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From the subject of the crisis to the subject in crisis: Middle voice on Greek walls

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As a grammatical mode in which the subject remains inside the action, the middle voice has been said to unsettle binary distinctions between active/passive, or perpetrator/victim. This article revisits theorizations of the middle voice by Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Hayden White, Dominick LaCapra and others, and explores its potential in fostering alternative accounts of the contemporary Greek subject against the backdrop of popular discourses on the Greek ‘crisis’. The middle voice takes centre-stage in a currently popular Greek wall-writing featuring the word vasanizomai (‘I am in torment’) – a wall-writing that also plays an instrumental role in the recent novella by Sotiris Dimitriou Konta stin koilia/Close to the belly (2014). In the face of hegemonic discourses that narrativize the Greek crisis as krisis (judgement and distinction) between perpetrators and victims, vasanizomai signals a different kind of crisis: it unsettles dominant accounts of the Greek subject that either hold Greek people responsible for the crisis (e.g., the stereotype of the ‘lazy Greek’) or cast them as disempowered victims of a political system or of uncontrollable global forces. By enabling an agency grounded in the subject’s publicly shared vulnerability, vasanizomai de-centres the notion of the liberal ‘willing’ subject but also of the subject as fully determined by ideology. While a middle voice discourse harbours political pitfalls, the article lays out the conditions under which it could constitute a critical tool, able to accommodate voices of dispossessed individuals.
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Keywords: Greek crisis; Sotiris Dimitriou; agency; alternative subjectivities; crisis rhetoric; middle voice; street art; vasanizomai

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Leiden University

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The Journal of Greek Media & Culture is an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal that aims to provide a platform for debate and exploration of a wide range of manifestations of media and culture in and about Greece. The journal adopts a broad and inclusive approach to media and culture with reference to film, photography, literature, the visual arts, music, theatre, performance, as well as all forms of electronic media and expressions of popular culture. While providing a forum for the close analysis of cultural formations specific to Greece, JGMC aims to engage with broader methodological and theoretical debates, and situate the Greek case in global, diasporic and transnational contexts.
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