Saturday, February 03, 2018


An event of historic importance took place, within the annals of our community some weeks ago; the publication of John Vithoulkas' fictional story: "Hellenism 2221, Tales from the Antipodes. 'The Centre'" in Neos Kosmos. As far as can be discerned, this is the first time that the future of our community, as an organised entity, (as opposed to that of Greece) has been imagined and expressed through the prism of science fiction, a genre that is not generally employed in order to articulate matters pertaining neither to Hellenism, nor the diasporan community.

 This would appear strange: since the future is inscrutable, a resort to science fiction or fantasy to construct plausible versions of it, would seem to be a natural impulse for sundry writers. In the common conception of the panhellenion however, a high and noble destiny that has already been mapped out for it awaits, one of reclamation of the glories of the ancient past or, of a failure to do so, and consequently, up until now, we have been incapable of envisaging any other alternate of divergent path.

 Ostensibly, Vithoulkas' conception of the Greek community's future in 2221 is, (rather than a bleak dystopian de-hellenised wasteland where the few remaining male descendants of the current members of the community worship a god called Hellas in South Melbourne, cause domestic strife by insisting upon giving their first-born males the name of Ashleigh, or Xander because they were the names of their fathers, and naming one's offspring after their male progenitor is the last remaining 'Greek' custom, and the community, such that it is, is split between two rival groups, the Billists and the Papastergists, both paying homage to conflicting interpretations of the ideology of a legendary but by now historically obscure former Greek community leader who a century ago, achieved something herculean, except that no one can now remember what that was, since the archives have been lost), inordinately technologically advanced, breathtakingly organised and incredibly benign.

 A transport jet lands at the "Hellenic Centre" positioned at the 'Lonsdale Russell Hub.' By means technological and inordinately invasive, chiton-wearing 23rd century interested parties are treated to a continuous narrative of the twentieth century migrant experience, including the founding myth of ancestral migration, the fragmentation of the primordial community into a post-modern panspermia of regional organisations complete with a glimpse of their interminable dinner dances and its re-unification as a co-ordinated body. All the while, the visitors are immersed in slogans and buzzwords that assist to adhere the narrative to their consciousness: "transition" "educate and enlighten," "forever true," "enrich," "smiling," "grows" and "shines."

 We can assume that the narrative of our antipodean history is neither lengthy or particularly interesting, which is why Vithoulkas relates that the rest of the visit to the "Centre" is devoted to an astounding sensory exploration of aspects of the history and customs of the Greek motherland, rather than those of its Melburnian imitation, including the tantalising opportunity to converse with such historical figures as Dionysios Solomos, Nikos Xylouris and Panagiotis Tountas.

 Part Westworld, part class-room, this virtual reality Hellenic theme-park has only come into existence via bequests by what appear to be long defunct Greek clubs, to an undefined, nebulous "Hellenic Foundation," whose unrevealed guiding principals apparently have the power to set homework.

 The genius of Vithoulkas' futuristic vision lies in how he masterfully cloaks his future dystopia in the type of self-delusionary, self-indulgent language and imagery that so characterises contemporary mores. For, beyond the sensory delights of an ersatz actuality, Vithoulkas' future Greek community is a veritable dystopia. We neither know, or in fact is it considered important that we know, what constitutes the blindingly brilliant, all pervasive "Hellenic Foundation," how it is governed, who it represents, or indeed, why it is the sole arbiter of Hellenism in Melbourne. We do not know what language is spoken by it. Instead, what is important is that we submit to its education, that we "thank them," and that our "love for Hellenism [at least the version of it propagated and sanctified by it] grows." 

 Just as monolithic is the narrative foisted upon the youth, clad uniformly in retrograde but ideologically acceptable gear. The myth of arrival, settlement, decline and then salvation through the miraculous intercession of the "Hellenic Foundation," from which all good Hellenic things derive, appears to be not so much history, than gospel. At no stage, are we told, that the Greek-Australians of the future will be able to have the means to assess their past, personal, ethnic and national, for themselves. Nowhere, it appears, is there room for dissent, discussion, critical re-appraisal and a multiplicity of narratives. Instead, according to Vithoulkas, our critical faculties will be massaged and numbed by "real life" forays into the distant past, with the interpretation, re-construction and presentation of that past being managed by the ubiquitous Hellenic Foundation. Thus, the boy who was set as homework, the weighty task of discovering Odysseus' Cave of the Nymphs, is not given the opportunity to assess whether the Homeric hero was a literary character or indeed, had a corporeal existence. Neither does it matter. What is important is that he accepts reality as imposed upon him by the Foundation, for this forms an integral part of his "enhancement lessons."

 Perhaps the most dystopian aspect of Vithoulkas' 23rd century Greek community in Melbourne is that in fact, it possibly no longer exists. There do not appear to be any "Greeks" living in the area and they have to be flown in from somewhere else. Even if it does exist in some other discernible geographic area, it has no vitality. The whole premise of Vithoulkas' insightful analysis is of a society so fixated upon the past, its re-creation (which is why the future reconstruction of community lectures and dinner dances as envisaged by the author, and to which dance groups could be added, is a masterstroke) and re-enactment, that outside of its role as custodian of a time-capsule of history and an Ark of culture, or high-priest of a cult of ancestor-worship, it has developed no identifiable culture or identity of its own. Instead, this is a community in crisis, where nothing of the hallowed past appears to have evolved organically through the centuries to meld with the local environment and as a result it exists as a entity completely separate and foreign to the understanding of the rootless community that is supposed to be its heir, requiring the intervention of others in order for the past to be "re-discovered" and in the process rendering it and the community, susceptible of gross manipulation.

 If ever there was a cautionary tale about ancestor worship and the consequences of crystallising the past rather than employing its constituent parts to interpret and vivify, rather than rarefy the present, then this is it. Significantly, Vithoulkas embeds within the text, with a virtual Cavafy shedding virtual tears "as he considered what he had passed." For this, if we do not heed the gentle author, is our future: That of Cavafy's ritualistic Poseidonians, stuck within an Orwellian time-loop in the Ministry of Greek Love, with a little bit of the Matrix thrown in for good measure.

 Vithoulkas ends his vision of a future Hellenism that shines brightly, flourishes, and enlightens by stating, ominously, that it sows, leaving it to us to imagine what will be reaped. What he has sown in terms of Greek-Australian literature is a remarkable way of gazing into the time vortex itself, unphased and, if we are not careful, re-Hellenised. May his successors and imitators be legion.


First published in NKEE on 3 February 2018