Chapter 5. 1946–1949: Emphýlios
When I was growing up in Athens, in the sixties and early seventies, my mother had a friend and colleague, Lina, much younger than any other, more beautiful than any other. Lina was unmarried but lived with a man nine years her junior in one of the modern apartments built in Athens by the junta on top of the hill of our neighborhood, an apartment that looked and felt like so many modern apartment buildings built in Eastern Europe after the Allied bombings had razed the old ones to the ground. Socialist realism in the heart of the junta, enacted by the junta. Lina would take me home with her, teach me French, cook dinner for me, and show me photographs of her life before Athens. Crisscrossing Europe with her lover, she had lived in Barcelona, in Paris, and in Prague during the days when the world was rocked with the realization that youth was a contingency to be reckoned with. One photograph, in particular, stuck in my mind: Lina leaning out of a window in Prague on a lovely sunny spring afternoon, a few days before Soviet tanks came rolling into that street.
Lina hadn't always lived in Athens. She was from the north, her father from Macedonia, her mother a Yugoslav brought to Greece by Lina's father. Lina's father was a Communist. He had fled to Yugoslavia when the Democratic Army collapsed in 1949, having been condemned to death in absentia by the military tribunal. There was something elusive about her. “You can't read her,” my father would say. “She's like a ghost.”
“She's got death on her hands,” our mutual friend Katerina said. “You know, Lina, when she lived in Prague, she lived in a very old building with four stories, and on top of the building, in the attic, there was an old lady who lived there alone; Lina lived above her, in the rafters.” Long afterward, Katerina finally finished the story. “The old lady was very frail and ill. She had no one in the world, and her fear was that she would die alone. So she asked Lina to kill her. And Lina did. She smashed her head with a brick. It was euthanasia; she didn't go to jail.” Katerina stopped there, although later I found out that Lina was arrested and taken away in handcuffs, only to be released after she had been acquitted in court.
There: Homo sacer to Homo sacer, life in the rafters and life not worth living. Or is it? Certain questions are not asked. How, why, what happened exactly? Was Lina alone or not, did her lover help her? What did she do with the body? You don't ask questions, you don't get answers, you are just left there, with a specter of death that hovers over your beloved older friend, who takes you home, teaches you French, cooks for you, and shows you photographs of her life before Athens. But this is not the euthanasia that Agamben points us toward, nor the euthanasia that Binding and Hoche established as the second gesture toward the circumscription of biopolitics. There is no annihilation in this euthanasia, just a young woman with a brick in her hands.