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  • Singing Poets: Literature and Popular Music in France and Greece
  • Stathis Gourgouris
Dimitris Papanikolaou . Singing Poets: Literature and Popular Music in France and Greece. London: Legenda. 2007. Pp. xiii + 179. Hardback $69.00.

It is an undisputed but not well-attended issue that the methodology of cultural studies has not found extensive expression in modern Greek studies scholarship. This is especially problematic if we consider two facts: 1) modern Greek studies has been interdisciplinary since its inception, an interdisciplinarity often facilitated by the somewhat free deployment and interpretation of the concept of "culture" in a whole range of disciplinary parameters; 2) language teaching in modern Greek studies, especially in American universities, has made long term usage of popular media forms (music, film, television) and is specifically committed to achieving linguistic aptitude through contemporary cultural knowledge. This is not to say that cultural studies analyses of Greek material are totally lacking, but that they are often inserted in an incidental fashion in books that deal more broadly with literature, anthropology, or social studies instead of standing on their own. Likewise, and thinking of the field's future, the point would not be to brush aside the disciplinary exigencies of literature, anthropology, etc. in favor of cultural studies, but to instigate a cultural studies sort of analysis, as a primary method, while taking advantage of literary or anthropological material and method where needed.

One notable such instance, which should serve as departure point for further work in this vein, is Dimitris Papanikolaou's Singing Poets: Literature and Popular Music in France and Greece. As the title suggests, the focus is precisely on the interwoven relation between literature and music, which in itself may hardly be a newfangled object of study-for scholars of Medieval literature who study the troubadours, for example-but is certainly not the prominent mode of approaching, say, contemporary poetry. From my standpoint, the explicit focus on a relation between two distinct artistic modes, especially insofar as it is immediately mirrored by focus on the relation between two distinct cultural traditions (France-Greece), is the signature mark of the methodology of comparative literature. Indeed, Papanikolaou's considerable skills of reading texts in the best comparative literature fashion provide the support framework of the project throughout. However, what enables us to recognize a characteristic cultural studies mode in this project is the extensive attention paid to the full range of extra-literary parameters that modify both production and reception of the figures and works examined in this study: namely, political and economic conditions of production, various technological aspects (recording, printing, etc.), social and economic channels of distribution and dissemination (including the altogether crucial element of the press), all sorts of dimensions of performativity, and so on. What makes this a successful cultural studies approach-for, it is true, there have been innumerable cases of cultural studies work in the Anglo-American sphere that have given the field a bad name-is the author's care in interweaving all of these elements in ways that do not underline their mere presence for its own sake but demonstrate their explicit relevance to the object of study.

The book bears in its title and holds consistent throughout a double attention, a conjunctive, if not entirely intertwined, mode of argument: literature [End Page 439] and music, France and Greece, but most indicatively, singing poets. Papanikolaou confirms from the outset the hunch of every Greek reader that this designation is a translation of the Greek τραγουδοποιός, itself a modern configuration of what in the ancient language would have been understood in the figure of τραγωδός, not merely the poet for whom poetry exists with/in musical form (for all poetry in the ancient world, Greek and otherwise, was of course entwined with music), but, more substantially, the poet for whom poetry entails a performative responsibility and is engaged with the full range of society's theatricality-hence, the book's attention both to the popular and the political. Τραγουδοποιός indeed means, as well as the singing poet, the poet of songs, the creator not of musical form strictly speaking, but of poetic form in its full performative meaning. In this respect, though not quite conceived this...


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