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East is East—West is West: It's a Matter of Greek Literary History Gregory Jusdanis The Orient has always occupied a special place in European experience . Greece, finding itself in closer proximity to the East than perhaps any other European state, has had to come to terms with the Orient and define itself against it. In the cultural memory of modern Greece, Turkey remains an implacable enemy. This relationship goes back to the Byzantines, who witnessed large territories of their realm fall to the control of their infidel neighbor. The eastern menace grew more immediate and the Turkish capture of Constantinople increasingly more likely until in 1453 it became a reality. This event is still felt as a national trauma, a calamity that annihilated Greek culture , prevented Greek participation in the western Renaissance, and plunged the country into cultural and economic poverty. This is generally how the domination of Greece by the Turks is understood and presented. It is a view that manifests itself not only in popular thought but also in professional writing, not least in literary history and criticism. The East, for instance, played an indispensable role in the early histories of modern Greek literature. Though remaining on the margins of critical discussion, its presence was acutely felt since it constituted a necessary component of the historians' strategy of emphasizing both the ethnic integrity and occidental character of Greek literature. Literary historians had to posit the Turkish other in order to promote the vision of Greece's western identity. They reacted in two ways to the East: they lamented what it destroyed and they attempted to deny its influence on Greek literature. Yet, paradoxically , Turkey served as an integral element of their plan to delineate the parameters of a Greek literary tradition. Indeed if Turkey had not existed, it would have been invented by literary historians. In invoking the West and claiming Greece for Europe, they had to postulate Turkey, a synecdoche of the East, as the opposite of Greece. In this respect, they opposed the Occident, as the source of progress and 2 Gregory Jusdanis enlightenment, to the Orient, as the force of cultural impoverishment and darkness. The East-West dichotomy served as one of the conceptual foundations upon which Greek literary history was built. Greece, then, insofar as it produced a literature, had to be European . It was a self-fulfilling argument: the West as the source of civilization is superior to the East, literature and art are the products of the West, Greece possesses a literature, ergo it must be European.1 Literature provided Greece with proof of its western credentials. For this reason, Greek literature had to be shown to exist, while simultaneously being protected from the eastern menace. The aim of literary historians was to demonstrate that Turkey could not produce culture , that it destroyed literature, and that literary activity flourished only under western domination. This project remained faithful to aesthetics from beginning to end; that is, it was based on the assumption that literature exists as an autonomous, autotelic, and autochthonous entity whose integrity has to be protected. My aim in this paper is to investigate how Turkey and the Orient are presented in early histories of Greek literature. I wish to analyze the uses served by the East-West opposition in these histories in order to illuminate the politics of literary history.2 By discussing the few references to Turkish culture in histories of Greek literature, I hope to demonstrate the specifically nationalist aspirations of the initial stages of literary history. My texts are the histories of Dieterich, Hesseling, Dimaras, Mirambel, Knös, Kordatos, and Mêlas, none published later than 1962. I will examine their handling of the EastWest dichotomy in the context of literary history's general project of designating a collection of literary texts that would be seen as the expression of the state's national individuality. Literary history itself , I will then show, is a product of the new category of literature that arose in the latter part of the 18th century (along with the category of art) and that coincided with the rise of the state. Turkey's position in the above-named histories of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 1-14
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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