CULTURE

On the trail of domestic terrorism

With its stamp of blood, terrorism has affected Greek political life over the past 30 years. The subject was first portrayed in Greek fiction by Nikos Kasdaglis in «To Tholami» (1987), then by Dimitris Nollas in «The Person Who Was Forgotten» (1994), and most recently by Alexis Panselinos in «Four Greek Murders,» published by Polis. These few accounts (to which we could add «Citizens of Silence» by Neni Efthymiadis and «Dark Eyes» by Giorgos Bramos) bear witness to an awkwardness in the face of terrorism’s murderous arguments. Though most of us express our dissatisfaction with much that goes on around us, we reject taking the law into one’s own hands as a political solution. As good literature always does, the work of the three above-mentioned novelists maintains a neutral stance. They neither support nor condemn terrorism but, by using it as a structural element in their stories, transfer their burden and the responsibility of interpretation to the reader. Perceptions In «To Tholami,» Kasdaglis tackled a subject that is very familiar to fiction, the depiction of absolute physical pain. His blood-soaked terrorist is neither good nor bad but a corporeal substance that is dying. As a person who is suffering, he arouses awe and claims our respect. In Nollas’s book, the element of terrorism helps him render his highly complex perception of the universe, as his world seems to be characterized by fluidity and indeterminacy of aims; it is a web of guilt and existential impasses that lacks a framework of meaning and a center of gravity. Three of the four stories in Alexis Panselinos’s collection are related to terrorism. In each, the hero is a member of a terrorist organization who has escaped arrest – a poet, a former lawyer and another person whose occupation is not defined. In Panselinos’s book, like Nollas’s, contemporary terrorist activity is not unconnected with post-Civil War state terrorism. Thus in 1994, Nollas did not rule out the likelihood that members of post-dictatorship terrorist organizations might be extreme leftists who had taken action against the junta, while in 2004, Panselinos distinguishes the traditional left from terrorists, though excluding some of those who admire bold self-sacrifice. Panselinos’s poet, who gets involved in terrorism by chance in the story «Arrogance,» is not interested in the political ideology that accompanies the endeavor. In vain His experience offers him the necessary experience of death that brings maturity. In fact, as it secures the disengagement of his poetic inspiration, the murder resembles the sacrifice of the master builder’s wife that makes the bridge stable. For the leftist who has spent his life on the run, and in whose name a series of terrorist killings have been carried out, these actions are shown to have been in vain in the following story, «The Revelations of Saverios,» because the leftist hero never sought revenge, and has come to doubt the meaning of his earlier sacrifices. Is he defeated? Rather, he is exhausted, a person who has retired to private life. In his eyes, the ongoing terrorist activity of the leader seems like a bad joke – presented as the insecure behavior of a fanatic who, incapable of relinquishing his childish obsessions, has become a useless perpetrator of crime. Utterly earthbound, without any ideology, the third member of the organization in the story «Darkest Midnight» divides his time between sexual activity and daydreams of the good life in luxury resorts in places like Fiji. A familiar, absolutely human type, he nonetheless remains impenetrable. Who knows what their average neighbor, the person next door, is thinking of? Panselinos’s first murder belongs to a different group of subjects. In his earlier work, such as the story «The Disappearance of Betsy» (1982) and the novels «The Great Procession» (1985) and «The Lame Angel» (2002), the writer resorted to the fantastic. Similarly, in «Buried Well,» a story set in Thessaloniki in the Civil War, a well with everlasting water makes its appearance, to emphasize vividly the repetitiveness of actions and words, and the changelessness of the figures that run through the havoc, hunting – with passion and persistence – an immutable goal of their own.