all moved to Greece in 1928. During the Nazi occupation, he joined a communist youth resistance group but soon left in disagreement. After the ‘liberation’ of Greece, however, the British arrested and deported him to a camp in Libya. Furthermore, even though he did not participate in the ensuing Civil War (1946-1949), he was arrested due to his refusal to disavow his political beliefs and sent to ‘islands of exile’ and prisons. He was finally discharged in 1958. Because of the dictatorship in 1967, he decided to move to Paris, where he died in 1979 from a heart attack, having lived to see his novel published in French. His poems (1941-1974) were mostly written in exile. Nevertheless, due to his unconventional character, only two composers set his poetry into music: Michales Gregoriou (Undelivered Letters, 1977) and Michales Loukovikas (The Gold in the Sky, 2008. Three songs from the Gold were included in our Periplus in 2012).
Quietly weaving her designs, / a slyness that’s so refined,
to escape while staying there / she turns the hours to zero
On the loom she spins her days / in the web of all her sorrows
on the loom her nights unravel / in the texture of her sighs
If Ulysses runs the space / she’s voyaging in time
in the air of all her movements / her own steering wheel’s the shuttle
Aboard that craft she’s sailing / it’s her looming errant loom
her yarn goes from a to z / back and forth and to and fro
In the threads of this web is / where the fabric’s the idea
of a story where the wait is / done while sailing in the sea
at the rudder of a loom
Going forward, standing still and / working hard without going
past this point, a spider’s web for / days and months and many years
starting over and again
Time was then just like a fabric / interwoven in this manner
in Penelope while waiting / she sailed tired on this endeavour
Such was her determination / that the difference perhaps is this
between waiting for Ulysses / or Sebastian the king
• Homer (Ὅμηρος, late 8th – early 7th centuries BCE): the semi-legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epics originally transmitted orally, which became the central works of Greek literature. He was said to be a blind bard from Ionia, in central coastal Asia Minor. The influence of the Homeric epics on Western civilization has been incalculably vast , inspiring many famous works of literature, music, and visual arts. • The Odyssey is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad dealing with the Trojan War. It focuses on Odysseus (Ὀδυσσεύς, Ulysses in Latin, ca. 13th – early 12th centuries BCE), king of Ithaca, and his nostos, the ten-year eventful journey home after the fall of Troy. He also plays a key role in the Iliad and other works of the Epic Cycle. Renowned for his brilliance, guile and versatility (πολύτροπος), he is hence known by the epithet cunning (μῆτις, cunning intelligence). • As it is assumed that he has died, his wife, Penelope, known for her faithfulness to him, must deal with a horde of unruly suitors, the mnesteres. Devising tricks to delay them, she pretends to be weaving a burial shroud for her elderly father-in-law and claims that she will choose a suitor when she has finished. Every night for three years, she undoes part of the shroud, until an unfaithful serving woman discovers her trick and reveals it to the suitors. Obliged to change course, she declares that whoever can string Odysseus’ rigid bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads may have her hand. The only one who can do that is Odysseus himself. There follow the scenes of mnesterophonia (slaying of the suitors) and the hero’s recognition by Penelope. • Sebastian I (1554 – 1578): King of Portugal who disappeared (probably killed) in the battle of Alcazar in Morocco. Portugal’s defeat led to its integration in the Iberian Union under the Spanish crown for 60 years. Sebastião is often referred to as “the desired”, as the Portuguese longed for his return to end the country’s decline.
[…] and so much her heart
pondered, if she should stand aloof and question her dear husband,
or go up to him, so as to hold and kiss his head and hands.
After she had entered […]
she sat down over against Odysseus, in the light of fire;
[…] but there he […]
was looking down, and waiting still to see whether his dignified wife
would tell him something the moment that her keen eyes beheld him;
but she sat long in silence; amazement came upon her soul,
while she was looking over him at times steadfastly with her eyes;
other times she knew him not […]
Little kids, my ass! / we have all grown up
time is misleading / in a paradise
but age is so mixed-up / and thinks we‘re infantile
so everyone retorts, / Thank you, we don’t buy!
Lost and missing, yes, / we may really be,
but rather be lost / than full of baloney
and such certainties / that may turn us all
blind and armless devils, / deaf and also lame
Never we obey / to your every “must”
neither sleep too early
doing somersaults / to chase the fear away
Never never never
never say yes, / never say no,
if you don’t know why, / never be distracted
There are many faces / with a snobbish air
they do not see straight, / only sideways
if what you say has nothing / got to do with me
go and waste your time / with someone else, you bear!
• Neverland: a fictional location featured in the works of J. M. Barrie, an imaginary faraway place, where Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys and other mythical creatures live (there are no lost girls because, as Peter explains, girls are far too clever to get lost). Although not all people who go there cease to age, the best known Neverlander famously refused to grow up, and this is often used as a metaphor for eternal childhood (or childishness), immortality, and escapism.