This book had its origins in less turbulent times, before 9/11, when the ascending neo-liberalism of the Clinton years gave the false impression of a placid and prosperous future, carefully obscuring politics and neutralizing dissensus. The question that I was asking then concerned the collusion of the political and the existential subject as it appears in the character of Oedipus. How can we configure the location where a person becomes a political subject, I wondered, as I was looking at the problematics raised by Oedipus in his multiple subject positions—within kinship, the state, the location of authority and sovereignty, but above all in that tattered body of his, multiply mutilated, always intentionally, once aiming at the erasure of his lineage, then attempting to inscribe onto his body accountability for acts that he had performed unknowingly. And how can we see this ethnographically?
Oedipus seemed the perfect critical metaphor for the landscape of sovereignty after 9/11, where responsibility and accountability became notions so controlled and malleable by the sovereign power that they became distorted idealities. In an environment where power refused to account for its excesses and where structures (of governance, secrecy, security) were given priority over the humanity that lay beneath them, the paradigm of Oedipus seemed more apt every day. When I read how in their memoirs prisoners and exiles tortured in the concentration camps of Greece threaded together their experiences as political subjects with the character of Oedipus, I realized that there is a kernel of mutual recognition between the myth of the political in antiquity and the realities responsible for today.
Upon further reading of the histories of the Left (or what counted as the “Left”) in Greece, rifts upon rifts, splits, heroisms and paranoia, the chasms between the Left and the Right that had seemed so clearly delineated and charged with emotions and affects that have shaped generations—all started becoming muddled and treacherous. Distinctions did not disappear, but the further I researched, the more, not less, occluded they became. Binary oppositions (if any ever really existed) exploded their binarisms into seemingly infinite layers of significance and significations, littering the landscape with inexplicable contradictions: mistrust of the state but reverence for authority; proclamations of self-determination and independence but need for the security provided by a position in the public sector; nostalgia for one's pristine home village but total disregard for the environment. But there, unspoken, was the civil war—always, everywhere present, silently brought to mind though never spoken of, wounds that never really healed.
And if anyone thought that they had, the December Events of 2008 would have proved him wrong. The uprising of the high-school students, sparked by the murder of one of them, fifteen-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, by a Special Forces policeman after yet another demonstration against the excesses of the government, brought center stage the festering wounds of the modern Greek polity. The high-school students, along with university students, immigrants, anarchists, “antiestablishmentarians” (the best word I have found to translate the inimitable Greek term antiexousiastes, where exousia stands for sovereign power), urban guerrillas, the lumpen, the poor, occupied the University, the Law School, the School of Public Governance, burned stores and rubbish bins, overturned police cars, threw stones and Molotov cocktails, burned the municipal Christmas tree three times over, looted, wore balaclavas and surgical masks, were attacked by the police with tear gas, smoke bombs, and baton beatings, turned Athens first and Greece shortly thereafter into an ongoing demonstration for three weeks, demanding, demanding nothing in particular and everything in general. “Fuck '68, Fight Now” became the slogan of the Events; “You have destroyed our lives” was the charge by the students toward everyone: their parents, their teachers, their schools, the government, the state, society, the church.