Greece’s Underdogs Bite Back
MN: Gynaikeio Antimythistorima (MN: Woman’s Antinovel) By Mimis Androulakis 378 pages, Athens: Kastaniotis, 1999 (in Greek) What greater commercial blessing than to write an average-to-good literary work and see it become the target of obscurantist, fanatical, and fundamentalist parareligious organizations, propelling it onto the bestseller list. That was the good fortune of Greek author Mimis ...
MN: Gynaikeio Antimythistorima (MN: Woman's Antinovel)
By Mimis Androulakis 378 pages, Athens: Kastaniotis, 1999 (in Greek)
MN: Gynaikeio Antimythistorima (MN: Woman’s Antinovel)
By Mimis Androulakis 378 pages, Athens: Kastaniotis, 1999 (in Greek)
What greater commercial blessing than to write an average-to-good literary work and see it become the target of obscurantist, fanatical, and fundamentalist parareligious organizations, propelling it onto the bestseller list. That was the good fortune of Greek author Mimis Androulakis, the author of MN — a crude onomatopoeia for the female genitalia.
Distributed late in 1999, the book, whose subtitle is Woman’s Antinovel, takes the form of a series of e-mail exchanges between Androulakis and a number of fictitious women, including Melanie, Molly, Marisa, Maya, Melissa, Mileva, Mary Magdalene, Monty, May, Mania, and Margitte. Hence the formal derivation of the book’s title, MN.
Androulakis, born in Crete in 1951, studied mathematics at the prestigious Athens Polytechnic School. He became actively involved against the Greek military dictatorship that held power between 1967 and 1974 and rose to political prominence with a coalition of Communist and left-of-center parties. He exited the political scene in 1993 to become a visible critic, novelist, and editorial writer, frequently appearing on or hosting radio and television programs and systematically challenging past and present myths and personalities.
The book, a rambling, Platonic-style dialogue between the author and his female correspondents, has two main themes and a highly normative conclusion. The first theme emerges from a diachronic review of countless historical contributions to physics, mathematics, philosophy, and the social and applied natural sciences, reading at times like a noospheric Yellow Pages. The author posits that all these great works — from Aristotle and Plato to Shakespeare, Freud, and Einstein — have been explicitly or implicitly misogynous.
The second theme, the one that has fed the fires of the author’s critics, is a systematic debunking of "myths," regardless of their social utility and opiate qualities. Most "isms," including Marxism and capitalism, are presented as fabricated oversimplifications whose purpose is to secure mass mobilization and public support for their creators. Monotheistic religions especially are targeted as paternalist and intensely misogynous. In fact, Androulakis argues that, with the exception of Jesus Christ, whom he calls the first and only "real friend" of women, Christianity has been gravely antifeminist and has cultivated a psychosis of fear in which God and Satan constantly vie for the souls of the departed. The author’s conclusion, predictably, deals with the revolution of the 21st century, which in his view will revolve around "the awakening of Woman’s individuality."
Androulakis is no Salman Rushdie, and today’s Greece does not resemble Khomeini’s Iran. Yet images of black-draped men and women waving icons and crosses, burning stacks of Androulakis’s "blasphemous" product, and throwing eggs and stones at the bookstores selling his "smut" have created just such an impression. The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church, branding Androulakis the worst blasphemer against Christ in history, declared that his book "belongs in the sphere of the most vulgar imagination."
What probably infuriated these adherents the most was MN‘s portrayal of Christ as fully mortal, a gifted man who possessed genuine compassion for the poor, who passively enjoyed the carnal pleasures that Mary Magdalene generously offered, who suffered from a normal dose of an Oedipus complex, and who was betrayed by the crazed, jealous Judas. The latter, portrayed as a peeping Tom, had only one cross with Jesus: The master stole Mary Magdalene away from him. A court battle for an injunction on the sale of Androulakis’s book initially went the way of its critics, only to be reversed some months — and thousands of purchases — later by a higher court that pronounced the book a "work of art" and exempted it from censorship.
The release of MN and its tumultuous reception has taken place against a backdrop of transition: the virtual metamorphosis of Greece into a stable, consolidated democracy and advanced economy that is now part of Europe’s "inner circle" of 12 prosperous European Union (EU) member states with the euro as their common currency.
But such realities lag behind atavistic perceptions. Many Greeks have yet to accept the scale of change that has occurred since the collapse of the noxious military regime in 1974. For those Greeks — dubbed the "underdog culture" by Greece’s National Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros — the process of modernization is costly and dehumanizing, robbing Greece of its cultural soul, its linguistic spine, and its religious identity. They agree with modernizers that Europeanization and globalization have triggered a metamorphosis. But they believe these changes have turned the country into a giant, Kafkaesque cockroach.
The Greek Orthodox Church, under the leadership of the restless, charismatic, and activist Archbishop Christodoulos ("Slave of Christ"), is a bona fide member of this underdog culture. Enjoying the status of a state-supported "industry" (the Ministry of Education pays the clergy’s salaries in a fashion akin to that once enjoyed by the Lutheran Church in Sweden), the Greek Orthodox Church has grown complacent. For all those entities enjoying protected monopoly status (and here one should include Greece’s universities), any move toward "equal opportunity" is viewed as undermining the highest national and patriotic values. In this light one can best understand the controversy that resulted from the Greek government’s decision last year to remove religious affiliation from police-issued citizen identification cards. Archbishop Christodoulos, sensing perhaps that the new policy was a first step toward weaning church from state, began digging trenches of confrontation. His slogan was simple: "Oppose the evil forces of globalization that are transforming Greece into a hedonistic, consumerist, and pacifist Western clone."
Huge demonstrations were staged in Thessaloniki and Athens, and the perspiring, 60-ish archbishop, exulting before the adoring multitudes, waved with veritable aplomb the banner of Greece’s 1821 revolution against the Ottoman Empire. But nationalist and irredentist forces are steadily losing ground in a Brussels-anchored Greece thanks to deepening integration within the EU, the gradual reduction of tension in the post-Milosevic Balkans, the détente by installments in the Greek-Turkish relationship, and the emergence of forces within the ranks of the church challenging the views of Christodoulos. The positive conclusion of the "Androulakis affair" has been a symbolic and substantive indication to this effect.
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