- The Other Self: Selfhood and Society in Modern Greek Fiction
Dimitris Tziovas is one of the most influential and prolific critics of Modern Greek literature both in Greece and abroad, having authored many studies on Greek writing from the last two centuries. The hallmark of Tziovas's work is his ability to apply theoretical insights to his interpretation of literary texts and to combine broad reflections on Greek culture with detailed readings of novels. His latest book, The Other Self, is informed by this double strategy. Not a comprehensive study or theory of Greek fiction, it attempts to reread popular novels from the perspective of theory and of recent shifts in Greek culture itself. In short, the study tries to show the tangle of critical approaches and cultural transformation. It brings new ideas to bear on novels and stories while seeing these texts themselves as testaments of social change. Specifically he addresses issues of self and identity, autobiography, and the role of society in determining the development of individual character.
Tziovas's knowledge of the Greek literary and critical tradition is vast. Readers will find insights, facts, or texts that they may not have known before. As in his previous work, he is able to move effortlessly from fiction of the romantic period to postmodernism. He begins with a discussion of O Polypathis by Grigorios Palaiologos (1839), and in subsequent chapters looks at work by Papadiamantis, Viziinos, Theotokis, Prevelakis, Theotokas, Myrivilis, Kazantzakis, Tachtsis, Hatzis, Zei and Galanaki. Not every chapter pulls the same critical punch. But Tziovas offers readers many fascinating interpretations as he explores his overall theme, the confrontation of self and society in fiction.
Although his overarching theme is notions of selfhood, he actually approaches it from a different theoretical position in each chapter. This means that he looks at Viziinos's "Moscov Selim" from the viewpoint of psychoanalysis, examines Leonis as a Bildungsroman, and explores the idea of hybridity in Galanaki's O Vios tou Ismail Ferik Pasha. Every chapter focuses on a separate factor involved in the making of self and thus reveals different social forces at work at various decades. Tziovas wants to see how fiction responds to the transition in modern Greek society from what he calls residual orality to textuality, from collectivism to individualism, from national homogeneity to diversity. This approach assumes rightly the primacy of literature in Greece, that it promotes change while also reacting to it. This is especially true in a country like Greece, where literature was hired in the construction of national but also class and sexual identities.
These conceptual oppositions may seem rigid, especially in the first chapter where they are introduced, but not so in the later chapters devoted to specific texts. They provide a useful way of understanding the developments within society and the institution of literature. Tziovas is able to show that from the latter part of the nineteenth to the 1970s a collective historical experience provided writers and readers with a shared code for understanding and evaluating literature. Authors then were virtually guaranteed a national readership. As society becomes more individualistic, he argues, audiences are fragmenting. [End Page 202]
Tziovas's overall assessment is correct but needs qualification. Greek society has always been diverse, made up of many disparate groups, including minorities such as Moslems, Slav-Macedonians, and Roma. It was nationalist discourse in its mission to build a unified country that ignored the differences. Similarly, the argument that linguistic codes proliferate is not really accurate. As Tziovas himself has shown in his previous work, Greek culture was remarkably polyphonic, with manifold registers, dialects, accents, and tongues. The overall project of forming a nation simply did not allow these to be apprehended by the national psyche. In the century between Viziinos' "Moscov Selim" and Galanakis' O Vios tou Ismail Ferik Pasha, both of which feature Moslems as protagonists, the Other is sidelined. How many Moslems end up speaking in Greek literature during this long century?
This process of consolidation is exemplified in the ending of Theotokas's novel...