In the “Surrealist Map of the World” printed in the 1929 ‘Surrealism Special’ of the Variétés journal, Greece shines by its very absence. So, of course, do several other countries, but Greece and Italy in particular (insofar as having originated the ‘Greco-Roman’ civilization) were reportedly seen by surrealism’s founder André Breton as symbols of an insipid rationality imposed upon what has come to be called the ‘Western world.’ Yet the simultaneous absence of France and presence of Paris in the map should draw attention to the function of the emphatically present Constantinople: a Greco-Turkish hybrid (Turkey being equally absent), a crossroads between East and West. From the outset, Constantinople (the fabled origin of the surrealist Nikos Engonopoulos) marks a challenge to the assumed heritage of Greek civilization.
It is thus that Greek surrealism has been blatantly conscious of the cultural practices and attitudes reporting to ‘tradition,’ as well as of the complexity pertaining to the latter concept. The relationship of its major representatives with the Greek language itself will be addressed in the course of this anthology (as concisely as possible, given that such a relationship is by definition resistant to translation). Equally noteworthy, however, is the use of ‘indigenous’ themes, especially by Greek surrealism’s foremost figures, Andreas Embirikos and Nikos Engonopoulos. In the former’s paganist inclinations, in the latter’s pointed rejection of French rationalism and neo-classicism in favor of an idiosyncratic treatment of Greek themes, a crucial inversion takes place: to the earlier French surrealists’ repudiation of the classical heritage, Greek surrealism answers by promoting an alternative, expansive and indeed subversive interpretation of this very heritage.
Certain critics, whose hostility toward surrealism is complemented by a tendency to pronounce definitive statements, often argue that the movement flourished in Greece to an extent unequalled in any other country, save perhaps France. This contention, which chooses to ignore surrealism’s international dynamics, rests on the impressively wide influence surrealist imagery has exerted on mainstream Greek poetry: an actual fact, albeit one alarmingly reminiscent of the ‘Chinese whispers’ game, whereby the original explosion is too often evoked and eventually replaced by its tiny echo. Nonetheless, the phenomenon is not without its importance, for in Greece, unlike many other cultures (notably English-speaking ones), it has been impossible, even on the level of the most conservative literary tendencies, to ignore surrealism altogether. And this, in fact, is not hard to explain.
Being a post-colonial state, marked by financial provinciality and political instability, informed by countless layers of history and culture albeit being a mere century old, that Greece to which surrealism was introduced in the early 1930s boasted neither a substantial, tried and tested cultural canon nor a coherent prehistory of radical expression. Having said which, an anthology of Greek pre-surrealism, such as that envisaged by Nanos Valaoritis  in homage to Nicolas Calas (the first Greek writer who conceived of mapping the early mavericks, extremists and experimenters), would not go amiss in placing the present work in perspective.
It is also Valaoritis who has noted, on various occasions, that Embirikos, both with his work and with his physical presence (exerting as he did a quasi-polar attraction on young poets), has attained in Greece a status similar to that of Guillaume Apollinaire in France. The comparison is particularly apt because troubling, for Embirikos, Calas and (a little later, yet more aggressively) Engonopoulos propagated surrealism in a country that ignored the very notion of an ‘avant garde,’ with all the complications or limitations this term may entail. Greek surrealism thus knew no preparatory stages; the double result of which was, on the one hand, an overwhelmingly scandalous (if quantitatively modest) debut, in the shape of a few albeit important early books and interventions, and, on the other, a number of obstacles to its development.
Other critics, equally (but less openly) hostile to surrealism, make the exact opposite argument, to the effect that Greek surrealism has never actually existed; and in fact, the extreme peculiarity pertaining to such a dual interpretation of the phenomenon would in itself suffice to render the latter remarkable. This second scenario is often based on the assumption that the appearance of the earliest surrealist-related events and texts in Greece came at too late a date (that is, around 1935!) to be either truly radical or unproblematically incorporated into a movement conveniently presumed to have died a little while before or after World War II. Of course, given that radical expression had not been properly introduced to the country before Embirikos’ first book, this argument (which, as we shall see, is repeated vis-à-vis the Greek surrealist presence in the 1960s and beyond) would be meaningless, even if its claims regarding international surrealism were true.
Alternately, the said view attempts to prove the international movement’s incompatibility with Greek surrealist production and activity; which could be an intriguing effort, were it not based on a fragmentary knowledge (and systematic distortion) of those early writings of Breton’s that happened to be translated in Greek. It goes without saying that here, too, the movement’s history and continuation are completely ignored. What is more, this attack originates from figures of the academic establishment, and is contemporary to, and neatly (if not overtly) compatible with, the pseudo-progressive, ‘deconstructive’ attitude of certain North-American academics in particular toward international surrealism; the difference being that here the movement’s denigration is replaced by that of a specific expression/incarnation of it, surrealism itself being misread rather than badmouthed. Such a symptom could well be considered as one instance in a trans-national academic ‘enterprise,’ and thus may as well be put aside, as a potential topic for a special study.
This, of course, is not all: the seminal works of Embirikos and Engonopoulos in particular have, over the years, been read and reread in whichever way was deemed convenient according to each given critic’s ideological frame. At once impossible to ignore, in terms of their influence to start with, and uncomfortably daring, these works have been distorted in the following ways:
a. By assigning to them a minor value, seeing them as the mere preconditions for more ‘substantial’ and acceptable kinds of ‘literary production.’ In this view, the most groundbreaking Greek surrealists are thereby, by definition, ‘not really’ poets, but rather blind slaves to an ‘ideology,’ albeit also too radical and indeed free-flowing in their approach to be taken seriously. This rather paradoxical position is by far the commonest and oldest treatment of the phenomenon, judging from another kind of curious ‘dialectics’ Greek surrealism is subjected to: its notoriety all too often giving way to silence when it comes to critical treatment, it is accordingly suppressed on the level of translation, despite (or because of) the international potential (as opposed to national stereotype) attached to its works.
b. By reclaiming them for the ‘tradition’ of Greek literature, while dissociating them from surrealism. This view utilizes in particular the Greco-centered thematics of certain surrealists (an aspect, to be addressed throughout this anthology, not unexpected in the surrealist expression of a peripheral country) in order to celebrate them as ‘pure’ artists despite their rash alliance to the movement (a newer, rapidly developing critical tendency would have surrealism itself being identified with these presumed ethnocentric poetics, its international practice blissfully ignored); or else, to challenge them as signs to the effect that surrealism has not really operated in Greece in any substantial way, and is now therefore (it being too late for an actual resurgence) unacceptable even as an influence.
We can thus see that a certain mechanism of suppression (of evasion, even) is firmly at work, certainly not in the sense of a ‘conspiracy,’ but rather of a network of academic discourses coming to terms with a particularly bothersome residue. Seldom is the issue of Greek surrealism placed in the right perspective—namely, that of its compatibility (in terms of products and of public presence) with the international movement’s activity. This crucial matter is not so easy to resolve, and accordingly few have deemed it worth bothering about, save for extracting facile conclusions from familiar (as titles if not as texts) French books. The organization of Greek surrealism has always been deficient, indeed intermittent; but this factor is, usually, addressed neither vis-à-vis its objective causes (as this anthology will purport to do) nor within the temporal framework proper to it, due to the prejudices peculiar to art and literary history—hence the critical suppression or underrating (as a nostalgic venture) of an actual surrealist resurgence in the 1960s, one that reported boldly to international developments and remained a long-standing influence on younger generations.
It is for these reasons that the present anthology focuses on activity within the spatial confines of a country (as opposed to adopting ‘ethnocentric’ criteria); all the names included herein have been connected, in one way or another, to groups formed around Embirikos and/or Nanos Valaoritis. This explains the absence of such long-established surrealist figures as Gisèle Prassinos or Ado Kyrou, who may have maintained some loose links with Greece, but actually operated in the context of French language and activity. Likewise, the French and English works of Calas and Valaoritis are also excluded (excepting a few French poems by Calas, so far only printed in Greece). In the former’s case, given that his non-Greek writings constitute the bulk of his output (which, nevertheless, cannot be assessed independently of those writings which display his intellectual formation within a particular milieu), one may only hope that his mature theoretical work will become widely available in its original form. With the latter, who, even while physically absent, has always written and published extensively in Greek, the situation is more straightforward.
In concluding this part, here are a couple of points on the structure and choice of texts. For the reader’s convenience, the anthology has been divided into three sections, preceded by brief introductions to the eras addressed. However, this is not meant to be read as a linear narrative, but rather as a presentation of successive groups of writers, whose works and activities more often than not overlap at some point or other; the reader is thus strongly advised to use this classification as nothing more than a guide. Also, this being (one hopes) the most comprehensive selection of Greek surrealist poetry, prose and theory ever made, it should nonetheless be pointed out that, if almost all poems and stories are presented in their entirety, the essays included are usually abridged, to a greater or lesser extent, as the reader will find. This, in some cases, is due to their overwhelming length; in other cases, it is merely an effort to omit those details that would seem too peculiar to a specific time and place.
In the hope that such a conscious choice (which nevertheless leaves the bulk of the crucial arguments intact) will not spoil the overall picture, it is now time to proceed.
THE FOUNDERS | Despite a number of perplexed newspaper reports on the emergent international movement, and a 1931 essay by Dimitrios Mentzelos (more on whom in the Nicolas Calas section), Greek surrealism really started with the poet Andreas Embirikos. A magnate’s son who, while living in Paris, had met André Breton and his circle around 1929,  Embirikos returned in the early 1930s with the double intention of introducing psychoanalysis and surrealism to Greece. His activity as an analyst would meet with international recognition later on, especially after the formation (in 1946) of the Greek Psychoanalytic Society around Marie Bonaparte and its collaboration with its Parisian counterpart.
In the process of making those experiments with automatic writing that would constitute his groundbreaking debut, Embirikos made the acquaintance of Nicolas Calas, a young poet and essayist about to become one of the prime movers of Trotskyist activity in Greece, and Odysseus Elytis, a still younger poet and translator of Paul Éluard. In May 1934, Embirikos notified Breton by telegram, declaring his and his friends’ full support on condition that surrealism does not denounce the 4th International. And, after a January 1935 lecture on surrealism that met with little success and the publication of his first book, Blast Furnace, in March of the same year, Embirikos, along with Calas and Elytis, planned the publication of a surrealist periodical (O Thiassos), which was never materialized; while in March 1936, Embirikos organized a surrealist exhibition, based on paintings and objects he had acquired from artist friends (such as Max Ernst, Oscar Dominguez, Yves Tanguy and Victor Brauner) who participated in the Paris group, along with collages by Elytis and rare books. In the following years, Elytis and Calas would also undertake the public defense of surrealism, by essays and other forms of intervention, while certain of their friends would make peripheral contributions, by means of private sessions, involving discussions and collective games.
Nikos Engonopoulos, a painter and poet introduced to Embirikos by Calas (who also organized Engonopoulos’ first exhibition), was the final figure in this early quartet. His first collection, Do not distract the Driver (1938), bore the same motto, taken from Breton’s 1st Manifesto, that Embirikos had used in his aforementioned volume: “…la voix surréaliste, celle qui continue à prêcher à la veille de la mort et au-dessus des orages…”; a further sign of commitment to an emergent indigenous branch of the movement. And the scandal that ensued from Engonopoulos’ book in particular would seem to corroborate this notion.
From the word go, however, surrealism was widely badmouthed as the outrageous pastime of socially indifferent individuals: a paradox, given that Calas for one had discovered surrealism precisely through the evolution of his political thought, albeit not an inexplicable one, given that he had, by the same stroke, rejected Stalinism and the impasses of ‘socialist realism,’ to which surrealist expression offered a radical alternative. Indeed, an overview of the relevant literature  reveals the conservative bourgeois and Stalinist critics decrying the phenomenon in unison. ‘Humorists’ and all-round columnists jumped on the bandwagon, which is actually going strong to this very day; and the political isolation often regarded as a fatal shortcoming of Greek surrealism was not irrelevant to the monopolization of ‘left wing’ writing by the Stalinist ‘intelligentsia,’ all the more dominant for being politically persecuted—a fact that, as we shall see in the following sections, continued to plague free expression for the following decades.
Yet these observations should refrain from reaching easy conclusions: to highlight, as some Greek writers have recently done, Calas alone, due to his very pronounced political commitment and international presence, would be to disregard other, vitally important aspects, such as the originality and unprecedented boldness of Engonopoulos’ work—as well as its actual impact.
Having already contacted the Paris surrealist group, Calas decided to leave Greece, due to a combination of political and personal reasons. His final contributions to prewar Greek surrealism were his translations of texts by Benjamin Péret and Gisèle Prassinos in the collective tome Υπερεαλισμός Α΄ ( Yperealismos A΄ [Surrealism A΄]) (Athens: Γκοβόστης [Govostis], 1938), an anthology of French writings rendered into Greek by indigenous surrealists and sympathizers. The 1938 publication of Foyers d’Incendie (a major surrealist theoretical work of the 1930s, celebrated by Breton), secured Calas’ place in the movement’s history, yet fell outside the scope of an activity that, despite its limitations, had provided the very background for this very work.
All of which poses a particular problem: like Nanos Valaoritis nearly two decades later, Calas participated in Parisian surrealist activity before moving to the U.S.A. and contributing greatly to the Anglophone discourse regarding surrealism. It is thus no accident that those two writers are the only ones in this anthology mentioned (and, in Valaoritis’ case, cited extensively) in essays by Breton himself; they are also the only ones, perhaps along with Embirikos (and Elytis, albeit for reasons foreign to surrealism), with whom the Anglophone reader may be more or less familiar, via their book publications as well as inclusions and/or citations in English-language international surrealist anthologies and studies.
Calas’ absence from Greece has had a paradoxical double result: in terms of international activity, it rendered him the sole recognizable early Greek surrealist, even though he was neither the first (his early poetry, which preceded Embirikos’ first publication, being pre-surrealist on his own admission) nor the one who affected most the sensibility of his era. The early theoretical works he produced upon his immigration to France and, later, the U.S.A. (Confound the Wise, his first book in English, appeared in 1942), impressed André Breton to the point of including him (along with Bataille, Caillois, Duthuit, Masson, Mabille, Carrington, Ernst, Etiemble, Péret, Seligmann, Hénein) in his list of those contemporary names “which are very dissimilar but nonetheless figure amongst today’s most lucid and daring”:  a quotation that would seem to justify Greek surrealism merely by evoking Breton’s approval of one of its central figures. Yet what will soon be apparent in this anthology is that the international tendency to equate early Greek surrealism with Calas, because of his activity outside Greece, tends to obscure the environment from which Calas himself emerged, and which gave rise to the most significant, in terms of immediate impact as well as historical function, works of surrealism in the Greek language.
At the same time, however, in Calas’ native country, his absence gave birth to a myth around his name, which tended to ignore his international presence. Thus, when Elytis provided the foreword to Calas’ Greek poetry collection Nikitas Randos St. (1978), he invested his old friend with the aura of an invisible, semi-legendary figure, comparing him to Jacques Vaché and Marcel Duchamp, both characters with a physically peripheral but actually crucial contribution to the surrealist adventure. It is only in a recent publication of Calas’ French poems of the late 1930s that Spilios Argyropoulos and Vassiliki Colokotroni, that volume’s editors, have pointed out the danger entailed in this loving tribute, insofar as it distorts the fact that that what actually rendered Calas invisible in Greece was his visibility on a world scale.  Of course, what with the recently undertaken effort to publish the Calas archive in Greek, now that the English and French editions of his works are mostly unavailable, the writer runs the danger of developing posthumously into a ‘lost and found’ national treasure, in yet another distortion of his intentions.
Calas’ departure may have been definitive (bar those Greek writings of his that appeared sporadically from the 1960s onwards), yet it was not conceived as such from the start. An unfinished manuscript by Embirikos, dated 21/2/1940 but published as late as 2000,  recalled the rebellious ‘Ivan’ (a nickname given to Calas by his friends) as an adventurous spirit, one that had abandoned Greek intellectual life to pursue the thread of his desire. Embirikos compared his friend to a great navigator, albeit one who, being a surrealist, preferred permanent search to final attainment or imperialistic conquest. “Years have since gone by, and you still have not returned, Ivan,” writes Embirikos. “Nobody knows where you are, what you are doing. Nobody has learned where you are heading. Yet I do know what it is that attracts and allures you.” Embirikos’ anxiety is registered in his avowed ignorance of Calas’ prospects, yet the fragment ends on a hopeful note: “For you shall come again, you shall come despite the clamors, you shall come with all the pride and all the joy of pure people, those high-flying, tireless travelers of lightships and steamboats, who receive, upon their heads and shoulders, the cool steam of victory.” In the process, Embirikos cites, as representative of his friend’s desires, Lautréamont’s evocation of the Ocean, in Elytis’ translation: a poignant, final allusion to the original surrealist trio.
Up until the 2nd World War, Embirikos maintained close contact with the French surrealists, a better-organized activity having only been prevented by the combination of Calas’ departure and the War’s outbreak. After sustaining interest in surrealism in a quasi-clandestine manner, Embirikos went on to suffer a major crisis, whose details have yet to be sufficiently illuminated.
Being the offspring of a famous dynasty of ship-owners, Embirikos’ involvement in surrealism, psychoanalysis and left-wing politics had rendered him (like Calas) the black sheep of his family from quite early on. Having concentrated on psychoanalytic practice and severed his financial bonds with his father, Embirikos nevertheless did not cease being inspired by the symbol of paternal dominance, in a manner that is perhaps in itself worthy of analysis. After all, his best known (though by no means best) poem, “Revolving Cranks,” as well as his later novel The Great Eastern, turned the phallic/fatherly ship into the vehicle of a utopian craving—an aspect that actually brings Embirikos close to Breton, whose Ode à Charles Fourier (1947) was roughly contemporary to the first drafts of The Great Eastern. But the Greek poet’s tendency toward utopian thought and an erotic re-organization of the world was not a little affected by his disenchantment vis-à-vis the actuality of the Greek so-called ‘Left.’ For it was precisely as an Embirikos that he was arrested by Stalinist guerillas in 1944 and taken to a mountain refuge, where he was saved from imminent execution by the intervention of British forces.
The experience seems to have had a lifelong impact on him: whilst never renouncing his early ideas, Embirikos henceforth kept a perceptible distance from organized activity. His involvement with the Psychoanalytic Society was likewise short-lived: in the postwar era, the prevalent ‘left-wing’ criticism in Greece continued to encourage a naïve distrust of psychoanalysis as a sign of ‘bourgeois decadence’—like surrealism, of course. For reasons that have yet to be fully clarified, Embirikos abandoned analytic practice altogether in 1951; his personal writings testify to bouts of depression, countered by the joyful, if not always conclusive, fervor of his visionary works. And, despite keeping in touch with Breton (he was regularly notified on developments in the Paris surrealist group), he failed to visit him, on various pretexts, during his sojourns in Paris.
Might Embirikos have feared that his personal condition was ultimately non-communicable to his old friends? It is true that the problems were mutual: after Breton, out of an avowed aversion toward classical antiquity, refused to join his wife Elisa on a trip to Athens, it was with her that Embirikos eventually met.
The above serve partly as a brief historical introduction, leading rather neatly into the postwar situation dealt with in the next sections of this work, and partly as a chronicle of those fluctuations that gave rise to and concluded the first era of Greek surrealism. The Great Eastern, Embirikos’ purported magnum opus and a less than clear-cut utopia of polymorphous erotic enjoyment (in the form of an impossibly expansive Victorian “dirty novel”), was one way of setting a challenge to the miserable objective conditions. Another way (perhaps more effective, given criticism’s stubborn resistance to it), is the early poetry of Engonopoulos, full of mysterious signs, unbreakable codes, hermetic allusions, subterranean textual correspondences, intriguing blind spots and an aggressive juxtaposition of lyricism and humor, somewhat reminiscent of Benjamin Péret, albeit framed by the extreme precision of its mise-en-scène, as in early de Chirico (Engonopoulos’ major influence as a painter), and thereby creating situations of an unnerving concreteness.
The works of early Greek surrealism registered the tension between the misery of modern Greece and its assumed discourse with its ‘glorious past,’ which constituted the country’s national ideology, ever since its establishment as an independent state. Modern Greek writing had been invested with the ‘nationally vital’ task of detecting and defining ethnic character and continuity both in thematic and in linguistic terms. And this project was significantly more charged, ideologically speaking, than the literary establishment of a relatively powerful state with a standardized idiom—all the more so since Greek literature was still attempting to stabilize a fluid language, even as it was claiming the crystallization of ‘natural’ truth.
The intervention of Greek surrealism could not be addressed in terms other than those of a direct confrontation with the pronounced national mission of ‘literature,’ of writing as such; by confusing both the layers of history/experience and the available linguistic forms, early Greek surrealism complicated radically the linguistic situation in which it necessarily participated. But, in their thematic orientation, these works also involved the somewhat indecisive coexistence of the evolving urban modernity and the ‘traditional’ Greek landscape (and seascape).
A general tendency to re-appropriate ‘natural’ indigenous aspects is mostly connected with Elytis, the so-called ‘poet of the Aegean’ (although the genre of poems dealing with the said sea really starts with the pre-surrealist work of Calas). Yet Elytis’ rather essentialist treatment of the ‘Aegean experience,’ and of the quasi-hermetic harmonies formed by the elements involved therein, lacks both the humorous edge and the allusive ambiguity of other Greek surrealists: a fact that becomes especially troubling given the vulgarization to which this surrealist-derived lyricism was subjected much later by the tourist industry. As for Nikos Gatsos, the fifth poet who appears in this section (close to the central surrealist quartet but an elusive presence until the publication of his only book in 1943), he named his major poem after an island (Amorgos) to which he had never been. Beside displaying the surrealist method of ‘disconnection’ between title and text, this also bore testament to the aura of undiscovered territory that the Aegean retained in the eyes of those young poets: witness also Engonopoulos’ early evocations of Mykonos, now one of the most obvious international tourist resorts. In Gatsos, as in Engonopoulos, the lyrical allusions to a lost, ‘organic’ plenitude receive the assault of black humor, in ways that will find an echo in the next generation of Greek surrealists.
At the same time, let us note that Calas’ first important poem “The Round Symphony” (written in 1932 and not included here insofar as it falls within what Calas himself considered his pre-surrealist period), was a boldly ‘modern’ and thematically urban composition. The poem was a dynamic representation of Omonia Sq., Athens’ (and consequently Greece’s) central point, whose (then) round shape gave Calas the pretext for a futurist-inspired expression of the evolving city life’s dizzying rhythm and manifold spectacle. It is really, however, with Engonopoulos, who made the tram into a lyrical emblem of Greek surrealism, that the city and the modern aspects and commodities it contains are evoked as a network of enigmatic signs; yet his urban landscapes often dissolve into indefinite ghost-towns (notably in “A Journey to Elbassan,” one of the masterpieces of narrative surrealism), in the manner of de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings.
A similarly idiosyncratic attitude is observed vis-à-vis the early surrealists’ view of ‘Greek-ness’: in his best-known poem Engonopoulos calls Simón Bolívar a ‘Greek,’ whilst mixing the layers of the Greek language’s history, as well as the Greek and international references, reflected on his own self-description in the poem, as a solitary who subsequently attains a universal allure. He thus addresses an unresolved tension experienced by the inhabitants of a small, war-torn, ultimately ‘insignificant’ modern country, recognizable via the ‘memory’ of a distant past. Calas’ call for turning all art into an ‘arsenal,’ like Parthenon (a call reflected, as we shall see in a later section, on the young Yorgos V. Makris’ tract proposing the said monument’s annihilation), betrays a profound unease toward this surviving emblem of Western rationality. Yorgos Seferis, the prime modernist of the ’30s generation, rendered the continuity of the Greek experience into an ideology, in the process also propagating, in true modernist fashion, the use of a strictly delineated form of Modern Greek. By contrast, Engonopoulos relishes the discontinuity of historical layers, cultural currents and linguistic forms. As for Embirikos, he comes rather late to explicitly Greek themes, which he uses largely with respect to his surrealist concerns—hence his emphasis on aspects of pagan mythology, in other words, not on received ethnic ‘values,’ but of lost mythic origins, whose evocation is invested with subversive potential.
This section, then, purports to be a comprehensive selection of works by those pivotal writers, and one which may well be approached with the above considerations in mind. The reader, however, is also advised to relate the post-’30s writings included herein to the works of the following generations, this being a historical classification, as opposed to a neat sectorization between currents, eras and tendencies.
THE SECOND GENERATION | During the Nazi occupation, Embirikos and his then-wife, the poet Matsi Hatzilazarou, had held regular meetings in their house; along with Engonopoulos, Elytis and Gatsos, a number of young poets made their first appearance in this milieu. These included some of the most authentic voices of their generation: Miltos Sahtouris, E. Ch. Gonatas, Dimitris Papaditsas and others, including the two figures who, out of all those younger writers, would go on to display the most consistent surrealist leanings: Hector Kaknavatos and Nanos Valaoritis. A maverick case, Yorgos V. Makris, who would later become a vital member of the Pali group, also participated in those sessions, which extended into meetings at coffeehouses and some publishing activity. It was not, however, to last for long.
The aforementioned wartime crisis experienced by Embirikos was not without its counterpart in the upbringing of his younger friends. Greece emerged completely devastated from the occupation, only to be plunged directly into a catastrophic civil war. The revolutionary Resistance, manipulated by the ‘Communist’ Party on the strength of Soviet support, had then been deprived of this support following an agreement between Stalin and Winston Churchill, which granted Britain control over the country’s postwar administration, thereby leaving the left-wing fighters at the mercy of British imperialism and its local allies. This is how the French surrealist and revolutionary Benjamin Péret resumed the ensuing situation, in a text signed B. Peralta and printed in Lucha obrera, No 47, February 1947: 
The Stalinist direction of the [Resistance movement] E.A.M. capitulated after bloody combats, forgetting that it still controlled the country’s principal centers. (…) [E.A.M.’s armed section] E.L.A.S. capitulated hastily before its class enemy, thus disorganizing completely the struggle and allowing the Greek bourgeoisie to resume control over the situation. But the E.A.M. masses, after a few weeks of confusion, restarted the struggle (…). In fact, once the revolutionary movement was disorganized by their capitulation, once the danger of a revolutionary triumph susceptible to unmask the Stalinists had disappeared, the Greek C.P., following instructions from Kremlin, could without risk fight in Stalin’s name against English imperialism. (Benjamin Péret: Oeuvres Complètes, tome 5, Paris: Librairie José Corti, 1989, pp. 169-70; my translation, after the French version, by Éliane Aldama-Juquel and Soledad Estorach, of the Spanish original.)
The war dragged on until 1949. With the defeat of the Left, and the merciless persecutions that ensued, there emerged a new ‘intellectual climate,’ in which surrealism seemed to have no place. Typically, one of Engonopoulos’ most celebrated and discussed poems to this day is “Poetry 1948,” the brief, somewhat ‘occasional’ text that closed his book Eleusis,  and which remains interesting to the extent that it constitutes a desperate admission of poetry’s ultimate impotence before the actuality of a doomed struggle. The poem is, of course, most appreciated to this day by those who relish the defeat of surrealism implied therein.
The civil war and its aftermath have since informed a great deal of artistic production; it is in poetry, however, that the cost of this experience on free expression becomes most apparent. To start with, a major influence on that poetic current which purported to register the experience of the defeated Left, was Yorgos Seferis (an influence, incidentally, also apparent in more recent artifacts with ‘civil war’ references, such as the early films of Theo Angelopoulos). This is no accident, for Seferis conceives the Greek landscape and language as a kind of metaphysical topos, burdened by the weight of History and the loss of its mythic center. Such a concept, however, is a far cry from the playful treatment of ‘Greek-ness’ by the ’30s surrealists: for, by mixing disparate figures of the Greek history, landscape, mythology and speech (by relating them, even, to an international revolutionary and/or utopian vision, as in Bolívar and Embirikos’ later Great Eastern), early surrealists had challenged the ideologically-constructed, essentialist mentality in Greek poetry’s assumed national mission.
Seferis’ dialogue with Greek history and myth (‘ideological’ also in the sense of being informed by the linguistic purism and cultural dogmatism of Anglo-saxon conservative modernism—a kind of contradiction in itself) was, in the works of postwar poets, such as Takis Sinopoulos, rendered into the fatalistic experience of recent history as a ‘Greek tragedy,’ giving rise to what came to be called ‘the poetry of defeat’—whose critical champions dismissed the ‘historical irresponsibility’ and formal playfulness of surrealism as opposed to this current’s austerity and social ‘relevance.’ At the same time, the massively popular Yannis Ritsos, a poet of the ’30s generation who came into prominence after the civil war (and whose work is too voluminous to summarize here), assumed the allure of Aragon, Éluard and Pablo Neruda amongst international Stalinist circles.
The postwar era saw the group of friends around which Greek surrealism had been formed practically disintegrate; social relations were maintained, but very little was published to start with. Nevertheless, an activity undertaken during the Occupation by the journal Τετράδιο (Tetradio) aimed at a syncretic coexistence of various tendencies, including surrealism, which operated under the difficult climate of the era. The journal pursued its existence for some years before concluding it in the midst of the Civil War; original texts and surrealist translations by Embirikos, Engonopoulos, Elytis, Hatzilazarou, Sahtouris and Valaoritis were published there, and Embirikos’ Hinterland, a collection of prewar poems, was printed under the Tetradio logo.
While the increasingly detached Embirikos and Engonopoulos remained mentors to certain young poets, Elytis and Valaoritis had left the country (the latter eventually participating in the Parisian surrealist activity), Gatsos was writing song-lyrics, Kaknavatos was to undergo political persecutions and Sahtouris, along with Gonatas, would, in a sense, seem to typify a particular climate: their works derive directly from the flora and fauna of Engonopoulos’ poetry, albeit with a touch of Kafka and, especially in Sahtouris, a strongly evident if subterranean presence of the war experience, that is horrific and disturbing rather than either bitterly resigned or lyrically ‘engaged.’ Just as typical, however, was their solitary attitude; for, at a time when the fervor of early Greek surrealism had given way to disenchantment, these writers seemed detached both from collective activity and from literary careerism. Yet this solitude reflected the situation of the surrealist outlook at that time and place.
Dimitris Papaditsas, a poet particularly close to Gonatas and Kaknavatos, is unique in cultivating the vein of a lyrical surrealism, with remarkable inventiveness. His mature poetry displays a tendency toward metaphysics, whilst still indebted to the principles of surrealist imagery, whose presence is mostly apparent in his early work.
The paths pursued by others of the same generation were disparate and fruitful. Nanos Valaoritis, who begins in the same milieu as the aforementioned writers and is equally marked by the war experience, follows a different route, with a pointedly cosmopolitan attitude that registers the experience of international surrealism and the philosophical currents that inform it. In contrast to the persistent imagery and stylistic stability of such poets as Sahtouris, Valaoritis displays a permanent will toward transformation, beginning with the uses of language itself. As for Hector Kaknavatos, he begins along the lines of lyrical surrealism (Fuga, 1943), then returns after a two-decade hiatus with one of the boldest forms of Greek surrealist expression, at once historically-conscious and constantly experimental, informed (especially in his mature works) by his mathematical research.
In a 1985 text, Nanos Valaoritis noted how his generation of surrealists and sympathizers, including Sahtouris, Gonatas, Alexander Skinas, Mando Aravantinou and Makris, were positioned vis-à-vis the prewar surrealists:  very close to Embirikos, Engonopoulos and Gatsos, as opposed to Elytis, they appear somewhat rootless, beyond standard critical categories (and thereby evading general acclaim). All belong to a postwar brand of humour noir, which Valaoritis distinguishes from that of Kostas Karyotakis—an earlier poet who persists as an intriguing influence.
Karyotakis (1896-1928) would be regarded as little more than a belated symbolist, were it not for the still alluring humorous nihilism that pervades his late work, even including his suicide note. A major albeit superficial tendency amid vaguely ‘melancholic’ and formally conservative poets of a symbolist persuasion, the phenomenon of ‘Karyotakism’ was largely exorcized by members of the ’30s generation, which was also that of the first surrealists. Although Elytis (who took care to set the poet apart from his imitators) is generally regarded as the ‘anti-Karyotakis’ par excellence, what with his ‘heliocentric’ worldview, one of the earliest personal attacks on the deceased poet had come from none other than Nicolas Calas, in his very first critical article, printed in 1929. Calas, not yet a Trotskyist and surrealist militant, deplored Karyotakis for ignoring the ‘dignified’ mores of proletarian literature. Yet, despite appearances, Karyotakis left his mark on Embirikos and especially Engonopoulos, both of whom dedicated poems to him. Second generation surrealists have little to do with Karyotakis’ spleen, given the overwhelmingly sociopolitical aspects of their malaise, but his renewed influence is also symptomatic of a tendency toward a particular concept of humor, certainly prefigured, within Greek surrealism, by Engonopoulos—and, as we shall see, continued by the Pali group in the 1960s.
Sahtouris’ poetry is perhaps the first on which the double impact of Karyotakis and Engonopoulos is clearly discernible: the latter’s surrealist freedom is here activated in a sparser manner, whereby a nursery rhyme-like simplicity is invested with a tortuous intensity, whose effects are at once playful and nightmarish. The mythology of love also changes, from the abstract sensual femininity of Elytis’ and Embirikos’ femmes-enfants (whose masculine counterpart in abstraction appears in Hatzilazarou) to the more personalized, if elusive, amour unique of the Engonopoulian ‘Muse,’ underlying the dark eroticism of Sahtouris and Gonatas, and the alchemical transformations of the loved object in Valaoritis’ tales and novels.
Thus, with these writers, as with those that follow, we are as far removed from the Mediterranean surrealist lyricism associated with early Elytis as from the desperate sarcasm of Karyotakis. The subsequent restoration of language (in Valaoritis and some of the Pali writers) as the complex and playful ‘writing subject’ operating upon the tormented sensibility of an era will set the tone for further developments.
THE PALI GROUP | Nanos Valaoritis soon became the most vital organizing force in Greek surrealism: being the one consistent link between Embirikos and Breton, an effort toward the collaboration of both Embirikos and Elytis in French surrealist publications came to nothing, as we have seen, due to objective difficulties. But in the 1960s the conditions were ripe for a Greek attempt along those lines; hence the Pali journal.
Valaoritis’ own chronicle Μοντερνισμός, Πρωτοπορία και Πάλι (Modernism, the ‘Avant-Garde’ and Pali) [Athens: Καστανιώτης (Castaniotis), 1997], provides a description of the conditions under which that publication was launched. While Yorgos Seferis, about to receive the Nobel Prize, was surrounded by younger writers and critics eager to suppress radical alternative voices (in the process even distorting Seferis’ own moments of groundbreaking boldness), the most advanced periodical was Εποχές (Epoches), an instrument of informed albeit ultra-conservative modernism. Having been encouraged by the Paris surrealist group (in the context of surrealism’s increasing postwar de-centralization), Valaoritis planned a journal edited by himself, Embirikos and Elytis. Soon, however, Elytis demanded full editorship and subsequently withdrew from the project, while approaching the ‘Seferist’ critics, and eventually becoming Seferis’ successor, Nobel Prize-wise.
The idea was not abandoned, nevertheless. In a 1975 account written for the reprinting of all 6 issues of Pali by a later periodical [Σήμα (Sima)], Valaoritis talks of “a wall of hesitation” erected, on the part of friends, against his wish to publish a surrealist-oriented journal. “Everyone was scared, and what they were mostly scared of were either their very selves, or the others. But who were those mythical ‘others’? As it turned out, they were ‘nobody’… It was the climate of an era, like the conspirators in the army and behind the scenes of politics.” The journal finally materialized after Valaoritis’ encounter with a group of young and enthusiastic writers (Tassos Denegris, Panos Koutrouboussis, Eva Mylona, Dimitris Poulikakos and others).
If early Greek surrealism addressed a public completely unaware of preparatory stages such as Dada, the young people who formed the core of Pali’s team, and indeed readership, had limited albeit not insignificant access to postwar currents outside the confines of Greece. Raised in a climate of continuous censorship and political intolerance, that was to carry on throughout the ’60s, via political and military upheavals culminating in the 1967 colonels’ coup d’état, there was a choice to be made between the acceptance of a monolithic so-called ‘left-wing’ cultural environment and the risk of discovery.
The monopolization of ‘dissident’ art, on a mass level, by an outlook exemplified by Mikis Theodorakis’ songs, involved the works of established poets (such as Seferis, Elytis and Yannis Ritsos) set to music, along with an emphatic and rather sentimental idealization of the ‘people,’ conceived as an abstract and static entity. For all the fervor of its consumers and followers, this cultural strand was largely compatible with the ‘educative’ principles of a quasi-Stalinist cultural mentality: a somewhat pompous version of popular musical motifs, forming an aesthetic ideal of ‘folk oratorios,’ while stressing the corruptive potential of ‘foreign’ cultural influences, ‘decadent’ trends in international artistic production and of course ‘introversion,’ as opposed to the mass appeal of ‘healthy,’ popular socialist-minded artifacts. It goes without saying that this state of affairs was accompanied by a strong current of ‘socialist realism’ in literature and the arts—a current whose precarious status vis-à-vis State censorship (partly compensated for by the status accorded to certain of its prime movers by international Stalinist mechanisms) rendered it overwhelmingly appealing to a part of the population still bearing the wounds of the Civil War and its aftermath, albeit unable to either renounce the principle for which that war had been fought and lost or accept the treason to which the Left had been subjected by its leadership. Significantly, the lifestyles and references of those members of the first postwar generation who joined Pali, as well as those of their direct forefathers, were demonized both by the official State and by an equally official ‘Left,’ also intolerant of long hair, experimental expression, ‘oneiric’ and nonproductive activity.
Yet a few things had changed since the first Greek surrealists addressed a fully unsuspecting public, an important factor being the creation of minor albeit interlinked ‘scenes.’ Yorgos Makris, the author, in 1944, of a tract calling for the annihilation of the Parthenon, had evolved into an anti-‘teacher,’ whose refusal to publish and, more often than not, even finish his philosophical and poetic writings, reflected his overall rejection of literary (or any other) careerism. Alexander Skinas, living between Athens and Frankfurt, was developing a new, richly humorous treatment of language, which he was to pass off as the invention of Eleutherios Dougias, a deceased schoolmate of his. Panos Koutrouboussis, a young veteran of ‘Simos’ shed’ (a self-proclaimed ‘existentialist,’ but actually quasi-‘beat’ group, complete with a jazz band and led by the semi-legendary Simos in the 1950s), was writing his tales and ‘Tachydramas’ (‘Fast Dramas’), exploring the surrealist potential of brief scenes and stories conceived ‘in a flash,’ whilst bearing, along with others of his generation, the influence of the ‘beatnik’ lifestyle. Meanwhile, Nanos Valaoritis had returned from a long sojourn in the Paris surrealist group, while also remaining in touch with other signs of the times.
To realize, however, the true measure of the journal’s scope, it must also be remembered that when Pali appeared Breton’s own writings remained untranslated in Greek, with the exception of a few poems, while the most important early Greek surrealists were still marginalized figures, frequently subjected to ridicule, albeit not without a certain subterranean influence amongst the young: Embirikos had recently published his third book (the last one he lived to see published); as for Engonopoulos, his early collections were out of print, whilst his latest one had been awarded a State prize (to which he reacted with irony) by a literary establishment finally wishing to atone somewhat for the vehemence of past persecution. Pali boldly put these figures back in the picture:  previously unpublished work by Calas (his first in Greek since his immigration), Embirikos and Engonopoulos was generously represented, along with that of Valaoritis, whose writings by that stage combined impressively the first-hand experience of older Greek, and contemporary international, surrealism. As for the younger writers, they were seen, in Valaoritis’ unsigned editorial of the 1st issue, to constitute the forefront of a group that would oppose the mentality imposed by conventional rationalism and social prejudices, as well as the obstacles, placed by a particular way of thinking, against the realization of dreams through love and the elementary right to the freedom of expression on all planes. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the future looks bright, full of new strange beings, extracted from the still-unknown areas of the psychic hinterland. It is this search alone that justifies poetry, whichever medium this latter utilizes, whether visual, written or auditory. 
Both Embirikos and Engonopoulos would remain involved in Pali until the very end; so would Calas, despite the scarcity of his physical presence. Of the older writers, who nevertheless first made their mark in the Pali era, Mando Aravantinou and Skinas were also heavily involved, contributing some of their most influential writings, and so was Makris, especially via his classic translation of Octavio Paz’s Sunstone, which was printed in the journal’s 1st issue, but also published separately, in book form (bearing the Pali editions logo), and introduced that poet to the Greek public.
Despite the distances some of Pali’s younger writers may have kept since vis-à-vis the surrealist movement, their standard absence from accounts and anthologies of Greek surrealism is due partly to the disconcerting change in tone and perspective apparent in their works, as compared to some ’30s writers, and partly to ignorance of the conditions concerning the international movement itself.  The two reasons are actually interlinked, for, as displayed by the evolution of Valaoritis’ own work, the influence exerted by older surrealists over Pali is again, as in the ’40s generation (albeit now informed by a clearly postwar sensibility), based on the more sharply humorous aspects of the ’30s works, a fact that reflects the development of international surrealism—for instance, the persistent influence of Engonopoulos as opposed to Elytis recalls the respective impacts of Péret and Éluard (an analogy referring to the latter’s lyricism rather than his Stalinism) on the postwar surrealist poetic production.
Even more blatantly ignored is the fact that surrealism never limited itself to a small repertory of variations on its original forms, which, nevertheless, remained functional as influences, albeit within the context of evolution. This did not preclude an acknowledgement of other currents and tendencies, to the extent that these were felt to feature aspects compatible with an overall surrealist sensibility. The fact that Koutrouboussis and Dimitris Poulikakos in particular are often pigeonholed as Greek ‘beat’ writers, due to their perceptible lifestyles, does not help assess their function within Pali, given that, actually, an accusation commonly directed against the journal, especially regarding the work of Koutrouboussis, was its supposed ‘rehash’ of Embirikos and Engonopoulos. Such writers perplex critics, especially those declaring surrealism long dead, by their simultaneously obvious relation to the surrealist past and evasion of stereotypes. Poulikakos’ early contributions included important translations of Lautréamont and Ted Joans (another surrealist commonly branded as ‘beat’); as for Koutrouboussis, the Engonopoulos influence bears as heavily (and creatively) on his work as on that of Sahtouris and Gonatas, albeit with a radically different perspective. For Koutrouboussis’ subversive folktales, in which the pretended reproduction of oral tradition is invested with memories of B-movies, Krazy Kat comics and cheap sci-fi, register the experience of a 1950s upbringing, whereby obscure, slightly antiquated artifacts of local and U.S. mass culture (as in Walter Benjamin’s account of surrealism’s relation to early modern commodities) are re-appropriated. His work, whilst being recognizably a product of its period, has nothing to do with a ‘Pop Art’ mentality of uncritical reproduction and a lot to do with the activation of transnational emotive combinations from the confines of a ‘minor’ if complex language and a culturally and geo-politically peripheral country.
With Aravantinou, a poet of the ’40s generation who nevertheless emerged in the early ’60s, language itself is, in a radical turn, transformed into the protagonist and driving force of her prose poetry, which explores the main streets, byroads and curious features of urban landscapes, whose labyrinthine structures are reflected on the very forms of the texts. Skinas’ writings follow a similar route, often richly humorous in their Jabberwocky-like sense of wordplay, yet equally serious in their constant evocations of a final plenitude, magically attained through language—evocations whose very failure definitively to materialize their object sustains their underlying desire.
Besides constituting the sole platform for surrealist ideas at the time, Pali also attempted to provide general information on all that was remotely new and interesting, in a country whose precarious political situation was accompanied by the reign of an intellectual establishment presenting surrealism itself as an outmoded current, whilst tending to suppress all expression deviating from coarse realism, conservative modernism or the miserabilist ‘poetry of the Defeat.’ Again, then, the major issue to be addressed vis-à-vis Greek surrealism, namely, in what ways it is compatible with the international movement, needs to be considered precisely with respect to the various conditions under which surrealism is received, activated and developed on an international level.
The late Kostas Taktsis, a stranger to surrealism who contributed to Pali as an ally/fellow traveler, later (1975) recalled the conditions of the journal’s emergence with a somewhat ironic relish:
[The invisible members of the Pali group were:] André Breton, whose deputy in Greece Nanos considered himself to be, as the Pope considers himself God’s deputy on Earth; Andreas Embirikos, under whose aegis Pali had, in a sense, been placed; Engonopoulos, whom we all admired unreservedly (…). The stormy discussions that took place in Nanos’ bedroom-cum-studio will sadly remain forever on the darkest and least accessible corner of memory. (…) Nanos’ room was full of objects, which, whether innocent in themselves or not, made it look like the laboratory of some astrologer or alchemist in search for life’s secret (…) [and which] brought to mind some sort of Hermeticism or Black magic. 
Taktsis’ testimony also refers to Skinas’ linguistic games, by contrasting critically the latter’s supposed social irresponsibility (given the era’s political situation) with Taktsis’ own contributions to the journal, including an actually influential study on Rembetiko, the Greek (very) rough equivalent to the blues. It is striking to note that Taktsis’ acute historical and sociological analysis of Zeimbekiko, the foremost Rembetiko dance, whereby the music’s roots and social uses were juxtaposed with its eventual commercial manipulation, was neatly compatible, regarding its function in a surrealist publication, with the developing surrealist tendency toward a thorough examination of popular music—in fact predating by some years the studies undertaken by North-American surrealists regarding the blues and their distortion by white ‘blues-rockers.’ Not being a surrealist, Taktsis saw his study as a sign of divergence from the journal’s overly ‘playful’ turn, in a manner not a little reminiscent of Tristan Tzara’s condemnation of surrealist games performed during World War II. What should, in fact, be apparent, is the journal’s position within a developing, multidisciplinary field of surrealist research.
Pali undertook a comprehensive presentation of the surrealist movement’s past and present, thereby providing the first systematic coexistence of Greek and international surrealism since the aforementioned 1938 one-off collective tome: essays and editorials by Valaoritis, writings by Lautréamont, Breton, Tzara, Joan Miró, Joyce Mansour, Octavio Paz, Jean-Pierre Duprey, Jean-Louis Bédouin, Philip Lamantia, Ted Joans, Arrabal, Alain Jouffroy, along with pictorial work by Marie Wilson, Jean Benoît, Miró, Manina and others, collages by Valaoritis, photography by Embirikos, paintings and drawings by Engonopoulos. A list of the names announced in the 1st issue for future presentation (the journal’s folding annulled such high hopes) was very impressive indeed by any standards, all the more so considering the era’s overall conditions: Benjamin Péret, Raymond Roussel, Malcolm de Chazal, Aimé Césaire, Clément Magloire-Saint-Aude, Leonora Carrington, Gérard Legrand, Georges Bataille, Henri Michaux—but also such precursors and latent influences as Sade, Oscar Panizza, Xavier Forneret, Mary Shelley, Charles Maturin, and even the totally unknown in Greece H. P. Lovecraft (who would not become a ‘cult’ favorite in that country before the late ’80s).
Yet Pali also presented such diverse figures as Jorge Luis Borges (also a later ‘vogue’), Aldous Huxley and assorted ‘beat’ writers (ditto); it explored the surrealist potential of obscure indigenous texts, as in its presentation of Greek alchemists; and, had its publication continued, it would have gone on to print hermetic and Gnostic texts, myths of ‘primitive’ peoples, writings by children and ‘insane’ persons, as well as ancient texts of mythic lore from the international literature.
This actually unprecedented degree of coverage, which measured Greek surrealism, in its successive generations, against the prehistory, philosophical origins and perspectives of the international movement, reflected Valaoritis’ overall stance, which, as revealed in a note printed on the 5th issue of Pali,  was boldly internationalist. Valaoritis pointed out the provincial attitude of those Greek poets and critics who were eager to dismiss surrealism as a ‘school’ whose inadequacy had been proven by the supposed international impact attained by Greek poetry in its more soberly modernist, and more ethnically ‘identifiable,’ guise. In fact, as Valaoritis noted, the temporary self-satisfaction offered by Seferis’ Nobel could not annul the fact that no Modern Greek poet had yet attained the status of a radically influential figure on a world scale (the aforementioned addition of a second Nobel prize in 1979 did little to change this picture). Evoking Breton’s dismissal of the French ‘resistance poetry’ as irredeemably nationalist (in Arcane 17), Valaoritis stressed the necessity to measure Greek writing against the most radical international developments, as opposed to basking in the ‘glory’ of an ultimately ethnocentric worldview. Yet this cosmopolitan attitude did not entail imminent resolution, especially insofar as Valaoritis himself granted that even the problem of language was not yet resolved, the oral Greek idiom being then still ignored by official education.
At this point, the Greek surrealist tradition resurfaces as an inherently dissident option: after the mixed dialects of early Embirikos, Engonopoulos and Calas, a tendency that had also informed Gatsos’ Amorgos, with its tension between demotic and literary tones, the work included in Pali displayed a similar idiomatic divergence, several texts by Embirikos, Aravantinou, Koutrouboussis and Skinas being mock-archaic in expression, while an ironically pompous style was also apparent in the prose pieces of Poulikakos. Indeed, in the work produced in that era by the trilingual Valaoritis (The Downy Confession in particular), a trans-linguistic process also takes place, given that certain puns evident in the English translations included herein are not evident in the presumed Greek ‘originals’—which can only mean that the texts’ original conception took place, at least partly, in English, their secret being quasi-hermetically sealed behind a code that demands the abolition of linguistic barriers. Once again, then, the essentialist pretensions of linguistic forms are here subverted, by combining to constitute a superstructure in a state of constant flux; the contrasts of expressions are transformed into dynamic potentialities.
Sadly, the “climate of an era” mentioned by Valaoritis did not take long in manifesting itself explicitly, in the form of the 1967 military junta. The Pali group, which had continued its public existence in spite of severe financial problems (not to mention certain inner conflicts) and had announced a special issue devoted to the recently deceased André Breton, suspended its activities—an unfinished project that would prove to be massively influential on subsequent forms of radical expression in Greece, from the early 1970s onwards. Soon, Valaoritis and Marie Wilson moved to the United States, while other members of the group followed their largely disparate ways, in Greece or abroad. As for Yorgos Makris, the group’s least visible member (in terms of published output), but one of the foremost influences on its spirit, he departed one year after the coup with a note of humour noir: upon being asked by the janitor of his block why he had called the lift, Makris answered: “Don’t worry, I’ll be right down,” then went on to jump from the roof.
What follows, then, purports to be a Pali anthology, but a few things need to be specified: this is the work of those writers whose presence is indelibly linked to that of the journal, mostly focusing on their 1960s texts, albeit not necessarily on those actually first printed in Pali. The stress being placed on the young nucleus of the group, the writings of those Pali writers, including Valaoritis, who are strongly connected to the activities of previous generations, have been included in the respective sections. Again, it is best to use this classification as the rough outline of a climate, as opposed to a pigeonholing device, and consult the mature works of Embirikos, Calas and Valaoritis included in other sections for a fuller picture, this not being a neat, ‘linear’ narrative, but rather an attempt to trace the consecutive conditions under which the authors have emerged.
AFTERWORD | The importance of Pali, which has only recently begun to inspire some academic study in good faith, has been rather underplayed in Greece, for the simple reason of a profound and indeed stubborn ignorance on the part of critics vis-à-vis the actuality of surrealism. Yet the journal’s heritage involved a double movement: besides posing the issue of continuity, it encouraged the earlier surrealists’ reappraisal, beyond the options of hostile rejection or mute admiration. This is primarily due to Nanos Valaoritis, who inaugurated the mature period of surrealist theory, often focusing on the early works of Greek surrealists, examined for the first time with any degree of thoroughness.
The era’s climate certainly helped: after the restoration of the parliamentary system in 1974, surrealism and Dada emerged vaguely in the context of Greek counter-culture as precursors of May ’68, the situationist movement, ‘beat’ literature etc., while the indigenous surrealist writing was freshly appreciated via re-printings. Yet as Valaoritis noted, in a text included herein, no significant study was written on Embirikos’ work during his lifetime (he died only a year after the junta’s downfall). This may not be irrelevant to the equally crucial fact that the actual texts of international surrealism were completely ignored, and that, despite the gradual emergence of books from the French group’s early days, continue to be so, to a considerable extent. This fact may, as already noted, be readily witnessed in certain recent accounts which, whilst purporting to assess Greek surrealism from the momentarily assumed viewpoint of the international movement, actually reveal only the faintest of acquaintances with certain early texts by Breton. And even though the latter’s thought did at last become partly available, this often happened in the context of a facile pigeonholing: thus, for instance, a ’70s-’80s vogue that gave rise to a vulgarization of situationism allowed surrealism some room as a dead and somewhat discredited precursor. Significantly, whilst a fair number of publishers put out certain ‘classics’ of surrealism, only one, with a tiny output and limited distribution (Parallelogram Editions, which sadly folded too soon) was exclusively devoted to surrealist works and relevant studies, even though, in that case too, the stress was placed on early, French texts. Crucially, the postwar phase of the movement has been by and large ignored, with the exceptions of Octavio Paz (especially post-Nobel) and Joyce Mansour (mostly thanks to Hector Kaknavatos’ efforts). But even early surrealism is approached with a curiously selective attitude: not a single book by Benjamin Péret was published until very recently; whilst the introduction of Antonin Artaud and Georges Bataille to a largely receptive young Greek public followed for the most part the line of disengaging their works from surrealism due to their brief disputes with Breton. Pali’s intentions regarding the coverage of old and new surrealism alike were thus not fulfilled.
Frangiski Abatzopoulou’s 1980 anthology of Greek surrealism purported to be the first academic work placing the phenomenon firmly in its international context; yet despite including rare material by certain ‘forefathers,’ the anthology coupled a brief account of surrealism’s principles via early French polemics and essays with a vague introduction and a near-random selection of Greek names bearing a certain debt to surrealism—in some cases an almost invisible one. Given that Greek writing (poetry in particular, but also a great deal of prose and drama), has, as mentioned already, displayed a strong surrealist influence over the years, albeit one that veers toward a sanitized, mildly lyrical and politically dubious version of the movement’s poetic conquests, this double focus served to confuse rather than enlighten. Notable book-length studies have since been provided by such writers as Z. I. Siaflekis and Victor Ivanovici, along with a plethora of shorter essays and articles by younger writers.
At the same time, the fortunes of Greek surrealism in the English-speaking world have left much to be desired. Following the extreme conservatism of those Anglo-Saxon publishers who showed some interest in Greek poetry in the immediate aftermath of the 2nd World War, certain translations from Elytis were the only ones that had any impact to speak of. This situation was reinforced much later by Elytis’ Nobel, which has resulted in the availability of virtually his entire poetic output in English, albeit with little emphasis on his surrealist period, his early essays in particular. The first true achievement of Greek surrealism on this count, however, was the 1966 publication in London by Alan Ross of Embirikos’ Writings or Personal Mythology, under the title Amour-Amour. The volume, prefaced by Valaoritis and translated by Ross and the late Nikos Stangos of the Pali group, has been recently (2003) reprinted in the U.S. by Green Integer, Los Angeles. Embirikos, along with Valaoritis (but, sadly, not Engonopoulos), have also been represented in Michael Richardson’s two-volume anthology of surrealist narratives (1993, 1994) as well as in a recent (2004) anthology of Modern Greek fantasy, edited by David Connolly with an Engonopoulos cover (all three volumes published in Britain by Dedalus). Apart from some poetry by Greek surrealists that has appeared over the years in anthologies and journals, there have also been two short Sahtouris collections, now out-of-print, while Valaoritis’ latest book of English surrealist proses My Afterlife Guaranteed (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1990) is still available; yet the absence of an Engonopoulos tome has hardly been redressed by certain scattered translations.
The heritage of Greek surrealism has lived on in periodicals and works, rather as a development and expansion of some possibilities evoked by Pali, albeit now deprived of the centrality that the surrealist perspective maintained in the Pali group.
Meanwhile, the actuality of contemporary surrealism has only recently begun to be acknowledged in new, mostly fanzine-shaped periodicals; whilst the supposed dissolution of the ‘historical’ movement on the eve of World War II, or, at most, in its aftermath, is still taken for granted even by those sympathetic writers of the academia who may now contribute the odd homage to Embirikos. Yet there are now the first visible signs of systematic surrealist activity, on the part of young people who remain unconnected to academic research.
The sole Athens periodical covering current surrealism with a clearly stated commitment (Farfoulas, edited by Diamantis Karavolas) was recently replaced by Klidonas, the instrument of the newly-formed Surrealist Group of Athens. Another group, that of Ioannina (formed in 2000), produced the leaflet Allegories of an Objective Past Perfect in December 2002. This was followed by the group’s declaration in late 2004 and the publication, in April 2005, of Penetralia, the first issue of the group’s official journal. The Athens group’s declaration was issued in May 2005.
Of particular note in the current groups’ activity is their emphasis on collective creation, an aspect whose relative lack (despite the early experiments between Embirikos, Elytis and their friends described in “Art-Chance-Risk”) constitutes a major peculiarity of the Greek surrealist ‘canon’: the early treatment, by conservative and so-called ‘left-wing’ critics, of surrealists as bourgeois invalids, whose purely subjective works gave rise to a repertory of pathological profiles, has had the regrettable consequence of partly succeeding in its goal—that is, isolating those writers’ individual voices, even within their small circle. It is significant that, whilst early Greek surrealism made its mark first and foremost via its poetry, the Ioannina group started out by avoiding on purpose the publication of anything susceptible to being taken for ‘literature.’ A sign that attests to a conscious decision to break away from the academic framework too often reserved for the past of Greek surrealism; also, perhaps, an example of the leaps and breaches by which the history of a phenomenon chooses to proceed. For, in all probability, surrealism was introduced to Greece too early to have a fully operational form from the beginning.
The Ioannina group’s first leaflet ended with a declaration signed by V. (Vangelis actually), whence the following excerpt:
Poetry destroys the values of the existing civilization.
Poetry’s mouth is bleeding.
Poetry is the community of desire. (…)
Poetry is a revolver turned toward the crowd. (…)
Poetry is a well full of hungry Gorgons.
Poetry saws bourgeois groins.
Poetry invents constellations upon stretched fingers. (…)
Poetry is an ever-suspended enigma. (…)
Poetry finishes poetry off, finishes with poetry.(…)
Poetry is an overdose of proletarian sadism.
Poetry saws discord upon married couples. It kills their offspring night after
Poetry is, after Auschwitz more than ever, critical history. (…)
Poetry is above all antinational.
Poetry is the stolen scepter of god whom we sent guffawing back to the
Poetry is the Music of goblins. (…)
Poetry is eternity—never immortality.
Poetry is man and woman when, lying on their backs, they act the train whistle,
while a video fast-forwards their image within a black wooden box.
Poetry is the tiger that jumps into the past.
Poetry recomposes, under the light of an indiscernible alchemical writing, the
body torn to pieces by cog-wheels. (…)
We are everything that was reborn by the deluge. (…)
We demand nothing but total freedom! 
If the easy option is to dismiss the above as a kind of tired rhetoric (not so much a repetition of a past moment as a move that comes too late to make its mark), it is exceedingly oppressive, let alone dubious, to pass judgment on a youthful, collective and clearly heartfelt expression, thereby condemning it to a mute existence in the persistent shade of forefathers. Whether other similar groups are in existence, about to make their presence felt, or whether the interested parties are still isolated, is a matter of speculation; so are the duration and value of their possible ventures. In any case, what the preceding pages purported to show was where it all began, and which general directions it took.
The future is still open-ended.
1. In: Συντέλεια (Synteleia), Spring-Summer 1991, No 4-5.
2. According to his interview to Andromachi Skarpalezou, posthumously printed in Ηριδανός (Heridanos), February-March 1976.
3. The most comprehensive source is: Σωτήρης Τριβιζάς: Το Σουρρεαλιστικό Σκάνδαλο (Sotiris Trivizas: To Sourrealistiko Scandalo [The Surrealist Scandal]), Athens: Καστανιώτης (Castaniotis), 1996.
4. “Prolegomena to a Third Surrealist Manifesto or Not”; in: Manifestoes of Surrealism, tr. Richard Seaver & Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor: Universitiy of Michigan Press, 1972.
5. In: Νικόλαος Κάλας: Δεκαέξι Γαλλικά Ποιήματα & Αλληλογραφία με τον Ουίλιαμ Κάρλος Ουίλιαμς (Nicolaos Calas: Dekaexi Gallika Poiemata & Allilografia me ton William Carlos Williams [Sixteen French Poems & Correspondence with William Carlos Williams]), Athens: Ύψιλον (Ypsilon), 2003.
6. In: Τα Νέα, “Πρόσωπα” (Ta Nea, “Prosopa” [“Faces”]), 27 May 2000.
7. This evocation of Péret serves as a counterpoint to the much-publicized involvement of the by then fully Stalinized Paul Éluard in the scene of the Greek Civil War, by means of visits and ‘occasional’ poetry to celebrate a cause unofficially betrayed by the very center that was supposed to support it.
8. …a book whose motto, lest we forget, was taken from Breton’s 1942 lecture at Yale, and reaffirmed surrealism as a so far unsurpassed revolutionary movement.
9. In: Νάνος Βαλαωρίτης, Για μια Θεωρία της Γραφής (Nanos Valaoritis, Gia mia Theoria tis Grafis [Toward a Theory of Writing]), Athens: Εξάντας (Exantas), 1990.
10. Ανάτυπο Πάλι (Anatypo Pali [Reissue of Pali]), Athens: Σήμα [Sima]), no date given (1975), no pagination.
11. Crucially, “Pali”is Sanskrit for “canon” and Greek for “again”: a ‘canon’ of recurring rupture?
12. Printed on the back cover of Πάλι (Pali), No 1, undated issue (1963).
13. Thus, in a recent ‘Greek Surrealism’ special on a prestigious newspaper, the editor enumerates a few early French, Belgian and North American surrealist (-related) periodicals, before stating flatly: “Later, and totally inopportunely, there was published by Nanos Valaoritis the journal Pali, perhaps in memory of, but also strongly influenced by, a movement which, in the European context (sic!), had by then died.” She then goes on to limit Greek surrealism to the ’30s generation, and concludes by stating that “the dialogue (sic) on surrealism has begun again, [so] let us have another look at that truly revolutionary movement, which aimed [my emphasis] toward a different vision of the world.” [Καθημερινή, “Επτά Ημέρες” (Kathimerini, “Epta Imeres” [“Seven Days”]), 7 July 2002] Given that Pali was not published “in memory of” anything, but instead constituted a groundbreaking (and still influential) attempt toward the representation of the most radical ideas available at the time, how can it be deemed a ‘nostalgic’ venture, in the same breath as declaring surrealism a ‘truly’ revolutionary movement? The message is actually clear: make sure that surrealism has been dead since 1935 or thereabouts—then it can be ‘discussed’ indefinitely. One wonders why, in such a case, it could be a remotely fruitful topic today.
14. In: Ανάτυπο Πάλι, op. cit., no pagination.
15. In: Πάλι, No 5, November 1965, pp. 92-4.
16. Αλληγορίες Αντικειμενικού Υπερσυντέλικου (Alligories Antikeimenikou Ypersyntelikou), No 1, December 2002.
EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO DO SURREALISMO 1919-2019
Artista convidado: Jan Dočekal (República Checa, 1943
Agulha Revista de Cultura
20 ANOS O MUNDO CONOSCO
Número 134 | Maio de 2019
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