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Views of Vizyenos Why Vizyenos? Margaret Alexiou As a prologue to the essays on die prose fiction of Georgios Vizyenos (1849-1896) included in diis issue of die Journal of Modern Greek Studies, I want to address some general questions, and indicate future directions .1 Why Vizyenos? His stories, written in the 1880s, coincide widi die interrelated movements of nationalism, demoticism and folklore. Their originality lies in their refusal to conform to the rules laid down by the new Atiienian literary establishment. Vizyenos, coming as he did from Ottoman Thrace, had perspectives on ethnicity and gender, language and rationality, which were significandy different from those of his compatriots within the young nation-state of Greece. Reaching back through the Ottoman present to die Byzantine and pre-Hellenic past, he succeeded in integrating oral with literary narrative strategies in ways relevant not only to the 1880s, but also to the splintering nationalisms of the 1990s. But he has enjoyed less literary acclaim than his near contemporary, Alexandres Papadiamandis (1851-1911), and has dierefore exercised less influence on subsequent writers; therefore, his revitalization of some inner qualities of earlier modes of perception and representation, as realized through his multitoned use of the Greek language, has been insufficiendy appreciated. Vizyenos—like Cavafy— was an outsider who saw more than usual in die Hellenic looking-glass. Ethnicity and sanity Two of Vizyenos's stories—"Who Was My Brother's Killer" and "MoskovSelim "—are poignandy relevant to today's readers, all too familiar with reports of ethnic cleansing, violence, and rape from former 'Yugoslavia ."2 Set against the background of ferment in the Balkans (1876- ) and the Russo-Turkish wars (1877-1878), "Who Was My Brother's Killer" poses some teasing ironies in its unfolding of two family tragedies, one Greek, the other Turkish. None of the three killings is the direct result of war; rather, they are cases of mistaken identities, or of personal Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 13, 1995. 289 290 Margaret Alexiou vendetta and greed. Yet, as Michalis Chryssanthopoulos has noted, the first two killings (of a Turk by a Greek, and of a Greek by a Turk) are located in time and place precisely to coincide with die outbreak and duration of Russo-Turkish hostilities (at the Lüle-Burghaz bridge, between April 1877 and January 1878), and the reader is reminded that during diis nine-month war, the Greek modier nursed Turkish Kiamil from sickness to health in her own son's bed for seven months (the minimum time for successful birthing) .3 It is implied—although never stated—diat the killings might have been averted if the men in botii families were less opinionated and hostile to one another. The closest ties are between the two modiers—united by common suffering and concern for their sons—who share common interests in magic and tales, even visiting togedier the sites of die City diat mark die triumph of Turk over Greek. By contrast, the four living brothers are divided by hostility and misunderstanding. At die end of the story, the narrator's sternest rhetoric is powerless to persuade his modier to turn Kiamil out (as in "My Mother's Sin" to oust his adopted sister), while his own revulsion blinds him to die more profound truth that his mother (in her ignorance) and Kiamil (in his derangement) seem to have grasped: reconciliation through atonement. His final question—who was his brother's killer, die Turk Kiamil (who fired die shot) or the Greek Lambis (who lured him to his death)?—remains undisclosed to his modier, and unanswered by himself, leaving us readers to ponder the narrator's own part in the affair, since it was his mother's grief at his own absence that drove her to "adopt" Kiamil in his place. Vizyenos has done more than write a masterful detective story: he problematizes and probes a more urgent question relevant to his (and our own) times—are such killings the result of familial or ethnic conflict? The answer is surely both, with all that that implies for the narrator's ethnic prejudices and our own readings of his "story" (Chryssanthopoulos 1986:109-110). "Moskov-Selim" is presented...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 289-298
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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