The referential relationship between modernity and antiquity was, of course, primarily established by archaeology, a discipline that has mastered the art of establishing idealizations through its ability to form entire worlds from a scattering of marble fragments. The fact that the Greeks not only accept the idea of an exceptional antiquity, but actively lay claim to it, might not at first be cause for astonishment, since the idea is compatible with internationally recognized points of reference with which states seek their (mythical) legitimacy. It is, however, from precisely this unusual appropriation of a constructed European father that the anguish of the modern Greek derives. If it is indeed the Greeks who from now on claim the fragments of an antique culture for themselves, then we are dealing with a complete reversal of the inherent European refusal to attach significance to a familial relationship or the artificial adoption of a paternal figure: the absolute affirmation of kinship, and the embrace of a father figure, and a family who has already paid doting homage to the father, long before he has encountered his alleged child.
The transition from a hegemony of the West to a hegemony of the North is accompanied by grief or a humiliated suppression of everything that once justified the European logos. It rejects any relationship to tradition, as the imaginary of the West is based on the concept of homelessness. The loss of a home as a stable place of return, and the feeling of powerlessness that goes with it, form the essential experiences of the West. The awareness of being just a small part of an unstable, temperamental planet, armed with little more than logos, is experienced as a sense of underlying directionlessness. Only through referral back to a distant and unreachable place, widely recognized as a point of origin, can this sensation be pacified: thus Greece. In order to exist, Europe needed a loss of the original guaranteed by an instituted distance, but in Greece this originality was found and this distance abolished, and this could be why it fails to be European. Indeed, it was not Hesperia that desperately called for a Greek past, in order to close the gap in their own origin story. It needed the image and the material existence of distant ruins to establish in Western thought the gap of origin as such.
In referencing the Hesperian poet Friedrich Hölderlin, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe formulates a clear stance toward this idea. Höderlein didn’t just question the image of ancient Greece, he was also the first to consider the search for antiquity as a denial of an urban space under formation. While the West strived for the repetition of a lost ideal and despised everyday life, the North draws its power from everyday life by imposing its infrastructure upon it. In making the organization of daily life primary, the global North becomes a synonym for infrastructure itself. We might think that such infrastructure is merely a system that simplifies an urban life—a complex network regulating the water supply or providing electricity. We might also superficially imagine that regular maintenance is the only requirement guaranteeing its full and functional efficiency. Nevertheless, at the same time we might observe how the infrastructure, through its affiliation with the North, and therefore to the hegemonic order, organizes a governing role. We experience too how many regions, by subjecting themselves to the interactive platforms of the infrastructure, to the network flows and logistics of the ever-moving commerce, become increasingly subsumed by the global North.
Both the opposing doctrines we read below the ground of modern Athens demanded that an unassuming Ottoman settlement transform itself into a modern city. In this, they were also both asking for two different deterritorializations. In the logic of the first doctrine, archaeological excavations would bring lost objects and buildings to the surface, driven by the wish for an impossible performance of the lost past. We have not given enough thought to the absurd character of this Western ritual; an idiosyncratic negation of the visible was always integral to it, however. In order for the vanished things to surface, the visible was destroyed in many different ways: whole houses, shops, even entire streets were bulldozed so that a handful of lifeless fragments could once again see the light of day. The act of destruction materialized the inability of the visible to measure up to the expectations of the foreign gaze. The mania for a glorification of the lost, which archaeology realizes as a ritual to homelessness, happened in Athens as a literal act of demolishing. The power of the hidden ruin to support an imaginary world alienates the visible earth. The secret completion of found fragments did not present the absent world but it did abolish the “real.” By dismissing the existing, by rejecting the living, and by giving precedence to the uninhabited ruins, archaeology became a subversive power able to distort extant values.
The second doctrine—of the ever-extendable infrastructure—also establishes the earth as its point of departure, but the work necessitated by its establishment defines a different ground and initiates the process of a different alienation. Even the installation of a relatively simple water management system can be seen to have an effect on a city; the source, or the well, loses its original social performative character within the urban environment. Many households are now supplied with water simultaneously. The infrastructure’s aim is to serve communal use, but in doing so it destroys the communal functions that needed some meeting points for the city’s everyday social structure.
The twofold anthropogenic influence exerted upon subterranean Athens results in a modified relationship to evidence, facts, and archives. It is difficult to imagine another discipline that pays as much revered homage to evidence as archaeology does. Criminology would be an analogue case par excellence, since this discipline has also developed a broad repertoire of “rituals and ceremonies” for the celebration of visual proof, with its recording, archiving, and the combined methodologies regarding it. The subject of criminology can then be seen as an archaeological approach to the criminal act, while archaeology concentrates on the criminology of the bygone. Both disciplines explore clues and traces and operate with similar methodologies.
Likewise, the history of Athens is documented in two kinds of archives, each filled with records of specific entries. On the one hand we find records of projects that include diaries of excavation, with photographs and drawings that document the archaeological procedure. On the other hand we encounter detailed records documenting the subterranean urban network, which deal with its maintenance and expansion, or with the characteristics of the technical oeuvre that functions necessarily through a memory of itself. These two archival versions of Athens, created under the same ground, mirror the schizophrenic perception of the modern and invisible underground place that has been thoroughly and doubly measured and documented. Lists and indexes created in order to structure a particular past or to measure and design a new technology—alien to the ground—are preserved so that this city’s urban life may be continuously shaped. These two archiving operations of the Athenian underground represent the mania of bringing back a desired world and the different utopia of arranging an increasingly complicated distribution system, respectively. Reflected in these differences are the imaginary configurations of two forms of logic, and their traces. Thus the differences between the West and the global North were already established by the middle of the nineteenth century, in the depths of the Athenian earth.
These two archives form independent productions of an undefined literature. Their documents drive toward very different targets. While archaeology indulges even the smallest traces of the past with keen attention in order to produce monuments out of what was formerly the waste of the land, infrastructure understands the ground as an indifferent field of unimportant waste where networks can be deployed. Indeed, even if the archives of the infrastructure are formed by meticulous and accurate representations of the technical state of its networks, they depend on the most recent evidence. The infrastructure’s archive can, of course, include works that have been done in the past, parts of the network that have been replaced or updated. But the functioning part of the infrastructure archive is constructed as an operation of the network. The level of water in a node of the water network or the amount of electricity that is asked by the system in a specific area are the important data that automatically—immediately when archived—control the function of the infrastructure only for that moment. When these measurements become different, an alternative regulation of the infrastructure is performed. Momentary measurements, the transfer of messages, automated reactions to respective functions which the transfer itself triggered: The technical concerns of the infrastructure become increasingly immaterial since the dark and neutral Athenian ground receiving them in the modern past is substituted now by a much more distant space, the sky, which uses satellites for the functions of data flow. Today, the sky has replaced the Athenian ground of infrastructure in the deterritorialization of urban life, which is still evolving. And its flow of information circulates as an utterly illegible text that is discarded as soon as it is created. This new text of the infrastructure is coded, then, and is performed as an immaterial construction articulated under the same motif of the modernized Athens ground. An invisible support is performed in an invisible way while the technologies of valves and siphons are replaced by high-sequence radiation and satellite performances.
Within a city’s infrastructure, all evidence becomes part of a larger, ongoing process that is erased as soon as its services are delivered. In Athens, this removal of evidence contrasts with the tasks of the aim of the other ground works, namely archaeology. In order to keep infrastructure functioning, by contrast, the removal of evidence is necessary to ensure its existence as a system. It must constantly renew itself while remaining the same. The very time of the infrastructure is read as a regulated input and treatment of data flow while its protocols keep performing. Indeed, the metropolitan is linked with an image of infrastructure to the same degree that urban life is staged as the complex performance of a destruction of evidence. The everyday is understood as a field structured by a repetitive tempo, neatly cleaned by any remembered feature. Thus infrastructure is structured as the need of erasure that follows the repetitions of a city. The way in which regulations are created in order for a network to operate in certain conditions offers the possibility of a clear function where the remembered does not have the value of an event. This same classification guarantees operations in different circumstances, when the same grid could be filled by other micro facts replaceable by others, and thus, in a sense, forgettable. In other terms, a different concept of function is created when removing all traces constitutes the process of the operation itself.
The global North defines itself by the unmeasured but systematic expansion of its infrastructure, an empire that unifies and divides human time in prestructured ways. In this way it becomes increasingly powerful, commensurate with the increasing difficulty of the nonspecialist eye to inspect or control any part of the deployment of its systemic function. At the same time, boundaries begin to dissolve between different areas of life that are played out within a city’s infrastructure. Many areas of life—those islands scripted mostly within the web as responses to interactive protocols—can already be described as permanent residencies within the infrastructure itself. Once the boundaries between inside and outside a house are eradicated by always updated shared facilities, urban life tends to be described as an infrastructural repetition. The surrender of urban structures in the face of their infrastructure reveals a powerful performance of the North, which could be easily the name of an “absent” controlling authority or the spirit of its automatisms.
In the Internet-based city of today, one’s place within infrastructural systems radically changes the nature of the human inhabitant. The inhabitants of infrastructure can be described as transparent users who exist as simple responders to the protocols of the system. Caught within overlapping protocols, the inhabitants of infrastructure keep a remarkable relation to memory. And this relationship is opposed to the memory on which the Athenian excavations were driving. Instead, these users of this new domain are becoming a sustainable fragment within a disintegrating system. They follow different narrative paths, change position and perspective, and deny any stable reference point. The self-regulating mechanisms of data flows, which leave less and less evidence behind them, create a zero-degree memory paradigm, one where all memory can be abolished and all used platforms of the Internet analog to those beside it. A grandiose inability to exercise control over the infrastructure captures the condition of the new urban life and the transformation of citizens to users.
One would think that if the North determines the condition of participation within one’s infrastructure, the concept of the South would be related to an exclusion of it. This does not describe the case of Athens, however. North and South operate as the two faces of the same mechanism in the programmed worldwide flows. Acting in the darkness as in the Athenian past, and speaking in an incomprehensible technical language, the new Northern infrastructure is testing its possibilities to function as a discrimination machine. Even if sharing is its starting point and its raison d’être, our infrastructure is increasingly an ordered system of impasses and code-controlled doors. Invisibly it undertakes to form the continuation of the history of urbanity. Identity, labor, and one’s relation to the city are programmed to be mediated by the users’ relation to a centralized and networked system of flows. The time spent in its platforms will form the renting cultures of tomorrow. South is the name of a region in the infrastructure. A different colonization is tested within its realm.
This situation makes Athens an uncomfortable place at the moment. A construction of debt is a form mandated by the infrastructure into current Greek governance. It is its infrastructure that determines the economic situation in Greece today. The war via economic means it is experiencing is perpetuated in its infrastructure, of which the impossible bankruptcy in a common currency that does not form a coincidental frame. The globalization of the economy creates a system in which no bankruptcy would save any economy. Debt has to be homogeneous, perpetual, and circulated. Greece not only suffers the consequences of an attack from its infrastructure, its financial peripeties cannot conclude in the representation of a military defeat even if the numbers show that its financial disaster is analogous to such a destruction. Yet the economic war in which Greece has found itself was not invented to ever conclude. Debt is no longer (if it ever was) a simple narrative in which the debtor and the creditor play their roles. We do not wait for this debt to be paid; instead, we become spectators to and participants in this new invisible war, enabled by the infrastructure as an endless debt attack. This is the source of the current Athenian pessimism. The infrastructure possesses the ways to punish the formations that increasingly become dependent on it (such as countries or banks) without producing recordable aggressions other than coded interventions into abstract flows. What is tested in Athens is this new discrimination system that can happen as a function of its infrastructure. Governed as a fluid part of an always moving capital in the infrastructure, the North is no longer the representation of a concrete geographical order, nor does it possess any concrete form. North and the modernized South, then, both have already an inseparable place in this institutionalized flow of debt.
Contemporary Athens comes to claim now the Hesperian legacy for the South. It is a legacy that the new North not only finds abhorrent but also flatly rejects within its infrastructural functions. One finds parallels here in the fact that the very act of digging in order to implement its infrastructure in the underground of Athens was untranslatable and estranged from the Athenian earth of ruins. The North-South situation, then, defines a field of politics of flow which became today the politics of debt. The distortions of the established set of procedures—sometimes described as technical improvements of the infrastructure—form the attacks on the city; decisive deviations from the infrastructure’s automatic routines or “invisible infrastructure events” (a contradictio in terminis) transcend the already problematic “management of infrastructure” and can operate as mere aggressions. The technical matrix of the system—the one that is invoked as an independent instrument of automation only maintainable by specialists—can indeed be regulated arbitrarily by outside entities. The project of infrastructure, to create a set of simplified services that serve the community life, has developed into a different one. Indeed, it shares some characteristics with its modern ancestor: it is still invisible, it continues to structure the normalities of the everyday. On a macro scale, however, it can develop into a unified mode of invisible remote governance, while on the micro scale it becomes a self-serving system; facing the infrastructure all users are alone, their communities schematic subscriptions to rigid protocols.
If Athens suddenly requires clarification it is because it is a testing field. The inexplicable aggression now upon it, which in the specific case of this city took the form of an invisible debt attack experienced in the frame of the real empirical life of the city, and the unprecedented mediated campaign that took place through the city’s infrastructure, has begun to spill out above into physical space. Governance in Greece, wielding a politics of debt, has shown us what potential the infrastructure has to inflict collective punishment. Even when the infrastructure appears to be a relatively autonomous, self-regulating system, its modus operandi is defined in such a manner as to depend on decisions that do not correlate to its technical functionality. The discrepancy between the technical functionality of the infrastructure and its unstable purpose is the question we read through this short investigation into the Athenian underground landscapes.
While Athens is experiencing a particularly global moment, we insist on the city’s most literal aspect of locality: its very ground. The city’s infrastructure forms an invisible power structure differently idealized in a place such as Athens, that modern city whose surface has always been less important than its imaginary underground landscapes; this unseen space we are now reading was the reason this city was reconceived in the nineteenth century. In the imaginary extension of the same invisible area we locate now an ending of this circle and a new question about the existing urban surface and its material. The suddenness with which the flow of money was recently reduced in Athens and the rest of Greece has revealed the brutal side of the faceless infrastructure of the global North. Thus has the city revealed that its infrastructure is not as neutral as is often claimed. The fact that a few outsiders have managed to transfer their worldview into the infrastructure itself shows that this supposedly neutral entity can be governed entirely from the outside.
We owe to the Athenian remains of ruins and infrastructure, to these keímena, different readings. Their literal existence is covered by a city that grew abundantly. The city now might refer to them as a part of its modern history, yes, but even if the remains are now speechless—an accumulation of indecipherable letters—new networks and the deterritorialization of the multiple data reservoirs, with their multiple settings of the city’s automatisms, make the everyday Athenian depend on unreadable codes and scripted hieroglyphics to run their lives. A lack of representation forms a huge idealization of the new grounds of urbanism. A text in this sense cannot be a keímenon, as a fallen schematized matter ready for interpretation; it will be an ever-changing weave, an always transformable texture. The most problematic fact in this new theology of the infrastructure is that it is installed as an unnamable priority for the future of any urban construction. Is the reading of this unreachable system an impossible task? Can it propose a new field of investigation? Can infrastructure—and with it the distribution of goods, the logistics of tomorrow, the banking system, the platforms and protocols it installs—form questions about politics and common decisions made by a different democracy? These are the questions that Athens poses today. In order to interpret the present moment we try the technique of pausing, freezing the seductive liquid flow (that is an always unfinished text) to a temporarily still image. And we reflect on the still while the infrastructure is organized as an unreadable element, as something that will keep moving, never forming a keímenon but an ever-transformable text.
In this sense, the contemporary Athenian infrastructure produces a new unreadable field, a new imaginary technical god, and a new analphabetism. We are expected to believe in it, yet we cannot read it, interpret it, or criticize it. Athens shows the public side of this already political, technical power. The subaltern part of this structure, meanwhile, the ever-provisory and not always geographically determined South, forms in Athens some new material that can be read as well. As much as the city’s normative functions tend to be understood as the construction of the infrastructure’s ruins, Athens is not yet to be found in the invisible codes or the inaccessible corridors of this ever-growing entity. The different keímena that are today’s buildings of Athens operate as the open questions and the gaps of this homogeneous field. Forming areas different from the idealized or demonized Athenian ground, and reinvented as a conscious civic perspective, the visible surface of the city is today announced as the enigmatic matter where a living resilience and a positive system of transformative acts might take place, in parallel or sometimes in disagreement with the Northern rationale.