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Reviews Vassilis Lambropoulos, Literature as National Institution: Studies in the Politics of Modern Greek Criticüm. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1988. Pp. ix + 260. $34.00 This book is an immensely intelligent and provocative attempt to negotiate the narrow passes between modern Greek studies and contemporary critical theory. But this negotiation is not the rather mundane one of attempting to "apply" contemporary theory to some hitherto "untheorized" assortment of literary texts. Lamboropoulos' study serves as much to prod and poke at the boundaries of both notions—critical theory and modern Greek studies—as to bring them to bear on one another or to apply the former to the latter. For Literature as National Institution, passage(s) between these two fields is narrow not because of some necessary or geologically self-evident obstruction. Rather, narrow passage is substantially a product of the descriptive mapping of the field of modern Greek studies itself— reminiscent of what Edward Said has called "imaginative geography." One of the self-assigned tasks of Lambropoulos' study, then, is to trace the historical constitution of this map, to reproduce critically its contours and boundaries. And it does just that—incisively, polemically, suggestively, and often with quietly ironic humor. The markers or "monuments" on the map of modern Greek studies over which Lambropoulos lingers are, for the most part, familiar ones re-examined and radically resituated: the "institutionalization of tradition" in C. T. Dimarás' A Hütory of Modern Greek Literature (Chapter 1); George Seferis' appropriative reading of Makriyannis' Memoirs (Chapter 2); Polylas' inventive "Prolegomena" to Solomos' Ta Evriskomena (Chapter 3); Solomos' fragmentary The Free Besieged itself (Chapter 4); a recent collection of critical essays on the work of Yannis Ritsos—Afieroma ston Yanni Ritso edited by Makrinikola (Chapter 7); the struggle of critical interpretations over C. P. Cavafy's "Young Men of Sidon, A.D. 400" (Chapter 8). And, with less canonically familiar works as a point of departure—Yannis Beratis' O Strovilos and Renos Apostolidis' "The John of My Life" in Chapters 5 and 6, respectively— Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 7, 1989. 171 172 Reviews Lambropoulos takes up, with much insight, the still-vexed issues of modernism and post-modernism. It is only after tracing the contours of the map of modern Greek studies that the central question of Lambropoulos' study is posed: "How is the nationalist quest for the Greekness of the literary work as well as the metaphysics of identity and the aesthetics of literature to be resisted?" (p. 210). For there can be little doubt in reading Literature as National Institution that it is precisely such resistance which is its aim. And, in fact, in a tidy reversal of conventional order, a prescriptive answer to this question-in-conclusion can be found succinctly stated at the end of the book's first chapter. ... in order to keep modern Greek writing fresh, informative, and productive as a field of inquiry, we ought to oppose all attempts at its totalization by disturbing the sovereign or suppressed discourses that can still question their validity. Instead of being remapped, the whole territory should be opened to debates that will encourage a more active role on the audience's part—that is, imaginatively adventurous understanding and irreverently creative writing, (p. 43) The radically democratic and confrontational notions informing this answer to the question of resistance is a powerful antidote to a solipsistic interpretive impressionism as it is to the dictatorship of interpretive authoritarianism. The central question and one of its answers located, we can return for a moment to some of the particulars of Lambropoulos' argument. There are a few questions that I wish to raise in response. In his astute dismantling of the ideology of a sacrosanct and self-evident literary text, there is a persistent but eliptical reference throughout the book to a model of "communication" which informs the relationships between author, text, audience, and critic. This reference is especially apparent in the discussion in Chapter 5 of the critical reception of Yannis Beratis' Stroviloss (Whirlwind), but the assumptions underlying this reference run through a good deal of the entire book. In Chapter 5—"The Hermeneutics of Openness in the Novel: The Unsettling Modernism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 171-173
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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