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158 Reviews James D. Faubion, Modem Greek Lessons: A Primer in Historical Constructivism. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1993. Pp. xxiv + 307. $35.00. Modern Greek Lessons is a stimulating, innovative exploration into the contexts, intellectual orderings, and practical expressions of Greek modernity and its historical consciousness(es). This is not an ethnography, as the author acknowledges , at least in the more conventional sense of the term. It is, however, a monograph that applies some interesting ethnographic techniques to a line of theoretical reasoning that is not only intensely engaging but bold and provocative as well. Not everyone will like what James Faubion has to say in Modern Greek Lessons, and some may have difficulty following what he has to say. This is unfortunate, for wiüiout the convoluted language of his narrative style, this work has the intellectual power to become a landmark in the field of Modern Greek studies. "Modernity," as Faubion argues, finds many different expressions in contemporary Greece. Each is oriented toward a different definition of what it means to be modern, but all use particular conceptions of the past—of history— to define modernity. More practices than ideologies, these alternative expressions (or "tropes") are dominated by two major and opposing world views. The protagonists in Faubion's study are the "historical constructivists," those whose discourses, practices, and habitual actions reevaluate, reform, and revise history. Their main expressive "trope," he argues, is that of "projective metalepsis," which rejects any priority of the past over the present or the future, and opposes any idealization of the past as an exclusive standard for either the present or the future (xxii). In contrast to the historical constructivists are the words, works, and practices of the "cultural classicists." Their main "trope," that of "introjective metalepsis," constantly invokes and reiterates the past, employing it as the locus for constructions about both the present and the future (ibid.). While historical constructivists practice the poetics of reform, cultural classicists practice the poetics of restoration. Despite the fact that Faubion sets up the opposition between historical constructivists and cultural classicists, his analytical rigor is devoted to the former. Cultural classicism receives comparatively little ethnographic attention in this work and seems almost relegated to the realm of ideology. As Faubion explores the alternative intellectual orderings of the past offered by "historical constructivists," he leads readers through groundbreaking thematic explorations in various aspects of Greek (or, more precisely, Athenian) culture, from architecture and interior design, to urban topography and social flow, to political discourse and action. In "Maro," a fictive yet effective "native" created through a revolutionary use of composite identities, one finds Faubion's quintessential (or ideal-typical?) historical constructivist of present-day Adiens. This experimental and unorthodox epistemology of using a composite character in addition to (or rather than) "real informants" offers Faubion greater latitude in exploring the "trope" of historical constructivism. Yet it is also a heuristic technique that lacks some of the multi-dimensionalism found in real people; Reviews 159 moreover, through the invention of this composite type the author opens himself to the same criticisms he reserves for the cultural classicists—namely, their tendency toward constructing or advocating a somehow quintessential Greek type or "Hellene." Faubion also offers a very intriguing intellectual engagement with Max Weber over the transition to "modernity." While Weber saw this passage as marked by a rise of rationality and a decline of religious transcendence, Faubion counters tiiat in Greece notions of tradition have proved far more resilient than Weber might have imagined. Present expressions of "modernity" in Greece are influenced not only by definitions of modernity but also by definitions of "tradition." Yet one of the conceptual difficulties in this work lies in the manner by which the author tends to treat "tradition" (despite his claims to the contrary) as more of a constant than a construct. The work also stands, in a Rabinowian tradition, as a reflexive exercise by an urban American "modern" confronted by an alternative "modernity" that is familiar yet also strikingly alien. In his conclusion, Faubion challenges his "circle of acquaintances" (and, by extension, other historical constructivists) to engage him regarding his theoretical argument. But one is left to wonder why...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 158-162
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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