- History and National Ideology in Greek Postmodernist Fiction by Gerasimus Katsan
History is a serious matter for all nations, but, as has often been remarked, it weighs particularly heavy on certain nations claiming a renowned antiquity, with Greece as a prime example. This is almost a cliché, and one might ask if we really need yet another book on Greece’s complex relationship with history. After reading Gerasimus Katsan’s well-written History and National Ideology, I am convinced that we do. English-language monographs focusing exclusively on contemporary Greek literature are rare, and Katsan’s choice to insist upon the literary approach is most welcome. Recently, Vangelis Calotychos published his rightly acclaimed The Balkan Prospect (2013), which examines contemporary Greek culture and identity from a cultural studies approach [End Page 195] including literature, film, politics, and so forth, an approach that may ensure that book a wider audience than a more narrowly focused literary study. Yet History and National Ideology may potentially draw international attention to contemporary Greek literature and so demonstrate that literature, despite its apparently waning social impact, has the power to explore, rethink, and deconstruct ideologies and identities even in a fragmented late modern world. This potential may be ascribed to the study’s not at all narrow approach to contemporary Greek literature. Katsan examines Greek literature of the postwar and post-junta period in the light of international sociopolitical changes and postmodernist literary trends. This first full-length English-language study of Greek literature from the perspective of postmodernism provides a very useful, albeit selective, literary history of the 1960s to the 1990s. Katsan produces a creative dialogue between, on the one hand, international theoretical literature on postmodernism and, on the other, specific Greek experiences of postmodernism. The interplay between the theoretical and the specific is further enriched through comparative readings of well-known international postmodern literature alongside the Greek novels. The book’s main purpose is to explore conceptions of Greek national identity as they are reconfigured through techniques of historiographic metafiction and postmodernist theories regarding subjectivity, representation, contingency, and the construction of narratives.
Chapter 1 draws on literary theory to introduce the concept of historiographic metafiction and, more broadly, postmodernist responses to the crisis of representation. The remaining chapters comprise predominantly close readings, presenting analyses of novels from different thematic angles. However, chapter 2 also provides a detailed theoretical introduction to the relationship between postmodernist literature and the experience of exile, the thematic focus of this chapter. Katsan views exile as an experience that enhances postmodern writing because exile involves alienation, fragmentation, and construction of (new) “realities.” The exilic experiences of many Greek leftist writers after the Civil War and during the Dictatorship of the Colonels became, according to Katsan, the impetus for experimental postmodernist prose fiction in Greek. In this well-structured chapter, he shows how novels by Melpo Axioti, Dimitris Hatzis, Alki Zei, and Mimika Kranaki from 1965 to 1992 used metafictional strategies to draw attention to the constructedness of (national) identities and thereby conducted a critique of the hegemonic notion of “Greekness” and the monolithic national narrative of Greek modernism of the Generation of the Thirties. Here Katsan brings out the central argument of the book, namely that “metafiction is a borderline discourse that exists in the boundary between fiction and criticism” (4). Thus all the novels he examines represent different ways of challenging, criticizing. and deconstructing hegemonic discourses on Greek historical experiences and national identity.
The thematic focus of chapter 3 is “the politics of remembering.” The Greek authors presented in this chapter (Thanasis Valtinos, Aris Alexandrou, and Vassilis Gourogiannis) have all written novels (between 1978 and 1992) that undermine the authority of their texts by including “documents” or testimonies that are both real and fictional, thus blurring the distinction between reality and fiction and creating uncertainty about the reliability of the narrative and its narrator(s). The novels are highly political in their dealing with recent historical periods of war and conflict, yet, despite their critique of hegemonic narratives, their...