Anthropology of decadence at the margins of hellenism: Elias Petropoulos and the Greek underground
Christos Panagiotopoulos (Cornell University)
Paper short abstract:
Documenting the marginal, the decadent, the underground, was Elias Petropoulos' anthropological response to an official history that erased, disregarded and delegitimized these realms from modern Greek history and identity. He developed an anthropology of decadence, at the margins of hellenism.
Paper long abstract:
Elias Petropoulos is a modern Greek author, who raised the practice of laography - a modern Greek version of folklore studies - into a politically subversive art. His training took place in prisons, brothels and underground venues, and for his groundbreaking work he spent most of his adult life in exile in Paris. He lived among people of the margins - 'the rebetes, criminals, fags and whores' of 20th century Greece - and brought their linguistic codes, moral compasses and political incorrectness to the spotlight. He documented life among underground musicians, the rebetes of the 1930s and 1940s (Petropoulos, 1968), wrote the dictionary for the now nearly-extinct gay slang dialect of Greece (Petropoulos, 1971), and surveyed the country in search of lost, hidden, and marginal folklore practices, including coffee culture (Petropoulos, 1979) and vestimentary loans from the Balkans (Petropoulos, 1987), while outlining the forced hellenisation of these culturally fluid practices though nationalization, or their silencing and extinction. This inadvertently challenged the crypto-colonialist (Herzfeld, 2002), bourgeois cleansing of modern Greek identity, cultivated through the exclusion of the margins in the academy, and by the formalized national identity Greece cultivated since the 19th century. One Greece was constructed, while another one was discarded. Commemorating his work, this paper showcases how the peripheral underground, of a peripheral academy can be central to our contemporary anthropological practices: an anthropology of the discarded, an anthropology of decadence, an anthropology of hypo-cultures flourishing at the periphery.
'Peripheral' anthropologies of Europe. Their histories and intellectual genealogies [Europeanist network]