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Thursday, 7 November 2019

Η γλώσσα κόκαλα δεν έχει, αλλά κόκαλα τσακίζει – “The tongue has no bones – but it has the power to break bones”. Wars and Words; International Byron Conference, 2020

Η γλώσσα κόκαλα δεν έχει, αλλά κόκαλα τσακίζει – “The tongue has no bones – but it has the power to break bones”. 

I have been studying the Call for Papers for Wars and Words, the theme of the 46th International Byron Conference at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki from 29th June -5 July, 2020.

I thought for a while of proposing a paper about the memoirs of General Makriyannis, or about Lord Byron’s translation of Rigas’ Greek War Song. Alternatively, I could have adapted and developed my chapter "The Souliots in Souli and Corfu and the Strange Case of Photos Zavellas", which also discusses Byron's relations with the Souliots (The Ionian Islands: Aspects of Their History and Culture, ed. Hirst and Sammon, 2014).

Even more closely related to the conference theme, my essay "Lord Byron and Ambivalent Hellenism: The Love/Hate Syndrome", published in Corfu Blues (2006), could have been usefully revisited and explored further.

How do words become weapons and trigger political struggles? One only has to think of the intemperate and threatening language that has been used in the British Parliament in recent months and years, and even more now, during the General Election campaign (e.g. weaponization of the NHS and Brexit).

I don’t think I will submit a proposal for a paper, much as I’d like to spend a week in Thessaloniki. I can see my old friends on another occasion.

If I did decide to go to the conference, I think I’d want to discuss extracts from two powerful pieces of writing which deal with language, or the linguistic aftermath and impact of oppression, in both the short term and the long term: Harold Pinter’s play “Mountain Language” and David Malouf’s short story (from Antipodes), “The Only Speaker of His Tongue”. These passages still haunt me.

When I re-read these powerful, eloquent words by Pinter and Malouf, I realize that there is nothing I can really add. There is nothing more to say. If I were to go to the conference, I'd simply want to quote them. I think Lord Byron would approve.

Η γλώσσα κόκαλα δεν έχει, αλλά κόκαλα τσακίζει.

Postscript: Two Poems on Byron (from Corfu Blues, the book)

Byron in Missolonghi

'Twas the bleeding doctors
Did him in,
Not the Bloody Revolution.

Enver Hoxha on Lord Byron, 1975

"I like Byron...
He sincerely loved my people,
Sang their praises
With pure feeling,
Sang of their manliness
And valour.
We love our friends
And welcome them,
For our enemies...
These bullets".


Vocal Semiotics

Verbal polemics, polemos.

Violence in language:

War in words.

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