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  • Mediterranean Modernisms: The Poetic Metaphysics of Odysseus Elytis
  • Elizabeth Arseniou
Marinos Pourgouris , Mediterranean Modernisms: The Poetic Metaphysics of Odysseus Elytis. Ashgate. 2011. Pp. 242. Hardback $55.00.

At a time in Greece when an imaginary "topos" in which to settle and abide becomes more valued that any real place in the country, the reading of Elytis as an architect of a "second" universe, a well-built poetic world of Hellenic origin, appears to be much more than a soothing concern. Rereading Elytis 100 years after his death could therefore be precious, yet easily leading back again to the Greco-Hellenic dilemma: is it more significant to examine Greek modernism through the lens of ancient philosophy and mythology, promoting a universalized and cosmopolitan Hellenism? Or rather, should one adopt the view of Orthodox tradition and liturgical texts, thus preferring a localized Balkan anti-Westernism? Marinos Pourgouris's book, precious for those of us interested in modernism in the Southern periphery of Europe, suggests an alternative route: the exploration of Elytis's modernist universe in a Mediterranean context.

In his book, Pourgouris explores the grounds for Greek modernist poetry, [End Page 149] and especially Elytis's, in the postmodern/poststructuralist context. Elytis's personal redefinition of Greekness exemplifies the position of national literatures within the contemporary discourse on modernism. The reconsideration of Greek identity during the 1930s reflects a decentralized local, rather than cosmopolitan, approach of modernist poetics. Since the monocultural, ethnic, or national literatures do not abide with the principles of Western modernism, the rebellious dynamics of local modernisms are ignored, thus joining the more recent exposure of the national and the marginal by poststructuralism. Pourgouris aspires both to systematize Elytis's poetic metaphysics and situate him in the modernist context within the scope of recent postcolonial theory on Greece and the Balkans. The centrality of ethnicity in the case of Elytis's theoretical positions thus offers a paradigm of reassessing European modernism and challenging three of its most important features: cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, and anti-nationalism.

Beginning with Elytis's formative years, Pourgouris explores the evolution of his aesthetics. French surrealism, and especially Paul Elyard, initiated the poet into sensualism, Eros, the unconscious, unconventional language, and the abolition of any distinction between body and its surroundings. The choice of the Mediterranean as an identity transgresses the colonial prejudice about it as a primitive locus of ruins and sexuality also displaying a flight beyond the specifically national. Although Pourgouris supplies the reader with persuasive material about existing contacts between Albert Camus and Elytis, nonetheless the unsympathetic quality of the Mediterranean is more relevant to Camus, whose conception of the Mediterranean light as amorally energetic and tragic does not exactly, in my opinion, correspond with Elytis's interpretation, use, and symbolism of the sunlight. Camus's decentralized modernism is, I believe, more dense, obviously a colonial, hybrid and existential compared to Elytis's purely aesthetic vision of the "sovereign sun" based on neo-Platonism, idealism, and scripture rather than surrealist philosophy. The author, of course, states their differences. Elytis's culturally specific "topos," different from Camus's totality as a challenge to European rationalism, is explored in the second chapter on Elytis's Mediterranean aesthetics. In his poetry, the natural elements exist in a peripheral yet uniquely Greek space and in unique structural forms.

The third chapter presents Elytis's theory of Analogies in relation to four main influences: Charles Baudelaire (correspondences), Gaston Bachelard (material imagination), Sigmund Freud (dream symbolism) and Jacques Lacan (concept of the Gaze). Elytis "transposes and merges these concepts" by adapting them to the Greek experience. His system of correspondences connecting nature and land, language and people, ethos and ethnos, is built up by applying "synaesthesia" within the Greek geographical context and rendering nature as the spiritual site of signifiers. It would, indeed, be intriguing to explore what Elytis's anthropocentric distillation of the sublime, paralleled with the Jamesonian concept of "national allegory," would reveal about his position in literary history. Thereby would Pourgouris's systematic attempt to discover Elytis's neo-platonic universe become more strategically significant.

The theory of Solar Metaphysics based on the relationship between content and form is investigated in the fourth chapter...


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