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Crises/Critique/Grammars of Resistance

Maria Boletsi (University of Amsterdam / Leiden University), ‘Grammar and/as Infrastructure: Revisiting the Politics of the Middle Voice in “Post-Crisis” Greece’
Vera Gheno (Università degli Studi di Firenze), ‘“Is There a Problem with Italian? ”: The Challenges of a Binary Language Facing a Fluid Reality’


Maria Boletsi (University of Amsterdam / Leiden University), ‘Grammar and/as Infrastructure: Revisiting the Politics of the Middle Voice in “Post-Crisis” Greece’

In conditions of chronic crisis –what Lauren Berlant called ‘crisis ordinariness’– binary modes of framing situations and subjects become particularly pronounced: perpetrators versus victims, guilty versus innocent, powerful versus powerless. Contesting the rigidity of such normative frameworks requires more than a shift in vocabularies: we need to talk about grammars of crisis and critique. Here, I approach grammars as infrastructures that can reproduce normative conditions but can also generate critical, queer, utopian potentialities for reparative imaginaries and alternative modes of sociality. I seek to establish a connection between grammatical categories and social infrastructures by focusing on the middle voice, taken both as a grammatical category and conceptual infrastructure that antagonizes binary modes of subjectivization and introduces ambivalence and nonsovereign forms of relationality. In my previous work, I scrutinized the political promise of the middle voice through its mobilization in wall writings that appeared in Greece during the so-called crisis decade (2009-2018). In this talk, I revisit some of these wall writings from our present, in 2024, to ponder how the kind of agency, critique, and sociality the middle voice enables may work in the purported ‘post-crisis’ era in Greece. While some of these wall writings resonate today as part of the cultural memory of the ‘crisis decade’, others continue to pop up (though less frequently), challenging the ‘post’ in ‘post-crisis’ as reminders of Greece’s continuing failing infrastructures (of which the 2023 train crash at Tempi is but one striking example). How does the middle voice in these wall writings intervene in the context of neoliberal narratives of ‘happiness’, ‘rebuilding’, ‘growth’, and ‘return to normality’ that right-wing governmental rhetoric has promoted since 2018? How can it provide alternative infrastructures – understood as ‘practices that hold the world up’ and are made ‘from within relation’ (Berlant) – for those excluded from national narratives and the claim to ‘happiness’: queer subjects, migrants, refugees, the marginalized, impoverished, disabled? The middle voice, I argue, can be involved in politics of refusal of national or neoliberal narratives of ‘good life’ by pointing towards alternative political desires, (utopian) projects, queer imaginaries, and modes of ‘being in common’ - in Greece and beyond.

Maria Boletsi is Endowed Professor of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Amsterdam (Marilena Laskaridis Chair) and Associate Professor in Film and Comparative Literature at Leiden University. She is the author of Barbarism and Its Discontents (Stanford UP 2013) and Specters of Cavafy (Michigan University Press, forthcoming July 2024), and co-author of Barbarian: Explorations of a Western Concept in Theory, Literature and the Arts (Metzler; 2 vols, 2018/2023). She recently co-edited the volumes (Un)timely Crises: Chronotopes and Critique (Palgrave 2021), Languages of Resistance, Transformation, and Futurity in Mediterranean Crisis-Scapes (Palgrave 2020), Subjects Barbarian, Monstrous, and Wild (Brill 2018), and the special issues ‘Greece and the South’ (Journal of Greek Media and Culture, 2022) and ‘Ruins in Contemporary Greek Literature, Art, Cinema, and Public Space’ (Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 2020). Her latest project focuses on the concept of the weird and its mobilizations in contemporary literature, art, ecology, and politics.

Vera Gheno (Università degli Studi di Firenze, ‘“Is There a Problem with Italian? ”: The Challenges of a Binary Language Facing a Fluid Reality’

With the progressive emergence of awareness of the existence of non-binary people, the Italian language, like many other languages with grammatical gender, found itself facing a gap between what linguistic binarism manages to represent and a much more complex human nature. At what point are we today, in Italy, in the process of linguistic representation of gender?

Vera Gheno is a sociolinguist. She has collaborated with the Accademia della Crusca for 20 years. After 18 years as a contractor in various universities, since the end of 2021 she is a researcher at the University of Florence. In 2023 she edited ‘Parole d'altro genere. Come le scrittrici hanno cambiato il mondo’ (BUR), published ‘Galateo della Comunicazione’ (Cesati) and ‘L'Antidoto. 15 comportamenti che avvelenano la nostra vita online e come evitarli’ (Longanesi). ‘Grammananti. Immaginare futuri con le parole’ (Einaudi) is published in April 2024. She deals mainly with technically mediated communication, gender issues, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

All are welcome to attend this free seminar which will be held online via Zoom, starting at 5pm BST (UK time). Please register to receive the zoom link, by clicking Book Now at the top of this page.

In this online seminar series for ILCS's Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing, we will venture to explore queerness and its affordances for counterhegemonic critique and resistance within the cultural framework of two countries of the European South, Italy and Greece. Given that the European South has been constructed as a space of gendered, sexualised, racialised, and economic subalternity, the cycle of seminars we suggest endeavours to revisit these epistemologies which fashion and manage subjects and entire populations. More specifically, Italy and Greece have been selected as case studies because of the steady rise of extreme neoliberalism and the far-right in both countries. For us, the intersection of queerness and the European South opens up possibilities to seize and reconfigure key concepts of these (homo)nationalist, capitalist, and patriarchal political agendas: family, trans*ition, antiquity, and crises. At a time when femininity and queerness are subjected to specific processes of construction, control, and annihilation, we aim at an interdisciplinary approach which will result in a toolkit of alternative knowledges and praxes. Instead of a hotbed of intense biopolitical (and necropolitical) management, we envision the queer European South as a positionality for worldmaking critique and solidary community building. Each of these four weekly seminars takes its cue from an assortment of keywords which provide the different strands for discussion. After hearing from our invited speakers, a conversation between the panellists and the public will follow.

The seminar series is conceived and co-curated by Alice Parrinello and Billie Mitsikakos (University of Oxford, co-convenors of Queer Intersections Oxford).


30 April

Massimo Prearo (University of Verona), ‘Anti-Gender Mobilizations, Religion and Politics in Italy’
Dimitris Papanikolaou (University of Oxford), ‘Oxymoronic Family. On the National Production of Double-Binds’

7 May
(De)Colonise Antiquity/Archaeopolitics/Homosexuality

Dimitris Plantzos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), ‘We Have Never Been Queer: Ancient Sexualities and Present Archaeosocialities as a Way (Not) to Define the Modern Greek Self’

John Champagne (Pennsylvania State University), ‘The Italian Vice, Rethinking the Role of Italy in the Invention of Modern Male Homosexuality’
Stefano Evangelista (University of Oxford), ‘Blue Love: John Addington Symonds in Venice’

14 May

Alberica Bazzoni (Università per Stranieri di Siena), ‘Undoing Italy with Ferrante, Sapienza, Scego, and Lahiri: Transnational Approaches to Contemporary Literature in Italian’
Mariza Avgeri (Open University), ‘Towards a Decolonizing Framework for Centering the Experiences of Trans and Queer Migrants and Refugees’

21 May
Crises/Critique/Grammars of Resistance

Maria Boletsi (University of Amsterdam / Leiden University), ‘Grammar and/as Infrastructure: Revisiting the Politics of the Middle Voice in “Post-Crisis” Greece’
Vera Gheno (Università degli Studi di Firenze, ‘“Is There a Problem with Italian? ”: The Challenges of a Binary Language Facing a Fluid Reality’

Image: The artwork at the top of the page is courtesy of Martina Martonsky. Martina Martonsky is an Italian artist currently based in the Netherlands. Through illustrations, mini comics and short animations, she explores the connection between femininity, animality and monstrosity, subverting the patriarchal Western canons of beauty. See: