άγαλμα

Last week we got the word άγαλμα (agalma). The modern meaning is “statue” but Dora was excited and this usually means she’ll tell us something about the roots. She said it didn’t refer to the statue-thing itself but described it as a feeling — “being very happy in a celestial, spiritual way — when god is happy from the beauty. An offer to make god happy. From αγάλλομαι (glory).” Today, it’s the Greek word for statue.

Put another way, “this term does not indicate, for the Greeks, something solid and determinate, but…the perpetual source of an event, in which the divinity takes part no less than man.” Divine offering.

A little googling reveals that it’s also a well-known Lacanian term, taken from Plato’s Symposium, which I happen to be reading right now. This is the part where I leave the classroom and start to dig. Alcibiades describes being seduced by Socrates: “I don’t know if any of you have seen the statues (αγάλματα) inside Socrates when he’s serious and is opened up. But I saw them once, and they seemed to me so divine, golden, so utterly beautiful and amazing, that — to put it briefly — I had to do whatever Socrates told me to.” Desire.

2,500 years later: “Alcibiades compares Socrates to a box enclosing a precious object, agalma. Just as Alcibiades attributes a hidden treasure to Socrates, so too the patient sees his object of desire in the analyst. Lacan articulates the objet a with agalma, the object of desire we seek in the other.”

A stands for Other. So we search for the hidden treasure. Online, in ourselves, in another land. Something inaccessible. What kind of creation is this? How do we find love?

E reminds me that it gets more interesting when you see the dark side too. The dark treasures, not just the blinding light of the ruins. One month in and I’m starting to encounter desperate people who work hard for all the wrong reasons (the smooth talkers, the child-beggars, the con-artists). Every day, real people operating in reverse — running, hiding, taking, cheating. It’s nothing new (part of every urban story) but there’s something specific happening here. A place with rich treasures and an intense cultural pride (the language, the history), undergoing a tremendous shift — people coming and going (across borders, economies, generations). Struggling to change. It takes a few weeks to feel it.

Henry Miller: “Greece is now, bare and lean as a wolf though she be, the only Paradise in Europe. What a place it will be when it is restored to its pristine verdure exceeds the imagination of man to-day. Anything may happen when this focal spot blazes forth with new life. A revivified Greece can very conceivably alter the whole destiny of Europe.” Hopeful words from an American in 1941.

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