Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Lonely in Victory

Culture as expression of dreams of mankind

If culture expresses really the dreams of mankind, then all optimistic thoughts about man shall be shattered by war. For many dreams shall be left lying mortally wounded or broken into pieces in between all the ruins. Instead of people living there, a terrible silence will rule that part of the world.

Indeed a world without culture would be more horrific than the actual events of 11th of September. Culture is there to redeem by letting time flow past like the river. Only the latter would make possible soothing changes in time needed to heal all wounds of humiliation and scars made by knifes and bullets and rough hands and dirty boots. That should not be forgotten. Even more so man without culture shall risk loosing all dignity.

By not relating to the fear in him, perception of man without this cultural understanding would allow too many to go merely conform to the whimsical wishes of those at the top of the political echelons. It would lend merely support to ongoing abuse of power.

Conformists detest a man with a strong and independent mind. The latter is only possible if one’s self-understanding is rooted in honesty (Simone Weil) and based upon a dialogue with humanity.

Self defeat would only help to rationalize the going to war. As part of an over compensation to own weaknesses, he will seek strength in the defeat of the others. By attempting this he will destroy his sense of being human. This danger of fear will increase if he allows the rationalization of war to continue in other wars. For it will pervert his sense of true freedom forever.

As Michel Foucault said it, ‘we speak only to the other, once no longer any victory is necessary’. The first thing to learn is, therefore, to defeat the coward in oneself without having to gain a victory over oneself – the prerequisite of dialogue between the self and the others as the beginning of culture upholding life of people on this earth.


There are the ‘Poets against the War’ protesting against America’s involvement not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in war as a tool to define and redefine who is an enemy, who is not as if power can be asserted in such over simplistic way. Sam Hamill speaks about what hurts so much when seeing how this kind of politics corrodes politics, democracy, human decency and poetic understanding of life. A society driven by profit has no room for other considerations. It will use all sorts of images and opportunities to turn failures into success and thus the most terrible truth is that truth does not seem to matter. By truth is a simple life of a child upholding generations to come for the eyes seek love and not fear.

Here in Athens both the preparations and the holding of the Olympic Games in 2004 would have given an opportunity to use the world attention for another kind of spirit. But again business interests prevail and it is important to note that the country which has poets like Elytis, Ritsos, Seferis, etc. did not let anywhere its poetic spirit be felt. The claim to understand Greece is impossible if only Ancient Civilization is blown up by digital images, but nothing is said about the 400 years of Turkish rule, nor about the fight against Fascism during Second World War, the Civil War that followed from 1945 to 1948, and then what became a chronic problem of unresolved problems ending in the Junta seizing power in 1967. That dictatorship lasted until 1973. Not to mention this in front of world audience is a terrible omission and shows what kind of manipulation media productions are capable of.

But then the highlight of Olympic Games has always been subject to distortions with the conclusion being unfortunately ‘the victor takes all’. Tragic is the story about the two Greek athletes who failed to show up for doping control tests and then ended up involved in a freak motorcycle accident. Greece wants so much to show to the world something of its own capabilities but then the distortions continue insofar as the present does not count when there is this Ancient Past. It was Paul Tillich who said that this recourse to the past is a way to distort the perception of the present.

We have the Olympic Games opened in Athens 13th of August 2004 and at the same time the war in Iraq continues to put into question any claim of wishing to uphold peace in this world. Let it be said that not human beings or mankind is involved in producing the causes of war but the greed of an upper society which wishes to ignore reality and who loose linkage to reality due to being served that what has been already the symbol of Nero: he wanted only his poems to be celebrated as the best and no one else was allowed to compete with his poems. Setting standards is thus surely a way of power to acclaim it is the best but if that power lacks any self critical measure then the manipulation of success and failures will continue regardless the outcome.

It will be up to historians to make an appraisal of Athens 2004 and the Olympic Games in terms of what they achieved.

So let us turn attention for once to the difference between living in peace and this curious search to be a victor who has to be a man of power and who has no opponent to fear. Basically a psychoanalytic interpretation in Freud’s sense would be to speak about a drive towards over compensation when something else is missing. The need to win has many faces, meanings, but it includes also defeats in both war and sports. The fall is as painful as winning. Life is not sports and sports on how it has become a conception of eternal exploitation of the Youth for other purposes means just a confusion between gaining maturity and bringing glory to the nation, city, tribe or just to oneself. We should not forget in this modern context the intervention by sponsors who would offer or more directly bribe athletes in taking on the logos of their company if they win. The necessity to win is no longer given but they strive for money and something unreachable has continued to suck in many in such abuse of world wide sport events like the Olympics. In saying that, it should not be forgotten that Olympics was originally reserved to amateur sports and it meant anyone who wanted to compete was able to do so.

Nowadays there is a careful selection process and training program before any athlete is delegated to represent his or her nation. The perversion and the logic involved in such a selection means really a training program to win and nothing else. That is absurd since no one can assume with 200 nations in the world that everyone can become a winner. Still, the strife to win is like a vanity-fair at large scale. It ignores many efforts to retain peace by people relating to one another at a very different level while blowing out of all importance the significance to win at the Olympic Games. It is, however, suggested by sports commentators since Ancient Times the athlete who won would not have to worry about his future since the city or polis he came from would provide him with a life long income.

So to explain this thought about “Lonely in Victory”, and here comes also the great pity with all generals and armies seeking to win over others, in the end they have no one to talk and nothing to refer to except to their own heroic feats. But what is a heroic feat if you point a gun at an unarmed civilian? What is the sense of even entering war when you have studied together with the guy on the other side, as was the case in First World War and all of its absurdity? In Europe, Second World War was perceived already differently because the alienation between people had become too deeply entrenched and as N. Sarraute would say the separation between ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ was too extreme so that not Dostoevsky but Kafka could only attempt by the power of his own imagination try to go further than what common people could in order to comprehend what was going on. Basically the going beyond human limits of understanding has been linked only to scientists, but modern athletes are also way outside the norm of simple people.

It was Michel Foucault who brought it to a single point about those seeking competition and to win in such a competition. He said in a tone of self criticism that “we speak only then with others if we do not have any victories necessary”. Wherever this need to win comes from, this wish to have some satisfaction, this can be experienced already in the fight between two guys in a village about one and the same girl. They no longer speak to one another as if it is a matter of life and death will possess her. Suppose the choices are limited, it still makes one wonder where this inclination to be absolute in the delineation from the other comes from. Insofar as the strife towards victory can be connected to drawing borders as if this is ‘mine’ compared to what is human potentiality in a general sense, victory means really defeat insofar it is a demonstration of not having comprehended anything about life nor having been able to find oneself capable of reconciliation with the needs of others to live. Victory means replacement of a ruling power but if the powerful continues to seek more victories it rules out any kind of replacement – a contradiction to any kind of democratic spirit wishing to control power and not let it go out of control.

There is no need here to speak about the kind of ideology being produced by the United States to somehow explain to the world why it is engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is only sad to see such dependency upon self assertion apparently impossible without having enemies rather than friends.

Rather the Olympic Games in Athens 2004 give rise to some other reflections. So much has been said about sports’ attitudes, including values of fair competition that in an age of massive doping the problem is no longer just what values are constantly violated within the sports world but what mass deception is the result of people wishing to believe in certain achievements when in reality they are brought about by means trespassing human values in order to just win. In an age of human cloning and all kinds of frightening efforts made by some insane scientists still believing they are serving humanity when they seek also fame and world wide recognition, the winning athlete of the future can certainly be like the digital projection upon the screen but an artificial outcome of all kinds of influences, manipulations and ways of deceiving others about how to win. Here the kind of cleverness displayed by Odyssey becomes a kind of technical intelligence having nothing to do with human communication but very well with a way of forcing the point. It is sad to see that honesty is lost and with it comes a kind of professionalism that outshines the methods deployed by the East German athletic center in which scientific research was devoted to the sole point of finding out when an athlete shall peek in performance as a way to decide the strategy when to deploy him.

Uwe Johnson wrote about the loneliness of the bicycle racer named Achim: a lonely hero by being embraced by the establishment he looses all contact to the normal people and of course that is a real tale about the dangers of being embraced by power as the delegation to the top makes anyone not experienced with the real moves at higher levels of power into a kind of helpless victim of all kinds of abuse. Since those at the top will want to bask only then in the glory of the winning athlete as long as he or she keeps winning, it will not be easy to stay at the top unless the character has been formed in such a way as to stay independent from all sorts of distractions and allusions to power when being just used.

Here is the time to interrupt the program and the display of images being portrayed on the television screen. A subtle point needs to be mentioned since the display on the screen does not allow the transmission of certain thoughts. A different mode of communication is needed. It begins with letting an image freeze on the television screen since nothing can cover the moment the solitary moment of victory. For man is alone, all alone, completely by him- or herself, and in this confrontation with the self there cannot rule the game of winner or looser since what is needed are loving eyes to see oneself.

Politicians like Bush like to claim people are focused on family and their jobs but the implication is that they have no time to consider what the politicians and militarists are doing. To stay focus is a wrong assumption about how people pay attention that matter to life. Still, they are subject to many distractions and as Umberto Eco would say, many are just interested in whether or not the spectacle shall continue, not in truth. On the other hand, Carol Becker in her astonishing book “Beyond the Spectacle” shows what other discourse could give artists another public role. Right now they are still missing in such public events like the Olympic Openings although some Presidential Inaugurations in the United States have brought into the forum the poetic voice like B. Clinton when he was elected first as President of the United States.

If victory has a bitter taste to it, then it is because each victory means in reality so many more victims. Why?  What is the testimony of the earth, of mankind, of the children in this world? What can be done to do away with these disturbing images encountered in the streets: policemen, soldiers, secret police etc. all engaged to bring about security but what kind of security are we talking about? The security of the victorious one can only be attained if there is no one else left who would wish to challenge his claim.

Here in Athens it is certainly interesting to observe how the American embassy is protected like a fortress and yet what is the involvement of the US ambassador in all of the security arrangements made to secure the Olympic Games in Athens?

There is no testimony about what gives a certain stamp to a city’s life but due to the Olympics certainly the life in Athens has been transformed beyond recognition. It is not international but rather shows itself as being confused and in reality not knowing what to do when these world wide demands press upon a city to produce a certain scheme of organization going way beyond the comprehension of any individual. Here then lies the danger: the Games go beyond the individual when in fact the true spirit of the sports should be about recognizing the individual.

Once the moon can speak here a better language than all the digital images being portrayed on the television screen, it is known that there are foreboding messages about an unsung about wish for victory, the victory over fear to be defeated not by others but by own cowardice due to not standing up to the challenges of life.

Let then this fear out, the fear not to count if not victorious, but the defeat of a wrong understanding of heroism means really freedom from wrong services for causes that are not the causes of man, but of deceitful power holders.

In listening to the voices in poetry, there is to be heard that resounding request:

See how they flung the shovels over the hills after they had dug the graves!

See how morbid is the frail peace in the hands of those who wish security!

See how wound down are those with no pain in their statue like postures!

Victory, what victory are you speaking about, if the hollow end is the ruin of the temples never to speak up again as if the footsteps go unheard and pillars stand alone in silence.

Here then, go, beseech what the others wish you to do! What more can be said when the victorious ones silence all others, or as Bush acclaimed “mission accomplished” when the story of pain only started then. He denied that even one year later this in Larry King Live what he had said on that air craft carrier May 1st 2003 without realizing in 2004 not peace and democracy he has brought to Iraq, but bitter strive and a loss of America in terms of esteem as democracy. The loneliness of the victor applies very much and fore most to the United States of America.

So after all the sweats, tears and exhaustions, endurance over many years, the distance in need to be covered in order to make things appear to be accomplished and on time, it makes the story of Athens 2004 to be something short of a miracle. It can continue to Beijing if the call to host the Olympics will be linked to a more serious notion of the Olympic Truce. If a small country Greece could not really measure up to that, then China surely can.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 21.4.2003



Nike when she hesitates

Most beautiful is Nike

when she hesitates

the right hand leaned against the air

wonderful like a command

but the wings quiver


She sees

The lonely youth

Follow the elongated track

Of the wagon of war

That grey path in a grey landscape

Shaped by rocks and bare shrubs


Soon the youth shall die

Already the scale of his fate



Nike has tremendous desire

To approach him

and to kiss him on his forehead


but she is afraid

that he


who has never tasted the sweetness of careness

upon getting to know her

could flee like all others

during battle


therefore Nike hesitates

and decides nevertheless

to remain in that posture

which the sculpturers have taught her

ashamed by this moment of compassion


she knows

that one will find in the grey of tomorrow morning

the youth

with open breast

closed eyelids

and with the rough obolos of fatherland

underneath the stiff tongue.


Zbigniew Herbert

Translated from the German by Hatto Fischer


The Solitary

United your tears with rain,

Your laughter with sun and wind,

Tornado and rising tide

Of indignation;

Cry for children, barefoot and open-handed

Whose approaching faces glow

In the late afternoon;

And you will find yourself

All alone.


Turn to your fellow men

And in their indifferent eyes

You will find yourself reflected

Desperate but complete

And all alone.


Point out the noblest way,

Implore them to believe

Only in themselves

And their misery will increase

As the task overwhelms them

And you will again

Find yourself alone


Cry out your love

And your hollow call will return empty,

Lacking courage to try the dirty streets,

Tired steps and shut doors.

The trembling voice that you sent out

Will return with words newly discovered

That reveal you are all alone.


O God, what will become of us?

How are we to continue,

To believe, to decide ourselves

When right beside us

Souls sharply expire?


One path only, one means, one victory

Result when we believe,



…all alone.


Katherina Anghelaki-Rooke, Fall 1956

Translated by Karen Van Dyck and Martin Turner


Katerina Anghelaki Rooke

Katerina wrote the poem “Solitary” at the age of seventeen. It was immediately acknowledged by Katzanzakis who was a close friend of her father and because of this also her godfather. He recommended the poem to a publisher he knew and said it should be published right away.

Katerina says, that he wrote to her a letter in which he applauds the poem and likewise acclaims her person as a future great poetess. Had she listened, she would never have written anymore poetry. She replied rather like any teenager would, Katzanzakis tends always to the divine or to excess, thus one should not take all too serious what he says.

She would never saw him again after the age of seven when she departed for Vienna to have an operation due to her polio condition. Since then they corresponded only. When she returned to Greece, it was one day after his death.


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