Where the state has led, society has followed. The years since 1993 have, in one area of life after another, been the most calamitous since the fall of Fascism….
…When the Second Republic started, Italy still enjoyed the second-highest GDP per capita of the big EU states, measured in purchasing power parity, after Germany—a standard of living in real terms above that of France or Britain. Today it has fallen below an EU average now weighed down by the relative poverty of the East European states, and is close to being overtaken by Greece.
—Perry Anderson, “An Entire Order Converted to What It Was Intended to End,” London Review of Books, February 26
To call this blog desultory would be too kind by half. I apologize to the reader (if there are any left after the way I’ve abused both their patience and tolerance), but life isn’t a straight line. Or a headline. Most journalists tend to get almost everything wrong most of the time because they think of the events they cover mostly as headlines, and of “causality” as a straight link from A to B to C. It’s only much later, after historians have been able to disentangle the heretofore invisible webs surrounding the erstwhile straight lines that we realize that what we thought was A was, in fact, L, and B was F, and C was Q, and the actual A, B, and C of any given event had long ago disappeared under the weight of years of journalistic disconnection, which is to say historical erasure.
I began this blog as a way to work out (for myself, more than anyone, as it turns out) what I thought of the riots that occurred last December. Almost as soon as I began typing my thoughts onto the screen, however, I realized that the contemporaneous description of events—journalism, in other words—suffers from its own observer effect. What you, the reader, get is definitely what the journalist sees, but what the journalist sees is hardly ever what is actually happening.
Because you never really know what you’re looking at until it’s over. It’s like that split second when you’ve averted a head-on collision, or a brick from a construction site that’s fallen an inch from your face (I’ve experienced both). It’s only after the moment has passed that you break out in a cold sweat, having realized the mortal danger you’ve just managed to survive by a fateful snap of a finger. The reason reporting is so difficult is because it’s so hard to determine what, exactly, to report on, what the “angle” is, to use the apposite jargon of what were once called newspapermen. It really is all a matter of angle(s). Where are you standing? What do you see? What don’t you see? How do you see it? From up top, or on street level. From a helicopter, or in the very midst of a crowd, mob, or police unit? Are you “embedded” or a “free lancer”? And with whom are you embedded? And for whom are you wielding that lance?
So, even though I began this blog with the best of intentions, I’ve realized pretty quickly where the road paved with those intentions leads. I’ve repeatedly had to take a time out, to catch my perceptual/hermeneutic/analytical breath, and go back and run everything through my mind yet again, just one more time, one endlessly last time that’s never final and invariably leads to the need for another mental break. More important, I’ve realized, yet again, that the only credible, only trustworthy “reporters” are historians because only they can see/determine/excavate the fact that A was indeed L, B was F, and C…well, C may or may not be Q because we’re still looking for it, trying to figure out if it ever existed. This is all to say, at the risk of inordinate triteness, that the only way to make any real sense of the present is to retrieve its links to the past. It’s also my way of apologizing for a blog whose contents might seem increasingly arcane and whose schedule is decidedly fluid, not to say random.
The worst problem about living in Greece is that you continually think you’re losing your mind. My wife and I had the same problem with the States under Bush. I assume that Russia since the fall of Gorbachev is much the same. I think that should become the effective definition of a “failed state”: a place in which normality is tantamount to mental disorder. Reading Perry Anderson on Italy—another failed state, it seems—a few days ago, I was struck by the shock of recognition. Indeed, when I came to his conclusion, toward the end of his essay, that the last 15 years in Italy have been “the most calamitous since the fall of Fascism,” it was as if I was staring at my own thoughts transmitted back to me in some kind of weird transference.
(To be continued)