- Το Όνομα και το Πράγμα, Πλατωνικοί Απόηχοι στο Διήγημα του Γ. Μ. Βιζυηνού Διατί η Μηλιά δεν Έγινε Μηλέα by Εμμανουέλα Καντζιά
What’s in a name? Georgios Vizyenos’s life and oeuvre provide a compelling case study in the complexities of the answer to this question. After all, the writer known as Georgios Vizyenos, and derisively nicknamed “ο Τουρκομερίτης” by his Athenian contemporaries, went by Georgios Michailides (Γεωργής Μιχαηλίδης) or Michaliesas’s Georgi (Γιώργι της Μιχαλιέσας) in his early youth. This concern with the vagaries (and politics) of naming is also evident, for example, in the ridiculousness of characters such as Mr. P in “In between Piraeus and Naples,” whose belief in the authority of names—“the name fitted the thing” he says—transfers to the unendurable pompousness of his poetry. The sublime open-endedness of “Who Was My Brother’s Killer?” on the other hand, derives from the subtlety with which Vizyenos frustrates our desire to put a name to the culprit.
Emmanuela Kantzias’s The Name and the Thing: Platonic Echoes in Vizyenos’s “Why the Apple-Tree Did not Become the Apple-Bearing Tree,” a play on the expression “όνομα και πράγμα” (in every sense of the word), takes Vizyenos’s concern with names and naming as the foundation of her study, which elaborates, in true deconstructive fashion, on the différance contained therein. Indeed, the separation of name and thing (both thing and essence, signifier and signified) foregrounded in the title of the book serves as a pretext for a nuanced analysis of the philosophical, historical, and literary heterogeneity of Vizyenos’s work.
Interestingly, Kantzia chooses as the focus of her study a story that, until fairly recently, had been excluded from the Vizyenos canon. In an excellent introduction to her English translation of the story (Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 16/17 [2000/2001]), Susan Matthias attributes this exclusion to two factors—its venue of publication and “deceptively journalistic” tone—and cites Vangelis Athanasopoulos’s reservations about its very status as a short story; it can be classified as such only in the “very broad definition of the word” (501). Indeed the trajectory of this story can be said to mimic Vizyenos’s own position in the Greek literary establishment. Although initially [End Page 207] marginalized as a “foreign body . . . ugly, awkward, coarse”—a physical description that encapsulates the distaste for his writing—Vizyenos’s stories are now required reading in high school literature curricula. This broadening of definitions in order to recognize the structuring function of what is excluded is the aim of Kantzia’s study. “Apple-Tree” gets to the very heart of issues of identity, language, and meaning that are invariably raised in discussions of Vizyenos’s work.
Kantzia’s decision to focus her study on a close reading of “Apple-Tree” is refreshing. During the past two decades, Vizyenos has received increasing attention as a writer of remarkable importance to the Greek canon. His stories engage directly with issues central to an emerging modern nationalism: the Language Question, the Eastern Question, and the future of Hellenism. Biographical and historical readings of his work (such as Athanasopoulos) have been matched by analyses that underscore the complexity of Vizyenos’s literary and folkloric sources (Chryssanthopoulos) and the influence his multidisciplinary education in philosophy, child psychology, and religion had on his work (as the mounting interest in dissertations attests). His experimentations with the very form of the short story itself, evident in part, as Margaret Alexiou has noted, in a narratorial voice that is Jamesian (Henry James, that is) in its complexity and doubling of characters and voices, has also received much attention. Kantzia’s close reading of “Apple-Tree” crystallizes all these strands of Vizyenos scholarship, both focusing and adding to them, through a careful elaboration of the rich sources for this deceptively simple, “journalistic” story.
In his preface to The Spoils of Poynton (1908), Henry James described his stories as elaborations on a foundational idea or “germ”: “most of the stories straining to shape under my hand have sprung from a single small seed, a seed as minute and wind-blown as [a] casual hint.” The germ for Vizyenos’s “Apple-Tree” and, of course, Kantzias’s study is the eponymous apple-tree and its various homonyms/cognates in...