Ob­sess­ing over authenticity

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY PAN­TELIS BOUKALAS

The un­sea­son­ably mild tem­per­a­ture proved ben­e­fi­cial to Athens on Sun­day. The city’s Marathon broke all records in terms of par­tic­i­pants, whether Greek, for­eign, fa­mous or un­known. Run­ners in the un­knowns cat­e­gory, in­clud­ing those dressed as Greek “tso­li­ades” in mem­ory of Spyros Louis, win­ner of the first mod­ern Olympic marathon in 1896, and those clad in an­tiq­uity-in­spired gear as a trib­ute to Phei­dip­pi­des (the Greek sol­dier to whom the phrase “We have won” [“Nikomen”] has been wrongly at­trib­uted) ran in a bid to en­joy a day in the city, usu­ally im­pos­si­ble to master due to traf­fic, as well as get more ac­quainted with the re­gion of At­tica. In the fa­mous and semi-fa­mous cat­e­gory, which in­cluded politi­cians and per­son­al­i­ties from lo­cal show business, the rea­son for tak­ing part was less the op­por­tu­nity to take in the au­then­tic route and test their own lim­its and more to be seen and be ad­mired by the un­knowns. Business as usual. Be­sides, that was the easy part. What seems nearly im­pos­si­ble to get over is our per­sis­tence, if not our ob­ses­sion, with the idea of “authenticity.” That was after all the of­fi­cial def­i­ni­tion of the Athens Marathon: “the Au­then­tic.” In our minds, in our struc­tured-with-rules con­scious­ness, authenticity is fully iden­ti­fied with an­tiq­uity, in its most glo­ri­fied ver­sion of course – in other words in its most ide­al­ized ver­sion. This was re­flected in com­ments made by politi­cians who at­tended the event: The ones who ran in the Marathon and those who rushed to the Kal­li­mar­maro Sta­dium driven by the de­sire for pub­lic­ity. Almost ev­ery­one felt it was nec­es­sary to men­tion the usual triv­i­al­i­ties. What we mean (and long for) when we re­fer to some­thing au­then­tic, wor­thy and ad­mirable, is the old. And we seem to come across more authenticity as we dwell more and more on the past. The new, in what­ever form, is judged as medi­ocre at best, and at worst (which is usu­ally the case) as a bad copy, some­thing il­le­git­i­mate. For a long time this was the case in the de­pre­ci­a­tion of the peo­ple’s lan­guage, the so-called “de­motic” vis-a-vis the “katharevousa,” which was sup­pos­edly more au­then­tic, or at least an heir to authenticity, when in fact it was a made-up id­iom rarely used in real life, even by its most fer­vent sup­port­ers. We rec­og­nize the same logic in the rhetoric which de­fines to­day’s Greece as “lit­tle Greece,” the idea be­ing that the coun­try is in­signif­i­cant when com­pared to the em­pire of Alexan­der or Byzan­tium. But why not trust this “lit­tle Greece” a lit­tle? We don’t need to wear chi­tons in our dreams, jeans are fine too, as long as we can come up with a dream for a common fu­ture, some­thing which brings peo­ple to­gether rather than tear­ing them apart.

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