Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jennifer Ball's Teaching Thursday

I haven't been very good with keeping up my Teaching Thursday discussion going, although I have encouraged friends to give me input on their own teaching. This week, Jennifer Ball, professor of Art History at the Graduate Center, CUNY, sent me some thoughts on her class. Jenn Ball is teaching a seminar on the pedagogy of art history, where different methods and narratives are discussed and critiqued by the students. Having seen the syllabus already, I thought this was a great ideal. But for the most part, I am excited to have established a small community of readers (including Bill Caraher) who are interested in the interworkings of our discipline and are intrigued by the potential of digital communication.

From Jennifer Ball
Mon, Sep 29, 2008 at 12:37 AM

So... I'm writing to you about teaching. Post this or not, but I thought you'd be interested in my small classroom achievement this week:

My class on pedagogy - at The Graduate Center, CUNY - is going very well. In fact, I feel a little guilty about it because I feel certain that I am getting more out of it than they are. Every week, we have great discussions and I get 12 unique views on teaching. I bring in my own teaching materials and I get 12 critiques. I see their assignments, syllabi, and teaching plans and I have so many things that I am excited to try out in my own undergraduate classes. Most importantly, it is pushing me to experiment more than usual in my Early Medieval Art class. So this week, I began something very different for me.

After a few years of trying various approaches to the upper level undergraduate research paper assignment, I decided to throw it all away and start from scratch. In the past, I tweaked this and that aspect of the assignment. I introduced classroom and library exercises but still most of my students failed to even get a good topic going. The ones who did it well would have no matter how my assignment looked, but there were always a number who did not do great research or writing. This year I decided to do group oral presentations instead. The group, who ultimately participates in the grading process by evaluating the other members of the group, I am hopeful will push the individuals to keep to a timeline and meet the smaller deadlines along the way - they have to hand in a written topic, an outline of their presentation, and an annotated bibliography. I have been breaking the research paper into mini steps for some time but students think (perhaps they know) that the final paper is really what matters and simply phone in the other assignments. The final presentation, conversely, is lower stakes - it is not written down of course and only counts for 25% of the overall grade. But the process of the assignment I hope will teach these research and preliminary writing skills that I haven't been able to capture in many of my students thus far.

This past week, I began the assignment by putting them into their assigned groups and giving them each an image. Using that image as the jumping off point, they had to create a mind map of the image in which the group free associates and literally draws all over the image, writing down questions, ideas about the work, connections to it - in essence they were brainstorming collectively. After that, they had to assemble the random notes surrounding their image into categories, putting like ideas together until they whittled it down to 4-5 questions. From there they discussed which of those might be worth further research - a potential topic for a paper. Wow! It went well. I had to kick them out of the room and each group left the room with a 'to do' list and a meeting date for their group to finalize their topics. I learned about mind mapping - something that I do from time to time but had never named it as such - at a workshop on the teaching of writing. This was my first try in the classroom. The images that I gave each group were unknown to them, so I was slightly nervous. But it worked so well, I wanted to write you about it.


p.s. I read your friend Bill's posting on his lame classroom setup and was laughing - that doesn't hold a candle to how ridiculously bad mine is (at Brooklyn, not at the Grad Center where the rooms are pretty nice). He's needs to come to the bowels of public education and teach in classrooms that have not changed since 1930.

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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Mapping historical landscapes is a difficult procedure because the subjective world cannot always mesh through objective description, a prerequisite for mapping. My friend Nick Stapp is struggling with these issues. He is writing a program, or a set of digital procedures that document historical change through the 19th and 20th centuries at Washington Square, one of William Penn's four original squares in Philadelphia. Nick is a man of many talents, with degrees in both archaeology and historic preservation, now going for a Ph.D. in urban planning. He's best known in Mediterranean archaeology for his work for the Corinth Computer Project, directed by David G. Romano at UPenn's Museum. He has taught classes on GIS and archaeology and he has been my GIS mentor. While reading Nick's dissertation proposal, I learned about a couple of interesting new projects.

Yesterday, Richard Florida blogged about a new study mapping personality variations across the U.S., in Peter J. Renfrow, Samuel D. Gossling, and Jeff Potter, "A Theory of the Emergence, Persistence and Expression of Geographic Variation in Psychological Characteristics,"
Perspectives on Psychological Sciece 3:5 (2008) pp. 339-369. Bill Caraher will be happy to learn, for instance, that North Dakotans are happier and more affable than most Americans. Peter Rentfrow's web site (at Cambridge) shows a forthcoming publication that, moreover, relates personality traits to presidential elections. The characteristics studied in the project were Extraversion, Agreeableness, Consientiousness, Neuroticism and Openness. Accordingly, each state has some dominant features that are replicated and reinforced. The data is pretty interesting as is the discussion of criteria used, data collection and number crunching.

The second project takes us to the street. Bio Mapping is a collaborative project that collects data of varying sensorial arousal through street walking. Over 1,500 collaborated in the data collection and some of the maps are available in Google Earth. The San Francisco emotion map is already completed and next in line is T0kyo.

A few months ago, I wrote about new books on the tradition of psychogeography, see Peripatetic History. Psychogeopgraphy was devised by the Situationists, a second generation of Surrealists, who wandered aimlessly through the urban fabric and documented psychological states. They produced installations, urban designs and philosophical tracts. The two projects discussed here extend the spirit of the Situationists and bridge the gap between subjectivity and objectivity.


The Republican National Convention featured a relentless backdrop of a waving American flag, a patriotic screen saver. In an earlier posting, I contrasted this modernist image to the Democratic National Convention's use of classical architecture. Realizing how fierce the television ads have become in the last few weeks, I decided to consult The Living Room Candidate, a website discussed in Alessandra Stanley's, "On the Web, a Nonpartisan Look at Those Partisan Campaign Ads,"(New York Times, Sept. 11, 2998). The Living Room Candidate is produced by the Museum of the Moving Image (located in Astoria, NY) and features a fascinating history of political advertisements in U.S. presidential campaigns. My favorite ad comes from 1968, where Richard Nixon paints the Civil Rights movement as an issue of domestic violence. "The First Civil Right" is a psychedelic commercial that employs dislocation to scare the viewer into the need for order.

I had noted McCain's visual attacks on Obama in Architecture Wars. Out of curiosity, I started browsing through the ad war. While doing so, I picked up another feature that supports my modernist interpretation of the new Republican aesthetic. The feature is simply some billowing smoke that floats through the screen. Its movement is similar to the omnipresent billowing flag, but it is quite surprising given the negative associations attached to smoking (health, drugs, etc.) You'll see this smoke in "Sacrifice" (posted Apr. 17, 2008). The flag wavers, the sun shines in yellow over McCain's handcuffs, the clouds float over the Statue of Liberty and lights dazzle through the telling of McCain's personal history. And then for about 30 seconds (min. 1:55-2:30), the most beautiful yellow/red smoke weaves through heroic still images. The smoke makes another appearance behind the words Honor, Courage, Beauty, Perseverance and Leadership in "Character Forged by Family" (released also on Apr. 17, 2008); note min. 0:21-0:27. It's nothing major, but it's highly minimalist, if not trippy. Like the flag, it employs modernist strategies of purity, clarity, transparency and beauty, like the fabrics that Christo draped through the landscape or the smoke of surrealist photography. It's a small thing, but like the aesthetics of the flag, quite distinctive.

In a previous posting, I made reference to the kitsch-inspired wax figures of Duane Hansen. A doll company out of Oxford, CT, has produced some very topical figurines, including a Sarah Palin School Girl doll. The company is called Hero Builders. My niece is turning 4 in just two weeks. Celina and I got her a doll and shipped it in time for her birthday. I haven't thought about dolls for years, but we certainly didn't get her a Palin doll. We went with a sweeter girl, Vanilla Redhead by Corolle. We figured that the pigtails will go well with Kristina's role model, Pippi Longstocking (a Swedish character from `1945).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rankaves: Postmodern Morea

Our readings of the distant past are influenced by the binaries of our recent past. One such example is the scholarship on the medieval Morea, where Greek versus Latin, Orthodox versus Catholic, Eastern versus Western dominate the interpretive spectrum. Between 1206 and ca. 1230, most of the Morea (or Peloponnese) was a Crusader state of unique cultural expression. After the establishment of the Modern Greek state in 1830, France oversaw the management of the Peloponnese, so it is not surprising that a French scholarly tradition developed, along the lines of colonialist narratives elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This tradition, obviously, sought ideological precedent for contemporary French imperialism. As France’s colonial interests waned in the early 20th century, a competing tradition emerged within Greece. Responding directly to the dominance of French nationalism, the Greek historical narrative responded with an even heavier counter-weight, Greek nationalism. We must not forget that this was also a time when Greece nurtured its own expansionist dreams that culminated with the disastrous Greco-Turkish war of 1922.

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 Helena’s marriage at the most logical place, Faust’s palace on the Rhine, Goethe moved the wedding to Mystras (Faust II.2). We know about this change of heart from a note that Goethe left on a playbill one night at the theater. With the help of Buchon’s interpretation, Mystras began to symbolize the inevitable marriage between two seemigly incompatible ideals, the Greek and the Gothic geniuses, the two dominant traditions of the West’s self-fashioning.

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 TerzakisPrincess 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 1819) . I will not bother summarizing the plot that involves historical highlights from the medieval chronicle. The novel begins with a jousting competition. Rankaves starts to describe the knights’ elaborate armor, their horses, even the inscribed epigrams, but after Geoffroy Villehardouin, he stops in mid-narrative with an amazing statement. He steps out of the narrative, and speaks directly to the reader. As author, he announces that he will stop describing more visual details because they have little significance for his overall narrative. Then he digresses in addressing the historical legacy of the Frankish period, telling the reader that the Latins came and went leaving very little archaeological testament behind. So, it’s OK that the reader may be bored with the details of heraldry. Rankaves then proceeds with an archaeological voice to describe the field in which the reader MIGHT have confronted the Latin past, as a wanderer, a hiker, or a Romantic reader of the landscape. “Hiking through mountains, the wanderer may discover fortresses perched on peaks like eagles’ nests; or he may find blocks inscribed with heraldic symbols buried among the bushes. The wanderer might ignore these monuments altogether, as he rushes his attention towards the Cyclopean masonry of glorious ancient Greece and its eternal monuments.” The original passage is Greek reads as follows (transcribed in monotonic Greek) .

"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 University of Athens, 1844. He breaks the heroic narrative to address archaeology’s internal epistemological questions: Under what conditions does one confront the historical countryside? How do you discover a historical period? And do archaeological monuments compete for attention? I find this to be an amazing passage. It highlights the degrees of scholarly self-awareness within literary genres but it also reveals the inseparable bond between literature and monuments. Medieval fortresses like Mystras accumulated the same cultic status as the Parthenon. I’m trying to trace the process of cultural deification and the creation of a monumental heterotopia (Foucault’s concept) through an archaeological/literary conspiracy (at the risk of sounding paranoid).

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 Istanbul but attended military academy at Munich. He was involved in politics and literature, but he was also one of Greece’s first archaeology professors. Yes, he was one of the early cultural super-Greeks, but he was married to a Scottish woman. He spoke multiple languages, lived in multiple places including Washington, D.C. The recounting of medieval military life must be seen also from a different professional perspective, namely that Rankaves first came to Greece under the Bavarian monarchy as professor of military science at Nauplion, the first capital. His narration of jousting competition, therefore, relates to his teaching of modern warfare. This professional identification puts him in the same category with contemporary travelers like Williams Leake or the French Scientific Expedition, whose objectives were first the accumulation of military strategic knowledge and only second the recording of antiquities. Although clearly supportive of the creation of new Greece, Rankaves' nationalism is not so easy to define. Scholars have noted, for example, that he does not take a pro-Greek position in the Lord of the Morea, but at times seems anti-Greek. Our national equations of modern French=pro Latin, modern Greek=pro-Byzantine breaks down in 1850.

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.

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.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Teaching Thursday: Who Are My Students?

I'm a little behind in my Teaching Thursday postings. However, I've been thoroughly enjoying the discussions in The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. In Teaching Thursday (Sept. 4, 2008), Bill Caraher reviews Mark Bauerlein's book The Dumbest Generation (New York, 2008), an item very much worth exploring. Bauerlein points out that the new generation's attachment to digital technologies stems from the 1960s youth movement. Most shocking is Bauerlein's observation that despite the rejection of traditional media like books and journals, the new generation is actually not very digitally literate either. Students today use basic computer skills (email, social networking, google), but they are not accumulating advanced digital skills (databases, information queries, organization, computer languages).

My overdue Teaching Thursday (both a week and two days late) will focus on my students at Connecticut College. I am currently teaching two sections of the Art History survey (AHI 121) of about 70 students total. As a visiting instructor, I feel the freedom to experiment with my teaching method, but also to make public statements about the college or the student body without any concerns about tenure. My first objective in class was to learn WHO my students were. Hoping that they will create as many narratives about the subject as I provide for them, I felt it was crucial to make no assumptions about their backgrounds. In a note-card questionnaire, I asked all students to tell me why they are taking the class and what previous experiences they've had with ancient and medieval monuments. I then tabulated the answers to create a communal profile. The results were surprising to me mostly because I have been used to the student body of a large public university, a much less elite population. South Carolina is pretty low on both economic and educational scales. The typical Clemson student taking introductory Art History would have never been to an art museum or traveled abroad (maybe not even outside the state). It should also be noted that the state of Connecticut has the highest per-capita income in the country, while the state of South Carolina ranks among the lowest. So literally, the typical SC student would be about 1/2 poorer than a CT peer.

My typical Connecticut College student has already been exposed to high culture, has been to major American museums and has traveled abroad. According to the declared responses, 15% of my students have parents directly involved with the art world (art historians, art collectors, or artists). Another 8% took the class on the high recommendation of a close relative or friend who took Art History in college and loved it. Most students have been exposed to museums. Amazingly enough, 15% have been to Paris (and mention the Louvre) and 8% have been to Italy, (mostly to Florence and typically mention Michelangelo's David). Other countries traveled include England, Spain, Austria, Greece, Vietnam and Mexico. Some students have even taken Art History classes in high school.

In my questionnaire, I asked the students to pick one art work that has inspired them. A few answered with the Lascaux Caves, Stonehenge and Venus de Milo (at the Louvre), which they had seen. The great majority could not think of anything pre-Renaissance. The list of favorites includes Michelangelo’s
David, Sargent's Daughters of Sir Edward Darley, Delaroche's Execution of Lady Grey, Cassatt's Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, Brueghel's Tower of Babel, Fernard Leger, Kokoshka, William Morris and Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. Impressionism ranked highly, and I suspect this has a lot to do with contemporary tastes and museum block busters.

A typical narrative started with “I have always been very passionate about art” followed by a discussion of early experiences from Grand Tour travels, art instruction in high school, or AB Art History. But when called to mention specific pre-modern monuments, the typical answer was "but I don't remember anything in particular." So, in conclusion, my typical art history student has seen lots and lots of things. Since most are Freshmen, kudos to the parents that have taken their kids to museums from an early age. In fact, many of the mentioned favorites are housed in three major cities from which the Connecticut College student pool is drawn: New York, Boston and Philadelphia. However, art education seems to be limited to post-Renaissance art.

I should also mention that 20% of the students declared interest in an architectural studies major (that Connecticut College offers). 66% of the students are Freshmen and have not declared a major of study (although many are tempted by Art History); the rest of the class is distributed into 19% Sophomores, 11% Juniors and 4% Senior. It was clear to me in graduate school that Art History is very gendered with a great majority of females. Almost three quarters of my students are female (71%). What I've learned from my preliminary study is that students taking the first Art History class are self-selected. They are typically the students that already have some exposure to the arts. Although I don't have any data at hand, this seems to be much less the case with introductory courses in the sciences or history.

This is the first time that I have collected any statistics on my students. Rather than making assumptions about who they are, I would like to quantify my audience in some meaningful way. I also hope that such simple analysis may be useful to Connecticut College directly or to my fellow teachers in other universities. Jennifer Ball, for instance, is teaching a seminar at Brooklyn College on teaching art history. I thank Jenn for sharing her syllabus with me. Bill Caraher has been talking about organizing a conference discussing the value of teaching medieval history and material culture in the 21st century. I am convinced that our discipline is rapidly changing under our very nose through our students. I'm hoping to understand this wonderful group of students that I have the pleasure of teaching at Connecticut College. Their engagement with the material, their eagerness to discuss it in class has been astounding. With every question, there is a sea of hands eager to speak.

In my next Teaching Thursday, I hope to discuss the space in which I teach, following Bill Caraher's amusing posting "Reading the Digital Palimpsest for Traces of an Analog World."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Architectural Wars

Perhaps I've spent too many postings worrying about architectural iconography and the presidential election, but it really is getting more perplexing by the minute. Today, I saw the famous McCain "Celeb" ad on television (released Aug. 1, 2008) showing images of Barak Obama from his July 24 speech in Berlin. The image shows Obama directly under Berlin's Victory Column, as if this neoclassical column (surrounded by a colonnade) sprouts from Obama's head. When Obama chose to give the speech in front of the Victory Column, there was some discussion about the appropriateness of the location. The Victory Column was erected in 1873 to commemorate the Prussian defeat of Denmark. It was admired by the Nazis and, in fact, moved to its present spot in 1939; the tunnels leading visitors under the traffic circle were designed by Hitler's favorite architect, Albert Speer. The Obama campaign was obviously concerned over such military associations, which are now exploited by the McCain campaign. Fox News had made an early stab back in June with headlines "Obama Flunks History," essentially identifying the column with Fascism; this was when Obama's speech location had been moved from the Brandenburger Gate (where Ronald Reagan gave his iconic speech in June, 1987). Since 1939, Berlin's Victory Column has acquired newer iconographies that supersede simplistic associations with a regime that didn't even erect it. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the monument represents a unified Germany and the victory of Europe. In 1987, for example, French President Francois Mitterand restored the golden wreaths that had been removed by France in 1945. Moreover, the Victory Column is where the famous Love Parade has taken place since 1989. Thus, the monument has become the Woodstock of the European youth movement. I believe that Obama wanted to tap into this particular nerve when addressing his Berlin audience.

For me, personally, Berlin's Victory Column will forever evoke Berlin's poetic distilled in Wim Wenders'
Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987), one of my all time favorite movies. Those that have seen it will surely remember the angels standing on the Victory Column and overlooking the modern city. Visually, the column reunites Germany's rich neoclassical tradition with modernity (remember the library scene) through a perpetually nostalgic present.

I guess, the McCain/Palin ticket wants to keep alive the image of "Styrofoam columns" and surround it with negative background noise. This is a silly visual strategy, capitalizing on the public's generic familiarity with columns, vague associations with elitism, and now with 19th-century European urbanism. But it really seems very superficial. It's a strategy that should get architectural historians reveled up. Fellow architectural historians, change this week's teaching plan and introduce your students to the new architectural wars. As Newsweek editor Eleanor Clift (NPR, "On Point", Fri., Sept. 5, 2008) commented yesterday, a lot of "cross-dressing" seems to be happening in the Republican camp . If one needs to change imperial clothes, column-bashing may come in handy. More alarming would be what David Kirkpatrick (NYT, Sept. 5, 2008, A23) analyzed as a revival of the cultural wars whose banner was raised by Pat Buchanan in the 1992 Republican Convention. Buchanan saw this new war as the new Cold War. Although predominantly about social values (abortion, gays, religion, education), the cultural war has left wounds on art and architecture (NEH, censorship, funding, public projects, memorials, monuments, etc.) If we are on the verge of such a rekindled battleground, then I urge architectural historians and classical archaeologists to take note and raise their columns in battle formation. Like flag posts and phalluses, columns can sway with equal force to the left and to the right. And they can also fall down and whack you on the head.

Much will surely be reported on Sarah Palin in the months to come. Jon Stewart's piece on gender issues (Daily Show, Sept. 3, 2008) gets a good start.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Republican Flag

I was thrilled that Sarah Palin made reference to the set designs of the Democratic Convention, "and those Styrofoam Greek columns ... hauled back to some studio lot." Nice punch, but the truth of the matter is that the Republican convention is just as designed. I haven't been able to focus on any architectural feature worth commenting on. However, I find the constant projection of a waving American flag fragment. Judging from my television coverage, the favorite image shows two to three red and white stripes (no stars) billowing in the wind. Surely the image is created digitally; I doubt that some graphic designer recorded hours and hours of a waving flag. The iconography is pretty clear, country first, etc., but the aesthetics are more interesting than the symbolism. We do not see a full flag but a highly modernist composition, abstract red and white shapes. For anyone that has taken even the most introductory Art History survey, it is impossible to dismiss Jasper John's flags from the 1950s, which present fundamental tensions between form and content, material and subject in late-capitalist art. The Republican Convention flag-fragment fits right into this dialectic. It's much smarter than it first seems. I must admit that I find it even more provocative than Greek revival architecture (the more common Republican staple). Watching Sarah Palin in front of this flag was a postmodern experience (like watching a Saturday Night Live skit--indeed Sarah Palin looks a lot like Tina Fey). It was as if one of Duane Hanson's wax figures came to life, generic America in all its beauty standing in front of generic America in all its beauty. But behind this choreography stood a waving flag as conceptual and crisp as a Barnett Newman zip painting in perpetual motion like a screen saver. But wait a minute, hasn't populist America already rejected Richard Serra, minimalism and anything brainy (conceptual, left-wing, or Jewish [Lieberman excluded])? Does anyone read Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House (New York, 1981) anymore? God bless America, whose flag is, for the most part, respectably high Modern.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States