Classics@10: Kerstin Jentsch-Mancor, The Dialectics of Truth in Manolis Anagnostakis’ Poetry

The Dialectics of Truth in Manolis Anagnostakis’ Poetry

Kerstin Jentsch-Mancor
This article examines Manolis Anagnostakis’s eight collections of poems, Τα ποιήματα 1941–1971 (Εποχές 1–3, Συνέχεια, Παρενθέσεις, Συνέχεια 2–3, Ο Στόχος [Epochs 1–3, Continuation, Parentheses, Continuation 2–3, The Goal]) that exemplify the spiritual journey of a (poetic) consciousness in crisis, suggesting an interpretive model for understanding and overcoming some of Greece’s most tragic historical events, namely the German occupation, the ensuing and concomitant Civil War and the military dictatorship of the junta. These collections will be interpreted as the interrelated structural components of a coherent, albeit fractal, architecture, which is, at the same time dialectical, evolutionary and teleological; as such, it describes a dynamic, progressive movement or thinking process made up of contradictory “moments” (stages or phases) that migrate towards a whole, an envisioned end-point that comprises absolute truth and complete or absolute consciousness. Oppositions (theses and antitheses) are overcome without anything being lost or destroyed. Rather, theses and antitheses are raised and preserved as in a spiral. It is thus by the very power of negation and negativity of thought that the trauma of the Civil War ceases to be a petrifying Seferian “burden of memory,” and is made fluid and adaptable instead, recovering momentum to push towards regeneration, even if this only remains a vision for the future in Anagnostakis’ poetry.
Anagnostakis’ vision of truth manifests itself in a dialectical evolution towards absolute consciousness—that is not a particular consciousness, but that of humanity which is aware of this truth about itself—through the poetic dialogue with, and transfiguration of, historical events. In this way, a higher degree of truth is envisioned, a truth that Anagnostakis identifies as the absolute knowledge of reality or Essence, as he points out quoting Georg Lukacs:

… η Διαλεχτική διαποτίζει το σύνολο της πραγματικότητας έτσι, ώστε κάτω απ΄αυτή την αλληλοεξάρτηση η Ουσία και το Φαινόμενο, να σχετικοποιούνται πάλι: αυτό που ως Ουσία αντιπαρατίθεται στο Φαινόμενο, καθώς εμείς σκαλίζουμε βαθύτερα κάτω από την επιφάνεια των άμεσων βιωμάτων, σε μια εξονυχιστική περαιτέρω έρευνα, εμφανίζεται σαν Φαινόμενο πίσω από το οποίο μια άλλη, νέα Ουσία αναφαίνεται. Και ούτω καθ΄εξής ως το άπειρο.
Dialectics pervades the whole of reality in such a way that due to their interrelations Essence and Appearance become again indissolubly linked: when we scratch beneath the surface of direct experiences conducting an in-depth investigation, [we realise that] what as Essence is opposed to Appearance, appears as Appearance behind which another, new Essence emerges and so forth ad infinitum.
Anagnostakis 1965:21–22 [1]
Nonetheless, Anagnostakis’ dialectics is not concerned with transcendental abstracts of reality, but with reality as a totality. Rather than merely transcending empirical reality and taking flight into a metaphysical realm, it reflects upon and creates a multifaceted vision of the physical world similar to multiple exposure in photography. This includes the binary oppositions of observation and introspection, particularity and universality, individuality and collectivity as well as being and non-being. These are not treated as mechanical negations or contradictions, but are shown to be related oppositions immanent in the phenomena themselves that in their totality allow for the fullest, most comprehensive insight possible. This is further illustrated by the close dialogue between poetry and history that is omnipresent in Anagnostakis’s poetic collections.
Anchored in and inspired by history and, in particular, the momentum of war and conflict, this poetic vision regards the attainment and fusion of historical and self-consciousness as a huge cosmic accomplishment, as it generates the all-encompassing vantage point, not of a particular consciousness, but of humanity. This attuning of the human mind constitutes for Anagnostakis the foundation of potential improvement of the human condition, be it in the shape of social reform or revolution. As the latter appear to the poet increasingly unattainable during his own lifetime (“Κανένας στίχος σήμερα δεν κινητοποιεί τις μάζες/Κανένας στίχος σήμερα δεν ανατρέπει καθεστώτα,” “Επίλογος,” Ο Στόχος [“Not one verse today sets in motion the masses/ Not one verse today overturns regimes,” “Epilogue,” The Goal], 1971; trans. Ricks 2003), they seem to be intended to serve as a “deposit” for future generations. [2]
Critics have generally emphasized Anagnostakis’ tendency towards defeatism and silence, and deep scepticism towards his medium itself, which was taken to its ultimate consequence by his disappearance from the poetic scene after 1971. [3] However, this can be regarded as only a partial explanation of Anagnostakis’ poetry, since it does not consider the positive value of conflict, diremption and negation. It will be proposed that these aspects function as necessary stages in the ideated attainment of the powers of the human mind that result in the emergence of historical and self-consciousness, thereby bearing the potential for future change.
Within this context, it will be argued that, while Anagnostakis avails himself of the historian’s approach to commemorate his and his generation’s “lived” experiences of the Civil War, his ultimate quest is to describe a dialectical evolution of universal truth(s) about reality rendered through poetry that in their entirety comprise absolute knowledge about reality. It will be shown how the poet embraces certain notions of Hegel’s philosophy, such as those of absolute idealism as related to consciousness and self-consciousness (Phenomenology of the Mind, 1807), as well as those relating to the concept of dialectical reasoning, which includes contradiction, negation and “sublation” (aufhebung) (Science of Logic, 1812–1816), that Hegel believed to be the only method for progress in human thought. [4] Thus, Anagnostakis’s often commented-upon “negativity of thought” and scepticism as mean achieving his envisioned goal is reinterpreted here in Hegelian terms as a dynamic aspect of the power of contradiction and negation, even in the form of silence, that encapsulates the potential to eventually recover momentum and to push towards the vision of “the whole,” of knowledge, of universal truth that translates into action.
In the first part of the discussion, the poet’s awareness of historicity will be demonstrated to provide the essential basis for the emergence of historical consciousness and self-consciousness. This corresponds to the central notion of Hegel’s concept of absolute idealism and consciousness as expounded in Phenomenology of Mind. Hegel describes “absolute knowing” or genuine knowledge of “what truth is” that corresponds to Anagnostakis’ envisioned “Αλήθεια,” “Άνοιξη,” “φως” and “λάμψη” (“Truth,” “Spring,” “light” and “glow” [Hegel 1968:53, 1–2/M46]). [5]
Furthermore, it is both Hegel’s and Anagnostakis’s aim to provide a phenomenological reinterpretation of experience that is designed to change men’s perception of their environment, since reality is understood to be not as it appears, but as it is comprehended. Consequently, tragic events, such as those experienced by Greeks during the second half of the twentieth century, are then seen as mere concretions of singularity in the phenomenal world that point to a different reality, that of the ideal. The standpoint of ideality allows to reinterpret, structure and overcome the natural world, thereby bestowing the knowledge of absolute truth and the power of the creation of reality itself onto those who have attained this highest level of consciousness (Schmidt 2001:89–121).
Hegel argues that in order to acquire such knowledge and truth one needs to develop a consciousness of mind-independent objects and events that exceeds what self-consciousness can encompass, since these constitute the contents of a higher form of consciousness. [6] Knowledge and truth thus perfect themselves through their dialectical journey and become universal, that is they integrate but transcend the particularity of the fate of the individual.
In Philosophy of Law, Hegel further explains that dialectics is the notion of progress through division and discord, and overcoming (sublation/Aufhebung) of such opposition. Dialectical thinking derives its dynamic of negation from its ability to reveal implicit “contradictions” (i.e. opposing forces). This produces more adequate forms of thought and of being that include within them what has been surpassed. Change therefore is helical (i.e. spiral), not circular (i.e. negation of the negation). Hence, a dialectical advance is one in which what has been surpassed is also preserved:

Because the result, the negation is a specific negation, it has a content. It is a fresh notion, but higher and richer than its predecessor; for it is rich by the negation or the opposite of the latter, therefore contains it but also something more, and this is the unity of itself and its opposite. It is in this way that the system of notions as such has to be formed—and has to complete itself in a purely continuous course.
In Glockner 1957 IV:51
Thus, to Hegel the dialectical process of human thinking as “Idea” becomes the creative mechanism of the “real world,” which, in turn, constitutes the external, phenomenal form of this idea. [7]
Before proceeding, brief reference should be made to Nasos Vayenas’ article “Manolis Anagnostakis existential poet” (2004), a translation of “Ξαναδιαβάζοντας τον Αναγνωστάκη” (“Re-reading Anagnostakis”), [8] in which he develops further Alexandros Argyriou’s evaluation of Anagnostakis. Both critics characterize Anagnostakis as an existential poet and claim that the poet has, in fact, channelled extraordinary little historicity into his work (Ricks 2003:7); according to Vayenas, the poet’s work allegedly transcends the historicity of his times to such a degree that his poems can easily be read from a contemporary point of view. This, he believes, can be traced back both to a state of lost innocence and to the poet’s desire “to discover the true face of man, which has been smothered by the necessity to adapt to a fallen reality.” These predominant moods are, he argues, sometimes degraded to conflictual situations that only occasionally and indirectly take the form of an ideological struggle. Thus, according to Vayenas, Anagnostakis’ work is primarily pervaded by an “existential hue,” a glowing light that makes him much more than an ideological poet and strongly separates him from the category of ‘political’ poets.
The awareness of historical actuality, however, can be demonstrated to be central to the poet’s dialectical vision of truth, since it is the basis from which truth and poetry emerges.
Anagnostakis’ poetry is firmly rooted both in time and its passage, as reflected by the titles of six of his collections (Εποχές, 2, 3, Η Συνέχεια, 2, 3 [Epochs, 2, 3 The Continuation, 2, 3]), as well as those of a large number of individual poems (“Αναμονή,” “Απροσδιόριστη Χρονολογία,” “Θά΄ρθει μια μέρα…,” “Μια ημερομηνία πριν από χρόνια,” “Τώρα…,” “Το πρωί,” “Όταν τα βράδια,” “Κάθε πρωί…,” “Τώρα μιλώ πάλι…” [“Waiting,” “Unspecified date” “A day will come..,” “A date years ago,” “Now…,” “In the morning,” “When in the evenings,” “Each morning…,” “Now I am speaking…”]; Tzouma 1982:24). Even more specifically, a number of poems are anchored in historical time, either by virtue of their titles (“Χειμώνας 1942,” “13.12.1943,” “Χάρις 1944,” “Στον Νίκο Ε… 1949,” “Θεσσαλονίκη,” “Μέρες του 1969 μ.Χ.,” “Νέοι της Σιδώνος, 1970” [“Winter 1942,” “13.12.1943,” “Charis 1944,” “To Nikos E… 1949,” “Thessalonica,” “Days of 1969 A.D.,” “Young Men of Sidon, 1970”]), or by general reference to the traumas of the Civil War. Time is seen as a dialectical process that comprises both transience and finality and interrelates past, present and future.
A direct link is established between history and consciousness in the following two poems. In “Χειμώνας 1942,” Εποχές (“Winter 1942,” Epochs), for example, consciousness is shown to be only possible within a temporal and, in particular, historical conception of reality, as indicated by the title. Equally, the poem “Χάρης 1944,” Εποχές (“Charis 1944,” Epochs) links Charis’ death to the collective historical experience of war through which the survivors, who in earlier poems are shown to suffer from self-alienation and isolation, are strengthened in their search for (self-) consciousness and truth:

Είν΄η δική του φωνή που βουίζει στο πλήθος τριγύρω σαν ήλιος
Π΄άγκαλιάζει τον κόσμο σαν ήλιος που σπαθίζει τις πίκρες σαν ήλιος
Που μας δείχνει σαν ήλιος λαμπρός τις χρυσές πολιτείες
Που ξανοίγονται μπρος μας λουσμένες στην Αλήθεια και στο αίθριο το φως.

“Χάρης 1944,” Εποχές, 38
It is his voice buzzing round in the crowd like a sun
Embracing the world like a sun slashing through grief like the sun
Showing us like a bright sun the golden cities
Spreading before us bathed in Truth and the clear light.

Charis 1944, Epochs, 38 [9]
Thus, events are perceived dialectically, they are shown to lead to crises or turning points, when one force overcomes its opponent form, resulting in qualitative change. [10]
Temporality is furthermore perceived dialectically as both regressive and progressive. The metaphor of the “wild river” in “Ήρθες όταν εγώ,” Η Συνέχεια, [“You came when I,” The Continuation] represents a life-force which needs to be accessed in order to develop consciousness and, with it, an understanding of truth. Consequently, change can only occur within temporality. Incidentally, it is this same life-force that Anagnostakis associates with life-giving, i.e. inspirational poetry.
Hence, the momentum of history as a temporality concerning the past is shown to be inextricably linked with the dialectical evolution of consciousness, which, in turn, allows for the Marxist idea of an evolution of history itself. While Anagnostakis gradually leaves behind Marx’s dialectical materialism of an imminent class war that resounds primarily in Εποχές [Epochs]and Εποχές 2 [Epochs 2], his focus on the dialectical development of consciousness remains central to his poetry. Like Hegel, the poet appears to have considered that history passed through contradictory moments in its development, producing in its wake increasingly higher degrees of knowledge and truth. [11]
This quest for consciousness and truth is never absent throughout the poetic collections and the thirty years they span. Despite the poet’s recurring sense of scepticism and disillusionment, he continuously picks up the thread of his reasoning (“Τώρα μιλώ πάλι…,” Η Συνέχεια 3, 135), [“Now I am speaking again…,” The Continuation 3, 135]pointing to the urgent necessity to gain historical consciousness: “Να ξέρεις πάντα το π ό τ έ και το π ώ ς” (“Τώρα είναι απλώς θεατής…,” Η Συνέχεια 3, 152) [“Always know w h e n a n d w h e r e,” “Now he is a simple spectator…,” The Continuation 3, 152]and “Το θέμα είνα τ ώ ρ α τί λες,” Ο Στόχος, 157) [The point is what do you say now,” The Goal, 157]. Poetry thus becomes a product of the awareness of historical actuality.
Despite the prominence of historicity in Anagnostakis’ poetry that is to be found at the very centre of his concern to re-establish coherence in human thought and experience, his treatment of the past is not historical. A historical approach does not reveal, for example, the metaphysical element immanent in the subject matter, namely the progressive evolution of consciousness. Nor does the historian employ consciousness as the structuring element in social life, the element which makes historical experience in its various modes central to the development of the mind. Rather, history is concerned merely with narrating the sequence of past events. [12]
Moreover, whereas history is in principle concerned with all of the past, Anagnostakis’ poetry is only concerned with those modes of past experience which enable us to see the present as a stage in a development, the progressive realizations of consciousness. The poet looks at the past to discern those shapes of experience which have contributed in a significant fashion to the contemporary stage of consciousness and which may project into the future.
This, however, does not entail that the poet and historian are in any sense in conflict. Indeed, the former depends on first-order researches to achieve his purpose. Only when the structure of past experience has been brought to light by the historian can the poet discern those modes significant for comprehending the present and envisioning the future. While the historian restricts himself to faithfully recording the past, experience presents the poet with an infinite wealth of shapes and appearances which he seeks to penetrate and “re-create” in order to express the “inward pulse” within this process. In the poem “Όταν αποχαιρέτησα” (128), Anagnostakis alludes to this wealth of “shapes” reserved for poetry, proclaiming:

Θα σου μιλήσω πάλι ακόμα με σημάδια
Με σκοτεινές παραβολές με παραμύθια
Γιατί τα σύμβολα είναι πιο πολλά απ΄τις λέξεις

“Όταν αποχαιρέτησα…,” Η Συνέχεια 2, 128
I will speak to you again with signs
with dark parables, with tales
Because symbols are more numerous than words

“When I took leave…,” The Continuation 2, 128
What is more, Anagnostakis distinguishes his poetry from academic historiography (“Το άψογο πρόσωπο της Ιστορίας θολώνει,” 128) which simply provides and explains a number of data (i.e. “what happened”) as opposed to the personal experiences of the poet (i.e. “what was”), as highlighted in the following quotation:

Και τόσα που να στοιβαχτούνε γεγονότα
Τόσες μορφές να ξαναγίνουν αριθμοί
Πως να εξηγήσω πιο απλά τι ήταν ο Ηλίας
Η Κλαίρη, ο Ραούλ, η οδός Αιγύπτου
Η 3η Μαίου, το τραμ 8, η Αλκινόη
Το σπίτι του Γιώργου, το αναρρωτήριο.

“Όταν αποχαιρέτησα…,” Η Συνέχεια 2, 128 [13]
And with all those events piling up
All those human figures becoming again numbers
How am I to explain more plainly what Ilias
Klairi, Raoul, Egypt Road, May 3, tram 8, Alkinoe
Yorgos’ house, the convalescent ward stood for.

“When I took leave…,” The Continuation 2, 128,
Consequently, Anagnostakis conceives of poetry existentially as a mode of consciousness in relation to the past. Poetry, in its rendering of the human condition, can therefore neither escape temporal engagement nor historical conceptualization.
The second part of this article examines in detail the manifestations of the poet’s struggle for the highest form of consciousness. In the course of his eight collections, a spiritual journey that allows the latter to project the absolute truth he perceives onto the phenomenal world, a goal he alludes to in 1957:

Ο καλλιτέχνης θα εκφράσει το βαθύτερο νόημα των πραγμάτων, τη βαθύτερη αλήθεια που ίσως δε γίνει κατανοητή στην αρχή σαν τέτοια, δε θα γίνει δηλαδή απλώς φωτογράφος η χρονικογράφος των γεγονότων.
The poet expresses the deepest meaning of things, the deepest truth that cannot possibly be grasped initially as such; he does not therefore simply become a photographer or chronographer of events.
Anagnostakis 1985:33
Ο καλλιτέχνης βλέπει μιά πραγματικότητα που την αληθινή της ουσίας ίσως εμείς δεν είμαστε ακόμη στη θέση να τη δούμε… Ο μεγάλος καλλιτέχνης, λένε, προηγείται της εποχής του, είναι προφήτης κτλ. Δε συμβαίνει τίποτα τέτοιο. Απλώς με τις κεραίες του συλλαμβάνει ασχημάτιστες ακόμα μορφές—που ήδη όμως δυνάμει υπάρχουν – και που τις προβάλλει στο έργο του σαν ήδη υπάρχουσες, συλλαμβάνει δηλαδή τη ρέουσα πραγματικότητα, αυτή που αδυνατούμε εμείς ακόμη να συνειδητοποιήσουμε, μέσα στην πολυπλοκότητα και την αντιφατικότητά της.
The poet conceives of a reality, the true essence of which we ourselves are not yet able to see … they say, the great poet precedes his time, that he is a visionary etc. Nothing of the sort is true. He simply grasps with his antennae yet unformed shapes—that however already potentially exist—that he advances in his work as already existing; he therefore captures reality in flux, the very reality which we have difficulty to even perceive amidst its complexity and contradictoriness.
Anagnostakis 2000:153
Similarly to Hegel, Anagnostakis firmly believes that “the word” is perfectly capable of expressing the essence of reality, regardless of the fact that it may not convince his readership:

Σαν π ρ ό κ ε ς πρέπει να καρφώνονται οι λέξεις
Να μην τις παίρνει ο άνεμος.

Ποιητική, Ο Στόχος, 159
Words need to be nailed down like t a c k s,
Not to be gone with the wind.

Poetics, The Goal, 159 (trans. Ricks 2003)
Μα στο παιδί δεν άρεσαν ποτέ τα παραμύθια…
Ά, φτάνει πιά! Πρέπει να λέμε την αλήθεια στα παιδιά.

“Στο παιδί μου,” Ο Στόχος, 160. [14]
But the child never took to fairytales…
Enough now! We have to tell the children the truth.

“To my child,” The Goal, 160.
Thus, Anagnostakis seems to imply that art as the external manifestation of philosophy is the only medium that is capable of leading humankind to absolute truth. [15]
Hence, the poet’s quest is the difficult task to convince the reader of the truth that he already believes to comprehend. For this to happen, the latter needs to become aware of the spiritual crisis caused by the Civil War and to be willing to set out on a quest in order to gain self-consciousness that leads to absolute consciousness and truth. This spiritual journey, which Anagnostakis himself undergoes but equally subjects his reader to, manifests itself as what could be likened to an evolutionary “chain” or “helix” of dialectical (partial) visions, which are, in Hegelian terms, progressively “sublated” on an increasingly higher level until absolute truth is achieved:

Ο συνειδητά προοδευτικός καλλιτέχνης δεν σκαλώνει στο χριστιανικό ερώτημα “τί εστίν αλήθεια”. Η β α σ ι κ ή αλήθεια του είναι γνωστή. Όμως από κει και πέρα αρχίζει μια ατέλειωτη αλυσίδα κλιμακωτών “επί μέρους” αληθειών που η διάρκειά τους είναι πολύ σχετική, το περιεχόμενό του όχι πάντα απόλυτα πειστικό.
The consciously avant-garde poet does not become sidetracked by the Christian question of “what is truth”. His basic truth is known. However, from this point onward begins an endless chain of provisional, limited truths whose lifespan is very relative and whose content does not always convince entirely.
Anagnostakis 1965:23
This envisioned spiritual development is clearly dialectical in nature, as it encompasses various contradictory forms of experience and thought, such as victory and defeat, death and regeneration, hope and despair/scepticism, action and passivity, progress and regression, etc. In particular, the poems are structured by the oscillation between a positive and a negative perception of reality. The former entails a network of corresponding ideas, such as the collective mastering of present and future, truth, consciousness, youth and evocative poetry. These are furthermore linked to life, love, joy, light, sun, spring, the path, a wind of change, the march of soldiers and trumpets sounding for battle. By contrast, the latter perception contains ideas of isolation, estrangement and self-alienation, a return to the past, monotony and immobility, the loss of consciousness, pain, guilt, old age, destruction and silence which are accompanied by the images of winter, rain, dirt, mud, smoke and barred windows. These oppositions may coexist in a single poem or verse (“Είναι ωραίο και θλιβερό,” 18, “Κανείς δε θ΄αγγίξει την έκταση της στοργής και της θλίψης μου,” 17, “γυμνός από αγάπη και μίσος,” 22 [“Beautiful is the doleful,” 18, “Nobody can touch the extent of my affection and sorrow,” 17, “stripped of love and hatred,” 22]), or may be thematized alternatively in different poems; they may be thematic or lexical. Further binary oppositions include the individual versus collective society, the inner versus the outer, testimony versus protest, the part versus the whole, monologue versus dialogue, poetry versus prose (Moullas 1998:56–60). In the following it will be demonstrated how the poet moves beyond the limitation of these contradictions or oppositions towards absolute truth.
While one may detect Seferian overtones in Anagnostakis’s poetry, the latter’s dialectical method stands in sharp contrast to Seferis’ mythical method, as the following examples illustrate. The metaphor of the frustrated voyage, for example, is linked to further images, such as those of the ship, shipwreck and port or shore, featured so prominently in Seferis’s poems, as the following comparison illustrates:

Θυμάσαι που σού΄λεγα όταν σφυρίζουν τα πλοία
μην είσαι στο λιμάνι.
Μα η μέρα που έφευγε ήτανε δικιά μας και δε θα
θέλαμε ποτέ να την αφήσουμε
… Θα φύγουμε κάποτε αθόρυβα και θα πλανηθούμε
Μες στις πολύβοες πολιτείες και στις έρημες θάλασσες

“13.12.43,” Εποχές, 16
Do you remember when I told you to stay clear of the harbour
when the ships sound their horns.
But the day he left was our day and we would have
Never wanted to miss it
… we will leave silently at some point and err
In the noisy cities and the desolate seas

“13.12.43,” Epochs, 16
Είναι παλιό το λιμάνι, δε μπορώ να περιμένω
ούτε το φίλο που έφυγε στο νησί με τα πεύκα
ούτε το φίλο που έφυγε στο νησί με τα πλατάνια
ούτε το φίλο που έφυγε για τ΄ανοιχτά.
Χαϊδεύω τα σκουριασμένα κανόνια, χαϊδεύω τα κουπιά
να ζωντανέψει το κορμί μου και ν΄αποφασίσει.
Τα καραβόπανα δίνουν μόνο τη μυρωδιά
του αλατιού της άλλης τρικυμίας.

Seferis, Μυθιστόρημα, “΄Θ,” 24
The harbour is old, I cannot wait any longer
for the friend who left for the island of pine trees
or the friend who left for the island of plane trees
or the friend who left for the open sea.
I stroke the rusted cannons, I stroke the oars
so that my body may revive and decide.
The sails give off only the smell
of salt from the other storm.

Seferis, Μυθιστόρημα, “΄Θ,” 24 (trans. Keeley and Sherrard 1967)
However, while in Seferis’s poetry, the image of the voyage is associated with the inversion of the Odyssean return, Anagnostakis’s voyage describes an evolutionary progression that envisions a point of completion (already attained by the poet), which I have identified as absolute knowledge or truth (“Χρέος μας είναι να μη γυρίσουμε,” “Τώρα,” Εποχές, 24 “Our obligation it is to return,” “Now,” Epochs, 24]).
The idea of the voyage is perceived here in dialectical terms: in its negative sense, it is further linked to fragmentation. Anagnostakis’ poems teem with metaphors of fragmentation such as those of ruins (76), broken chairs (46), windows (47), beds (64) and flags (76) that reflect society’s degeneration and lack of consciousness. By extension, we find images of mutilation, e.g. those of toothless skulls (83), broken hands (83, 117) and headless corpses (36). Even words become images of fragmentation (148). To this are further attached metaphors of decay (54, 64). Similar to the external decomposition, the internal degradation of the mind brought on by indifference, irresponsibility and lack of consciousness, negates centuries of accomplishments, leads to estrangement from past and present, and causes subjection and ultimate annihilation.
These images of literal destruction of humanity, its history (flags) and cultural expressions (poetry, words), however, form part of the dialectics of a nightmarish vision of a world that precisely in all its fragmentation calls for the restoration of humanity, as, for example, implied by images of regeneration, such as that of the lotus flower (“Επίλογος,” Η Συνέχεια, 99) [“Epilogue,” The Continuation, 99] or the life-giving river (“Ήρθες όταν εγώ,” Η Συνέχεια, 103–104) [“You came when I,” The Continuation, 103–104] mentioned above. This hope is also associated with the emergence of the mythical Phoenix from the ashes, as further implied by the verses:

Κι εγώ ονειρεύομαι μιά μέρα πατώντας πάνω στους
Νεκρούς μου στίχους να τονίσω με κόκκινα γράμματα (νικητήριες σάλπιγγες) το καινούριο μου τραγούδι.

“Το καινούριο τραγούδι,” Εποχές, 41
And I am dreaming of one day trampling on my dead verses in order to
Make emphatic in red letters (victorious trumpets) my new song.

“The new song,” Epochs, 41 (trans. Ricks 2003)
Thus, Anagnostakis makes explicit the inherent opposition between the overall regression, self-alienation and fragmentation caused by the Civil War that tends, on the one hand, towards, in Hegelian terms, a state of Non-Being or Nothing, and, on the other hand, progression towards an envisioned fulfillment in the whole identified with Being. It is then through the dialectical development towards absolute consciousness that the limitations of this opposition are overcome (Becoming) in Hegelian fashion. [16]
Through this contrast, the poet implies at the same time with a didactic overtone that man cannot escape his responsibility to develop consciousness without fatal consequences. This responsibility is not merely seen as an altruistic or a political act, but as an existential one, since “ότι γίνεται γύρω μας γίνεται μέσα μας… η φωτιά καίει τα ίδια μας τα σπίτια” (“what happens around us happens inside us … fire is burning our own homes”) Anagnostakis warns that historical reality affects directly each individual and that society will not emerge from its experience of cataclysmic events “χωρίς τα σημάδια της φθοράς (“without signs of degeneration” [Anagnostakis 1965:130]).”
The general state of degeneration is equally reflected in the loss of memory. This, too, is a prominent theme in Seferis’s poetry where it is linked to oblivion. It is associated with the shades of the underworld, the “weak souls among the asphodels” that have definitively lost all memory of their former living self. Again, by contrast, Anagnostakis invests the idea of memory with both negative and positive connotations to serve his dialectics. On the one hand, memory void of consciousness is deemed “άγονη” (“barren”; 18):

Η μνήμη τους είναι το πόδι που νοσταλγεί ο ανάπηρος
Είναι η σπασμένη θερμάστρα στο γεναριάτικο δωμάτιο
Είναι τα φύλλα που στοιβάζονται και ξεθωριάζουν στο συρτάρι

“Σκυφτοί περάσαμε,” Εποχές 3, 81
Their memory is the leg the cripple longs for
It is the broken heater in January’s room
It is the leaves that are stowed in the drawer and fade

“We passed bent down,” Epochs 3, 81
On the other hand, behind much of Anagnostakis’s accusation of contemporary society, especially in his last collection, Ο Στόχος (The Goal) in the poem “ΝΕΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΣΙΔΩΝΟΣ, 1970” (“Young men of Sidon, 1970,” for example, lies the poet’s desire to encourage the reversal of this process. “Λήθη” (“oblivion”) is offset against what amounts to a call for, at least in the Greek language, its diametrical opposite, “αλήθεια” (“truth”), that is to be attained by proceeding to higher modes of understanding: [17]

Δεν παραδέχτηκα την ήττα. Έβλεπα τώρα
Πόσα κρυμμένα τιμαλφή έπρεπε να σώσω
Πόσες φωλιές νερού να συντηρήσω μέσα στις φλόγες.

“Κι ήθελε ακόμη…,” Η Συνέχεια, 117 [18]
I could not accept the defeat. I now saw
How many hidden treasures I needed to salvage
How many pockets of water to preserve within the flames.

“He still wanted…,” The Continuation, 117
We can thus conclude that the abstract Idea, the absolute, life-giving truth (Being) is only perceptible as it passes through the concrete phase of negative experience (lack of consciousness, death, Nothing) through which it is mediated (Kainz 1996). While the synthesis of each binary opposition preserves and fuses the content of both sides, it moves beyond its limitations. Therefore, the bloodshed during the Civil War, for example, if metaphorically imbued, would allow society to (re)gain consciousness and partake in the understanding of truth about humanity.
The manifestation of this dialectical vision within a single poem is well demonstrated in the poem “Εκεί,” Η Συνέχεια (“There,” The Continuation). While it is not specified what the repeated verse “Εκεί θα τα βρεις” (“There you will find”) refers to in the first part of the poem, the images of light, opening and awakening that are recurrent in Anagnostakis’ poems imply the fulfillment of the poet’s quest for truth. This vision is followed by a number of metaphors of fragmentation and destruction that introduce, in the second part of the poem, the equally recurrent exact opposite images of closing, stagnation and darkness followed by the realization that poetry is “ο καλύτερος τοίχος να κρύψουμε το πρόσωπό μας” (“the best wall to hide our face behind” [Ricks 2003]). Thus the poet conveys a moment of epiphany in the first part of the poem only to negate it in the second one. These contradictions in the same poem could be understood to imply that the vision of absolute knowledge is unattainable, since “Τότε θα ξέρεις” [“Then you will know”] refers to its negation. The negation of absolute knowledge and truth expressed in this poem appears, however, to be but a partial truth. It is not to be read as the annulment of Anagnostakis’ vision and quest thereof, as it is (1) followed by further calls for telling the truth, and (2) preceded by similar binary oppositions of affirmation and negation:

(1) Ά, φτάνει πια! Πρέπει να λέμε την αλήθεια στα παιδιά.
“Ποιητική,” Ο Στόχος, 160
Enough now! We have to tell the children the truth.
“Poetics,” The Goal, 160
(2) Δημιουργιώντας μια ποίηση πάνω από κάθε καταστροφή
Χωρίς να λησμονούμε κάποτε εντελώς τον προορισμό μας…
Όμως εμείς, αν θέλετε, είμαστε έτοιμοι ακόμα.

“Επίγνωση,” Παρενθέσεις, 73
Creating poetry on top of every catastrophe
Without totally forgetting our goal at some point…
However, if you want, we are still ready.

“Awareness,” Parentheses, 73
Οι στίχοι αυτοί μπορεί νά΄ναι οι τελευταίοι
“Επίλογος,” Εποχές 3, 99
These verses could be the last
“Epilogue,” Epochs 3, 99
Consequently, the link between these radically contradictory visions of truth can be detected in the overall dialectical, evolutionary movement of the whole collection of poems towards their goal (στόχος), absolute truth.
Ironically, this evolutionary development of partial, dialectical insights into reality is closely intertwined with the poet’s increasing disillusionment and scepticism as to the possibility of conveying his vision of ultimate truth that would manifest itself in change as reflected in the laconic, prosaic, almost clinical style:

Όλο και πιο γυμνά
Όλο και πιο άναρθρα
Όχι πια φράσεις
Όχι πια λέξεις
Γραμμάτων σύμβολα…

“Όλο και πιο γυμνά…,” Η Συνέχεια 3, 144
Ever more naked
Ever more disjointed
No longer phrases
No longer words
Symbols of letters

“Ever more naked…,” The Continuation 3, 144
«Γιατί», όπως πολύ σωστά είπε κάποτε κι ο φίλος μου ο Τίτος
«Κανένας στίχος σήμερα δεν κινητοποιεί τις μάζες
Κανένας στίχος σήμερα δεν ανατρέπει καθεστώτα».
Έστω.
Ανάπηρος δείξε τα χέρια σου. Κρίνε για να κριθείς.

“Επίλογος,” Ο Στόχος, 176
‘Because,’ as my friend Titos once so rightly said,
‘Not one verse today sets in motion the masses
Not one verse today overturns regimes.’
So be it.
Cripple, show your hands. Judge that you be judged.

“Epilogue,” The Goal, 176 (trans. Ricks 2003)
While Anagnostakis himself completes his spiritual journey and gains absolute truth, his quest to convey the latter to the reader is left unfinished, symbolized by the poet’s eventual silence both in its active and passive meaning. This seems to be perfectly captured in one of the ‘prose poems’ found in Το περιθώριο 1968–1969 (The Margin 1968–1969) in which the poet’s predicament is likened to that of a victim of torture that is—again dialectically—contrasted with one of the poet’s adoration:

Να φανταστείς ένα άλλο δωμάτιο με τέσσερις καθόλου ευγενικούς επισκέπτες, να μαστιγώνουν τον Ποιητή, να τον ξεγυμνώνουν, να του σβήσουν αναμμένα τσιγάρα στα χέρια, να του ρίχνουν κουβάδες νερό να συνέλθει για να ξαναρχίσουν.
Imagine another room with four visitors who are not at all polite, whipping the Poet, ripping his clothes from his body, putting out burning cigarettes in his hands, pouring bucketfuls of water over him for him to come to his sense only to start anew.
Anagnostakis 2000:153
Nevertheless, this “metaphorical death” (Non-Being) bears already within itself its opposition, the poet’s triumph over defeat as exemplified by his actual future admiration by generations to come (Being, Becoming). Consequently, Anagnostakis’s silence, like a point in case, foreshadows the completion of the poet’s goal (the title of the last collection), namely to allow his reader to gain a perspective of absolute truth that helps comprehend and transcend the tragic experiences of a recent past.
Hence, Anagnostakis’ poetry mimicks the Hegelian dialectical, evolutionary process that results in transcending the oppositions between Being and Nothing, the Inner and Outer, particularity and universality, allowing for the potential completion of the reader’s spiritual odyssey.

References

Anagnostakis, M. 1965. Υπέρ και Κατά. Salonica.
———. 1985. Αντιδογματικά 1946–1977. Athens.
———. 1992. Τα ποιήματα 1941–1971. Athens.
———. 2000. Όμως γιατί ξαναγυρίζουμε κάθε φορά χωρίς σκοπό στον ίδιο τόπο. Επιμέλεια και Ανθολόγηση Μάρκος Μέσκος. Athens.
Beaton, R. 1999. Introduction to Modern Greek Literature. Oxford.
Glockner, H., ed. 1957. Sämtliche Werke : Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel II, IV. Stuttgart.
Hegel, G. W. F. 1968. Phänomenologie des Geistes. Hamburg.
———. 1974. “The Logic.” Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences ed. 2. London.
———. 1976. Science of Logic. London. www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hl/hlbeing.htm#HL1_82.
Kainz, H. P. 1996. G. W. F. Hegel: The Philosophical System. Athens, OH.
Keeley, E. and Sherrard, Ph., trans. 1967. George Seferis. Collected Poems. London.
Krell, D. F. 2005. The Tragic Absolute. German Idealism and the Languishing of God. Bloomington.
Maronitis, D. 1984. Πολιτική και ποιητική ηθική. Athens.
Marx, K. 1970. Capital ed. 2. Moscow.
Moullas, P. 1998. Τρία κείμενα για τον Μανόλη Αναγνωστάκη. Athens.
Ricks, D., ed. 2003. Modern Greek Writing. An Anthology in English Translation. London.
———. 1995-96. “‘The best wall to hide our face behind’: an introduction to the poetry of Manolis Anagnostakis.” Journal of Modern Hellenism 12–13:1–26.
Schmidt, D. J. 2001. On Germans and Other Greeks. Bloomington.
Theodoratou, L. 2004. “Writing Silences: Manolis Anagnostakis and the Greek Civil War.” The Greek Civil War: Essays on a Conflict of Exceptionalism and Silences (eds. P. Carabott and Th. D. Sfikas) 239–252. London.
Tzouma, A. 1982. Ο χρόνος – ο λόγος. Η ποιητική δοκιμασία του Μανόλη Αναγνωστάκη, μιά οπτασία. Athens.
Vitti, M. 1987. Ιστορία της νεοελληνικής λογοτεχνίας. Athens.

Footnotes

[ back ] 1. All translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.
[ back ] 2. Anagnostakis has been characterized as a “social”, “political” or “engaged” poet. Beaton 1999:194; Vitti 1987:424. D. Maronitis (1984) singles out Anagnostakis, Alexandrou and Patrikios as representatives of what he calls “ποιητική και πολιτική ηθική” (“poetic and political ethics”).
[ back ] 3. See, for example, Ricks 1995–1996, Theodoratou 2004, and Beaton 1999:195. On the whole, Anagnostakis’ poetry was classified by V. Leondaris together with other poets of the first post-war generation as “poetry of defeat.”
[ back ] 4. In the latter work, Hegel criticized the traditional epistemological distinction of objective from subjective and offered his own dialectical account of the development of consciousness from individual sensation through social concern with ethics and politics to the pure consciousness of the World-Spirit in art, religion, and philosophy. The result is a comprehensive world-view that encompasses the historical development of civilization in all of its forms.
[ back ] 5. This is how Hegel initially defines “the absolute.”
[ back ] 6. “The word of reconciliation is the extant spirit, which beholds pure knowledge of itself as universal essence in its opposite, in the pure knowledge of itself as the absolute individuality existing in itself—a reciprocal recognition which is absolute spirit” (Hegel 1968:361.22–25/M 408)
[ back ] 7. By contrast, for Marx 1970:29, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.
[ back ] 8. Το Βήμα, 17 April 1994.
[ back ] 9. Translation: David Ricks, 2003, op.cit.
[ back ] 10. G. W. F. Hegel, The Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences : 1974, §§107–111.
[ back ] 11. “Μέσα στο “χάος” αυτό, ο καλλιτέχνης καλείται να εκφράσει την “τάξη”. Να προβάλει – σε π ε ι σ τ ι κ-έ ς αποκρυσταλλωμένες μορφές – “το νόημα”, το “κλίμα”, την “ουσία” μιάς πραγματικότητας, τη στιγμή που υπάρχει πάντα η δυνατότητα να εκφραστεί από έναν άλλο ομότεχνό του η “ουσία” μιάς άλλης πραγματικότητας, που ανταποκρίνεται στο βαθμό ανάπτυξης, στην κουλτούρα και στη συναισθηματική αντίληψη μιάς άλλης ομάδας, η οποία αρνείται την “πραγματικότητα” της πρώτης και συνεπώς και την έκφρασή της στο τέτοιο αισθητικό πλαίσιο μορφής και αντικειμένου” (“Within this ‘chaos’, the poet is called upon to impose ‘order’. He is to create in c o n v i n c i n g crystalized forms the ‘meaning’, ‘climate’ and ‘essence’ of a reality. [This happens] at the moment when there is always the possibility that the ‘essence’ of another reality is expressed by a fellow poet, which corresponds to the degree of evolution, to the culture and aesthetic perception of another group that, in turn, negates the ‘reality’ of the first one and consequently its expression within that type of aesthetic frame of form and object” [Anagnostakis 1965:13-14]).
[ back ] 12. “History concerns the individual existent, the accidental and arbitrary side of those features which are not necessary” (Hegel in Glockner 1957 II:40).
[ back ] 13. Emphasis mine.
[ back ] 14. Compare Hegel: “The work of art therefore demands another element for its existence, …This higher element is language – an outer reality that is immediately self-conscious existence” Schmidt 2001:105.
[ back ] 15. Compare with Hegel: “Art brings the whole human being, as he or she is, to that point—namely, to the knowledge of the highest; on that rests the distinction and the miracle of art” Krell 2005:36.
[ back ] 16. www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hl/hlbeing.htm#HL1_82, §§ 132–134).
[ back ] 17. Incidentally, it is on such a note that the last collection ends: “Έστω / Ανάπηρος, δείξε τα χέρια σου. Κρίνε για να κριθείς” (“So be it / Cripple, show your hands. Judge that you be judged” [Ricks 2003]).
[ back ] 18. This quotation further illustrates Anagnostakis’s perception of reality, which is understood not to be as it appears to the senses, but as it is comprehended through consciousness. Consequently, the “treasures” hidden behind appearances of defeat and death could be interpreted as the Hegelian universal concepts or Ideas that allow one to gain absolute knowledge. In this way, the poet is able to “create” the truth he perceives to be beheld by the senses.