Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sounds like Greek Surrealism to me

"Sounds like Greek to me."

"That's surreal."

These two tired metaphors for being mystified are united and rejuvenated in a new anthology by the ever-impressive University of Texas Press Press, Surrealism in Greece.

My review copy arrived by snail today, and I devoured the introduction over lunch (blackened salmon, American Pale Ale) at The Tap Room. The introductory prose (by translator and editor Nikos Stabakis) was every bit as savory as the fish and beer.

There is some beautiful writing about Greek proto-Surrealist Nicolas Calas, described as "a prime mover of Trotskyist activity in Greece." Since Calas worked mainly in Paris and the U.S., he mostly falls outside the scope of the anthology, but he casts a fascinating shadow. "In Calas' native country," we are told, "his absence gave birth to a myth around his name" - such a pithy way to sum up something all prodigal travelers experience.

Calas' absence particularly haunted Greek Surrealist pioneer Andrea Embirikos, who gets much ink in the anthology and is sure to get more pixels here. Embirikos wrote about the departed Calas in an unfinished manuscript:

"For you shall come again, you shall come despite the clamors, you shall come with all the pride and all the joy of pure people, those high-flying, tireless travelers of lightships and steamships, who receive, upon their heads and shoulders, the cool stream of victory."

"... the joy of pure people, those high-flying, tireless travelers ...": Confluence City is feeling very much at home amid Greek Surrealists.

Embirikos himself seems to have been a trip - an arduous one. A rich kid who met Andre Breton in Paris in 1929, he went back home with the idea of introducing both Surrealism and psychoanalysis to Greece (might as well go after everything, all at once). The political hothouse and killing fields of the 20th century seem to have been too much for him, however. He abandoned his psychoanalytic practice, but kept writing.

Our anthologist Stabakis has an incisive way of describing the trajectory of Embirikos' work, which sounds like any writer's life to me: "his personal writings testify to bouts of depression, countered by the joyful, if not always conclusive, fervor of his visionary works."

"... the joyful, if not always conclusive, fervor of his visionary works." Robert Walser, anybody?

So much to savor about this book, after only a lucky 13 pages. Only 350 more to go!


The image is a painting by another Greek Surrealist, Nikos Engonopoulos. I would like to dedicate this little squib (and any anything else I ever think, or squib, about Surrealism) to the torch carrier of Surrealism in St. Louis, my friend and faithful reader, Andrew Torch.

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