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318 Reviews past, we must not forget that Greece did not emerge from the literary ghetto until the late 1940s. Only then did it become part of the international literary scene—and that was the contribution of the poets and novelists of the 1930s. Nanos Valaoritis San Francisco State University C. Nadia Seremetakis, The Last Word: Women, Death, and Divination in Inner Mani. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1991. Pp. ix + 275. $45.00 hardback, $16.95 paperback. In her richly suggestive study of mourning practices in Inner Mani, C. Nadia Seremetakis argues and cogently demonstrates that Maniat women's work of divination, lamentation, and exhumation is, rather than one ritual cycle among others, "the primary resource for the creation and dissemination of aesthetic form (music and poetry), juridical discourse, gender identity, and indigenous oral history" (3). Mourning ceremonies, in Seremetakis's view, are not merely expressions of grief but instruments of cultural power; during the mortuary cycle, women's bodies are made visible, their pain is made audible, and their labor becomes politically and culturally transformative. The Last Word is both a fascinating primary text—a finely nuanced narrative of women, Maniat society, and mourning—and a sensitive and astute reading of that text: an analysis of cultural marginality, gender-inflected resistance, the politics of pain, and women's language about death. Inner Mani is the region at the southernmost tip of the "middle finger" of the Péloponnèse, an area of subsistence farming, historically infamous for its pirates and its remarkable resistance to both Christianity and Ottoman rule. The Last Word contains a detailed discussion of Maniat society—its history, topographical constraints, social organization, and economy—that provides readers with a crucial contextual framework for the book's subsequent study of women and their mortuary labor. The substance of Seremetakis's project, however, is devoted to the tripartite mortuary cycle. First, Seremetakis studies Maniat women's divination practices, their "low-voiced" decipherment of the "surrogate symbols, indirect signs, substitutions, and tokens" (49) that function as warnings of death. Second, and most extensively, Seremetakis explores the Maniat kláma or mourning ceremony, which is performed entirely by women— by a soloist who improvises a lament in 8-syllable verse, and a chorus that provides antiphonal response. In the chapters devoted to the kláma, Seremetakis cites a number of lamentations, both in translation and transliteration, narrates the oral history that surrounds them, and interprets them through close readings. Her readings of Maniat kláma also include a fascinating discussion of the often contestatory relation of the kláma to the all-male juridical council (the yerondiki) and the Orthodox funeral liturgy. Third, Seremetakis Reviews 319 studies the Maniat practices of exhumation, bone reading, and second burial, and the ways in which these practices function as a site for revising personal and clan history. The Last Word is, in addition, helpfully equipped with maps, an excellent bibliography, materials from the author's own dream journal, and an uncommonly plangent photo essay. In TL· Last Word, Seremetakis seeks to negotiate a theoretical space between a universal humanism that erases the cultural specificities of death experience and a Durkheimian perspective in which death, emptied of its singularity among cultural artifacts, functions as "an empty stage for a variety of other social dramas" (14). She constructs this space primarily by linguistic analysis, by exploring the discursive network in which words of mourning are inscribed—a network of intersections between ancient Greek, Modern Greek, and Maniat dialect. She argues, moreover, on the basis of her close and polyvalent readings, that this space cannot be accurately described in terms of the binary sets public/private, rural/urban, male/female, overt/covert, which have dominated descriptions of Mediterranean societies. Concomitantly , Seremetakis seeks to negotiate a methodological space beyond that circumscribed by oppositions between ethnographer and object, observer and participant, outsider and insider. While Seremetakis, who is both Maniat and American, is fortuitously posed to create this space, her fieldwork is also purposefully comprised of both observing and mourning, and her analyses deliberately investigate not only the other, but herself. Indeed, perhaps the most striking evidence that Seremetakis has succeeded in creating this methodological space...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 318-320
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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