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Athens: On the plain within the four mountains

PHILOSOPHICAL JOURNAL: Agora – Journal of Metaphysical Speculation
Forfatter: Diverse
Forlag: Aschehoug

The last issue of the philosophical journal Agora presents a collection of texts written by, among others, Freud, Derrida and Heidegger, under the title Athens. It is a very ambitious and interesting project.

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

Latest edition of Agora, which bears the title Athens, is a very ambitious project, which is not unexpected from that angle. The idea is to provide an overall picture – or counter-image – of Athens from classical times to the present. To achieve this, a web of texts with very different date stamps is presented, from Sigmund Freud's little rarity about Acropolis from 1936, and Martin Heideggers Athens – The Hellas Journey from 1962 – to newly written texts by living Norwegian Norwegian experts such as Jorunn Økland.

There is a varied and very complex menu the editors are waiting for this time. As in a typical Greek meal, a series of light meals, adapted to time, place and atmosphere, but also heavier dishes, long cooked meals are often served, or can be enjoyed in several tables.


The impressive introductory essay, written jointly by editorial board members Kaja S. Mollerin and Mari Lending, provides a sweeping, partly magnificent view of the theme and content of the publication, as well as the main perspective that underlies it. With condensed references and comments on the many individual articles, a brooding, and not least changing, picture of Athens is drawn. If one gives a brief characterization of the resulting image, it is more like a palimpsest than a systematic and orderly floor plan. The story of Athens is written again and again, or more precisely: overwritten and corrected, blurred and developed again. Thus, one could imagine that Athens itself did not exist at all, but was an idea or fantasy associated with a Borgesian mirror library.

The story of Athens is overwritten and corrected, blurred and developed again.

But it is not so. Athens is about discontinuity, repetition and displacement / displacement, the initiators write, but first and foremost, Athens is a fighting arena where the various needs and interests of different parties, binoculars or spectacle equipment help to shape the city around the Acropolis in its much-needed image, the city at the Agora ( the mildly fragmented, antique square) or – in another topographic perspective – on the plain within the circle of the four mountains.

Centuries of gravity

Sigmund Freud writes in his article – about a memory disorder in the Acropolis – about a strange phenomenon in the wake of a desired Corfu trip, but which ends up on a sea voyage to Athens. The father of psychoanalysis argues initially that his discoveries should actually shed light on both his own privacy and other people as well as the whole human race, so here one speaks for centuries of heaviness. The phenomenon it is told is about, a shift in remembrance in the mythological first meeting of the Acropolis itself and thus the city of Athens (e). The view is simply "too good to be true". The shift is that memories and displacements from his own personal history infect and color the encounter with the (city) goddess to the degree that he implicitly questions the very existence of the place, a kind of negative déja-vu. The journey, and all that it symbolizes, is associated with Freud in particular to the break-up from the family / father relationship and the visions of new-found freedom that the transfer to exotic, often mythical areas represent in our performance. In the first meeting with these, one feels "like a hero who has performed improbably great things".

A further philosophical explanation, constantly according to Freud, lies in the horizon of expectations, which, in the deepest sense, has to do with our unconscious, pessimistic relationship with fate, and for the protagonist, an acquired underlying doubt as to whether he should ever see Athens.


In Jacques Derrida's condensed article "Stay, Athens," which follows in the footsteps of Heidegger's "Athens – Hellasreisen", a metaphysics of photography and visuality evokes a metaphysics of photography, in which the actual taking of images is linked to an existential experience. This view is in direct contrast to Heidegger's insistent opening of the absence, and the illusion of authenticity – which is the driving force for tourists' photography. Nevertheless, these texts end up resembling each other in their emphasis on care, but possibly these similarity associations are due to something third, namely my own ancient Acropolis experiences from a forbidden but magical overnight stay there in the 70s.

Derrida's text establishes, magically and through the story of Socrates' execution, a mythical-metaphorical bridge between the time shift of photography and a memento mori, which appears at the beginning of the ancient road and which lays the foundation for humble existence experience.

Heidegger, for his part, ends up with the following laconic finding, quite in line Aletheia, his conception of truth, a simultaneous display and preservation of the hidden: "For the sake of what turned out (for example, as an object for tourists' photo-taking), it was an advantage that the congestion in the National Museum down town prevented us from visiting it."

Contemporary Odyssey

I would like to conclude with a comment on the Institute Director for the Norwegian Institute in Athens, Jorunn Øklands, thought-provoking article on the various readings of Odyssey, and what these can teach us about contemporary refugee discourse.

The boat refugees are contemporary Odyssey seers.

The Archaeological Museum in Athens' 150th anniversary and the Greek state's nation-building are the starting point for Økland's text, which thematizes the Odyssey's role in various current discourses, as part of the symbolic struggles to legitimize various power, liberation or integration projects. Central to the production are the radically different positions and descriptions the hero Odysseus – and his central relations to other important characters in the Odyssey – have been the subject of. These representations alternate between the conventional, large narratives, with the hero Odysseus in the lead role, towards alternative versions with a different character and plot focus.

Based on a variant of these stories, where the uncertainty of the project itself is accentuated, Økland launches a kind of allegorical interpretation of the poem. In this interpretation, she also shows the relevance of fundamental events in the work's narrative for a myth-mediated presentation of today's refugee problem. Through an everyday sociological observation of Syrian boat refugees, whose hang-out is a traditional and ornate boat installation on the square in the district of Omonia, she manages to bring it all home. The boat refugees, like contemporary Odyssey seers, have adopted the sculpture as their common symbol and gathering place. Thus, they enter into a contemporary mythology about the heroes of the sea.

Ohrem is a writer for Ny Tid.

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