restricted access Residual Orality and Belated Textuality in Greek Literature and Culture
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Residual Orality and Belated Textuality in Greek Literature and Culture Dimitris Tziovas One of the main characteristics of Greek intellectual life in the last two centuries has been the conflict between orality and textuality. The language controversy is one of the most important manifestations of this conflict. But this controversy will not be the focus here, for it has been frequently and exhaustively discussed in the past. Instead, this study examines other as yet unexplored aspects of the conflict. Approaching Greek literature and culture in terms of a duality is not to adopt either a structuralist perspective or to discuss the problem of Greek identity in terms of binary oppositions such as Ellinas vs. Romiós, East vs. West, tradition vs. modernity, honor vs. shame, demoticism vs. purism (Herzfeld 1987: 101-104). Rather than introduce yet another mechanistic opposition, this study shows that the conflict between orality and textuality is far-reaching in its implications , permeating many cultural phenomena and intellectual practices .1 Its ramifications thus provide a useful basis for examination of the interconnections between history, literature and culture in the Greek context of the last two centuries. As many scholars have pointed out, literacy does not replace orality. Rather, the two are superimposed upon and intertwined with each other. Similarly, no society is either "oral" or "literate" but rather uses strategies associated with one or the other tradition in various practices. The relationship between orality and textuality is not one of rigid opposition, but rather one of intrication and enfolding.2 This perspective also sheds light on the way in which Greek thought and literature are different from European. To begin, there is the absence of a basic concept of culture from the Greek lexical stock or its replacement by other concepts. Instead of accepting notions of "high" and "low" culture, Greeks contrast "indigenous" and "forJournal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 7, 1989. 321 322 Dimitris Tziovas eign," defining indigenous as oral and alive and foreign as textual and abstract. Next, the perspective adopted here shows that the tendency to describe oral narratives as models of style influenced the development of the Greek novel's episodic structure and flat characters. Further evidence for the strength of orality in literary forms is the sluggish development of the novel in contrast to the efflorescence of Greek poetry, and the intense populism of Greek literature. Moreover, the forces of orality help account for the nature of literary criticism in Greece. Finally, I conclude by suggesting two factors to explain why phonocentrism was maintained longer in Greece than elsewhere: the comparatively late arrival of the industrial revolution with its accompanying class distinctions, and the desire to stress continuities between ancient and modern Greek culture. I begin with the absence of the term culture and its implications in the Greek context. A good many new terms were coined in Greece during the 19th century. These significantly enriched the modern Greek vocabulary. Aligning itself with what was happening in Europe, Greek intelligentsia , offered basic concepts such as politismós (civilization), mithL·t órima (novel), logotehnia (literature), and toografia (folklore) that are commonly used today. Indeed, the production of new words during that period prompted Stefanos Koumanoúdis at the very end of the century to compile them in his magnificent opus Συναγωγή ΕÎ-ων ΛÎ-ξεωνϕπότώνλογίωνπλασθεισώνάπότηςαλώσεωςϕÎ-χϕιτωνκα9' ημάς χϕόνων (1900). Although it covers several centuries, a quick glance reveals that the majority of the neologisms were formed in the 19th century. It is striking that these 19th century scholars were only minimally concerned with rendering into Greek the crucial term "culture " or "kultur," a concept that had begun to be used in Europe around the middle of the 18th century with a new meaning.3 For example, in 1804 Koraïs translated the French word "civilization" and used its Greek equivalent: politumós, but did not consider or was not concerned with rendering into Greek the supplementary concept of "culture."4 This may be due to his belief in the ideal of progress that the concept of civilization expressed (and that as a European-influenced subscriber to the Enlightenment movement he was concerned to promote in new areas), or to his aversion to products of popular culture. Whichever is the case...