Dreaming, surrealism and financial crisis
Charles Stewart (University College London)
Paper short abstract:
At times of crisis the path to the future may be closed and it becomes the task of the imagination to think beyond the present. In the teeth of the Great Depression, mountain villagers on the Greek island of Naxos began to dream that they would discover a buried icon of St. Anne which would signal a new prosperity. These dreams thought against constricting realities in a mode of surrealism, which allowed the present to be seen in a new way and lived through with dignity.
Paper long abstract:
The village of Kóronos in mountain Naxos thrived on the industry of emery mining in the early twentieth century. At the apex of productivity in the 1920s the Greek government installed an expensive aerial transport system to convey the stone from the mountains to port. No sooner was this complete than a global economic crisis greatly reduced Greek emery exportation. Throughout 1930, as the reality of the Great Depression became more incontestable, a group of 13-year-old children began to dream that an icon of St. Anne would be unearthed. They wrote their dreams in school exercise books and read them to the assembled village on a daily basis. As the date of the prophesied discovery approached, opinions in the village divided. Emery miners had to decide whether to keep working their mines for immediate, but small economic gain, or dig for the icon in hopes of a windfall of profit and grace. According to the dreams, which meshed with a general 'myth-dream' circulating in the village, the discovery of the icon would be the sign that emery would again be shipped in large quantities and become more profitable than ever. Buried treasures throughout the island would also be unearthed and the discovery site would become an international centre attracting pilgrims who would bring money into the district. In this paper I analyse these dreams as sensitive responses to the existential realities of the present, which imagine a better future and refer to past experiences to script this future
Grappling with uncertainties: ethnographies of the imagination