Notes from Europe: from Thessaloniki to Athens

In Thessaloniki: This bank is French-owned.

Stand-off: police attack social center (video still).

Heat conspired with exhaustion to make the train ride from Thessaloniki to Athens seem cruelly extenuated.  We could only blame ourselves. We’d stayed up all the previous night preparing our video for an exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art .  By the time (on the way to the train station) I’d dropped off the newly-burned  DVD at the museum I was beginning to regard the exhibition’s title, “It’s the Political Economy, Stupid,” as a direct accusation.

The cabdriver, even as he was helping us grab our bags from the trunk of the taxi, was still gamely trying to persuade us to allow him to drive us all the way from Thessaloniki to Athens.  Was he desperate or sensible?  At what point in the affective economy does desperation become sensible?  We were tempted by the cabbie’s offer but we were meeting our friend and comrade Nikos at the station–and still imagined that a few hours of softly-rocking slumber in an air-conditioned  compartment would be renewing.

The graffiti read: ballot box, ballot box, ballot box.

From Athens we took the crowded metro to the port of Piraeus. While crossing the street to pick up our tickets to Chania, Crete at the ferry office, Nikos pointed out a troika of dumpsters.  The graffiti read: ballot, ballot, ballot.

Still from Sherry’s 1976 film Disaster, detail of our S.F. loft wall.

Over 35% of the Greek electorate decided not to vote in what’s considered the single most important election in a generation.  We were reminded of Saramago’s prophetic conceptual novel,  Essay on Lucidity (published in English under the mis-title Seeing), which (in case you haven’t read it) begins with an election in which nearly all the citizens of an unnamed city return blank or unmarked ballots to the ballot box — thereby causing a massive and ever-increasing crisis among all the political parties, not least within the governing party.  Voting by not voting, essentially.

Within 36 hours of his death, every kiosk in Lisbon said goodbye.

Whoever in Piraeus produced this three-part visual essay on lucidity has in common with Saramago a sardonic awareness of the lethal delusion that continues to safeguard and perpetuate representative democracy.  Over 50% of Greek voters supported anti-austerity parties (including the 7% who voted for the fascist Golden Dawn). Contrary to international media reports, the pro-austerity ‘victory’ was on another level, an ignominious defeat, a legal fiction, not dissimilar to Saramago’s depiction of voting, a rank waste in the sense that the anonymous graffiti artist maintains. Doesn’t the recent Greek election demonstrate that the ballot box is more accurately a dumpster?

In the US, in which the political class lacks nearly as much credibility as its Greek counterpart, we are repeatedly urged by pundits and shills and liberals not to waste our ballot by refusing to vote.  The legal fiction of the Greek election (Victory to the losers!  Put the corrupt back in office again!) is experienced by everyone we speak to here as a depressing aporia.  One indicator of an irreparable crisis: when legal fictions begin to proliferate like the vermin circulating around a dumpster filled with waste and ripening to a faretheewell in unbearable heat.  Or are we delirious?

After we picked up our tickets we had plenty of time, before boarding, for a freddo capucchino.  The only café in the area was a Starbucks, which faced our waiting ferry.  Stupidly or not, we bit the bullet.  What choice did we have?  Three freddo capucchinos, please.  Voting in an election is also known as exercising the franchise.  However, Starbucks, now the world’s largest coffee shop chain, thanks to a billion or so people like us, is a corporation, not a franchise.  In the U.S. even though a corporation is, legally speaking, a person, it does not have the right to vote, though everybody knows that capital owns the capitol–all the capitols, in fact.  However, for what it’s worth, a franchise does not have the franchise, as such.  As Marx (Chico) pointedly and repeatedly asked during the depths of the last depression (1929), in a disquisition on real estate fraud (The Cocoanuts), “Why a duck?”  Still the most important question.

Ernest Larsen

Ernest Larsen and Sherry Millner are writers and media makers.