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Journal of Modem Greek Studies, May 1984 The Ideological Context of the Search for Continuities in Greek Culture LoringM. Danforth Very few people are able to write about modern Greek rural culture without referring in some way to ancient Greek culture. The ritual practices of contemporary rural Greece, for example, are often dealt with as if they simply provided a means to learn more about the religious life of ancient Greece. Modern May Day customs evoke "the ancient festival of Adonis;"1 a modern carnival rite is characterized as "an example of the dromena of ancient Dionysiac worship;"2 and the Anastenarides, a religious group in northern Greece, whose members enter a state of trance and dance when possessed by Saint Constantine, are referred to as "a Bacchic thiasos."3 In fact, it often seems that in such cases the real topic under consideration is classical antiquity and not the lives of the people of rural Greece. In this paper I will analyze the discourse with which a variety of scholars, classicists and folklorists, Greeks and foreigners, discuss the folklore, ritual, and religion of contemporary rural Greece. I will argue that this discourse, which is based on the outdated anthropological paradigm of cultural evolution with its attendant doctrines of cultural survivals and cultural continuities, identifies certain elements of modern Greek rural culture as fossilized relics of ancient Greek culture. In this way it reduces the contemporary culture of the people of rural Greece to an exotic anachronism. It creates a distance between them and the scholars studying them by assigning them to a different time, a time long past. I also suggest that in order to understand the power of this discourse, its attractiveness to scholars and the harmful effects it has on the people of rural Greece who are its George Megas, Greek Calendar Customs (Athens, 1963), 119. 2KaterinaKakouri,Διονυσιακά:Î-κτηςσημεϕινήςλαϊκήςλατϕείαςτών Θϕακών (Athens, 1963), 104. An English edition, which differs slightly from the Greek, was published in Athens in 1965 under the title: Dionysiaka: Aspects of the Popular Thracian Religion of Today. 3Kakouri, Διονυσιακά, χ. 53 54 Loring M. Danforth object, we must examine the ideological context in which this discourse is produced. Only then can we see this discourse for what it really is, an expression of the particular ideologies of the scholars who practice it, ideologies which range from a romantic attempt to bring to life an idealized vision of classical antiquity, to a patriotic attempt to define, assert, and defend one's national identity.4 One of the most persuasive calls for a reflexive and critical examination of the political and ideological context in which the study of "other" cultures takes place is Edward Said's Orientalism.5 Said convincingly demonstrates that Western European and American scholarship dealing with the Muslim Orient cannot be isolated from the political, economic, and military relationships of colonialism and imperialism that have characterized the West's interest in the East.6 According to Said the scholarly discipline of Orientalism is the means by which the West acquires knowledge of the Orient. Since to claim knowledge of something is to constitute oneself an authority over it, Orientalism is a discourse of power which replicates European political domination of the Orient. From his position of power the Orientalist observes, studies, and writes about the Orient. He constructs a representation of the Orient, a representation which is "embedded first in the language and then in the culture, institutions, and political ambience of the représenter."7 Such a representation, therefore, inevitably tells us as much about the Orientalist as about the Orient. Said documents the process by which the academic tradition of Orientalism acquired greater power and authority than the actual Orient it purports to represent . For the West the Orientalists' representations of the Orient become the Orient. Said goes on to claim that Orientalists' representations of the Orient bear such little relationship to the actual Orient that they are nothing more than what Kiernan has called "Europe's collective day-dream of the Orient."8 One scholarly technique by which Orientalists acquired such power over the Orient is the reductionist practice of attempting to 4I would like to thank Robert Allison, Anna Caraveli, and Michael Herzfeld for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 53-85
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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