MON, 16 OCT 2000 23:52:44 GMT
AIM Athens, October 16, 2000
Once again we are summoned to talk about the old dilemma: Cosmopolitanism and Europeanisation or Indigenity? I dislike all three terms describing the topic of this discussion. In fact, I think it is precisely because the discussion has been conducted for years with such terms that it does not lead anywhere.
"Europeanisation" seems to mean civilisation to some, loss of national dignity and identity to others - in both cases, however, a sort of rape of our nature. This transformation supposedly depends on the outcome of a showdown between two tendencies or dispositions: "indigenity" or "autochthony" - ideologically charged terms that sound like an oath to defend our national pedigree against any mongrelisation - and "cosmopolitanism" - a notion which, in its typical use, induces unpleasant associations for it seems to intimate a rejection of fatherland and irresponsible bumming around the world.
I wonder how many of our younger authors feel that they need to be "Europeanised," and that the dilemma between "regionalism" and "cosmopolitanism" concerns them. Personally, I do not know of a single one. As their writing indicates, all authors I am aware of feel sufficiently Greek, European and cosmopolitan without finding any contradiction in this triad. It is not an ideological attitude but an expression of the reality they are experiencing. Unlike the older generations, they do not "go to Europe," because they do not see Greece as something radically different from Europe; nor do they feel that they are selling out their Greekness when they place their heroes in a cosmopolitan setting.
There have always been Greek writers who emphasised the peculiarities of Greek life, and others who used them in a relativistic sense. There was Papadiamantis, but there was also Roidis. There was Myrivilis, but there was also Cosmas Politis (i. e. Cosmopolitis = Cosmopolitan!). There was Ioannou, but there was also Alexandrou. There is no problem in this. Both categories are part of our literary tradition and express aspects of "Greekness."
The problem arises when these two choices are ideologized and one side or the other (usually that of the "autochthonists") acclaims itself as the only genuine expression of Greek identity. This has happened whenever the modern Greek society was undergoing some period of dramatic changes, which appeared to one portion of the intelligentsia as threatening the essence of our national peculiarity. It happened for the first time at the late 19th century, when the rapid urbanisation of this country was accompanied by the birth of the current of ethography, the conscious dedication to describing the "authentic" mores and customs of the Greek people. (At the time, writers such as Xenopoulos who wrote about life in the urban centres were scornfully characterised as cosmopolitan!) It happened for the second time in the years following World War I, when the shock of the Asia Minor Disaster and the corralling of Hellenism within a small, backward state gave birth to the specious premise of "Greekness," an overcompensation for the sense of inferiority to the more advanced peoples with the theory that Greek folk culture has a superior character that does not depend on material terms. (the leading writer Myrivilis, in fact, spoke of the healthy ignorance of the Greek people!) And it happened for the third time in the 1990s, when the rapid transitions we are all familiar with (the collapse of political ideologies, "globalisation," the mass influx of foreign immigrants, the upheavals in the Balkans, etc.) caused many to feel that they must defend whatever they perceive as Greek individuality against the forces of alienation and levelling.
It is, in other words, a defensive reaction that to some extent is easily explained. Still, in no other European country, including those who were put to infinitely harder tests than Greece during the 1990s, are so many intellectuals haunted by fears about national identity. With all due sobriety, I will also say that it is a clearly conservative stance, as it is devoted to the defence of a character seen as having been definitively formed in the past and for which any further evolution means adulteration.
It is not at all coincidental that, among our living authors who directly or indirectly accept the logic of a polarisation between "indigenity" and "modernisation", and rally around the first pole, it would be hard to discover anyone born after 1950. As I have said, the younger authors, having been brought up in a very different reality, reject this logic and do not feel as though they always have to take Greekness tests through their writing.
I believe that the national liberation syndromes that used to characterise the Greek Left (and its hard-core to this day) comprised the ideological ferment for generalised xenophobia, which in some intellectuals later took a grotesque form. By the 1980s, already, Yorgos Ioannou, a writer whom I otherwise hold in great esteem, worried about the alteration of our racial identity by the invasion of…Filipino domestic help! Fortunately, very few others have gone so far. But xenophobia, in its particular form of western-phobia, manifests itself after 1990 in the works of several authors; relatively restrained and refined in Douka, Papayorgis et al, more aggressive in writers such as Matesis, Aris Fakinos, Nollas, and Haritopoulos, who dislike even the looks or sexual behaviour of westerners.
Younger writers are again free of these syndromes. They do not believe, as does Haritopoulos for example, that Greece is an occupied country, nor do they suffer from any complexes towards the outside world.
Once again, the "indigenity"/"cosmopolitanism" dilemma means nothing to them. And I imagine that, if asked what is especially "indigenous" about their work, they would shrug their shoulders like any English or Italian writer, not because there are no such elements in their books, but because they are not terribly concerned with whether or not they are particularly "indigenous."
I will conclude with the following observation: It is often claimed that globalisation levels local dissimilarities and promotes a uniform culture. This is a great delusion. In fact, "globalisers" want cultural dissimilarities and invest in preserving and promoting them because they regard them as marketable values - as long as these dissimilarities do not conflict with their own economic philosophy, as long, that is, as they are symbolic and picturesque rather than substantive and dynamic. Therefore, judging from the manner indigenity is treated by most Greek writers and other intellectuals who invoke it, I predict that very soon they will find at their side an unforeseen and rather unpleasant ally.