I always buy a book when I pass through the Athens airport, whose bookshop is stocked with translations of modern Greek literature that are hard to find elsewhere. This time I picked up something I never even knew existed: the only completed novel by George Seferis, the poet who in 1963 won the Nobel Prize. It has an unusual history: Seferis wrote a first version in the late 1920s — the period in which the tale is set — then rewrote it in 1954, noting in his diary, however, that it was not for publication. Why not? I’d guess because the book’s frank eroticism would in those days have been considered an embarrassment to the nation, given the poet’s day job as a diplomat, and so it saw the light of day only in 1974, three years after its author’s death. (Claudel, St.-John Perse, Paz, Neruda, Seferis… Has anyone written a good essay on the diplomatic strain in modernist poetry?) It would be interesting to know how much the finished book owes to the manuscript of the 1920s, rather than the revisions of 1954. As a novel of the ‘20s, one could call it proto-Existentialist in exploring the alienation of a protagonist who feels himself always “vaguely uneasy, like when you’re searching for something you’ve mislaid.” But this estrangement also feels like a lingering hangover from fin-de-siècle Symbolism. After all, the main female character calls herself Salome. And what could be more typical of Symbolist aesthetics than the poetry of moonlight? — almost a character in its own right here, as well as the atmosphere in which all the others appear: “The moonlight plunged over them all like a fishnet woven of violet steel.” In any case, Six Nights on the Acropolis is very much a poet’s novel (not a diplomat’s!). This means, in the first place, that narrative momentum is less essential to it than the ruminative atmosphere that envelopes people and events, and secondly, that the book’s mercurial tone can turn on a dime from lyricism to humor and back again, just as the characters shuttle between sensual abandon and neurotic self-flagellation. The discursive form moves easily, indeed at times almost unnoticeably, from third person narrative to first-person diary. Dream and reality mingle too. Naturally, the protagonist, Stratis, is a would-be poet, and of course some know-it-all tells him right at the start to forget about poetry — “The novel is all the rage.” He’s also, you might say, a would-be Greek, that is, someone who, after years abroad, cannot see how to “find my path in my own country” and compares himself to the reproduction on the Acropolis of a caryatid that was spirited away to the British Museum a century before, “the clay copy of a living being who has remained abroad.” He’s not the only one. The Athens in which the novel is set — like today’s — is a city of refugees: the aftermath of what was euphemistically referred to as a “population exchange” after the terrible Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22 had suddenly increased the city’s population by more than a million. No wonder the book seems surprisingly timely. In a dream, Stratis finds himself flipping desperately through a book whose pages are all blank, only to be told by an onlooker, “You’re mistaken, sir. This is not a book; it’s an hourglass.”
George Seferis’s Six Nights on the Acropolis (2007), translated by Susan Matthias, is published by Cosmos Publishing and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.
The Tweet comparing an ominous screen capture from the Tucker Carlson Show to one of Holzer’s Truisms is being sold as an NFT to benefit crucial organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez was sentenced to nine years.
Shows at the Hudson Valley’s Hessel Museum of Art feature artists Dara Birnbaum and Martine Syms, as well as new scholarship on Black melancholia as an artistic and critical practice.
On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to undo 50 years of constitutional rights to abortion, artist Elana Mann’s “protest rattles” feel especially poignant and urgent.
This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.
PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs reveals the “career in photography” that occupied the artist in the last three years of his life.
Since antiquity, women’s eyebrows have been sites of intense scrutiny, constantly shifting between trend cycles.
A landmark show of 30 artists at Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York keeps the category of Asian figuration open-ended.
Contemporary Black-Indigenous women artists Rodslen Brown, Joelle Joyner, Moira Pernambuco, Paige Pettibon, Monica Rickert-Bolter, and Storme Webber are featured in this digital exhibition.
Hall makes no attempt to entice the viewer to begin looking and to look again, letting her methodical craft compel viewers to reflect upon their experience.
In Benglis’s latest works, the forces of gravity that defined her seminal poured latex and polyurethane pieces are traded for luminous bronzes.
A new project by Columbia’s Queer Students of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation explores queer histories that have been suppressed by gentrification and urban development.