City at a Time of Crisis

 

 

Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

I. Linguistic (and other) suggestions

 

In the opening chapter of his book Violence: Six sideways Reflections, Slavoj Žižek adduces the following story: “there is”, he writes, “an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheelbarrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards can find nothing. It is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves...” [1]. Here, Žižek utilises the paradox of this story to reveal the hidden mechanisms of meaning-giving activated for the needs of the conceptualisations of violence. Part of a near-reflex associative process, the worker’s daily exiting of the factory with a wheelbarrow-form insinuates and logically presupposes the existence of an object-content. As part of his sideways reflections on violence, Žižek matches this automatism of thought to the “visible expressions of violence” that occupy the centre-stage of our minds and which, in the vortex of dominant symbolisms, take on their only too familiar moral and value form. The empty wheelbarrow ––let alone its repetition–– obviously comprises an act that is void of meaning, should one interpret it in a more or less self-evident context. Yet what the worker does comprises a deviation from the framework set by the automatism in question. The worker chooses to steal the wheelbarrow itself, showing that what had in its initial interpretation comprised form-for-some-content for him comprises, paradoxically, the content itself. The peculiar rupture in this meaning continuum helps Žižek claim that we must learn to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible 'subjective' violence” and to try to understand the contours of the background which generates such outbursts [2]. This attempt will inadvertently lead us, according to Žižek, to the revealing of a more foundational form of violence ––one that he terms “symbolic”–– which is embodied in language and its formsand that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning” [3].

Even though Christmas decoration was much more modest this year in Athens, still one could see on Omonoia Square an odd imitation of the natal scene, with plastic statues dressed in supposedly Biblical costumes, surrounded by Palm Trees. Until a few years ago, the mayors of Athens were proudly organising big fiestas on New Year’s eve, and were advertising the city’s Christmas tree as the tallest one in Europe.

Perhaps as one expects, Athenians’ mood was not lifted much from that decoration. The noise of the cars speeding around the giant roundabout (that Omonoia Square is) combined with a huge crowd of unemployed people in front of the job centre (ΟΑΕΔ) at the beginning of Stadiou Avenue dominate the rhythms in that part of the city during January morning. Along Stadiou, once a thriving commercial street, within the last year almost half of the shops are shut down, while the ones working are empty of clients with just a few sales personnel standing next to the piles of clothing. “People expect the big sales in a few days” a smiling sales woman in a big shop explained to me when I asked what happened to the customers “It was also Christmas and people did their shopping earlier” she added behind a tight and stressed smile. However, the deserted shop across the street said another story in just two words written on a huge yellow sign on its window: “TAKE EVERYTHING”. Another big poster under it states: “CLOSING DOWN”. 

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About Us

City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...