- O μύθος της γενιάς του τριάντα: νεοτερικότητα, ελληνικότητα και πολιτισμική ιδεολογία by Dimitris Tziovas
“Thousands of citizens, in the fifth day of protests, sang the ‘Axion Esti.’” That was not the headline of a newspaper reporting on political developments in Greece in the early 1960s, when the long epic poem by Odysseus Elytis, the “Axion Esti,” was set to music by composer Mikis Theodorakis. Instead it was the first story on www.koolnews.gr, www.protothema.gr, iefimerida.gr, www.inews.gr, wws.star.gr, www.ethnos.gr, and other digital news sites early Sunday morning, 16 June 2013, at the close of the fifth day of demonstrations outside the ERT news station in Agia Paraskevi, after the sudden announcement of the public news conglomerate’s closure by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. “Thousands gathered for yet another night to express their support for the workers of ERT who lost their jobs, while the orchestra of contemporary music and the ERT choir presented the ‘Axion Esti’ in a powerful, emotional performance” (http://www.iefimerida.gr/).
More than half a century has passed since Elytis wrote the “Axion Esti” to express the struggle of the Greek people for freedom and justice through periods of foreign intervention, with direct reference to events of the 1940s, when the poet, fighting against the Italians who invaded Greece through Albania, developed a strong Greek national consciousness. Although details of the history of that period have receded in public memory, this and other works by members of the “Generation of the Thirties” to which Elytis belonged still function as a cultural haven, offering a vision of communal reconciliation even under neoliberal conditions of austerity, surveillance, and relentless cuts in social and cultural programs. Young people whose horizons differ radically from those of Elytis, Seferis, and Ritsos sing musical renditions of their works to protest austerity measures. They confidently declare, “‘With words of poetry, we can fight any measures imposed on us’” (Makris 2012).
What accounts for the faith they place in the power of words by men older than their grandparents? How do writers who died decades ago continue to give voice, images, and now even digital bit streams of hope to contemporary Greek social and political consciousness?
O μύθος της γενιάς του τριάντα: νεοτερικότητα, ελληνικότητα, και πολιτισμική ιδεολογία,, a massive, ambitious work by Dimitris Tziovas, Professor of Modern Greek Literature at the University of Birmingham, analyzes just this phenomenon. The book offers a genealogy of the emergence of a set of beliefs surrounding the γενιά του τρίαντα, Generation of the Thirties, with a focus not on the myths its authors wrote into their work but on the constitution of the myth of the group itself and the regenerative power ascribed to it.
Tziovas’s investigation follows several tacks concurrently. One traces the tangled history of the term, through a careful study of the discourses and counter-discourses produced by and about the group of writers who identified with it. For decades people have been using “Generation of the Thirties” in a broad range of contexts with full confidence in the stability of its referent. It brings to mind an all-male group of Greek writers, many of them Anatolian transplants, who began publishing in Athens a few years after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. In their youth, the group affirmed the newness [End Page 324] of their work, announcing a radical break from literary conventions that had brought Greek cultural life to a standstill. Adopting the language of modernism, they projected the problems of the Greek nation onto the aesthetic, utopian realm of art. After World War II, their work moved to the center of cultural life. Members of the group were captured in a photograph at the height of their achievement in the home of Yiorgos Theotokas in 1963. Standing in the center of the back row are Odysseus Elytis and George Seferis, the poets who achieved the greatest international recognition, flanked by critics Antonis Karantonis, K. Th. Dimaras, and Yiorgos Katsimbalis, who gave them critical support, and surrounded by Thanasis Petsalis, Elias Venezis, Stelios Xefloudas, Angelos Terzakis, Kosmas Politis, and Andreas Embeirikos. Theotokas, the author who contributed explicitly to cultivating the “myth” of their...