Saturday, January 27, 2024


Kevan, an Armenian from Iraq, was made a citizen of this country on Australia Day, a few years ago. The year after, he came by my house and happened upon me retrieving a small plastic Australian flag from my letter box, placed there, and in all the other letter boxes of the street by unknown agents.

“What are you going to do with that?” he asked.

“Probably leave it where it is,” I replied. “You don’t want to be the only house on the street that isn’t displaying the Australian flag. The neighbours will start putting their rubbish in your bins, or something even more dire like park on your nature strip during bin collection day.”

“Actually, I need your advice,” Kevan continued. “I need to know how to hold a barbeque for Australia Day. My understanding is that this is a compulsory thing and I don’t know what I have to do.”

“As far as I know, it isn’t compulsory.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure. My family has been here for seventy years and we have never, ever had an Australia Day barbeque,” I informed him. “However, we do religiously hold a Melbourne Cup Festival. It is especially romantic when conducted in the rain.”

Kevan looked perplexed. “But isn’t that what Australia Day is all about? To fly the flag and “gather with friends, family and their community to reflect, respect and celebrate..”

“What does the Australian flag mean to you, Kevan?” I asked. “Does it mean the same thing as the Iraqi flag? What emotions do these two flags stir in you?”

Kevan laughed: “The Iraqi flag had two meanings for us: Firstly, it was the flag of the oppressors, those who treated us as second-class citizens because of our religion. Secondly, it was a joke. It was the flag of the people that came to the land and enslaved its native peoples. We had nothing to do with it. It was not part of our story. And when they got rid of the stars and replaced them with the Arabic “Allahu Akbar” they reinforced that message even further. Simply: its not our country. We just live there.”

“What about the Armenian flag?” I inquired. “How does that make you feel?”

“The Armenian flag symbolises the rainbow, the promise God made to Noah never again to destroy the world. It fills me with hope and pride that even though so many nations persecute us and try to destroy us, we are here still. My heat stirs every time I see it.”

“And the Australian flag? What does it mean to you?”

“I respect it as the flag of the people who were gracious enough to provide my family with a home here. I feel I owe them something. What about you?”

Almost immediately I remembered a long departed Cypriot old gentleman from my neighbourhood who would shake his fist every time he would pass by the Australian flag that used to fly from our local council building and utter curses. For him, the presence of the Union Jack on the flag brough back memories of colonial brutality visited against him and his family during the nineteen fifities, a running sore that refused to heal.

I also remembered another neighbour, who had lost a brother in the Dekemvriana in Athens when British troops opened fire on Greek demonstrators from the Grande Bretagne hotel. To approach him on Australia Day was to be treated to a barrage of the spiciest expletives ever created. The presence of the Union Jack on the Australian flag was for him, a reminder of an overwhelming grief that coloured the way he saw his place in this country. “Remember,” he would say. “This country was created by violence and theft. It is not their country. It belongs to the people that they stole it from.”

I have none of those memories and harbour none of those traumas but I remember a time when a Russian friend attended a conference at which she met some Australian delegates. Delighted, and re-establishing vicariously a connection with me, she sent me a photo of the smiling delegates, holding, as she informed me in her email, “your flag.”  My immediate unconscious response was to scoff and to say to myself: “So what?” surprising myself at the vehemence of my reaction.

I also remember in my youth, all my classmates at Greek school vying to hold the Greek flag at commemorations and school events, with the Australian flag being considered by all to be a rather tawdry consolation prize, of dubious value and significance.

For though it is the flag of my country, I struggle to make any emotional connection to it. Any more than the Australia Day holiday is in any way connected with me. Despite friends in the armed forces reinforcing in me the fact that many Greek-Australians fought and died under that flag. Despite being born in this country, contributing to it and enjoying its privileges for almost half a century. When I behold it, though I render towards it the utmost respect, it speaks nothing to me, for it tells a story in which neither I nor my people living here have played a part, as much as I freely and proudly acknowledge and am grateful for the opportunities provided to us by those who invited us to live among them, under the aegis of the flag in question.

It speaks volumes for the place of minorities within the national narrative that all the major national holidays, such as ANZAC Day or the King or Queen’s Birthday, or Australia Day have absolutely everything to do with the peoples whose ancestry is derived from the lands symbolised by the Union Jack in the corner of the Australian flag and little to do with the peoples who have come to live in this country after the events the national holidays commemorate transpired. We must respect the attachment people have to those events and acknowledge their significance in forming this country. This does not necessarily mean that all of us can be touched by such events or symbols on an emotional level, for they took place before the arrival of many ethnicities, including our own on these shores and nothing, either in the flag or in the holidays that celebrate this nation touch on our people’s involvement in formulating Australian society.

Instead, the cultural memories I have inherited, those of the suffering of a colonised and conquered people, a people subjected to intolerance, discrimination, stolen generations and genocide cause me to sympathise with the original inhabitants of this land and to see justice in the adoption of their flag as the flag of this country. I parallel Kevan’s attitude to the Iraqi flag with theirs but even so, feel compelled to acknowledge that this flag too, however beautiful and symbolic is also not my flag for it does not tell my story, but rather that of those who were here ab initio and theirs is a story that should brook no appropriation.

“It is the flag of Australia,” I finally responded to Kevan, “and I respect it as such. It is futile to expect that a racially specific flag such as the Australian flag can inspire feelings of belonging in an entire multicultural society in all its complexity, just as it is futile to expect that a flag can ever be created that will encompass all the experiences or will be able to symbolise all those diverse peoples who live here. If anything, the current Australian flag is useful because it highlights just who controls and determines the national narrative, despite the pious noises often made by those suffering the pangs of a social conscience.”

That Australia Day, we celebrated in Sam Kekovitch style, with Kevan showing me how to prepare Khorovats, mouth wateringly tender Armenian lamb kebabs, while we both argued who truly invented the souvlaki and I extolled the virtues of the pork souvlaki instead. Agreeing to disagree, we then launched into learned disputation as to whether the tsoureki is derived from the Armenian choreg or vice versa, concluding in a lecture by me as to a history of the Greek community’s political activism in instituting multiculturalism in this country.  

As we conversed, I reflected that it is neither flags, nor holidays, nor symbols that make a country great or provide a sense of inclusion. Rather, it is the willingness of its people to engage with each other, to dispute, argue and share ideas, to be eager not just to tolerate each other but to revel in each other’s manifold identities, interests, opinions and backgrounds. Symbols may become ossified relics of the truth of those long gone, but we are never more so Australian when we have each other and are committed to listening to and respecting one another. It is in the pursuit of this ideal, the open-hearted engagement with any and all members of our broader community as practised by the Greeks of Australia, rather than a flag, or a particular day, that makes us all especially Australian. And to my mind, every day that we maintain that enthusiastic engagement and broad embrace, is Australia Day.


First published in NKEE on Friday 27 January 2024

Saturday, January 20, 2024



«Ἄν γράφει ὁ ποιητὴς εἶναι μονάχα γιὰ νὰ μαρτυρήσει

ὅτι τὰ πάντα εἶναι ἄρρητα

κι εἶναι τῷ ὅντι σὰν νὰ μὴν ὑπάρχουν

ἀφοῦ δὲν ὑποτάσσονται».


Συζυγίες (Νεροσυρμὴ 2002).


“Which philosophers do you read?” the late Archbishop Stylianos once asked me, as he took up a pencil and began to stab at the pages of my first poetry collection, scribbling furiously. “Why would you read philosophers when you have Jesus?” I asked in return. Staring into my eyes, and gripping my hand, he enunciated slowly and with immense gravity: “Because as Wittgenstein said: ‘Ethics and Aesthetics are one.’” Then he burst out laughing.

Plato was famously ambivalent of poets. On the one hand, he considered poets objects of derision as they were ignorant of the things they imitate and because poetry addresses itself to the lower faculties of man, with which he cannot grasp the truth. At other times, he appeared to attribute the poet’s art to divine inspiration (Phaedrus) or to a form of madness (The Republic). A master of creative tension, Archbishop Stylianos would have appreciated the dichotomy, while revelling in its manifold processes.

In his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) while making his famous gnomic remark, Wittgenstein also posited that Ethics and Aesthetics would be destined to be those things before which we should keep quiet, being unable to speak propositionally and truthfully. Thus, what binds while identifying Ethics and Aesthetics, is precisely the fact that they are outside the scope of the guiding values of propositional truth, which illustrate the structure of reality. According to him, both do not share the necessary assumptions to be included in the limits of logical language and therefore in addition to meaning (λόγος σημαντικὸς) they can add to themselves, the ability to tell the truth and falsity of things (λόγος ἀποφαντικός). This semantic tension of the Word is omnipresent in the poetry of Archbishop Stylianos. Indeed, it assumes near corporeal form:


«Κάθε λέξη ποὺ ξέφυγε τὸν κλοιὸ τῶν ὀδόντων

ἄν δὲν ἦταν λευκὸ περιστέρι

εἰρήνη καὶ φῶς

θά᾽ναι κοράκι ποὺ κάθε λεπτὸ

θὰ μορφάζει πιὸ μαῦρο.»                  Kάθε λέξη (Νεροσυρμὴ 2002).


Additionally, the poetry of Archbishop Stylianos, extends beyond the limits of language itself, mirroring Wittgenstein’s silence with the ancient apophatic tradition of Orthodoxy (λόγος ἀποφατικὸς), where what is not said, is equally, if not more significant than what is actually expressed. In the poetry of Archbishop Stylianos, even silences of this nature have an overwhelmingly physical presence and are fraught with agitation:


«Τοῦ ᾽παν: «Στὸν ὕπνο σφίγγεις ὑπερβολικὰ

τὰ δόντια

γι᾽αὐτὸ φαγώθηκε πρόωρα

ἡ κάτω ὀδοντοστοιχίδα.»

Ἀπάντησε: «Φαίνεται, γίνεται ἀπ᾽τὸ φόβο

μὴ μοῦ φύγει λόγος ἀπερίσκεπτος.»»            Γνωμάτευση (Νεροσυρμὴ 2002).


While Kant in his “The Critique of Judgment” (1790) presents the aesthetic sphere as an autonomous one, distinct from the spheres of reason and morality, establishing a permanent division between the three spheres of human life, knowledge, goodness and beauty, the poetics of Archbishop Stylianos, even as they revel in the tensions of contradiction and distance, serve, by their mechanics, as an apokatastasis of art from aesthetic alienationits separation from questions of truth and goodness. Whereas Kant considers that: “the experience of art as aesthetical … is the experience of art as having lost or been deprived of its power to speak the truth,” Archbishop Stylianos’ poetry, in recognising but ultimately reconciling through intense engagement, the separation of truth and goodness, becomes a space where a critique of the poles of modernity, moral consciousness and human alienation can be conducted. As he implies in «Ἀνυποψίαστοι Θεατρίνοι» (Λιτανεία Χρωμάτων 1999), those who merely resort to imaging the superficial, create ghosts of fractured representations:


«Οἱ θεωρούμενοι μύστες ἐμπορεύονται


ἀνυπόστατες θεωρίες

καὶ δὲν αἰσχύνονται τὸ περικείμενον

νέφος Μαρτύρων

καὶ δὲν προσκυνοῦν τὴν διὰ θανάτου Ἀνάσταση.

Οἱ ἄσχολούμενοι μὲ εἰκαστικὰ

σαρκώνουν φαντάσματα

θρυμματισμένης εἰκόνας…»


Few Greek poets have felt the burden of arts’ separation from truth and its commitment to being true and to being ethically uplifting as keenly as Archbishop Stylianos. In his commitment to truth, which is belied by image, for it could be perceived by others as ugly, and his commitment to beauty, which could be perceived by others to be untrue, Archbishop Stylianos discerns an ethical dilemma which he identifies time and time again; the difficulty in delineating the dimensions of an integral space where his poetic-ethical drama may unfold:


«Ὑπάρχει οὐρανομήκης διαφορὰ

ἀνάμεσα στὴν κατηγορία

καὶ τὴν ἔγκληση.

Ἡ πρώτη κατεδαφίζει ἀπὸ ὑποτιθέμενο ὕψος

ἡ δεύτερη καλεῖ σὲ ἀπολογισμὸ

τοῦ ἀδυσώπητου βάθους.»        

                                                 Τοῦ Ὕψους καὶ τοῦ Βάθους (Ἡ Δομὴ τῶν Κρυστάλλων 2001).


Where Archbishop Stylianos transcends the truth-beauty unity, is realising that poetic language cannot be tied to poetry’s ethical ends. The material dimension of his words offers a type of resistance to the ideological dimension, which he constantly interrogates, refusing to submit self-indulgently to his ethical longings. There is a resistance to abstract aestheticism and in its stead, a tortured, robust commitment to a human-centred ethical poetic dimension is asserted. The suffering and conflict entailed in a process where one lacks the privilege to be self-indulgent, or even to aspire to transcend the possible, is exemplified in «Κατηργημένα Προνόμια,» (Ἐπιφυλάξεις 1998):


«Πρὶν ἀπὸ μᾶς, οἱ ποιητὲς εἶχαν τὸ δικαίωμα

νὰ διευρύνουν τοὺς ὁρίζωντες τοῦ παράλογου

ψηλαφώντας τὰ κράσπεδα τοῦ πεπρωμένου….

Σήμερα θεσμοθετημένα προνόμια δὲν ὑπάρχουν

γκρεμίστηκαν ἀπὸ μόνα τους τὰ στεγανά….»


Archbishop Stylianos’ poems, legible as both symptoms of and responses to the pervasive non-coincidence between a human domain and the material, non-human operations of language, demonstrate that poetry’s relationship to ethics retains its force and its significance without him assuming that an aesthetic orientation leads to an ethical conclusion. Many of his most profound poems begin with his placing aesthetics and ethics in a disruptive juxtaposition, a fierce conflict that needs be resolved, compelling his work to revisit this disjunction over and over again:


«μήτε μᾶς εἶπαν, μήτε θὰ μᾶς ποῦν

πότε θὰ φύγει ἡ θάλασσα

πότε θὰ᾽ρθοῦν τὰ φύκια.

Πάντως ἐσὺ νὰ χαίρεσαι

στὸ πήγαιν-ἔλα τοῦ νεροῦ

τὸ χρῶμα γαλάζιο

ξεχνώντας τὸ ἰώδιο γιὰ φαρμακοποιούς.»       Τὸ Χρῶμα μὲς στὴν κίνηση (Νεροσυρμὴ 2002).


It is here that Archbishop Stylianos resists making positive pronouncements on questions concerning the ethical nature of poetry, questions that are central to his theory and practice of the art. In his approach, the poet appears to be not so much in search of definite answers so much as the energy of thinking, cross-examining, intensifying and exhausting ideas. It is the sincere engagement with this process, that the ultimate reconciliation of ethics with aesthetics takes place.

Instead, much like the poet Keats, Archbishop Stylianos is able to deal in: “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” (Keats, Selected Letters, 2002), or in the words of the Archbishop: «Οἱ ποιητὲς ποτὲ δὲν ἀποκλείουν τὸ θαῦμα καὶ τὸ ἀδύνατο. Γι᾽αὐτὸ ἄλλωστε ἦρθαν στὸν κόσμο…» (Τελεία καὶ Παύλα, Νεροσυρμὴ (2002). In part, the ethics of his poetry lie in the experience  not so much in losing one’s self, of listening to the other, or even of becoming the other, a process which the Deconstructionalist School may term “alterity” but in that which is an inextricable and venerable part of the Orthodox tradition, Communion. Archbishop takes that concept and extends to the entirety of Creation:


«Ὅπως οἱ λέξεις αὐλίζονται στὴ σελίδα

καὶ ἀναπαράγονται,

ἔτσι τὰ δάκρυα μας στὸ μαντήλι.

Τί γίνεται μὲ τὶς φωνὲς καὶ τὸ κλάμα

τῶν ζώων

στὰ σπίτια ἢ στὴν ἐρημιὰ

ἀφοῦ γι᾽αὐτὴ δὲν ὑπάρχει ποτὲ

μήτε χαρτὶ, μήτε μαντήλι…»            Θλιβερές Ἀνισότητες (Νεροσυρμὴ  2002).


Archbishop Stylianos’ handling of language whereby otherness is made to impact upon the existing configurations of an individual’s mental world, “probing,” as Derek Attridge observes “the limits of the culture’s givens, taking advantage of their contradictions and tensions, seeking hints of the exclusions on which they depend for their existence, exploring the effects upon them of encounters with the products and practices of other[s].” (The Singularity of Literature 2004), precisely encourages such a communion. Whereas Attridge describes the creative process as “the creation of the other,” Archbishop creates the other only to merge with that other and in the process, deconstruct both entities and re-fashion them anew. In engaging with this process of creativity, writing becomes not just an aesthetic practice, but rather an ethical attitude. Archbishop Stylianos assumes a responsibility, both for his creation and his readerone that demands a sacrifice not simply of his cognitive faculties but also of his emotional and physical hypostasis. In the process, Archbishop Stylianos’ creative experience becomes one of self-erasure as the complete absorption to the other is effected, to the point where the creation is no longer recognised as such:


«Πῶς θὰ μποροῦσε νὰ ἀναγνωρίσει

σκιὲς ὁ ἥλιος

ἀφοῦ ὁ ἴδιος τὶς δημιουργεῖ;»    


Δὲν ἀναλαμβάνει εὐθύνες ὁ Ἥλιος (Ἡ Δομὴ τῶν Κρυστάλλων (2001).


The Sun may keep its distance in the above poem, but it is unbeneficial to seek in Archbishop Stylianos’ poetry, assertive statements of ethical principles. Ethics infuse his entire work, as they also infuse the ascesis of writing and engaging with his poetry and thus cannot be isolated for demonstration. Instead even as he becomes an agent of poetic transfiguration, one of those who: «οἰκειοποιοῦνται τὶς τύψεις τῶν ἄλλων γιὰ νὰ μὴν ὑπάρχουν δυστυχισμένοι» (Οἱ Αὐθαιρεσίες τῶν Ποιητῶν, Νεροσυρμὴ 2002), he remains tantalisingly ambiguous and enigmatic, a window on a path that assumes the form of a cautionary tale in futility:


«Παράθυρο φωτισμένο μέσα στὴν νύχτα

μὲ κάδρο τὸ ἀπροσδιόριστο στὸ πηχτὸ σκοτάδι…

Βέβαια ἐμεῖς τὸ ξέραμε ἀπὸ καιρὸ

Κι ἂς τὸ ἀγνοοῦσαν οἱ θίασοι τῶν Φιλοσόφων.

Τὸ βλέμμα τοῦ Θεοῦ δὲν ἀναπαύεται πουθενὰ

ὅσο ἐκεῖ ποὺ δὲν φέγγει τίποτε ἄλλο…»              Μακρυνὸ Ἀπείκασμα, Νεροσυρμὴ (2002).


Archbishop Stylianos once remarked to me, jovially: “You have to understand that I am an Archbishop. I am an Archbishop while I sit here discussing poetry with you, I am an Archbishop before the Altar, an Archbishop while I write my poetry and an Archbishop as I change into my pyjamas at night.” It is as far as he ever proceeded by way of revealing the unity of his ethics and aesthetics in his work, for after all, he is the poet who mused: «Τὸ νὰ ζητᾶς ἀπὸ τὸν ποιητὴ νὰ ἐρμηνεύσει τοὺς στίχους του εἶναι σὰ νὰ πιέζεις τὸν μάρτυρα ν᾽ἀνακαλέσει τὴν πρώτη κατάθεση.» (Μήνυμα εἶναι ἡ Μορφἠ, Νεροσυρμὴ 2002). His is the poetry of emancipation. All the tools have already generously been provided. It is for the reader to navigate the tortuous paths of the sublime and the salvific.

Ultimately, it is evidently unnecessary to keep Archbishop Stylianos, the vigorous, dynamic aesthete separate and distinct from Archbishop Stylianos the moralist, but rather, to marvel at how these coexist, coalesce and reconcile in all his works but most tellingly, in his poem-manifesto, which most eloquently encompasses his approach to truth, beauty, ethics, aesthetics, self-effacement and the Word, the last word, being his of course:


«Ἡ διὰ πασῶν τῶν τεχνῶν ἄρρητη ἀλήθεια.

Ἡ μουσικὴ τῶν λόγων.

Ὁ λόγος τῆς σιωπῆς.

Τὸ φῶς τῶν χρωμάτων.

Τοῦ φωτὸς ἡ πολυώνυμη δόξα.

Ἡ ἀνατροπὴ τῶν σχημάτων.

Ἡ ἀποκατάσταση ἐνιαίου σχήματος.»     Ποίηση (Νεροσυρμὴ (2002).                                                                                              



First published in NKEE on Saturday 20 January 2024