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Surrealism and the Early Poetry of Nikos Engonopoulos Yannis Karavidas Andreas Embirikos (1901-75) is widely recognized as "the father of Greek Surrealism" and Nikos Engonopoulos (1910-85) as "its enfant terrible" (Robinson 1981: 124). Significantly, both Embirikos (1969: 8) and Engonopoulos (1966: 11) had chosen to open their first books with a citation from André Breton's Manifeste du surréalisme (1924), paying tribute to "the Surrealist voice, the one that continues to preach on the eve of death and above the storms" (1972: 27). Thus, they both appeared to subscribe to the most important discovery of Surrealism—automatism—and to the Surrealists' main aim, to tap "the actual functioning of thought ... in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern" (1972: 26). Engonopoulos, moreover, also appeared to share the Surrealists ' conviction that underneath the reality we experience lies concealed another and altogether different reality which can be apprehended in the mysterious relationships established between ordinary objects when they are released from the conventional logic of commonsense causality. Let us consider, for example, the title of Engonopoulos' first book, Μην ομιλείτε εις τον οδηγόν (1938). This phrase is typical of the signs that could, and still can, be found in public transport vehicles in Greece. As a sign within this context it has a special meaning and purpose. However, by removing it from its normal context and by inserting it into an altogether different one, whereby it acquires both a different meaning and functional role, Engonopoulos makes this sign an object trouvé, a "found object," in the finest Surrealist tradition, a sign which best demonstrates the existing links between desire and reality. It is no accident that this phrase is also the title of a prose poem in the collection. The poem opens with a scene of Albanians dancing; however, it seems that it is not their dance that is significant, but their thoughts, particularly the ethical undertones of their thoughts: 33 34 Yannis Karavidas ΑλβανοίχοϕεϕοντεςσκÎ-πτονταιναστϕÎ-ψουνπϕοςνÎ-εςδιευθϕν- σειςτιςενÎ-ϕγειεςτους,ειςτϕόπονώστεταπαιδιάναμηνκαταλά- βουν τίποτες από τις πικϕίες και τας απογοητεϕσεις της ζωής. (Engonopoulos 1966: 15) From one point of view, Engonopoulos appears to share to some extent the interest in dancing shown by the generation of Valéry and Eliot in Europe, and Seferis in Greece, for that matter: Dance belongs to a period before die self and the world were divided, and so achieves naturally that "original unity" which . . . modern poetry can produce only by a great and exhausting fusion. (Kermode 1970: 13) But Engonopoulos also seems to subscribe to Breton's view that some traces of a unique original faculty can be found in the primitive and the child (1977: 188). Nevertheless, the primitive finally knows the same servitude as we do, while powerlessness is the price for the happiest euphoria of children. Thus, the emphatic phrase in Engonopoulostext —'Εαμηνκαταλάβουντίποτεςπϕιναπότονκαιϕότους (1966: 15)—can be taken to mean only one thing, that children will in the end feel the bitterness and disappointment of life.1 Moreover, the thoughts of the dancing Albanians are ineffective —οι σκÎ-ψεις αυτών των Αλβανών δεν πεϕνοϕν Ï€Î-ϕα από τους σκαϕμοϕς των παϕαθϕϕων (1966: 15)—for, as the speaker goes on to explain, Ιταλός τις, ακοϕων εις το όνομα ΓουλιÎ-λμος Τσίτζης, και επαγ- γελλόμενοςτονεπιδιοϕθωτήνπνευστώνοϕγάνων,πϕοσπαθείνα εξαπάτηση τους μελλονϕμφους, εφαϕμόζων σε παλαιοϕ συσ- τήματος ϕαπτομηχανήν Σίγγεϕ Ï„Î-σσεϕα χουνιά, εκ των οποίων ταδϕογυάλινακαιτ'άλλαδϕοκαμωμÎ-νααπόÎ-ναοποιοδήποτε μÎ-ταλλο.(1966: 15-16) Personally, I would not hasten to guess who this mysterious Italian is: his name phonetically alludes to John Tzetzes, the 12th century Byzantine scholar and man of letters, but in the second part of Engonopoulos' text (1966: 17) he is described as an aide to a notable Ottoman, Ali Handzar (a word which sounds like χαντζάϕι, hançer, a large sword in Turkish), whereas in another prose poem, a certain Gouliamos Tsitzis is referred to as the speaker's only and dearest friend whom, however, the speaker had never met and whose existence he even doubts: τουεγκαϕδίουκαιμοναδικοϕμουφίλου,τονοποίονάλλωστεδεν γνώϕισα ποτÎ- και για τον οποίον αμφιβάλλω ακόμα κι αν υπάϕχη.(1966: 67) Surrealism 35 I propose to approach Engonopoulos' text from another angle: if Tsitzis' alleged profession is repairing wind instruments, it is only natural that he will repair a sewing machine which, as its brandname suggests, sings ("Singer")! It would seem that Engonopoulos, like the Surrealists, and Magritte in particular, denies the tyranny of language: he questions our entire pictorial and linguistic system of representation, arguing, for example, in the case of the "Singer sewing machine, ' ' that "the aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity" (Gablik 1977: 127). While the sign...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 33-46
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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