Echoes of ‘dead ends’: Reflections on ‘making sense’

From the cracks of sovereignty’s walls, blood is dripping: the color is bright red. Whose blood is it? Is it the blood of the revolutionary who was beaten to death at the prison where he was held in custody? Is it the transsexual’s, who was beaten till her bones were broken and nobody cared in Eryaman? Is it the young man’s who was shot by the police just because he did not obey the stop warning? Is it the child’s who was chased to death just because he was selling handkerchiefs? Or, is it the blood of the young men to whom guns are given while being forced to kill? Is it the blood of those who were condemned to civil death because of their refusal to kill and die? Is it the homosexuals’ who were killed in the crossfire? Is it the blood of all those people lost while in custody? Or is it the blood of the prisoners who were smashed to bits by bulldozers and bullets in order put an end to their hunger strike? Is it the blood of the woman raped to death? Is it the young boy’s blood whose body was shattered by rifle bullets while he was trying to hide behind his dad’s legs in fear? Or, is it the youngsters’ who were shouting their anger in their mother tongue? Is it the blood of those who were forced to abandon their homes, towns or villages, and found murdered just because of their ethnic origin? Or, is it the blood of my brother, Alexis, whose heart stopped beating inside his body but who gave a pulse to the whole world? Walls cannot hide the cruelty that is being concealed. Anger rises and it runs all over: the color turns to deep black. Our brothers and sisters in Greece showed us how we can light the dark streets of our hostage lives with bright fires while this anger overtakes us. We were feeding this anger inside ourselves before and we still do.

So reads the press release from a solidarity protest held on December 20th, 2008 at Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey. This protest followed the international call for action against state violence issued by the occupiers of Athens Polytechnic University two weeks after Alexis Grigoropoulos’ tragic murder by a policeman in Athens. Dressed in black and with their faces painted white, the gaze of the protesters was meant to pierce the line of policemen expected to stand in front of them. For fifteen minutes they remained silent. “We will stare at the state, so that it can see in our eyes the rebellion that is rising to overflow the streets. We will let them know that we don't forget, we don't forgive,” was emphasized on the press release underlining the affect exuded by a “violent gaze” that challenges the excess of violence without denying it.

Their decision to remain silent was neither a result of feeling ‘out of words,’ nor an inability to express political articulateness. On the contrary, it was meant to contest the predominantly ‘rhetorical fights’ over Alexis’ death, at a period when the Greek media were downplaying the large-scale social insurrection it triggered by making the street rebellion appear as a criminal act. Men in hoodies throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, burnt down buildings and shop lootings were the prevalent images screened on national TV in order to support the conservative demand that the state take up its “responsibility” to ”protect” its citizenry and enforce security measures (i.e. implement harsher policing methods). The same images were circulated in the international media, which mainly attributed the riots to the impoverishment of Greek society, even before the actual “financial crisis” that knocked on the country’s door a year later.

In the press release of the Turkish anti-authoritarian and anarchist groups, the questions posed were not just rhetorical. They referred to specific deaths that had made the news in Turkey, and by drawing links to Alexis’ murder, the implied question was: How many other deaths never reach the news? That was also the point made in the press release of the Albanian workers’ union in Greece that stated that what brought them to the streets in solidarity with the Greek, white, middle-upper-class kids, who were protesting in front of police stations for days, was not just one death added upon another, but the question of what kind of bodies are being recognized as bodies that would “deserve” a public mourning. A similar refrain was heard in the case of Konstantina Kuneva, a Bulgarian migrant worker and trade-union leader, who was attacked with vitriol and almost left blind and mute a few days after Alexis’ death. These stories never reached the international media, even if within some circles in Greece they were the key links of political meaning that would make sense of the affect of counter-violence spreading from one city to the next.

One, then, cannot but wonder if similar stories were actually silenced in the violent “chatter” (Zizek’s term) that followed Mark Duggan’s recent death, which also ignited a reverberating social insurrection in the UK. Duggan, like Grigoropoulos, died from a bullet fired by a police gun. The upheaval that followed in London, Liverpool, Manchester, and other cities created one “state of exception” in counter distinction to another, i.e. David Cameron asking for the full enforcement of the law against what he perceived as “violent lawlessness.” In an article entitled “shoplifters of the world unite”, Slavoj Zizek reflects upon the UK riots, the street actions of the Spanish indignados, and the more recent occupation of Syntagma square in Greece by a crowd of “Aganaktismenoi” (Greek indignants) against neoliberal policies and “austerity” measures. Zizek is right to point out the political difference between these events because, as he claims, not every revolt is revolutionary; likewise, not every action is something more than mere reaction. But how easy is it to find the ‘right’ political meaning for each one, and overall? Or else, how can we think of the political without considering that the effect of depoliticization is in itself a political process? This is why I read Elena Loizidou’s point on “ineloquence” as even more poignant. She writes about the UK riots: “Maybe a step towards the right direction would be to find a way of addressing the ineloquence of the kids. (…) To do this may require us to admit our own ineloquence in registering the poverty of our words. It may be tough. Ineloquence, though, is not a crime.”

I still remember the ineloquence materialized in the facial expression of a friend while he was describing a scene that had taken place on the central Leoforos Alexandras avenue in Athens when different forms of violent acts were affecting the street’s architecture. He was walking down this street a day after Grigoropoulos’ death. Among the wild “chatter” of violence, an old lady was eagerly focused on uprooting the thin truck of a tall tree. “Why? Why are you doing this?” my friend asked her while emphasizing the nonsense of this act. “Go away, leave me alone,” she answered in a trembling, irrational voice. Wasn’t this the time, as nothing makes sense anymore, the ultimate time, to understand what making sense of “sense” is all about? Or to put it otherwise, maybe the process of “sensing” the political, or bearing witness to it, comes at such moments of rhetorical dissonance as it “cracks” or makes an “incision” into our ability to understand it and fix for it a place in our narratives.

By bringing Grigoropoulos’ death into dialogue with Duggan’s, I do not attempt to draw a causal link that would reduce one death to the other, or one “riot” to the next, especially in an era that has witnessed the effects and affects evoked from Tahrir to Syntagma square, from the Spanish indignados to UK rioters and so on. However, their proximity reverberates in Echo(es).

Echo is a nymph, a vocal discussant who possesses the art of rhetorics. In the myth, after Juno’s intervention and her encounter with Narcissus in the forest, she is condemned to exist only as a pure/mere voice. She no longer speaks but echoes the words of others. She follows the repetition of words outside their context, i.e. she is turned into a being that only speaks after, or as a result of what has already been uttered. The insistence of feminist writers to return to this myth and closely listen to Echo, has to do with the fact that this myth dares to pose the central question regarding the ethical responsibility of responsiveness. For Spivak, Echo’s voice has the potential to undo Narcissus’ self-absorption. Her voice becomes an antiphone (not an a-phonie) sending back to Narcissus the words he utters.

Between the illogical and the logical, between the non-sensical and the sensible, there is an echo that resists and returns. When one death is written upon another, when each one takes the form of a question sent back as an aporia about the conditions sustaining different forms of structural violence, as in the multiple (and multiplying) questions inscribed in the silence of the protesters in Turkey, there is an echo that constantly makes turns. That is what makes such echoes speak back to “the random possibility of the emergence of an occasional truth of a kind” , one not necessarily inscribed in logocentric and monological political modes of address. These days, I hear such echoes once again resounding in the streets of Athens, where the neoliberal technologies of policing life through harsher austerity measures meet, every day, more and more dead ends.  

REFERENCES

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1996. “Echo”. In The Spivak Reader. Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean (eds.). Pp. 175-202. New York: Routledge. p.179.

Eirini Avramopoulou is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University, where she is completing a dissertation on gender politics, sexuality, affect and activism in Istanbul, Turkey.