[-empyre-] Sustenazo - Part II

Monika Weiss gniewna at monika-weiss.com
Wed Oct 3 10:51:59 EST 2012

Monika Weiss--Sustenazo: Part II

Antiphonal Structures

Language is a sovereign system that signifies and coincides with denotation. It maintains itself in relation to what it describes but at the same time withdraws from it into “pure” language. In my work  lament questions language. An expression that arises from speech, lament represents the moment of breaking of the speech and of facing the loss of meaning. 

A recording of phenomenological experience, the archive appears in my work not as an evolution in time or as a depository of gradual accession and accretion, but rather as a flat, non-linear, layered surface, composed of multiple narratives, which offer the potential to overcome the structures of power. Fragmentary and non-hierarchical, the database of the archive is traversed in search for meaning. 

Lament assumes a form of expression, which is excluded or expelled from language—the latter understood as a system or design of meaning in relation to event. As a loss of language (leros,) lament traverses the flat surface of the archive. 

In the oldest examples of Lament, the intercourse between the world of living and the world of the dead is performed as a dialogue either between two beings, one present here and one absent, on the other side, or between two antiphonal groups of mourners. The "mirror" structure of the Hebrew psalms makes it probable that the antiphonal method was also employed among others by ancient Israelites. The surviving copies of the thirteen century B.C.E. texts from Hittite civilization, describe taptara-women who are specialized wailers, forming a chorus that sustains a kind of performance of wailing for possibly long periods of time, as a response to the initial lament/address (kalkalinai). 

In modern moirologia there are still traces of the ancient tradition of this dialogue, where laments are considered to be uttered either by the dead person or by their tomb.  The imagined dialogue between a traveller and a tomb was full of austere brevity characteristic of the archaic style, which later developed into a refrain, the choral ephymnia, incantation, repetition, and echoing. 

In the traditions of Lament, the address (an opening) would be followed by an appeal (intervening narrative/recollection of past events) and finally the reiteration of the initial address. This three-part form was cultivated in threnos, but was also shared by the hymnos, enkomion, and epitaphios. The origins of this ternary form, in which the prayer is first stated, then enacted as thought fulfilled, and finally repeated, are to be sought in primitive ritual and “the form was developed in all kinds of ritual poetry”.[i] In contrast to hymnos, enkomion and epitaphos, the development of three-part form did not in threnos lead to the disappearance of the refrain. The lament was always in some sense collective, and never exclusively a solo performance.  

There seems to be no example in Greek antiquity of a lament, which has lost all traces of refrain. The word epode means “after-song” but also “after-someone,” a magic incantation, designed to bring that someone back, if only in imagination, if only in the moment of incantation, the moment of enunciation.

The strong tendency for women to be agents of lamentation is seen by the anthropologist Maurice Bloch as part of a more general association of women with death by early tribal societies, who tended to perceive death as analogous to birth, both fundamental biological processes, and both seemingly controlled by women, who by the act of giving birth, were already “contaminated” or anointed by the “other side” while men, whose position in society was to be more public, “were thus left comparatively free of death pollution”.[ii]

[i] Ian Rutherford When You Go to the Meadow…The Lament of the Taptara-Women in the Hittite Sallis Wastais Ritual in “Lament: Studies in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond”, ed. Ann Suter, Oxford University Press, 2008

[ii] Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Boulder, New York, Oxford, 2002

 antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" + φωνή "voice"

Sustenazo (Greek), “lament with, groan together.”


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