On the Unhappiness of Being Greek, Nikos Dimou

Feb 14th, 2013 | By | Category: Articles

ndimouIf Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal have a Greek analogue, it is Nikos Dimou, one of the most fertile minds of his generation.

This book is a series of 193 mostly brief, often cutting and at times satirical aphorisms about Greece and Greeks. In the postscript, Dimou writes: I have tried, simply, to articulate my observations in such a way so that serious people will find them to be serious, while less serious ones will find them less serious. I am now tortured by the possibility that the exact opposite will occur.

According to its author, Nikos Dimou: “This book is not a humorous collection of aphorisms about the shortcomings of Greeks — but a bitter reflection on their tragic destiny…(it is) the product of a man who cares deeply for his country, and tries to help his fellow citizens fulfil the Delphic motto: ‘Know thyself.’”

This book has also earned Dimou the label anti-Hellene, and he came to be known as a gadfly at best and a traitor at worst.. While he is at times viciously blunt, and while many of his observations are clearly debatable, Dimou always exudes a love for Greece in his text, a love more pure, many readers have observed, than that of the most ardent (self-proclaimed) patriots.

One of his pertinent reflections highlighted in The Economist (UK Christmas Special 2012) is "Any race believing itself to be descended from the Ancient Greeks, would be automatically unhappy. Unless it could either forget them or surpass them."

First published in 1975, the book became an overnight bestseller in Greece and is currently in its 31st edition having sold over 110,000 copies. An instant bestseller in Germany (Kunstmann, 2012) where it has gone on to sell more than 25,000 copies, the book has also been published in France (Payot, 2012), Italy (Castelvecchi, 2012), Spain (Anagrama, 2012). The Turkish edition (Istos) will be coming out in February, 2013.

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On the Unhappiness of Being Human

1 We define happiness as the (usually temporary) state in which our desires coincide with reality.

2 Correspondingly, unhappiness must be the non- coincidence between desire and reality.

3 In other words, we could call unhappiness the gap between desire and reality.

4 The greater the gap, the unhappier we are.

5 Our happiness (or unhappiness) depends: on the magnitude, intensity and sum of our desires, on the one hand, and on the nature of reality, on the other.

6 I may be unhappy because I have excessive and inordinate desires that (quite rightly) remain unfulfilled. Or, then again, my desires may be ‘reasonable’ (moderate by human standards), but reality keeps dogging me (like Job). In this case we speak of ill-fortune.

7 We have a statistical sense of happiness. We think that a person with ‘reasonable’ desires should have an equal share of successes and disappointments. (As proof: the expressions ‘a change of luck’, ‘a turn of the wheel’ etc.)

8 Life, however, does not confirm this view. Usually, those who have strong and numerous desires satisfy more of them than those whose desires are few and moderate. Except that the insatiable nature of the former rarely allows them to feel the state of equilibrium that we call happiness.

9 The gap that we called unhappiness functions both positively and negatively. I don’t have what I desire, or I have something that I don’t desire (e.g. an illness).

10 Those who offer ‘recipes for happiness’ usually try to modify or reduce desires – since it’s not easy for them to alter reality. Naturally, the fewer desires we have, the less risk we run of being disappointed and hurt.

11 The next step is the doctrine of the Buddha, who teaches the suppression of desire as a foolproof antidote for unhappiness. (Even more effective: the negation of the source of all desire – the Ego.)

12 In animals, the gap between desire and reality is minimal. The basic pursuits of an animal are in keeping with the possibilities open to it. It is totally adapted to its surroundings.

13 It’s difficult to talk of happy and unhappy animals – since the tension between these two (human) poles must not exist in them. Something tells me, however, that the birds of the air must be happy…

14 Unlike animals, man by convention and by nature has unfulfillable desires. He longs for immortality. Whereas the only thing he knows for certain about the future is that eventually he’ll die.

15 We could define man as an animal that always desires more than it can attain. A maladjusted animal. In other words, we could define man as a being that carries unhappiness – innately – within it.

16 Or, then again, we could define man as a tragic animal. For what else is tragedy if not the agonized experience of the estrangement between man and the world?

17 The more human you are, in other words, the more you crave and seek, the wider the gap grows. And if you are a hero, you fight and lose. And if you are an artist, you try to fill the gap with forms.greece

18 If man, qua man, carries unhappiness within him, then certain categories of men have a greater predisposition for this. Even certain nations. And among these, for sure, are the Greeks. The modern Greeks.

19 The thesis of this book is that, due to history, heredity and character, the modern Greek reveals a wider gap between desire and reality than the average for other people.

20 So, if to be human already signifies the certainty of an amount of unhappiness – to be Greek portends a larger dose.

21 We can speak of ‘the unhappiness of being Greek’.

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greekcoverOn the Unhappiness of Being Greek

ISBN: 978-1-78099-295-2, $9.95 / £4.99, paperback, 58pp

EISBN: 978-1-78099-255-6, $2.99 / £1.99, eBook

A series of 193 mostly brief, often cutting and at times satirical aphorisms about Greece and Greeks. In the postscript, Dimou writes: "I have tried, simply, to articulate my observations in such a way so that serious people will find them to be serious, while less serious ones will find them less serious. I am now tortured by the possibility that the exact opposite will occur."

A classic book … a bitter path towards self-knowledge … it examines with idiosyncratic sarcasm the subject of Modern Greek identity … a truly patriotic book. Dimou places himself at the right distance from his subject observing Greeks as they truly are. Alexandros Stergiopoulos

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One Comment to “On the Unhappiness of Being Greek, Nikos Dimou”

  1. Petros Anastasopoulos says:

    Penetrating observations about the worst attitudes of modern Greeks and humorous and entertaining for those among us Greeks with a critical disposition towards life.

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