It is in Groningen that we are issuing this manifesto of poetry, personal courage and responsibility, by which we today are founding the parrhesia.community.
About the meaning: Parrhesia is the merging of ‘pan’ (referring to the classical Greek word for ‘everything’) and ‘rema’ (referring to some root word for ‘saying’). Parrhesia; a poetic compaction; it says it all. But it is not just about free speech, because to speak ones mind is not enough. To speak up against those who abuse their power is what counts. To think about fair distributions of power, and of ways to negotiate and effectuate that fair distribution, is essential. To focus on us, commoners, and our every day life issues.
In our democracies, within the democratic experiments of the last century, political parties, free press – which means: non commercial press – and pressure groups, clubs, non-governmental organizations etc, usually would take up this responsibility … until neo liberal consumer society logic had started to infect and pollute our democratically assured public spaces with something that we today call PR, or branding, or advertisement, but which is, in fact, nothing less than propaganda; the forging of ‘alternative facts’.
As a counter weight against alternative facts, we need truth telling! The truth regarding power abuse. The truth concerning the facts: that our global production industry consists of enormous corporative companies that, referring to Yanis Varoufakis and Slavoj Žižek, are actually run with a fascist mindset; that our societies are led by a managerial logic which, referring to Chantal Mouffe, is killing the very foundations of democracy, that new patriarchal phantasies are taking our young and old democracies in the hold, and try to repress our – only very recently acquired – equal (gender- and sexual) rights. Think of Russia, USA, Hungary, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Indonesia, etc etc.
We need to forge counter public spaces, as Alexander Kluge had called them, in order to protect ourselves against, and emancipate ourselves from the ongoing pollution and colonization of our public spaces by capitalist earning models and patriarchal oligarchies. And this can only start with testimonies: counter narratives.We need small testimonies of turnarounds!
About its origins: we’ve got the testimony of Euripides, the poet; of that mythical very first time when someone – a woman named Creusa – made this very first ‘parrhesiastic’ act, as a revolt against the power abusing gods & patriarchs. Euripides lets her confess that Apollo had raped her. And we call it the ‘very first time’ simply because the word ‘parrhesia’ has been used as an etymological novum in Euripides tragedy Ion. To say … everything … Everything that cannot be said within certain power constellations. The very word parrhesia connects two words that forge an unthinkable concept. Within the space of a patriarchal oligarchy or tyranny ‘to say … everything’, and especially the truth about abuse of power, is unthinkable, taboo, or dangerous.
About the forefathers- and mothers: Euripides, a poet, together with his friend Socrates, a philosopher, forged this contamination that would function ever since as a heavily loaded metaphor, upon which many other slightly new meanings would be piled up within the eight centuries thereafter. Both men underlined that parrhesia is much more then just the act of speaking ones mind deliberately, or the equal right to speak as free citizen. And they refer to that woman named Creusa, in order to underline the true genealogical parent: we need the courage of women who testify to how they ‘lost their honor’, and how they were done wrong by patriarchs that abused their power, and who are, besides, devoid of civil rights, in order to truly understand what it takes to ‘declare’ the abuse of power in the open, public space. We need to understand the inner struggle of the humiliated, the abused, the beleaguered, of those who are being cheated and bereft of their human rights in order to truly feel the urgency of testimonies that can begin to work as counter-narratives within that space that we wish to call public.
About the role of art: Poets, artists and philosophers bring (thought-) things together that were previously separated. The very procedure of contraction requires courage. Moreover, the merging and interweaving of things (and words), the infection of words (and things) with each others connotations, has always been considered as a debilitating, attenuating poetical or artistic activity, especially within patriarchal contexts. Imagine: a woman named Creusa accuses a god of having raped her. The very idea of a god ‘lying down with a woman was considered already as an awkward, forbidden suggestion.
About the goal: undermining patriarchal contexts, of which we tend to think that we’ve made short work of it, of which we thought that we’d set ourselves free through our social and political revolutions, ever since the French killed their patriarchs at the end of the eighteenth century. But no! To set ourselves free of that requires many more small repetitions of poetical acts that dare to connect what has been forbidden (forbidden love, forbidden ambition), or simply what has never been considered a possibility. For example; that the passive turns into an active pole, that the beloved becomes a lover herself, that the victim takes responsibility, that the consumer becomes a producer, that stories of every day life of ordinary commoners are being told, that we become generators, authors of another type of narratives, that the refugee becomes a citizen, that the men take women’s roles and vice versa.
Patriarchal power has always been based upon hierarchical differences that thrive upon oppositions; on separating and distinguishing activities: to separate or oppose the blue and the red ones, the citizens and the migrants, the sedentary and the ‘nomads’, the old and the young, the normal and the weird, the (wo)men.
The shifting of positions, as Socrates taught the young and beautiful and spoiled princes of the Athenian aristocracy, and his refusal of the master’s privilege to take the pupil as the object of his desire, but instead, to incite his most famous and beautiful student to finally grow up and become a lover himself, had caused Socrates death. He was accused of ‘spoiling’ the youth of Athens, and he refused to go in exile. He assumed his teachings and the goal he had set himself: to bring together what had been set apart in oppositions and to propose shifts.
In order to NOT stay just the sum and the prolongation of our ancestors; in order to learn from their struggles; from their/our struggles for equal civil rights, for decent lives, for the opening up of many new (counter) public spaces; for exchange; for rapprochement, for shaking up millennia old hierarchies and oppositions, or role distributions; against deceit, delusion, misguidance by post-truth militants. Against many attempts to re-establish forms of patriarchal power. Against post-truth. There is only one truth ; of those who suffer from abuse of power or from the perversion of press and media who lull us into sleep so that one might not try to think of next steps, or of other scenarios….
We have to take up this burden, as Marquis de Sade has reminded us already, and as Derrida has repeated: ‘‘Citoyens, encore un effort!’’ : another effort is needed!