Bringing Philosophy to Life with Prof. Simon Critchley -The National Herald

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The National Herald cv


December 1-7, 2012

VOL. 16, ISSUE 790


New School Prof Talks At Onassis Event in NY

Samaras says “Greece Begins Now,” But Fear Of Loan Snag Looming By Andy Dabilis TNH Staff Writer

By Constantine S. Sirigos TNH Staff Writer NEW YORK – New Yorkers who want to see if philosophy is still alive need only attend the ongoing “Conversation Series: On Truth (and Lies)” presented by The Onassis Cultural Center in New York featuring Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. With wit and passion, Critchley has demonstrated that at the very least, philosophy consists in conversations we feel compelled to have in order to make sense of our world and the things that are most important to us. The series format, which he proposed to the Foundation after they invited him to be its moderator, proved to be a wonderful umbrella for topics ranging from Greek Tragedy and History to theoretical physics. Continued on page 3

A special report: In memorial of Nikolaos A. Stavrou


St. Demetrios Students Bring Aid to Far Rockaway Evthoxia Panos, the principal of St. Demetrios of Jamaica Day School, led parents, teachers, and students, who gathered and then distributed aid to the families suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Far Rockaway on November 20.

Hellenic Ctr. Concert in New York By Constantine S. Sirigos

ATHENS – Having secured promises for release of a longdelayed $56.7 billion series of loans as part of a second bailout of $173 billion, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the deal will help the country’s staggering economy begin to recover and offer hope to people suffering under austerity measures, with more coming. The Premier was featured in an online promotional video titled Greece Begins Now, aimed at boosting the mood of gloom that has been over Greece for 2 ½ years, since the first round of pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions began. “Greece has found itself in difficult positions many times,” he said in the video, which contains numerous historical references. “However, each time it found a way to move forward.” He added in his message: “Either we outdo ourselves or we let history turn its back on us,” he added.

That came after a meeting of his Cabinet in which he said he was determined to show that the government, an uneasy coalition of his New Democracy Conservatives, the PASOK Socialists, and tiny Democratic Left, had restored the country’s credibility by sticking to reforms demanded by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which is putting up $325 billion in two bailouts. Samaras heralded a new day for Greece and promised there would be no more austerity measures even as his told his ministers that they would have to adhere to strict conditions and that the government’s next moves would be to create jobs to counteract a record-high 25.1 percent unemployment rate, and for more development. The austerity measures have worsened the country’s five-year recession and closed 68,000 businesses since 2010, with inContinued on page 13

Sex Scandal at Monastery in Brookline By Theodore Kalmoukos TNH Staff Writer

• Maria Kouros: Papouli mou... • Nick Gage: In Memory of Nikolaos A. Stavrou • David Binder: I Think of Nik • Menelaos Tselios: My friend, Nikos A. Stavrou • A. H. Diamataris: Thank you «Theio» Niko Pages 8-11

Bringing the news to generations of Greek-Americans

BOSTON, MA – A sexual scandal of huge magnitude has shaken the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Brookline, MA. The Monastery’s founder and former abbot Archimandrite Panteleimon Metropoulos has been accused by his own monks of homosexual advances and activities in the monastery involving members of his monastic community. Eight monks made their written and signed accusations to Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston at the end of August 2012. The Monastery does not belong to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, but it is rather an autonomous group. In the past, the Monastery was under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Russians Abroad. In 1986 it left and

joined an Old Calendarist group in Greece under Archbishop Afxentios. Initially in early 1970, the Monastery had existed under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Also, the first group that established it including former Abbot Panteleimon as well as the current one Fr. Isaac are graduates of Holy Gross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. The Monastery is within walking distance of the Theological School. In the middle of last September, 17 monks and one Bishop, Demetrios, left the Monastery and they entered in the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Genuine Orthodox under the ecclesiastical leadership of Metropolitan Pavlos Stratigeas of Astoria. The 17 monks and Bishop Demetrios have already resettled at the Monastery of Ascension in

Bearsville in Upstate New York. Demetrios was appointed as abbot and everything was made official last month with the visit of the Archbishop Kallinikos, who is the Archbishop of Old Calendar Group in Greece, to which the Metropolis of America under Pavlos Stratigeas belongs. There are more than seven different Old Calendar Groups in Greece, all of which proclaim themselves Genuine Orthodox. At the Transfiguration Monastery there were about 35 monastics, today there about 12, while 75% of the clergy and faithful left and they joined Metropolitan Pavlos Stratigeas’ group. From the New England area as well as from other parts of the United States and Canada at least 7 parishes with their clergy and congregations left Continued on page 6


TNH Publisher Visits Phanar TNH Publisher Antonis H. Diamataris visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople last week, where he was warmly received by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. His All Holiness welcomed Diamataris in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George after the Great Vespers for the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple.

TNH Staff Writer MANHATTAN – International pianist John Kamfonas delighted the audience at the Kaufman Center’s Merkin Hall in Manhattan on November 13 with pieces ranging from beloved Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis to Bach to GreekAmerican Victor Kioulaphides. It was the first concert sponsored by the new Hellenic American Cultural Foundation. Nicholas Kourides introduced Kamfonas and spoke briefly about the Foundation. “It was established to organize and promote high quality, relevant educational and cultural programs…for persons interested in the history and legacy of Greece. Its mission is to engage Continued on page 4

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Yefsi: a Greek Delight on the Upper East Side By Penelope Karageorge Special to The National Herald Word about Yefsi Estiatorio, Manhattan’s newest entry on the Greek gustatory scene, came to us through the Greek dining underground – those special people who keep their ears – and forks to the ground. It is always crowded, said our sources, to the point that the food remained a mystery! (Our friends had gone at the wrong hour). With an open mind, we took the First Avenue bus to 79th Street and walked two blocks to Yefsi, on 78th Street and York Avenue at 5:30 on a Monday night. On an unprepossessing block in the Upper East Side, from the outside, Yefsi looks like any other neighborhood boite. But step inside, and you’re at home in a Manhattan-style Greek taverna. Yefsi’s décor includes stucco


Christos Christou, chef/owner of Yefsi, Manhattan’s popular East Side taverna, raises a glass to success.

Beloved Fr. Gavalas, 86, Passes on

walls, wooden beams, wine barrels, and gleaming cherrywood tables that seat two or four. The restaurant also features a wide, marble bar already filled with both drinkers and diners. I had made a reservation in advance, and had my pick of tables. I chose one near the bar and settled in for the Yefsi experience, which began with the presentation of a good bread, olive oil, and garlicky humus to munch on while perusing the menu. This offered an intriguing choice of mezedes and main courses. When I asked the waitress, a young woman with a long apron wrapped around her and securely tied her recommendations (after she told me the specials), she suggested that I might want to try a couple of the mezedes, a suggestion I appreciated.

NEW YORK – A man who brought joy into almost every room he entered, Father Angelo Gavalas has left the building. The beloved pastor and youth leader, whose resonant tenor voice thrilled with its singing and inspired with its preaching, passed away on November 24. Friends, colleagues, and people he inspired from near and afar joined his family to bid Father Angelo farewell at the viewing on November 28 at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The funeral was held there following morning, with Bishop Andonios representing Archbishop Demetrios. Father Angelo

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By Constantine S. Sirigos TNH Staff Writer




Bringing Philosophy to Life: A Conversation with Prof. Simon Critchley Continued from page 1 Critchley’s association with the Foundation began when the noted professor and author of numerous books was invited to participate in the “Athens Dialogues” in the Greek capital in late 2010, but the path to his profession was less straightforward, not having paid much attention during his adolescence to “Philosophia” herself. “Earlier in school I had no idea what philosophy was,” he told TNH. Born in Hertfordshire, England, he left school in at 15, went to catering college for two years “where I didn’t learn anything” and was playing in bands during the heyday of Punk. “I played guitar and bass and I was going to be a rock star until I turned 19 or 20.” When that began to fade away he devoted himself seriously to writing poetry, which he did until he was 25. “Philosophy ended up soaking up a lot of the passion I was putting into music and poetry.” One of the things that made him more open to Philosophia’s charms was his encounter with “anxiety.” He was 22 when he enrolled at the University of Essex, the first member of his family to study at a university. It was a tough first year, and when he found Heidegger talking about anxiety “not just as a disorder to be corrected, but as something revelatory, as something fundamental in the human condition and revelatory of who we are,” that made a huge impact on him. “So the anxiety I’m feeling is not something I should suppress. It is something I should try and work with,” he realized, “though I could not have told you at the time what was going on” in what he was reading. As fascinated as he became with the subject, he could not discern the road to where he stands now. During the Margaret Thatcher era, when “She was in the process of destroying British higher education,” there were no academic jobs in the humanities. Things began to change when he was finished and his small group of classmates ended up teaching. BLUNT WISDOM He went to university to do English and European literature. It was his last option, but he credits his teachers with con-

In September, Simon Critchley presented On Truth (and Lies) in Art, co-sponsored by the Onassis Foundation (USA) and the Brooklyn Academy of Music at BAM. necting him with philosophy. He became hooked in his first class. Philosophers have been taking shots at their interlocutors since the days of Socrates. The professor’s opening salvo to his students was “if there are any idiots in the class they should leave now. Philosophy is not for idiots.” There is a huge element of luck too. “None of my friends went to college. There are three or four moments, strokes of absolute luck, where if any of those had fallen out differently, God knows what I’d be doing. The strokes of luck were usually acts of kindness. Mentors and teachers were absolutely important.” Nevertheless, while he says is not happy about the way randomness has been celebrated in recent years by intellectuals, the determinism of modern physics, which is often translated into fatalism, is also disturbing to him. One of the highlights of his conversation with renowned theoretical physicist Brian Greene of Columbia University was Critchley’s attempt to find room for human freedom in the dense thicket of equations Greene works with. The scientist was disturbingly frank: freedom is an illusion. The physics is absolutely deterministic. But although the ultimate truth may lie somewhere in those equations, Critchley says “Physics has become to too bewilderingly abstract for people to have an interest in it.” And String Theory may never satisfy those with a fetish for proofs. Scientists furiously debate whether humans can ever really test it, leaving time, whether its dozens or billions of years, for the traditional discussions about

freedom and truth to continue. Asked if he thought that in less cynical and disappointing times the series might have been titled just “Truth” he demurred, saying “lies are very old.” There has been a “powerful sense of the nature of lies, particularly in political life… since the beginning of civilization.” He doesn’t know if we lie more today, but he noted we still have an attachment to truth, which is manifested in an ironic way when we catch politicians, whom we expect to lie to us, actually lying to us. Lies do seem to be part of the fabric of modern life however. He observes: “you call the utility company and there is a message that says ‘your call is very important to us.’ No it isn’t.” But we all swim in the pool of social lies “You see someone on the street you don’t like and you say ‘great to see you,’” he said. So despite our experience of society as a network of lies, we are still attached to the truth,” which drives some students into philosophy classes. But Critchley argues that philosophy commences in disappointment, mainly in politics and religion. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? “There are different accounts for the way philosophy begins. Aristotle says in the metaphysics that it begins in wonder,” about the world. “In modern experience it’s more that philosophy emerges from the feeling of something lacking or missing,” he said. The absence provokes the question “what does life mean?” To answer that question, “To read the past is hugely important,” and noted “Greek antiquity in particular can save us from all sorts of naivetés and stupidities.” Yet some great 20th

century thinkers classify philosophy among them. The question came up how philosophy survived the scientific revolution. There are other tools now. Why is there not just science, and logic to make sure we are reasoning properly about its findings? “People have said that should be the case. The Positivists in the 20th century thought questions were either empirical - in which case they were resolvable scientifically or logical, and philosophy could disappear and its work replaced by novels.” But the questions remain: “what ought I to do, what can I know, what can I hope for, what is a human being, and they are not resolvable logically,” he said. That is why his true love is Greek tragedy. “It’s legible in translation to people like me. It describes situations which are still recognizable and can illuminate them.” Discussing the work of institutions like the Onassis Foundation, he said “The past, history is hugely important and philosophy is part of that history, and the broacher ones’ vocabulary derived from the past, the more things make sense.” Paradoxically, it is at the cutting edge and highest levels of science where things seem to make less and less sense. His talk with Brian Greene explored the relation between reality as explained by theoretical physics and common sense and experience. “Physics basically says that common sense and experience is wrong, a deception, a lie,” as he rapped on the table to point out its merely apparent solidity. “In which case, I don’t really care,” he asserted. The universe might be completely determined and completely determine my behavior. But to hell with it. As Dostoyevsky says somewhere ‘2 plus 2 equals 4 is nice, but 2 plus 2 equals 5 is sometimes even nicer, namely that what characterizes human behavior, what it means to be human is a capacity for radical choice that is frequently irrational.” He warns “there is a terrible tendency is our culture” to find causes that will completely explain the way things are, especially what he calls “the fetishism around the study of the brain, which is partly driven by the idea “that we could master things,” including our emotions. But even with a totally deter-

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ministic physics, we can’t predict the future at the human level, though even if we could, Greek tragedy shows us life would still be interesting. Oedipus learned from the Delphic oracle that he was fated to kill his father and marry his mother. He goes out of his way to avoid it, but when he encounters an older man of his class who looks a bit like him, he doesn’t back off. “The moment he raises his hand and strikes, something in him is acting through him, of which he is not in control. That is what Greek

fascinates him. “He lost everything and he became, through this conviction, which he calls faith, to this event which is the resurrection of Christ,” engaged in a political process of building up communities, churches, with enormous tenacity and resoluteness. That is the kind of spiritual drama that I find much more powerful than the Platonic one. “ Hamlet is also very real for him. He has written a book with his wife, American psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster, which is coming out in June of 2013. He calls it “a very strange, obsessive book interpreting Hamlet.” He said, but it was his wife’s idea. He was planning a huge book on tragedy, but only now is it “clear I would have never written it. It was too big…she said ‘well we can do this little thing and that would be a way into the big project. ‘” He said “It’s a synecdoche, a part of the whole.” Sharing some of his views on the psyche, he said “I think we are all structurally self-deceived, and that we do not really know ourselves other than through the way in which we are known by others. So to make judgments about what I should do, I’ve often given that over to other people, but this book is the furthest I’ve gone in that direction.” Critchley is very proud of their endeavor – few couples can pull it off. They are also busy in Brooklyn raising a young son, and he has a daughter from a previous marriage. Critchley turned off the road which might have led to rock stardom, but one suspects that his days as a rocker inform his performances – both in and out of the classroom – that bring excitement and life to the ideas of men long dead. Near the end of the discussion he said it is important know the man behind the book, to get into the head and heart of thinkers, though he admitted that for men like Heidegger it could be unpleasant. “It’s a nasty place,” he said of the man whose embrace and then distancing of himself from Nazism remains a topic of debate. “It’s important to get to know the person, but it’s usually disappointing. There is something good about that, however, because you can idealize the thinker.” Sounds like a good topic for a conversation.

British-born Simon Critchley’s passions moved from punk rock to poetry to philosophy. tragedy is full of. There are times when we are not ourselves. We can be crazy, extreme, and you find many extreme figures, men and women, that teach us something about ourselves and our natures. And it is not discovered in the realms explored by modern physicists or mathematically inclined thinkers like Plato. Critchley never had a Platonic moment. “For me, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides – particularly Euripides, are dramatists of such extraordinary power.” He cannot forgive Plato for “trying to shut that down at some level,” but regardless of that, he was never drawn to Platonic spirituality. He is more drawn to the experience of St. Paul. “Wow, the vision of the resurrected Christ, and what that meant for him. That makes perfect sense for me…The drama of conversion, of converting from something that one was, a Roman citizen and a Hebrew born of Hebrews to this new kind of creature,”



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