Showing posts with label Singular Antiquity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Singular Antiquity. Show all posts

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Singular Antiquity 9: Tzortzaki on Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is eye candy capable of seducing even the most serious of academics. Its resemblance to contemporary media (video games, animation, cartoons) makes it useful in teaching heritage to young students. "The Journey through Ancient Miletus" had such pedagogical objectives when displayed in the virtual reality theater of the Foundation of the Hellenic World. This private non-profit cultural organization is funded by Greek businessman Lazaros Efraimoglou, who founded the center in 1993. As its Greek name makes more evident, Κέντρο Μείζονος Ελληνισμού, the organization is committed to the dissemination of a Greater Greece, both chronologically and geographically. Its focus on the Hellenism of Asia Minor, for example, is evident. Given a state monopoly on archaeology, the Foundation of the Hellenic World is idiosyncratic. Virtual reality has been one of its strategic objectives, including the Tholos, an IMAX-type of theater, where a virtual reconstruction of Miletus (in Asia Minor, Turkey) was displayed.

The Foundation's Digital Miletus is the subject of Delia Tzortzaki's essay,
The Chronotopes of the Hellenic Past: Virtuality, Edutainment, Ideology," in Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008) pp. 141-161. The article situates virtual heritage in theoretical debates over reality, narrative and ideology. Although a little convoluted in its social-scientific vocabulary (diagrams, cognitive concepts, invented vocabularies), the essay lays out all the ramifications of such a project. Unfortunately, the author does not bring into her essay any comparative material outside of Greece. The most direct examples that come to mind are reconstructions by the Getty Museum (Trajan's Forum) and James Packard (Pompey's Theater). These are examples that have scholarly ramifications with the weight of proof and the risk of criticism. What seems to be missing in the Miletus reconstruction is the element of scholarly authorship and accountability. One nice thing about the Foundation of the Hellenic World is that it has given jobs to a large number of unemployed Greek archaeologists. But as employees, I am afraid that they may have receded too much into the background and lost their voice; but you can't cut the hand that feeds you.

The Foundation of the Hellenic World is currently exhibiting a virtual reconstruction of the Athenian Agora. It would be interesting to hear whether Tzortzaki would disucss Athens differently from Miletus. Unlike Miletus, Athens has been the subject of a long tradition of fantastic reconstructions. Some would argue that modern Athens itself is a virtual reenactment of classical Athens. Leo von Klenze's drawings of the Athenian Agora speak the same language as the virtual reconstruction, except that von Klenze got a chance to materialize Athens (and Munich). Unlike Miletus, Athens has been a phantasmagoric topos. Like Rome and Pompei, Athens enters international dreams (from Neoclassicism to Hollywood). Personally, I find the virtual activities of the Foundation of the Hellenic World slightly unoriginal, mimicking western museums (like the Getty), using expensive computer software (that state organizations cannot afford to pay licenses for) and plugging into visual languages already defined by the discipline of animation (Silicon Valley). The Athenian Agora has been the subject of archaeological investigation by the American School since 1931. John Camp (excavation director) and Richard Anderson (project architect) were consulted in the reconstruction. I would be curious to know about the interface between archaeologist, architect and programmer. But these are issues at the input not the output of virtual reality. Tzortzaki gives us much food for thought for the output.

Digital reconstructions of Miletus or Athens will soon become undermined by the monolith of Google. Just as Google is digitizing every book in the world, it is also venturing into historical reconstructions. Rome is first. For nearly 30 years,
Bernard Frischer (University of Virginia) has been consulting with Google's first historical city. The first version contains 7,000 buildings, 250 of which are extremely detailed (based on 1:1 scale models built at the labs of UCLA). The Rome Reborn project, of course, has its 3D predecessor in the model of Rome at the age of Constantine, housed in the EUR Museum. Unlike digital Miletus and digital Agora, Google's model will be the subject of criticism and improvement. "The great thing about digital technology," said Frischer, is that it can be updated constantly and "supports different opinions." Dissent of opinion about Greece culture does not seem to be the Foundation of the Hellenic World's primary mission. For more information about Google's venture, see Elisabetta Povoledo, "Exploring Old Rome without Air (or Time) to Travel," The New York Times (Nov. 13, 2008), p. C11.

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Singular Antiquity 8: Sakka on the Agora

America's aggressive involvement in Greek politics during the Cold War left some indelible marks in Greek attitudes towards the United States and towards relatively innocent institutions like the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). The Athenian Agora Excavations and the construction of the Agora Museum (Stoa of Attalos restoration) within the archaeological site continues to resonate with imperialist associations. On July 1929, the Greek Parliament voted Law 4212 giving American archaeologists the exclusive right to excavate the Agora, a project that continues today under the directorship of John Camp. Unlike any other excavation in Greece, the Agora is sanctioned by Greek law and hence excluded from the limited excavation permits alloted annually to each foreign school.

The Agora is special, but not necessarily the result of aggressive American imperialism. Rather, it is the product of negotiated desires by multiple parties closely tied to the challenges of the 1920s rather than the 1950s. Niki Sakka's, "The Excavation of the Ancient Agora of Athens: The Politics of Commissioning and Managing the Project," in Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008) pp. 111-124, chronicles those negotiations. Before World War II, both the United States and Greece had different priorities than after the War. For one, Greece's economy was dependent heavily on foreign loans that America, among others, provided. It is impossible to separate the ASCSA and its members from the investment that American businesses were making on the construction of public works, such as the Marathon water system. To this day the water bill in Greece is called "Ulen," which stands for the name of the Chicago company that built the water system in 1930; see Maria Kaika, City of Flows (London, 2005). In short, Americans had contracts with the Greek state, and Venizelos' government in particular. ASCSA director Edward Capps was close to Eleutherios Venizelos. The Agora excavations emerged from bilateral interests from both Greek and Americans. To consider the Agora exclusively as a product of American expansionism is anachronistic.

Of critical importance is the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe that produced hoards of refugees that needed urgent housing in public land throughout Greece. The Agora would have been appropriated for the refugees, a situation that would forever limit its archaeological study. Alexander Philadelpheus and the Greek archaeologists were alarmed by the prospects but had no financial resources to stop it. The Americans, on the other hand, possessed the financial resources (American private patrons) but no site to invest them into. In order to promote itself internationally and grow institutionally, the ASCSA had to compete against the archaeological dominance of European foreign schools. The French School had Delphi and Delos, the German Institute had Olympia and the British School had Knossos and Sparta. The Agora offered a perfect solution. A site of such international significance (cradle of democracy, etc.) would be spared from refugee housing and the Greek government would not have to foot the bill.

Sakka's essay documents a forgotten period when American archaeologists were deeply entrenched in the internal workings of the Greek state. Americans had proven their philhellenism during the Balkans Wars and World War I, volunteering their services in all efforts of war relief. For example, many of the female archaeologists (Hetty Goldman, Harriet-Boyd Haws) worked for the Red Cross. The expat community of American archaeologists, were living in Greece and working for Greece. They did not see themselves as colonizers or racially superior. The Athenian Agora is a testament to a unique inter-relationship between two countries that had been strangers till very recently. Greeks loved Americans because, unlike the French, Germans, British and Russians, they had not dominated or governed them. Undoubtedly, American paternalism emerged in 1945, but it was not foreseen 15 years earlier when Edward Capps (dir. ASCSA), Konstantinos Kourouniotis (dir. Greek Archaeological Service), Eleutherios Venizelos (Prime Minister) and John D. Rockefeller (financier) collectively arrived to an archaeological solution. Sakka's essay, which seems part of a larger project, records the terms of this trans-national conversation.

In the last few years, there has been an amazing resurgence of institutional history within the ASCSA. The group of scholars includes Jack Davis (Cincinnati), who has published a series of articles on the politics of excavation. It should be noted that, as ASCSA director, Jack Davis has been amazingly supportive of such projects and that kind of leadership is refreshing. Robert Pounder (Vassar) has been looking at the fascinating alternative family of the Hills and Blegens. Betsey Robinson (Vanderbilt) has been studying the life of Bert Hodge Hill. Despina Lalaki (New School of Social Research) has been investigating ASCSA's political connections during the Cold War. Natalia Vogeifoff-Brogan (ASCSA Archives), has been a tireless historian on many fronts, most recently on the 1948 film Triumph over Time. Other scholars are taking a fresh look at ASCSA's non-archaeology friends; Artemis Leontis (Michigan) is working on an intellectual biography of Eva Palmer-Sikelianos and has discovered all kinds of ASCSA connections (see article in Singular Antiquity). I work on the connections between Byzantine archaeology and the avant-garde; a future project includes a close study of George V. Peschke, painter and architect of Corinth's excavations. Reading Sakka's essay makes me realize how exciting this new research is turning up to be. I am titillated by the contemporary vibe.

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Singular Antiquity 7: Mouliou on Greek Museums (1948-present)

Greek archaeological museums get a very bad press as bureaucratic and badly administered institutions. Marlene Mouliou's essay, "Museum Presentations of the Classical Past in Post-War Greece: A Critical Analysis" offers a historical context for the modern institution. The essay appears in Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008), pp. 83-109.

The Greek museum as we know it is physically a post-war phenomenon, since the archaeological service had to dismantle all exhibitions at the wake of World War II. Whatever was on display was buried into protected basements. Museums were reinstalled after 1948, offering an opportunity for rebirth. Mouliou divides the history of Greece's postwar museum history into three phases and examines the political forces that shaped them. At the end of the essay one is left with great admiration for the institution. Museums in the West hardly needed to negotiate among so many objectives and deflate so many pressures.

Phase 1 (1948-1976) is characterized as the period of regeneration. The classical past was here presented as linear artistic evolution. The reopening of the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Museums signaled a national resurrection after Fascism. Christos Karouzos, Semni Papaspyridi-Karouzou and Yannis Miliadis used a concept most prominent in art historical practices of its time, the linear evolution of monuments and the desire to illustrate the aesthetic essence of each cultural period. Their mentors were scholars like John Beazley (with whom Paspyridi-Karouzou studied). This is no different than the way art history surveys are still taught in the U.S. Speaking from my own experience, much of what I do on a daily pedagogical basis is navigate neophytes through Gardner's Art through the Ages or Janson's History of Art. The Greek museum of the 50s, 60s and 70s functioned as a place to cultivate connoisseurship and to teach the inherent spirit of artifacts and soul of a period. Mouliou beautiful articulates the social forces that brought about Greece's national idiosyncrasies, from the sudden emergence of a tourist industry to the growing intervention by foreign powers. There are only two exceptions to the predominant
connoisseurship. One comes from the Athenian Agora, where the American School of Classical Studies at Athens introduced thematic (rather than evolutionary) organization. The Agora museum, a controversial restoration of the Stoa of Attalos, moreover, introduced a particularly American obsession with texts, growing out of the education structure of American classics departments. In the Agora, antiquities were constantly supplementing or illustrating textual literature and history. The second exception came in 1975 at the Museum of Volos. Here, George Hourmouziadis introduced concepts of New Archaeology and focused on the social role of archaeology.

Phase 2 (1977-1996) can be characterized by an unsustainable expansion, which was a double edged sword. In 1977, Presidential Decree 941 gave archaeology today's administrative structure, the organization into Prehistoric, Classical and Byzantine Ephorias. New personnel opportunities, a growing number of rescue excavations and a booming number of museums dramatically affected the practice of archaeology and its social role within the welfare state. The resulting administration, however, was inflexible. It compounded earlier dysfunctions into a permanent status quo and it greatly stifled intellectual and interpretive work. Museums grew into places for storing rescue finds. The scholar got bogged down and creative solutions were thwarted. And come to think of it, the Ephorias' double responsibilities of rescue excavations and museum administration do not make good partners.

Within this context grew a phenomenon called the "Vergina Syndrome." Andronikos' exhibitions of Macedonian finds from Vergina were quickly politicized. The 1978 show "Treasures of Ancient Macedonia" became an international block buster, traveling to the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe. Dealing so closely with issues of modern states (the Macedonian Question), Andronikos' model for success was dangerously subservient to the service of national ideology. New exhibition possibilities and the renaissance of the Museum of Thessaloniki had positive effects. But some critics argued that Vergina simply encouraged a senseless treasure hunt. Traveling exhibitions, like the 1977 Aegean Art show, caused a different kind of political agitation. Greek citizens began to protest the expatriation of their works. Demonstrations in Crete against the Aegean Art show called for a "battle of the amphoras" or the "kidnapping of gods." Grass roots movements and disaffection with U.S. foreign policy took an interesting form of archaeological activism.

Phase 3, (1997-present) is described as the period of opportunities. Greece's entrance into the European Community in 1981, the founding of the Hellenic National Committee of ICOM in 1983, the hosting of the Olympic Games in 2004 and affiliations with a dynamic diaspora placed the Greek museum into a new globalized setting in which old rules (national rebirth, political persecution, xenophobia) ceased to be either viable or productive. Outwardly focused discursive considerations, exo- and macro- systems began to fall into place. Mouliou gives a wonderful overview of contemporary museum trends, discussing thematic exhibits like "Child in Antiquity" and "Mind and Body." Clearly, any coherent museological theory is lacking in modern Greek practices, but there is a shared anxiety that the museum is losing its audience. The old-school "hoarding up treasures," nationalist ancestor-worship and eclectic connoisseurship are strategies with little utility in a globalized world. Hourmouziadis, again in 1999, reiterated the need for educational programs. Given the general public's love for archaeology, the absence of "public archaeology" in Greece is striking.

Marlen Mouriou's essay should be mandatory reading for any scholar coming into contact with the Greek museum system. Understanding the historical roots of individual initiatives certainly justifies the Greek idiosyncrasies; one is amazed, in fact, how flexible Greek museums have been to changing realities. At the end of the essay, the reader senses Mouriou's deep concern for the future along with a slight hint of optimism. The bureaucratization of the Greek state and the establishment of the Ephoria system in 1977 seems to be more of a hindrance. Creative solutions are needed now more than ever. Greek museums have a lot of potential and Mouriou's critical reading shows the presence of great talent even within the sclerotic framework.


For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Singular Antiquity 6: Gazi on Greek Museums (1900-1909)

Between 1900 and 1909, the Greek state built 16 provincial museums in Ancient Corinth, Thera, Chalkis, Mykonos, Nauplion, Delphi, Cheroneia, Delos, Thebes, Herakleion, Lykosoura, Corfu, Tegea, Thermon, Volos and Argostolion. This stunning amount of activity (a rate of three new museums per year) succeeded in distributing archaeological learning throughout the country but, more importantly, established a professional model of management, administration and display. Gazi analyzes the museological principals that emerged during this period in, “‘Artfully Classified’ and ‘Appropriately Placed’: Notes on the Display of Antiquities in Early Twentieth-Century Greece,” in Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008), pp. 67-77.

The museums had some variation; for instance, nine were built in urban centers and seven within or nearby archaeological sites. Yet, they achieved homogeneity in their underlying curatorial principles. An important achievement was to move beyond the strictly repository character of earlier museums and to codify chronological and typological classifications. Common tendencies involved packing as many objects as possible in one space and creating formal connections within media. In short, they followed the strict taxonomic character of museum display in the “age of archaeological flamboyance” (1870-1914). As Gazi points out, the majority of Greek curators had studied in Europe, mostly in Germany. Their dependency on neoclassical models of display is, thus, obvious.

The one exception in curatorial practices came about through a British collaboration. In displaying the finds from Ritsona in the museum of Thebes, Antonios Keramopoulos consulted with the site’s excavators. Percy Ure and Ronald Barrows believed that the contents of individual graves should be displayed in their entirety in order to provide a coherent representation of the society’s burial practice. Gazi credits this new contextual model to Paolo Orsi, who excavated cemeteries in Sicily, but it also reflects a larger debate on archaeological method (Mortimer Wheeler, stratigraphy, etc.) The Ritsona counter-example makes the reader curious to learn more about the history of museum culture in Italy, Britain, France and the United States. Gazi does a great job documenting the 16 Greek museums, but does not include any comparative examples outside of Greece. A discussion of museum practices in Europe would be greatly welcome, rather than assuming that the model was monolithic. Sculptures from the Temple of Aphaia in Aegina and sculptures from the Temple of Bassae, for instance, were displayed differently in the Munich Glyptotech and in the British Museum respectively.

Gazi also discusses Greek intellectual culture ca. 1900 and new notions of history that emerged through Paparregopoulos, Dragoumis, Palamas and other Demoticists. The archaeologist, “a national intellectual,” was caught between two competing models: classical purism versus historical inclusiveness (i.e. the incorporation of post-classical periods in the national identity). The 20th century ushered in the age of ambivalence towards antiquities, in contrast to the age of subservience preceded it. Gazi observes that the curators of the Greek museums were behind the times, stuck in the age of subservience. This might be one of Gazi’s most interesting conclusions with powerful repercussions. The institutionalization of the Greek museum as a palace of taxonomy removed the classical archaeologist from the forefront of intellectual debate. Perhaps at this juncture, 1900-1909, the Greek archaeologist ceased being an intellectual and became a bureaucrat.

Gazi refers to some great secondary literature, such as P. Kitromilides, “From Subservience to Ambivalence: Modern Greek Attitudes toward the Classics,” in The Impact of Classical Greece on European and Classical Identities, ed. M. Haagsma et al. (Amsterdam, 2003), pp. 47-53. She also reminds us to reconsider the role of the archaeologist as public intellectual in literary life and reread seminal literary texts, like Andreas Karkavitsas, The Archaeologist (1904) and Kostis Palamas, Dodecalogue of the Gypsy (1907) and The King’s Flute (1910).

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Singular Antiquity 5: Tolias on Gennadios

Greek intellectuals of the 19th century worked very hard to cultivate Philhellenism among the western supporters of Modern Greece. Exporting antiquities to the West helped advertise the international relevance of the ancient tradition and, thus, generate support for the emerging nation state. Statesmen such as Adamantios Korais, a renown classical philologist, or Alexandros Moustoxidis did not encourage anti-exportation laws, but remained silent, seeing the political and economic advantages of dispersing Greek antiquities throughout the world’s collections.

Another school of thought that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became militant about keeping antiquities in Greece and banning any further export of treasures. Ioannis Gennadios, who is best known for the library that he donated to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, belonged in this latter group and is the subject of George Tolias’ essay “National Heritage and Greek Revival: Ioannis Gennadios on the Expatriated Antiquities,” in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece (Athens, 2008), pp. 55-65. Ioannis Gennadios, son of the scholar Georgios Gennadios, spent most of his life as a diplomat in London. Interestingly enough, his diplomatic career started when he was fired from a job in a Greek commercial firm because he wrote an apology for the Dilessi/Marathon murders of 1870, see Romilly Jenkins, The Dilessi Murders (London, 1961). Gennadios’ diplomatic career took him to the Hague, Washington, D.C., Constantinople; he spent most of his life in London, where he amassed a personal library of 24,000 books. He married Florence Laing Kennedy but had no children. He died alone at his home in Surrey in 1932.

Two years before his death, Gennadios published a Treatise, Lord Elgin and Earlier Antiquarian Invaders in Greece, documenting 75 cases of looting from Cyriac of Ancona (1440) to the foundation of the Archaeological Society of Athens (1837). Gennadios’ militant position was influenced by Alexandros Rizos Rankaves, who was a student of Gennadios’ father. The Treatise includes a speech that Rankaves gave on May 12, 1842, at the Parthenon, a foundational document for stigmatizing the export of antiquities. Tolias’ essay provides the intellectual and historical context for Ioannis Gennadios’ activism towards “restoring Hellenism.” Tolias warns that “it would be easy to dismiss the positions adapted by Gennadios in 1930 as the romantic ideas of an aged radical patriot.” Rather, we should see the Treatise as an expression of an ongoing tension between Greek nationalism (which sees all Greek antiquities belonging to the Greek state) and Humanism (which sees classical Greece as a universal heritage). The return of the Elgin marbles has been a subject of international debate perculating at different times in history, and most recently as the celebrated cause of Melina Merkouri, when she became Minister of Culture under Giorgos Papandreou’s government. Tolias’ essay brings historical bones to a debate that we presume was always the same. We can almost visualize an 86-year-old Gennadios pacing through his personal library, pulling books out of a collection that he spent an entire life time building. The Treatise suddenly justifies the book collection and illuminates the fundamental nature of a library now owned by an academic institution equally devoted to restoring Hellenism.

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Singular Antiquity 4: Herzfeld

What follows is a review of Michael Herzfeld, “Archaeological Etymologies: Monumentality and Domesticity in Twentieth Century Greece," in Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and the Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008), pp. 43-54.

Michael Herzfeld is nothing short of a superstar in Modern Greek studies, a founder of an entire discipline of social anthropology, making Greece a paradigm-breaker. His article in Singular Antiquity is as provocative as all his work. Despite its complexity and the variety of avenues it opens, Herzfeld’s explores a singular concept well understood by anthropologists, namely the contradictory relationship between public presentation and private secrets. In this sense, it is similar to Mark Mazower’s essay that focuses closely on land. According to Herzfeld, classical antiquity has provided Greece with a cultural façade behind which private life could enjoy illicit and familiar practices. This is more than the tired duality of public vs. private or Hellenic vs. Romeic identities, it is a historically constructed condition common to modern states whose self-imaging was created by others. As in the cases of Nepal, Ethiopia, and Thailand, Greece created a cultural model not of its own making. And Greeks, of course, hate to be compared with the third world, as evident in the response to Marin Bernal's Black Athena. The classical façade (and later the modernist polykatoikia) is western Europe’s creation; for Greece, it served as an ideal screen to disguise alternative lifestyles. Understanding this duality unlocks the inexplicable patterns of modern Greek life, most notably the juxtaposition between a “stern morality” and “a relaxed attitude to violations of the norm.”

Herzfeld’s anthropological model (inspired by E. Papataxiarchis’ study of eterotita), proves to be extremely useful but surprisingly under-utilized, for example, in architectural studies. Excluding a few case studies (some by Herzfeld’s students), the anthropological lens has not penetrated into interdisciplinary research. Studies of Greek architecture have been limited to understanding formal vocabularies rather than social practices, and they have not revealed the spatial tension between interior and exterior. Herzfeld goes beyond the monument and addresses some contemporary developments, the realization that Greece’s homogeneity was a grand myth. James Faubion’s Modern Greek Lessons: A Primer in Historical Constructivism (Princeton, 1993) opened up subjects of research that have chipped away the monolith. Herzfeld highlights that the system of classical disguise (dominant under the Greek junta and Victorian England alike) has cracked, and pluralist voices have leaped out (Moslem minorities, gay-lesbians- transsexuals, migrant workers, refugees, etc.). Herzfeld sees the dawn of a new age when the classical myth has lost its monopoly. Moreover, he sees a direct relationship between the size of the classical screen and our ability to deconstruct it today. “The Neoclassicists and the crypto-colonizers may have strengthened the classical heritage simply by letting go of it.”

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 (Minneapolis, 1991). Much of what I think today about Modern Greece depends on those two works. Sadly, Faubion has stopped working in Greece and has moved on to equally complex places, such as Waco, Texas, see The Shadows and Lights of Waco: Millenialism Today (Princeton, 2001). Modern Greek Lessons was a double surprise to me. During his fieldwork in Greece, Faubion met Greece’s leading gay-rights activist, who just so happens to be my cousin. Faubion studied the ambivalence of sexual politics with Gregory Vallianatos as navigator. Between 2004 and 2008, Gregory wrote a column in Athens Voice. His short biting editorials have just been collected into a book that I’m infinitely grateful to my friend Anna Androulaki for sending to me. The book bears the same title as the editorial, Akatallilo, and was published by Kastaniotes (Athens, 2008). I read the editorials for the first time. They offer a glimpse through the cracks that Herzfeld discusses in Singular Antiquity. I am so proud of my cousin!

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Singular Antiquity 3: Mazower

In preparation for my review for BMCR, I individually review the essays in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008). See related links below.

This posting is a review of Mark Mazower's, “Archaeology, Nationalism and the Land in Modern Greece” pp. 33-41.

The first essay in
Singular Antiquity is written by renown Modern Greek historian Mark Mazower, who looks at the role of land, soil and property as a register of cultural significance. Nationalism arose in the context of expanding or maintaining the territory of the nation-state and is ultimately connected to the land. Archaeology is another activity occurring within the soil and, as such, it directly grounds the present (and its territorial claims) with the past.

Mazower, however, refuses to accept the wholesale association between archaeology and nationalism, a trope "widely recognized" in recent scholarship and, frankly, the subject of the book. The continuum between nationalism and archaeology breaks down once we consider that, for the most part, land is privately owned in Greece. Of equal importance is the constantly shifting cultural paradigms across Greek history. Even within the 19th century, Bavarian and French neoclassicism cannot be equated with Romanticism. The latter, which flourished in the later part of the century, had emotive effect as its priority, and even welcomed into the canon, non-classical monuments such as picturesque mosques, Byzantine churches and modern peasants. In the 20th century, this ethnographic lens gave way to modernist formalism. Classical architecture was photographed in severe black-and-white contrast and any view of peasants was unfashionable. Mazower warns us that"the nature of the connection between archaeology and nationalism needs to be carefully specified" and placed in a precise historical framework.

Mazower seems turns the spotlight on the social role of scholars. Nationalism, Mazower argues, is not self evident but has been elevated into focus by a politically powerless scholarly community: "the appeal to nationalism can be construed as a legitimizing slogan by a scholarly community all too conscious of its own feeble standing in daily life rather than a self-evident truth of unstoppable force; all the more so as what is to be an archaeologist--sociologically, intellectually--changes so fast between 1830 adn 1950." (p. 34)

Finally, Mazower points out that archaeology as a practice has itself radically changed, moving towards an inclusiveness incompatible with older definitions. "Archaeology has changed enormously, even in the past thirty years. The spread of field surveys, industrial and ethno-archaeology and the boom in museology have diffused the discipline's offerings and led it to sponsor a much wider and more inclusive conception of the past than it once did. The political elite, having grown up on the ideology of eternal Greece, finds it hard to let go." (p. 39) Perhaps in my most extreme reading of this essay, I find evidence of scepticism. My suspicion is that Mazower distrusts the current scholarship on nationalism/archaeology for failing to particularize historical variation. And I think it is true, when modern historians talk about archaeology they rely on an antiquated view of the discipline.

Mazower's essay is enlightening in its nuanced readings of historical periods and in its critique of the subject in general. Mazower is arguablythe most important living American historian of Modern Greece.
Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44 (New Haven, 1993) should be mandatory reading for all students of Greece. My personal new favorite is an edited volume, After the War Was Over: Reconstructing the Family, Nation, and State in Greece, 1943-1960 (Princeton, 2000), which deals with the effects of the Civil War. Unlike other books dealing with the military and political dimension of the war, this volume specifically addresses aspects of social life. Mazower is a prolific writer. His Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 (New York, 2006) was greatly received even by a general audience. The same could be said for his earlier study, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (New York, 2000). For me, Mazower shines best in his less general works where a critical edge is evident.

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Singular Antiquity 2: Plantzos, Introduction

In preparation for my review for BMCR, I individually review the essays in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008).

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 Greece, it fails to recognize that forms of popular culture are inherently surreal with twisted and contradictory aesthetics. The performative reliving of history can be found in popular culture across the globe; it’s part of modernity. There are endless examples, from the annual reenactment of the Battle at Gettysburg, the Society of Creative Anachronism, to staging medieval jousting competitions and Native American rituals. From England to the American Southwest, archaeology has fed the creative imagination just as much as it has manipulated national ideology. Naturally, Plantzos’ article is not the place to create a global overview of popular meaning, although there is one quick reference made to the Bengal school of art (p. 22). The lack of other national comparisons makes the Greek case-study claustrophobic. One has the feeling that Greece is taken a little too seriously, missing the wonderful theoretical categories of kitsch, camp, and irony that scholars have developed to study popular culture in a positive manner.

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 Greece. Singular Antiquity should be just as relevant to them as the professional archaeologist.

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.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Singular Antiquity 1

About once a year, I succumb to the temptations of book reviewing. This time, I have buckled to a brand new volume on Greek cultural history, Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and the Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece (Athens, 2008). Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos have here collected 25 essays from “Archaeology, Antiquity and Greekness,” a conference held at the Benaki Museum in January 2007.

The literature on archaeology and nationalism has flourished in the last couple of decades, entering even the arena of public debate. Consider, for example, the hoopla over Nadia Abu El-Haj’s tenure controversy at Columbia University. El-Haj’s quite reasonable
Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (Chicago, 2001) explores the use of archaeology in the construction of modern Israel. The controversy is detailed in Jane Kramer, "The Petition: Israel, Palestine, and a Tenure Battle at Barnard" (The New Yorker, April 14, 2008, p. 50). Archaeology’s role in Greek nationalism has its own growing bibliography, culminating with Yannis Hamilakis’ The Nation and Its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford, 2007). All this literature, of course, depends on the ground breaking work of historian Eric Hobsbawm (Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Cambridge, 1990), who briefly considers the case of Greece. For instance, he compares katharevousa with the revival of Gaelic in Ireland and Hebrew in Israel. The discipline of archaeology has become a lot more reflexive with fundamental volumes like Stephen Dyson, In Pursuit of Ancient Pasts: A History of Classical Archaeology in the 19th and 20th Centuries (New Haven, 2006), Ian Morris ed. Classical Greece: Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies (Cambridge, 1994), and Bruce Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge, 1989). While post-colonial historiography spreads through the academy, it remains marginal to the public narrative. Departments of Classical Studies in the U.S., for example, rarely offer courses on the history and ideological foundation of their own discipline. Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (New York, 1987), the Straussian foundations of the Bush administration, or even Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (New Brunswick, 1987) are inescapable in public discourse, but almost invisible in undergraduate course offerings. Most Classics professors and graduate students care more about conjugations and declensions than the deployment of their discipline in cultural debate. Archaeologists, similarly, tend to shun away from topics of cultural heritage while news of repatriation and antiquity trafficking fill the newspapers.

The situation among Greek intellectuals, academicians, students, politicians and the general public is even more steeped in the comfort of 19th-century assumptions. Greece’s national myths are still relevant since the territorial and geopolitical conditions that gave birth to nationalism have not gone away. Membership in the European Union, Greek business expansion, itinerant labor forces and sharing in globalization does not erase the nationalist myth; it complicates it further through amplification or obfuscation.

Singular Antiquity is, therefore, terribly important. It may be that nationalism and archaeology has itself become a tired topic. The connections were obvious to most people, and not only to left intellectuals for whom nationalism was a critical foil. I think nationalism has not become tired enough. The word needs to spread from the convention centers of academia to the offices of politicians and cultural institutions. The essays in this book make it clear that the topic is far from exhaustion. The Benaki, moreover, should be praised for spearheading cultural debate in Greece and abroad (through this English-language publication)

Singular Antiquity contains essays from 25 brilliant scholars, many of whom are the pillars of Modern Greek Studies in the U.S. (e.g. Michael Herzfeld, Mark Mazower, Vasilis Lambropoulos, Artemis Leontis). I already admire the work of many contributors, but many I have never heard of. Bryn Mawr Classical Review has requested that my review be no longer than 1,000 words and I hope to oblige. The 25 essays in this book (and my wordiness) will need more space. So, I’ve decided to post longer reviews for each essay in this blog. The BMCR has also broken out into further digital openness, through a blog where comments can be posted to each review.

At first glimpse, they essays offer nuanced case studies; the book does not promote some megalithic theory, school or posse. It does not read like a party convention with postmodern platitudes or self-congratulations. For this reason, too, I think each essay deserves separate attention. Not all of the authors are academic superstars. Some are only known to small academic circles and publish in Greek. They range from young scholars unknown outside Greece, such as the art historian Elena Hamalidi, to old giants like Demitris Philippides, whose
Neoellenike Architectonike (Athens, 1984) should be in every architectural library but is unfamiliar to English-speaking audiences (even architectural historians). Their work needs to be amplified.

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

Labels

Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States

Blog Archive