Ortner, Sherry. 1995. “Resistance and the Problem of Ethnographic Refusal.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 37, no. 1: 173-93.
- Chapter 1. 1963–2008: History, Microhistory, Metahistory, Ethnography
- » (Speaking of Method)
Chapter 1. 1963–2008: History, Microhistory, Metahistory, Ethnography
(Speaking of Method)
How can fear, terror, pain, torture, and the dialectic that always accompanies them—hope for poetry, love of life, stubbornness, endurance, the desire to have children—how can they be written (of, about, against)? Where can one start writing? And if we understand this dialectic as resistance to hegemonic forms not only of power but of underwriting processes of subjectivities, how can such a resistance be written? The stakes for the anthropologist are great, Sherry Ortner tells us, when she reminds us that as anthropologists we position ourselves not only as engaged intellectually and morally but in a “bodily process in space and time” Ortner 1995: 173). Therefore the writing that will result from this bodily process called “fieldwork” ought to recognize (if not tremble in the face of) the intellectual and moral responsibility that we have in the encounter of this dialectic.
Theory seems to be a good place to start, although, as Valentine Daniel has warned us, nothing is transparent to theory, not “even ordinary life” (1996: 6), especially when the ordinariness of this everyday life contains within it the torturers and the tortured, the maimers and the maimed, the fearsome and the feared, or, as Begoña Aretxaga has put it, “people who are too close and whose lives we know, and whom we cannot disregard so easily because they form part of the intimate social framework” Aretxaga 2005: 166). And one could very well posit the legitimate question of why attempt to write about a terror that took place so long ago, why now, when the bodies of the tortured have been healed, their psyches have been soothed, now that some of those persecuted and brutally tortured for being dissident (to social order, to political submission, to normalization) have become ministers, and deputies, and full professors, directors of powerful organizations in the public sector, recognized and revered poets, novelists, filmmakers, architects, jurists, painters—who, in other words, have largely become what they were denied to be. What, one might ask, is the merit of writing a story that now has become history?
I officially started fieldwork for this project in May 2003 for fifteen months, followed by additional fieldwork in the summers of 2005 and 2006, with follow-up interviews in the summer of 2007. This was the time-frame of my experience in “the field.” But what could “the field” mean for me, a “native,” a person known among my family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues as a “native anthropologist”? Where does the field end and where does unmarked, daily experience begin, and what can the two tell us about one another? Many different levels of identities and identifications are claimed in this book, all of them problematic and problematized simultaneously. There is no fixed identity of the “Leftist,” an identitary ascription that is as slippery as the ground of the “Left” on which it walks. At times all “Leftists” were counted in with the “Communists,” who were counted in with the “labor unionists,” who were counted in with the “anarchists,” all ascriptions used by the state in the process of legislating their persecution, although occasionally a flicker of differentiation would accompany the desire that “our” people not “really” be Communists, as oftentimes happened when people on the Right would draw a distinction between the “Communists” and the “Leftists.” Zina, a friend whose father was a chief justice for the Special Military Courts until 1963, always joked about how her father would say of Leftist members of the family: “Ah, he's not a Communist; how would he know to be a Communist? He's just a Leftist [aristerós].” Within the “Left” these identitary ascriptions become even more fraught, and the delineations among Marxists, Marxists-Leninists, “true” Marxists-Leninists, Trotskyists, Archeiomarxistés (Archive Marxists; , Maoists, Guevarrists, Eurocommunists, Revolutionary Marxists, and Fourth-Internationalists have produced not only friction within the “Left” on the level of revolutionary dogmatism but have organized the lived, everyday experience of individual Leftists throughout the history of the Left movement in Greece. At times the persecution of members of these groups by the official Party has been as fierce as their collective persecution by the state. “Is he a Stalinist?” the mother of a friend whose father, an Archeiomarxist who had lived in hiding for years out of fear of both the official Communist Party and the police, would ask in a whisper, about people she did not know. Identities of the “Right” are a little less slippery and better fixed, as they have always been associated, in many ways, with the state and its representations and self-presentations, thus have been both reified and institutionalized in ways in which any internal or external nuances have lost their force. Slight differentiations persist across the spectrum of the Right, and they distinctly separate the “Right” from what is commonly called the “extreme Right,” which, in Greece, has always been associated with totalitarianism, Fascism, and the terror of the state (it includes, for instance, the parakrátos, the paramilitaries, and armed civilian militias).
My identity as a “native anthropologist” in this context and these encounters is no less slippery and no more fixed. I belong to the “Left” but not to the “aristocracy” of the Left. I do not come from a family that has sprung from the long history of the Leftist movement in Greece; no one in my family ever held any position of importance within the movement; our family name is not recognizable as a “Leftist” one. There are other families, families that have experienced the constant persecution of the state from the beginning of the Left movement, families whose members had been sent to Moscow to study at the KUTV (derogatorily named Koutvides by the Greek Special Security); there are other families that saw three generations of their members imprisoned simultaneously, and yet other families who have intermarried within the Party. In that sense my “nativeness” becomes frustrated. Indeed, members of my family have been imprisoned, have been sentenced to death, many more have voted for the Party, but the family as a whole has been Centrist. That certainly has not sheltered the family from suspicion, but it has created an added level of complication, both of what we understand as “native anthropology” and what we generally understand as fixed political ascriptions. This frustrated identity, however, would have a greater importance had this been a project on the self-identification of the “Left” or had the history of the Left not organized the experience of modern Greek history in its entirety. As there cannot be an examination or an understanding of modern Greek history outside the context of the relationship between the modern Greek state and the Greek “Left,” there cannot be a space within that history where one can claim that the “Left” is not part of her or his particular, personal, and perhaps even private history. In that sense, this claim of “nativeness” becomes necessarily both expanded and constricted.
In many ways, conscious and unconscious, this research started a long time ago, maybe when I first started thinking about the question of the Left, about who is a Leftist, who is this creature who, as I was growing up, was constantly on the run, persecuted, hunted down, and, after I had grown up and the Left was made legal again, claimed a piece of the national fantasy, demanded to be included in the national imaginary, finally setting the terms of the debate by collapsing story and history into a narrative that could not separate the one from the other. But it is research that has other starting points and locations, or debates and disagreements that came up within the Left, which constantly tried to determine, for different reasons and through different rationales, who was a dissident, what it is to be a Marxist, who or what can claim to be the true Left (with or without quotation marks). In this sense, this work traces not only the processes by which the “dangerous” are constituted as such but also the ways in which one is delineated and identified as a Leftist, a process that is inevitably tautological and homological.
I am a trained anthropologist, a training that demands that even if I do not follow certain protocols, at least I must acknowledge them. So here I acknowledge the need for historical diagrams (you will find them in an appendix). But I also recognize the need to acknowledge the contentious and problematic delineations of structures of interiority and exteriority, the constant need to walk the dialectic between being here and being there, being simultaneously a daughter, a sibling, a niece, a friend, a colleague and a researcher. There are no claims to privileged or interior knowledge and understandings in this work, any more than would be staked out by anyone else conducting the same research. What is claimed, though, and even this not as privileged or interior but simply as particular, is a longitudinal experience of the events and circumstances described here. There is a group of men and women who had similar upbringings. I don't want to say the “same,” but I will claim that they are “selfsame” in that they animate and produce a fiction of the self as same. The fact that we are not all of us, at all, at the same place in life now is only another crude refutation of the determinism of history. The fact that there were countless other groups of men and women with “similar” or even the same upbringings is only a testament to the commonality of the experience of history. Why it is that this history is only now rising up, and why it is only now that it can be commonly acknowledged and, for some of us, equally claimed, will become evident in the course of these pages.
Anthropology is often accused of being in the salvage business, of concerning itself with dying populations, almost extinct, with trying fervently to take down notes on histories that will have no importance or meaning for anyone after the person recounting them has died, that all this is nothing more than Edmund Leach's “butterfly collecting.” I found myself, in the course of this research, in animating encounters, engaging with people who had long thought of themselves as intellectually and emotionally dead, as having abandoned their psyche somewhere while waiting to die. One of those people was my mother. From the time that I became an anthropologist, hence from the time that there was a legitimacy in my asking questions about the past, about herself, questions to which I ought to have had answers already available, known to me, her encounter with herself did not seem self-indulgent and self-centered, and her stories and her history acquired some value beyond one she understood as trivial in the sense of “telling stories to the children.” This woman, who has lived in the isolation of her dementia for several years now, who cannot remember not only what she had for lunch but whether my mother-in-law ever had children, this woman effortlessly reached deep into her psyche and came back with names, places, circumstances, events that finally explained to me that she is also part of this history that I am researching; that the stories that she had been telling all these years, clipped, fragmented, unfathomable, and almost clinical, were stories based on the specificity of that experience. While I interviewed her in the summer of 2006 (and at one point in these interviews, when I intervened in her narrative to ask for a clarification, she gave me the clarification, but not without saying, “Don't interrupt me, because, you know, my mind isn't all there, and I'll forget what I want to finish telling you”), her eyes had the spark that I remembered, but that I also saw in the eyes of so many older friends, acquaintances, and relatives whom I have been interviewing all these years. Though they would never have written their histories themselves, that spark validated the act of preserving those stories within them.
It is curious how ethnography and its practice, fieldwork, operate in the case of old friends, friends about whom you think you know almost everything there is to know in their biography: where they were born, where they grew up, what school they graduated from, what political organization they belonged to, whether they came from a Right or a Left family, etc. From the time many of these old friends found out what my research was about, a whole new dimension of their lives was opened up to me and for me, not one of transparency but one of epiphany. One after the other they would say: my father was in Makrónisos; or my mother sheltered that person; or (as with my mother) for three days I did not have a place to sleep at night because they were on my heels and no one could hide me.
These are not the stories of the heroic resistance against the Germans that I overheard and was told repeatedly when I was researching my first book, stories that my mother (primarily) but also my father (occasionally) would tell at the dinner table. These are stories that hurt so much, stories of persecution of Greeks by Greeks, of a fratricidal history, that have lain below the heroism and the commonality of Greek experience, and they span almost the entire twentieth century, certainly its first two-thirds. In the vortex of this tension, Resistance versus fratricide, is the reason why the tortures that the Gestapo and the SS used on the Greek Resistance fighters and partisans they caught were always named, even put in a grid of classification: “the torture of the falling drop” (where a drop of water was let fall rhythmically in the middle of the forehead of the tortured); “the torture of hot boiled eggs in the underarms”; “the torture of the ice block” (where the head of the tortured was put in a noose and she was made to stand on blocks of ice; as the ice melted the noose tightened around her neck); “the torture of the crown” (a medieval torture, where a metallic band was placed around the head and gradually tightened); beatings, whippings, burnings with hot irons. We children were never told of the sexual tortures, which also abounded. But we were never told of the tortures by the Greek state on the torture islands either, islands that had not been used as exile places since Roman times. The Greek tortures on the islands always remained only cartographically noted: “the islands” someone would say, and everyone knew exactly what and which islands these were and what had happened on them. Often sarcasm would appear in these mentions: “they took him for a cruise of the islands” my mother said of the parents of a student of hers, who had been taken to Makrónisos.
“Why are you asking me these questions?” my mother asked me.
“For the book I am writing,” I said.
“What do I have to do with your book?” she asked again.
“It's about how you lived during the war, and the emphýlios, and afterwards, and under Metaxas,” I said clumsily.
“Ah, how I lived during the emphýlios,” she said, sighing, picking that one out, “only my little heart knows. To go by the Avérōf [Averof Prison] and listen to their voices, as they were singing before they were executed. You know, they were singing 'Good-bye wretched world, good-bye sweet life .' But you should be very careful writing about these things.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Eh, you never know, time takes turns [éhei o kairós gyrismata], who knows what can happen,” she said, meaning that there is still danger of political upset that could, potentially, lead to my demise.
I was given this advice repeatedly during my research, from both Left and Right, but not for the same reasons. Once I was talking with an uncle of mine who had been a very powerful person in the Special Security (Eidikē Asfáleia), the branch of the police put together for the management (i.e., persecution) of Communists in 1936 (not unlike the Bureau of Homeland Security that President George W. Bush put together after 9/11). We were discussing a particular person and whether he had participated, as some other people had told me, in the execution of a neighbor.
My uncle, who was in charge of prosecuting that particular case, was very cautious. “I don't recall him being a part of this particular operation,” he said, “but why are you asking, again?”
I went through the same explanation about the book and the memory of the experience, things that I had said repeatedly to him.
“Well, he was not part of that operation, but since you are writing a book you should be very careful in what you write because, you know better than I do, scripta manet and there are still a lot of people alive from that time.”
How can one go on, writing this dialectic as one is walking it? There are no clear interiorities and exteriorities here; at any given moment you are within and without; you are a comrade and you are not; you are a researcher and you are also the daughter who is called to make tea while the narrative is left hanging. “You'll get pummeled from every angle,” many friends have warned me about this project. Doubtless. But I need to understand, and I need to explain what it means to be this generation of post–civil war Greeks, of how it has been possible for this generation, my generation, to go to demonstrations and rallies and demand “Americans Out of Greece For Ever” and accuse “Americans, Slaughterers of Peoples” while wearing blue jeans, listening to Bob Dylan, and reading Noam Chomsky and John Steinbeck.
This is an anthropography, again, for reasons I have set out elsewhere, as has Valentine Daniel, each independently of the other. It is an anthropography because it has writing at its core, as an act of making public, of bring up to the point where discourse is located, the writing of ánthropos, of the human being as the only universality of experience that can be claimed, as its main location. And it is an anthropology and not an ethnography, as Daniel has rightly argued, because, given that the political and sociocultural experience of Greece is paradigmatic of the excesses of democracy, it applies beyond that specific location. It is, then, a concern with the human and with the excesses of sovereignty that makes this an anthropography. There is no recipe for this, James Boon has pointed out (Panourgia 2002); just a willingness to engage in its telling.
Aretxaga, Begoñ.a. 2005. “The Intimacy of Violence.” In States of Terror: Begoña Aretxaga's Essays,, ed. Joseba Zulaika, and B. Warren Kay Reno: Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada.
I want to acknowledge Weston's brilliant points in articulating the difficulties that arise when we engage in fieldwork among colleagues, in her case in the context of the U.S. academy, in my case in the context of colleagues and friends in Greece, with whom I don't have a constant institutional engagement but with whom I am in constant intellectual and political exchange. See Weston, “The Virtual Anthropologist,” in her Long, Slow Burn.
Banac and Lukic both mention similar expressions used in reference to Goli Otok and Sveti Grgur, two of the exile and torture islands opened by Tito in 1949 for the re-education of Stalinists. As Banac notes, the two islands “have entered Yugoslavia's folklore as 'the Marble Isle,' 'Hawaii,' and/or 'Alcatraz'” (Banac 1989: 247; also Lukic 2007). Goli Otok has been translated as “Bare Island” (Djilas 1985: 235) or as “barren island” (Markovski 1984: ix).
The main prison in Athens, where those on death row were kept and executed. It was on one of the major thoroughfares, where the building of the Supreme Court now stands.
See Panourgia 1995 for a detailed discussion of “anthropology at home,” “native anthropology,” “ego-histoire,” and other such categories of exclusion from mainstream anthropology; and Daniel 1996.
Panourgiá, Neni. 2002. “Interview with Clifford Geertz.” Anthropological Theory, 2, no. (December): 421-31.
The Archive Marxists (Archeiomarxistés) were a group of intellectuals within the Communist Party that appeared some time in 1918 (and were certainly recognizable by 1919) in the Communist Union (a secret group within the Socialist Labor Party, SEKE, in Greece; SEKE later became the Communist Party of Greece, KKE). When the Communist Union was dissolved, some of its members started publishing a periodical, Archeia Marxismou (Archives of Marxism). During the first years of International Trotskyism, the Archive Marxists of Greece were the largest and most robust section of the Trotskyist movement. In 1924 the Archive Marxists organized the Archeiomarxist Organization, with Dimitrios Yiotopoulos (known by his pseudonym Witte) as its leader. Yiotopoulos was a chemist by profession and Leon Trotsky's secretary. In July 1930, the Archeiomarxist Organization applied for admission to the International Left Opposition (which later became the Fourth International). In October 1930 the organization changed its name to the Bolshevik-Leninist Organization of Greece. In 1934 the organization split away from the Trotskyist movement, never becoming part of the Fourth International.
The basic project of the Archive Marxists was education and indoctrination into Marxism and Leninism, by making available the writings of Marx and Lenin. The group made these works available in a number of different European languages, some of them (badly and hastily) translated into Greek. However, reading in any language in the beginnings of the twentieth century was limited to the better-educated portions of the population, leaving the working-class and agrarian Stalinists at a disadvantage (as Margaret Kenna has pointed out, 2003: 120). The Archive Marxists, however, insisted that before the Party opened up its ranks the uneducated workers had to be educated and trained. A split with the main Party was inevitable, as the Party was heavily invested in swelling its ranks and stomping out the false consciousness of intellectuals. By the time of the Metaxas dictatorship (1936) the Archive Marxists were persecuted equally by the Communist Party and by the dictatorship. On the Archive Marxists see Kenna 2001 and 2003; Noutsos 1992 and 1993. On Yiotopoulos, see Trotsky 1978; on the Greek Trotskyists and the Fourth International, see Trotsky 1979; on Greek Trotskyism within the context of the international Trotskyist movement, see Alexander 1991.
I would argue that this is true of the international Left movement, but that falls outside of the scope of this particular project.
Except, of course, when even the identity of the “Right” was questioned from within, as during the junta, when officers of the Greek National Army who had fought against the Communists during the civil war found themselves in the same prisons and places of exile as the Leftists.
The Communist University of the Toilers of the East, also known as the Far East University, established in April 1921 in Moscow and closed in the late 1930s. The curriculum included Marxist theory, Party organization and propaganda, law and administration, theory and tactics of proletarian revolution, trade union organization, and problems of socialist construction, among others.
As James Clifford argued in 1986, even though such attitudes were “diminishing,” the “allegory of salvage [was] deeply ingrained” in anthropological discourse, even at a time when the discipline thought of itself as not being concerned with the “salvage business.” As he wrote, this allegory “is built into the conception and practice of ethnography as a process of writing, specifically of contextualization,” because the transfer of orality to textuality constitutes a re-enactment of the “structure of 'salvage'” (Clifford 1986: 112).
An excellent account by women inmates on death row who witnessed their comrades being taken out to be executed can be found in Hart 1999. The lyrics of the song are an exercise in allegory and analogy:
Sten steria den zei to psari
oute anthos stin ammoudia
ki oi Souliotises den zoune
dihos tin elefteria
Ehete geia vrysoules
loggoi, vouna, rahoules
ehete geia vrysoules
ki eseis Souliotopoules
A fish cannot live on land
nor can a flower on the sandy seashore
and the Souliot women
cannot live without freedom
Good-bye little fountains
ravines, mountains, slopes
good-bye little fountains
and you little Souliot women
This translation diverges from the one published by Hart, who erroneously takes the suffix–poules, a diminutive of the main noun or adjective, to mean “little bird.” As Hart mentions (and as everyone in Greece knows), in nationalist (which means official) historiography the song has been classified as a folk song on the claim that it was sung by the women of Souli as they jumped from cliffs rather than be captured alive by the advancing Ottoman army during the siege of 1827. Everything in the song contradicts this official claim. The fact that it rhymes (which Greek folk songs do not), its rhythm, and its melody (which would have placed it among the island songs, not the Epirot ones) betray some later, outside, and scholarly intervention.
Being a physical education teacher, Demetra had to teach this song and its dance to her high-school students. I asked her what that meant for her. “In the beginning a day did not go by that I would not think of the women at Averof,” she said. “In time I forgot.” For three exhaustive accounts of the involvement of nationalist scholarship (and even propaganda) in the construction of a seamless national narrative that includes folklore, literature, and the dimensions of the law, see Lambropoulos 1988, Herzfeld 1982a, Gourgouris 1996.