The cultural-political nexus

Greece’s activist aims as a president of the European Union in the 21st century, and protesting Greek poets of the mid-20th; they form two very different strands of the common thread that the editors of the Hellenic Quarterly are trying to draw together in their latest edition (No. 15, January 2003). You can’t always judge a magazine by its cover; this truism is at least half-right in this case. The latest edition of HQ features the ongoing Greek EU presidency, as always a timely subject choice for a magazine that does at least meet its publishing deadlines. Yet the five brief articles devoted to this subject (an overview by Tassos Yiannitsis; pieces on defense by the defense minister, and others on immigration policy and on agricultural reform) cover only about 15 pages out of the 100 or so in this volume. Most of the rest is covered by literature, broadly construed: a wide array of literary essays, a couple of economics- and Olympics-related stories, fiction and non-fiction essays, poetry, and reviews of Greek literary magazines and recent book publications, these being easy to follow in single-page format. It is a lot of material for one edition, but there is a stated method to all this diversity. If I understand the two-page editor’s note correctly, the point is being made that, especially in Greece, culture and politics go hand in hand, and that the way a society handles and discusses these issues reveals much about its underlying culture and values. The resulting dialogue, it says, has «intent to find solutions and outlets» and «follows developments and is influenced by them with dialectical results.» Evidently, this edition is one such attempted outlet or dialectic in print. The connection is made in other ways as well; the editorial also points out, in a nice touch of transparency, that HQ received a modest grant of 5,850 euros from the Culture Ministry, to help defray publishing costs last year. Political or politicized art or literature can easily get wrapped up in its own self-regarding or quasi-academic verbiage – even in its own language – although much of the translated material here avoids the worst of that tendency. Still, language and presentation are crucial elements to such ambitious themes. And if the magazine overreaches, it is in this area, for most of the translations seem to be done by non-native speakers. A few selections, like Olympia Karagiorgos’s «Sleepless Night in Cairo,» are written in English; those, and, for example, a short essay translated by Philip Ramp (on Greek poets of the 1960s generation, on their role as «witnesses to social pain») just seem less labored, simpler and cleaner because a native speaker has at least looked them over. It is not always indicated whether pieces are translated from the Greek, but it is often evident from the text itself. A few offbeat pieces add to the mix. For example, Haridomos Tsoukas looks from an organizational theory perspective at remuneration for CEOs and the ways they look at their own (often excessive) remuneration. The piece examines the fallout from a pay packet of 20 million pounds sterling at a pharmaceutical company; readers will not be surprised to hear that their recipients are thinking more of self-gain than the interests of their «community» (the firms they run). Milena Kirova takes an academic look at the emergence, in post-communist Bulgaria, of writing from a woman’s (if not always feminist) perspective. And readers of a certain age will enjoy the shortest poem of the lot, «Discoland» – «There was here once silence / The finest thing in the world.» There is plenty of essence in these pages, but you have to dig to get to it. Without trying to beat an old drum, this boils down largely to expression, editing, and proofing. Too many phrases like «Third Path» (Way?), «cancel opinions» and «I would like to remind a legend» slip through, which diminishes the reader’s ability to weave his way; it is hard to connect with the (often basically interesting) material. And the lead piece by Yiannitsis on Greece’s EU presidency goals, which is in fact a fairly clear statement of intent, loses much its force by having «Alternate Minister of foreing affairs» as his job title. Editing and proofing do not alone make good prose – often the problem is at source – but they still help. The solution is difficult (getting more funds to enable more careful editing from a ministry already struggling to pay for the Cultural Olympiad and everything else it does seems unlikely), yet it remains clear.