- «Για νάρθω σ’ άλλη ξενιτειά». Αφηγήσεις του τόπου στην πεζογραφία της γενιάς του by Pateridou, Georgia
The Generation of the 1880s is often associated with the solidification of conceptions of Greek national identity that developed out of the coalescence of the demoticist arguments and the rise of a self-consciously national mode of prose writing. But how, precisely, was that “national” identity constructed, and to what extent can it be thought of as representative of either a singular experience or a unified ideology? Georgia Pateridou’s book examines the relationships between language, ideology, and topos in the narratives of five significant authors of this generation (Vizyenos, Psycharis, Ephtaliotis, Karkavitsas, and Papadiamantis) whose works either promote a specific construction of national identity based on individual criteria or critique others’ assumptions about it. In one sense Pateridou’s approach serves to dispel the idea that there was ever a consensus about what constituted identity at the end of the nineteenth century. Identity in the works discussed here is alternately national or individual, and Pateridou examines how these authors’ specific backgrounds and life experience affects how they negotiate the relationship between their own perception of individual identity and its connection to national identity.
A key organizing principle in the book is the notion of doubling or duality (διττό-τητα). On one level this takes the form of a series of connections between interrelated doubled terms, with topos being a common denominator: identity and topos, topos and ξενιτειά (variously exile, diaspora, immigration, alienation), topos and home, author and topos, author and text, utopia and dystopia. These thematic dualisms are not meant to be understood merely as binary oppositions, but rather as pairings of related ideas that, when analyzed fully, reveal a kind of relativity in the meaning of identity as portrayed by these authors. This happens, for example, in Vizyenos’s stories [End Page 455] where the plot is developed through dialogue not only between one character and his interlocutors, but between the text and the reader, «έτσι ώστε πουθενά δεν παρέχεται μια ξεκάθαρη ερμηνεία των φαινομένων αλλά διαφορετικές ‘αναγνώσεις’ του τόπου και των καταστάσεών του καθώς και διαπραγματεύσεις της ‘αλήθειας’» (34). For Pateridou the conception of “topos” is a crucial feature to understanding ethographia as a “cultural construction” (18) whose approach to identity influenced later periods in Greek literature. As an analytical category she uses topos to examine the specific parameters of ethographic writing while connecting it to her larger theoretical discussion of national identity.
On a different level Pateridou also ascribes to each author a duality that is emblematic of his work. For Vizyenos and Ephtaliotis she employs the notion of “double consciousness” that leads to their expression of a diasporic (Vizyenos) or a “homogeniac” (Ephtaliotis) identity. Borrowed from W.E.B. Du Bois, the concept of “double consciousness” is the attempt to view oneself through the eyes and expectations of another, and entails “an interlacing of language and voice that can lead to the creation of a new type [of identity], surpassing the level of the national” (111). Pateridou goes to some length to clarify the difference between what she calls διασπορική ταυτότητα and ομογενειακή ταυτότητα. In the case of Vizyenos, diasporic identity has to do with the author’s own multilayered experience:
Ο διασπορικός Βιζυηνός γράφει ελληνικά και απευθύνεται σε Έλληνες αναγνώστες, γράφει όμως από την προόπτικη του απομονομένου, καθότι κινείται εκτός του κυρίαρχου λογοτεχνικού κατεστημένου της εποχής, και περιφερειακά της Ελλάδας, σε κάθε περίπτωση: ένας Τουρκομερίτης στην Αθήνα, ένας Έλληνας στη Γερμανία και ένας ομογενής στους κύκους ομογενών στο Λονδίνο και το Παρίσι—όπου, σημειωτέον, βρίσκει και τη μεγαλύτερη αποδοχή στο πρόσωπό του.(53)
In a story such as “Moscov Selim,” Pateridou argues, a negotiation takes place between one’s “place of birth” and a utopia, so that there is a weakness in the idea of a “stable” identity (57). Her understanding of Vizyenos’s stories here rests on the relationship between topos and identity. Conversely, for Ephtaliotis the “homogeniac” identity has to do with the “paradoxical” experience (127) of living in the mercantile expatriate community, whose main topos is the “business setting” (122), where the only stable connections are money, language, and education. Despite that, in his fiction Ephtaliotis constructs an “imaginary homeland” or, as Pateridou suggests, a “desired topos” that somehow effectively combines the foreign with the national to create a “mixed” (129) perception of identity. In either case, Pateridou concludes that identity formation is relative to the specific circumstances of one’s experience.
Somewhere between Viyzenos and Ephtaliotis is Psycharis, who complicates matters by ascribing to a “double identity” (75) that is Greek and French. Psycharis, of course, becomes a commanding and influential presence in the debates about language and identity, and Pateridou conducts a deft analysis of...