From Jennifer Ball
Mon, Sep 29, 2008 at 12:37 AM
Michael Herzfeld is nothing short of a superstar in Modern Greek studies, a founder of an entire discipline of social anthropology, making
Herzfeld’s anthropological model (inspired by
On a personal note, Herzfeld’s essay brought me back to 1994-1995, when two books transformed me: Faubion’s Modern Greek Lessons and Gregory Jusdanis’ Belated Modernity and Aesthetic Culture: Inventing National Literature (
For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.
This posting is a review of Dimitris Plantzos, “Archaeology and Hellenic Identity, 1896-2004: The Frustrated Vision,” pp. 10-30.
The two editors of Singular Antiquity bracket the collection of essays by an introductory and concluding essay. Dimitris Plantzos sets the stage with an introductory chapter that achieves three primary objectives: 1) to provide some real flavor on the relation between antiquities and Greekness, 2) to couch this phenomenon in a wider theoretical context, and, 3) to provide a straightforward history of how Greece changed its relation to history through the 20th century. The essay is provocatively illustrated and carries a sharp dialectical style. Plantzos writes like an intellectual, or a good journalist who weighs his words for poetic imagery. “Notes from oblivion,” “Custodians in neverland,” “The Greekness of our discontent,” “Greek archaeology and the post-colonial blues,” From where we stand…,” the essay’s five subheadings, give a good sense of the Plantzos’ effect and a subtle desire to connect with other texts (like Dostoyevsky,’ Notes from Underground, Joyce Carol Oates’, Neverland, etc.) The text itself is crafted to expand questions rather than answer them, a feature that might frustrate some academic readers, but one that seems perfectly appropriate for the maze of meanings that confines Greek realities.
Plantzos begins his essay with an iconographic analysis of the 2004 Athens Olympics, specifically the opening ceremony choreographed by Dimitris Papaioannou. Other illustrations range from Euro Cup soccer games to Greek-Australian parades. With such interjections from popular and political culture, Plantzos succeeds with the first objective, to provide a palpable flavor of archaeological Greekness. I only have one problem with this objective. While giving focus to
The second objective of the article is to relate the Greek case-study to greater theoretical debates regarding history, reality and representation. Plantzos deploys Foucault (heterotopia), Lacan (gaze), Geertz, as well as Winckelmann, Hamann, Herder and Vico to expand the issues. There is not enough room in the essay, however, to explore these connections more meaningfully. On the other hand, they are not just theoretical spice or gratuitous name-dropping. The discourse promises a thread of connections and invites the attention of an audience for whom these theorists have already been digested into house-hold names. I suspect that such literary critics, art historians, post-colonial theorists and cultural critics are Plantzos’ ideal audience. They represent dominant traditions in the humanities but rarely do they concern themselves with
The third and most straightforward objective is, in my estimation, beautifully handled and seamlessly integrated within the previous two. It is an overview of changing definitions of Greekness in the 20th century. Greeks and non-Greeks alike assume that the nation was consistently defined from the beginning. Plantzos provides a historical overview that should help the non-specialist to navigate through the chapters to follow.
For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.
I am beginning to rethink through some of these scholarly issues over the Morea, as I start working on a paper dealing with the urbanism and domestic architecture of Mystras. Sharon Gerstel has invited me to give a paper in “Morea: The Land and Its People in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade,” a conference at Dumbarton Oaks. Half of my essay will be about the city’s archaeological fabric, but the other half will be about the city’s fantastic fabric. The houses of Mystras were literaly fabricated in the absence of archaeology. Scholarship on the Frankish Morea was built on the shoulders of a medieval chronicle discovered in a Belgian library by French historian J.-A. Buchon. First published in 1825, the chronicle made an indelible mark not only on archaeological scholarship but in the western imagination at large. After reading the chronicle, J.W. Goethe changed his manuscript of his play Faust. Rather than dramatizing
Starting with Faust, Mystras has been the site of much mythopoetic activity. The Greek literary tradition begins in 1850, when Alexandros Rizos Rankaves (1809-1892) seriated a novel called Lord of the Morea (O authentes to Moreos) in the magazine Pandora. Rankaves was no stranger to Goethe, having translated Faust into Greek. The next major modern dramatization of the Morea Chronicle took place in the 1930s. Angelos Terzakis’ Princess Izampo is important because it coincides with the first scholarly analysis of the Mystras’ urban fabric and domestic architecture by Anastasios Orlandos.
That being the context, I want to return to a question introduced in the beginning. Does the nationalist narrative hold? For the first time, I’m seriously studying the life and works of Rankaves to discover how surprisingly postmodern mid-19th-century Greek intellectual life actually was, clearly defying the trite binaries that we have constructed as scholars. Some features of postmodernist literature are a self-conscious inter-textuality, a meddling of different voices and a heavy authorial positionality. Examples of these modes in Lord of the Morea have been a pleasant surprise to what I had previously written off as merely a traditional novel. I assumed that Lord of the Morea would only be a faint glimmer of Sir Walter’s Scott’s Ivanhoe
"Παραιτούμεθα να περιγράψωμεν τας λαμπράς πανοπλίας και τα ποίκιλα εμβλήματα όλων των ιπποτών όσοι εισήλθον μετά τον Γοδοφρείδον. Εις την πρόοδον της διηγήσεως ημών η οχληρά περιγραφή ολίβον συμβάλλεται, και ιστορικώς επίσης δεν ενδιαφέρει πολύ την Ελλάδα. Διότι ήρξαν μεν επ’αυτής οι ιππόται, και την εταπείνωσαν υπό την σπάθην αυτών, αλλ’ ήλθον και απήλθων χωρίς ν’ αφήσωσιν ίχνη της παρόδου αυτών, και το όνομα και η μνήμη των απώλετο μετά κρότου. ή οσάκις ο οδοιπόρος εις αποκρήμνους άκρας ορέων ανακαλύπτει τα φρούρια αυτών ως φωλεάς αετών, ή μεταξύ θάμνων απαντά επί λίθου γεγλυμμένα τα βαρονικά οικοσήμα αυτών, στρέφεται απ’ αυτών μετ’ αδιαφορίας, σπεύδων προς τα κυκλώπεια τείχη των ενδόξων αιώνων, και προς τ’ αμίμητα προϊόντα αθανάτων γλυφίδων. (O Authentes tou Moreos, 1989 reprint, Apanta Philologika (1876) vol. 8., pp. 56-57.)
Rankaves is keenly aware of his audience’s presumed interests. After all, he was himself Professor of Archaeology at the
Another shockingly postmodern passage occurs in Lord of the Morea when a unidentified knight enters the jousting competition. “At that moment the horns blew and, turning their heads towards the entrance, the audience saw an unidentified knight entering the field, on a black horse without any decoration on his armour.” To English readers, this should immediately ring some bells, reminiscent of the Black Knight in Sir Walter Scott's famous Ivanhoe (1819). Not only is this not a coincidence, but Rankaves breaks his own narrative and tells the reader straight out that the famous novelist is indeed his prototype. In fact, Greek literary scholars have been debating whether Rankaves knight is Scott's Black Knight or the Disinherited Knight In short, this seemingly boring 19th-century historical novel is much more tricky in its narrative mode, flipping between discourses, acknowledging literary quotation, identifying the literary canon, etc. etc. It is not exactly Thomas Pynchon, but neither is it straightforward.
Have we perhaps undersold 19th-century Greek literature? I certainly had, assuming that it would just be cliched nationalism. Come to think of it, Rankaves and his peers epitomized diversity and globalization. The man was born in
The construction of the medieval Morea across the 19th and 20th centuries is a fascinating procedure. In a previous article, I related this process with the rise of tourism; see my essay in The Architecture of Tourism, ed. D. M. Lasansky and B. McLaren, 2004, pp. 37-52 (PDF available upon request). Even if only for a moment, we must step outside our postcolonial theory-heavy comfort zone and freshly reread some of old katharevousa texts. In Ranaves, I’ve found evidence of postmodern narrative strategies. Being only an amature literary critic, I might be completely off the mark. Nevertheless, my own conceptions have been shattered. I know it’s a major fallacy to call Rankaves a postmodernist retroactively. I take the liberty while thinking of David Foster Wallace, who has sadly just committed suicide at the age of 46. I did not love all his book; his “maximalist” style in novels like Infinite Jest (1997) seemed an acquired taste. For the same reasons, I’ve never loved Don DeLillo. Nevertheless, Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (2000) remains one of my favorite books from a brilliant young generation of writers, including Wallace’s friends Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen. On Wallace's suicide, see New York Times obituary (Sept. 14, 2008)
Finally, I want to thank Elias Markolefas, my mentor in all Greek things literary, who sent me a reprint of Lord of the Morea (Athens, 1989, ed. A. Sachines) as soon as he found it at our favorite bookstore, Politeia. Rankaves edited his completed works, Apanta Philologika (Athens 1874-1885) in 14 volumes. He was a profuse writer. He wrote so much that scholars have accused him of being rather sloppy, much like the modern-day blogger. The last two volumes of his Collected Works are devoted entirely on archaeological writings. I'm looking forward to reading them after the fiction.
And a disclaimer: When I was a kid, I loved Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, which I first read in the Greek Illustrated Classics children's series (Κλασσικά Εικονογραφημένα). I remeber a new canonical masterpiece came out every weekend. Ivanhoe (or rather, Ιβανόε in Greek) completely captivated my boyish imagination. So much so, that I decided to write my own heroic comic. I took a bunch of paper, which I divided up into squares, and started to draw the openning scene, naturally a jousting competition. The first (and only box) introduced my invented hero, a knight I called Alen (I have no idea why). Then, I got stuck. I couldn't draw the second box because I had no story to tell. And that was the end of my cartoonist days ca. 30 years ago.