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Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18.1 (2000) 212-214
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Nanos Valaoritis, . Athens: Kastaniotis. 1997. Pp. 241. 4,000 drachmas.
The literary memoir (Modernism, Avant-garde and Pali) by renowned poet Nanos Valaoritis was championed by the Greek National Award for Memoir in 1998. The book provides new archival material concerning the publication of the short-lived Greek avant-garde journal PALI (1964-66). In his eloquent introduction Valaoritis, the chief editor of the journal, describes the political climate surrounding PALI and the Greek avant-garde in general. His account is supplemented by a selection of correspondence between himself and various authors.
The peculiarities of both national modernism and the avant-garde in Greece have been the subject of a number of studies during the last ten years, either in the form of articles or in conference presentations made by the author of this review and various colleagues. In the 1960s, Greek modernists were reportedly split into two factions: those who continued the legacy of Nea [End Page 212] Grammata (Seferis, Elytis etc.), and the "prodigal sons," or avant-gardists, such as Valaoritis and Aravantinou, who embraced surrealism and new literary trends.
Valaoritis provides invaluable factual information about what really happened during the period by retracing the role that each particular poet played and how the overall politics played out among various literary groups. The book is divided into three sections: first, a lengthy yet passionate introduction which reveals the author's view on the many literary developments in Greece after the 1930s; second, a selection of the author's correspondence with other regular contributors to the journal; and third, selected articles from the Greek press during that period.
In my opinion, the most significant part of the book is the extensive introduction (pp. 11-73) which describes the compelling atmosphere of those disturbed years from the 1930s to 1960s. During this period, the fabric of Greek culture, society, and literature underwent various transformations that affected the subtext of modernism. For example, the violent events of Greek history meant that literary experimentation became more a luxury than a necessity. In addition, Greece developed a more European identity as Greek intellectuals eventually became "diasporic" European citizens. Valaoritis's contribution to an understanding of the complexity of this period is extremely valuable, especially considering that he was the first to translate and present Greek modernism to English periodicals such as Horizon and London Magazine. His account of promoting Greek modernism abroad also offers the reader unique insights.
In his introduction Valaoritis gives a personal account of his involvement with the journal Ta Nea Grammata during the 1930s. This journal originally united modernists and surrealists in a common effort to refashion contemporary Greek literary style. In the 1950s, however, this initial unity disintegrated into individualistic endeavors with the chief players being Seferis, Elytis, Embirikos, and Papatsonis. Valaoritis offers a detailed account of the position adopted by each writer with respect to PALI, a journal established in the 1960s which propagated the avant-garde and stood in opposition to the more conservative journal Epohes. The contribution of PALI to Greek letters is evident in the fact that it united the surrealists (Embirikos, Engonopoulos, Calas) with younger avant-gardist authors (Aravantinou, Makris, Denegris, Kutrumbusis, and Pulikakos). The journal's most important role was its eloquent public criticism of national modernism. Valaoritis's account also offers us unique insights into the promotion of Greek modernism in the English-speaking world; this is a role the author himself fulfilled as did Seferis, Katsimbalis, and Vasilikos in their interaction with Henry Miller, Laurence Durrell, Bernard Spencer, Harold Norse, and Allen Ginsberg during the 1960s.
From the 1970s onwards, the promotion of Greek literature declined significantly. The last two parts of Valaoritis's introduction are perhaps the most important for Neohellenists today. In them, he presents his own explanation for the absence of a collective mechanism to promote Greek literature abroad. Valaoritis outlines the passive attitudes of State agencies, even of writers themselves to make their work known outside Greece. However, in reference to Modern Greek Programs in the United...