Nanos Valaoritis

Born in 1921 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Nanos Valaoritis studied classics and law in the University of Athens and English literature at the Lοndοn University and attended courses οf Mycenaean Grammar at the École des Hautes Études οf Sorbonne. During the years 1944-1953 he translated and presented Modernist Greek poets οf the 30’s, in London. In 1946 he wrote articles and translations, in the magazines Horizon and New Writing. In 1948 he edited and translated The Κing οf Asine, a selection οf poems by George Seferis with Bernard Spencer and Lawrence Durrel (Introduction by Rex Warner). In the same year he met T.S. Eliot, Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and worked for Louis Mac Neice in BBC. In 1954 he moved to Ρaris, met André Breton and participated in the activities and meetings οf his surrealist group until 1960, when he returned to Greece and directed the avant-garde review Pali. In 1968 he left Greece after the Junta came to power. From 1968 until 1993 he taught at San Francisco State University, Creative Writing and Comparative Literature, with a short interrupt the years 1976-78, when he returned to Paris and Athens and co-edited the literary review Synteleia, with the poet Andreas Pagoulatos. He wrote a number οf books, poems and novels. At the end of the 60’s he also became involved with fine arts, creating drawings and collages inspired from the movement of surrealism. Part of these collages was exhibited in 1974 at a San Francisco gallery and in 2003 and 2006 at “Astrolavos” gallery, in Athens, whereas in 2007 he presented a more detailed unity of drawings and collages. He shares his time between Greece, France and California. In 2008 the Municipality of Lefkada organized a tribute exhibition for his artistic and literary work.

 

Today, when uncertainty on the periphery has emerged as a major theme in public discourse throughout Europe and the world, it is particularly interesting to look at Greece as a “point on the verge”, as the metaichmion it has always been. It has survived -and occasionally thrived- as a borderland, a place of transmuted conflicts and cross-fertilized identities. It is at once both East and West, traditional and contemporary, modern and archaic, secular and religious, private and public, logos and paralogos. This terrain of impossibility and paradox can be quite an interesting laboratory of thought and action in times such as the present. And even if art is not where these contradictions have been or are being played out, their ramifications can better be studied within its context.

If the Greek case is the case of a community constantly shaped (and bound together) by individual perceptions, then Nanos Valaoritis (a poet with a unique relationship with history and art), could be considered as the “haunted” coryphaeus of a Chorus narrating its transformations with abstract lyricism and sardonic wisdom, but without a single trace of didacticism, while addressing a global audience. Always attuned to the flair of potentiality and to the desire to play, Valaoritis, by both nature and conviction a “free surrealist”, Bakhtinian and Seferian at the same time, a heretic of modernism, a tireless saboteur of language and image, of the ancestors’ allure and of the meaning of descendants, may be the primary Greek writer (poets-critics included) that has pored so intensely and with such phlegm over the precarious place between the intended and the impulsive and the idiomatic melancholy of the Greek psyche.

 

 

Nadja Argyropoulou

Photos

Ermis (Mercury) 3, from Greek Mythology (folio), 1963-1975, collage, approx. 30 x 21 cm, courtesy Faggionato Fine Arts, London

Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 Biennale de Lyon