- Greek Modernism and Beyond ed. by Dimitris Tziovas
“Poetry is a rival government always in opposition to its cruder replicas.”—William Carlos Williams
“The very origin of the whole system of literature has to be attacked.”—Pierre Guyotat
Writings on modernism and the avant-garde have proliferated during the 1990s. A good many critics, especially younger ones, now direct their studies to [End Page 358] reinventing the alternative tradition of American modernism and the avantgarde. This is owing partly to the critics’ widespread dissatisfaction at dissociating theory from literary studies and partly to the wear and tear—to the point of exhaustion—to which the fragmented aesthetic realm has been subjected, resulting in prefabricated categories of representation such as feminism, cultural studies, and the conservative politics of multiculturalism.
In most cases, the increased interest in modernism and the avant-garde represents a Eurocentric and Americanocentric quest for poetics that, under the shadow of the millennium, resorts to the metalanguage of modernism. The interest is fueled mainly by two factors: the discovery by their official cultures of hitherto forgotten or dismissed authors, and the anxious effort to redescribe the potential extent of the literary realm. Thus, the rediscovery of modernism and the avant-garde may be attributed largely to the reinvention of limits or margins for literary discourse, forecasting the Derridean aesthetic modicum for the millennium. What is missing from all these movements, however, is a quest for avant-gardist authors who are migrant, decentered, suppressed, ethnic-oriented, or minority-oriented. Especially in this age of global culture and the Pax Americana, nomadist poetics are forming a language that opposes the accommodating power of global corpo-realism. This is the point where the Greek modernist, avant-gardist migrant author is expected to make his or her entrée into the world picture of poiesis.
I perused Greek Modernism and Beyond with great expectation, hoping to see if this book might possibly be placed in the context of these later developments. As my reading progressed, I found it extremely enlightening (a) to read against the grain, against the whole tradition of Greek modernism (as transmitted to us by official culture) and (b) to speculate what the follow-up to such a volume might mean for the future of Greek studies. Greek Modernism and Beyond, edited by Dimitris Tziovas, is an anthology of essays by various papers originally presented at a conference honoring Professor Peter Bien that took place at the University of Birmingham in July 1995. This book retrieves Greek modernism from temporary oblivion, since scholarship for many years has been directed mostly to questions of national identity and images of Greekness. As Tziovas notes in his introduction, the aim of the book is to present an all-embracing picture of Greek modernism, including its avant-gardist and postmodernist trends, and taking into account developments in Greek studies during the last fifteen years.
The essays are arranged thematically as follows: definitions of modernism (Kolocotroni and Taxidou, Tziovas); modernism and national tradition (Vayenas, Gauntlett); the precursors of modernism (Chrysanthopoulos, Sakellaridou); surrealism and modernism (Kayalis, Mackridge, Connolly); modernism in fiction (Kakavoulia, Yannakakis, Charalambidou); comparative readings (Ricks, Anastasiadou, Robinson); the avant-garde and postmodernism (Arseniou, Voulgari, Calotychos). Given the large number of issues raised and the limitations of space here, I am unable to discuss all the papers; instead, I will select the most striking and innovative ones that advance scholarship.
Dimitris Tziovas begins his account by juxtaposing Theotokas’s modernist Eλεύθερo πvεύμα with Lorentzatos’s antimodernist To χαμέvo ϰέvτρo. He also [End Page 359] provides us with a compelling reading of the course of Greek modernism through the magazines, authors, and movements that appeared in Greece from the 1930s to the late 1960s. My only reservation is that Tziovas still raises issues such as nation-building, the language question, tradition versus modernity, the Aegean topology, etc. that, resonating with the official history of modernism, continue to view literature as a nationalist, cultural, stylistic, and ethical enterprise.
Mihalis Chrysanthopoulos’s reading of the early self-referential (and modernist...