Some words seem to grow in usage all of a sudden, like weeds, even in intellectual fields where they have no business. “Narrative” is one such word. Regardless of its meaning, what matters in its prevalence in public discourse now is the style and quality that its users believe it lends their proclamations.
Greece has been consumed with the word for some time now, but over the past few weeks its use has been record-breaking. This did not happen because the summer months are conducive to more reading, even in its more relaxed form of best sellers and paperback romances, but because even political rhetoric needs a break – a holiday to rethink its cliches.
The result is that “absence of a narrative” is the most serious accusation anyone in the political sphere can launch against another. “The government doesn’t have a narrative after its so-called success story was debunked,” the main opposition says of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition. “New Democracy does not have a narrative, as its prediction that we would be nothing but a brief parenthesis collapsed,” counters the government. PASOK under Fofi Gennimata in turn accuses ND of lacking a narrative, in contrast to when Evangelos Venizelos headed the Socialists and praised the conservatives for their intellectual qualities. We have also heard PASOK accused of having “no other narrative but its return to power,” centrist To Potami of having “no other narrative to recommend but that of its leader,” the Greek Communist Party (KKE) of having “nothing but KKE in its narrative,” and so on. The word “narrative” can certainly be useful, as can the phrase “God help us” – and we all know the consequences of their overuse.
Only one politician cannot be accused of lacking a narrative and that’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Time will tell whether his new book proves to be truth or fiction. He says he has based his claims on notes and (unlicensed) recordings. Basically, while he was exercising power so catastrophically he was looking ahead not at the fate of Greece but at his own future. His only concern seems to have been collecting the information he would need to justify himself later. Thus the modest subtitle “My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment.” Let’s not quite rush to the Don Quixote comparison; Narcissus is so much closer at hand.