When the cultural analysis network Rethinking Modern Greek Studies in the 21st Century was launched during the two-day conference in January 2020, few of us suspected that very soon the lively in-person gatherings such as this one would become a privilege halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conceived as ‘an open-ended mapping and constant invitation’, the conference in Oxford initiated many conversations responding to cultural, social and political processes taking place in Greece in the recent years as well as inviting to rethink old questions through new methodological lenses. The energy and enthusiasm with which the network was launched that January meant that our discussions continued well after the conference, despite it all, through a number of virtual initiatives.
One of the first such initiatives was the roundtable in July 2020 with Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas, Tatiana Faia, Geli Mademli, Carl Mauzy, Eveline Mineur and Claudio Russello: all early-career researchers who participated in the first conference and whom I invited to share their views on Greek studies, its diverse methodologies and possible futures. The network’s emphasis on training opportunities for early career researchers led to establishing a fruitful terrain for us to share ideas. Indeed, it was fascinating to see how our different disciplinary perspectives meant that ideas bounced off each other in conversation and allowed some very complex questions to be tackled and thought anew.
The multidisciplinary landscapes of modern Greek studies and the ways each of us navigate through them within our projects provided a starting point for this discussion at the same time as they opened other broader questions that we hold on to in our research. How can Greek studies offer a vantage point for critical engagement with wider global contexts and debates? How can we effectively map such engagement within today’s shifting disciplinary boundaries? Could disciplinary labels serve as a point of connection rather than separation? What opportunities does the engagement with the Greek cultural heritage offer for new research projects today? What conceptual tools do Greek studies equip us with for rethinking the notions of identity, citizenship and belonging? For turning the ‘times of crises’ into a moment of critique? Can probing into the past also unlock visions for the future? Can critical engagement pave the way to social change? These are some of the questions addressed in the conversation while rethinking what the role of a researcher in Greek studies today could be.
Kristina Gedgaudaitė (KG): We all work in modern Greek studies but come to that from different backgrounds and perspectives, so I wanted to start by asking how you understand Greek studies and where your own project stands within that field?
Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas (YD): I started getting into Greek studies when I read works that were not published in Greek or were not, let’s say, in the curriculum of my Greek philology degree. So, my notion of Greek studies lies somewhere abroad, outside Greece, right now. As far as my project is concerned, it focuses on the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. It might be something that takes place in Greece, but neo-Nazism is also quite a big issue all over the world, especially right now.
Geli Mademli (GM): I am currently working on a parallel reading of discourses of crisis in film heritage, examining a collection of early 20th century Balkan films and dominant narratives of crisis as we understood it ten years ago in Greece. My understanding of Greek studies has to do more with cultural and historical perspectives; the insights I gained through my engagement with Greek studies felt liberating for the way I approach my research.
KG: Would you say that the crisis pushed the boundaries of modern Greek studies? Because your starting point was this specific moment…
GM: Well, I think it’s a moment of rupture, so it works more or less like a landmark in time, that’s how I came to understand it – like an occasion and a trigger, rather than a theoretical framework.
Eveline Mineur (EM): I think my experience with modern Greek studies, coming specifically from a cultural analysis angle, is that we revisit the past through the prism of the present, and look at the present differently inspired by analysis of the past. Maybe, what I have been missing, which became quite clear during the COVID-19 outburst, is the connection to the future. Especially, when discussing ‘Modern Greek Studies in the 21st Century’, I think it is very relevant to bring in thoughts about the future, such as, as for example an environmental perspective and, more specifically, a focus on entanglements of power and energy transition in Greece.
Carl Mauzy (CM): I came to modern Greek studies quite late in my academic track. I have a background in art history and I was looking where to place my project, which inquired into national identity through photography in Greece. Modern Greek studies became sort of an obvious field, due to the diffusion, the interdisciplinarity that characterizes most of the approaches within modern Greek studies.
Claudio Russello (CR): It struck me when Yorgos said that for him Greek studies lies abroad, outside Greece. As a non-Greek, I found this extremely interesting because I do approach modern Greek studies from abroad. I am an Italian, studying in the United Kingdom, working on Greece, coming from a background in Chinese studies. My research examines the Greek cultural production of the 1960s through the lens of ‘metamodernism’. The more I proceed with my project, the more I realize that I do not feel comfortable with a label. Yes, my research is mainly on Greece, but I cannot help but put it in relation to Italian studies, to English studies, to Chinese studies. In the future, I would like to see academia move beyond such labels.
Tatiana Faia (TF): My background is classics, and my postdoctoral project looks at how the modernist movements of southern Europe - Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece – are tied and connected. There is a very pronounced tendency in southern European narratives of modernism to not go into the comparative approach beyond the so-called major literatures of northern and southern Europe. So if you are someone researching Fernando Pessoa in Lisbon you will know of how Pessoa interacts with German poets and the relevance of English romanticism for his poetry but the wider sense of landscape and common cultural background that ties his work to the literatures of southern Europe would most often escape from view. In a way, what I am aiming at is a narrative of the modernist movements that builds different connections and shifts boundaries of the national canon. I am working on this project outside academia, so it’s very important for me to have a support network and people to talk with, and Rethinking Modern Greek Studies provided such an opportunity. At the moment, modern Greek studies for me works as an insight to theory and a kind of hindsight or a wider perspective.
KG: We often talk of how we have to broaden modern Greek studies, but for you engaging with modern Greek studies is what does the actual broadening.
TF: Yes, exactly.
GM: I’m curious to ask about the omission of the word ‘modern’ in Greek studies. ‘Greek studies’ rather than ‘modern Greek studies’ was the phrase used in your invitation to join this roundtable, and it actually left me wondering why.
KG: I’m sure everybody would have an opinion about this issue. We all, at some point, had to deal with the weight of the ancient Greece over modern Greece, and I think this distinction today is somewhat obsolete. We should be able to drop the ‘modern’ and just say that what we are working on is ‘Greek studies’. I think we should let the term stand on its own without any need to quantify.
GM: What I feel is that when you study classical antiquity, it is as if this brings a different gravitas to your field, and this creates a dichotomy that is not needed. I guess the idea of seeing Greek studies as a succession or genealogies, as a unit, is much more productive and much more important. Especially since there are so many projects that capitalize on classical past. And I am not just talking about academic projects, we see that happening in the cultural sector as well.
YD: There is some superfluousness in saying that we work in modern Greek studies, the very term ‘studies’ itself implies a modern approach.
CR: I think we are still talking whether we need a label such as ‘modern Greek studies’ or ‘Greek studies’ because we are outside of the field of Classical studies. This kind of distinction, probably, is more useful to those who focus primarily on ancient Greece. Speaking with classicists, I’ve always felt that whenever I speak about modern Greece there is a sense of awkwardness, because in their studies they are very focused on the ancient world, whereas for us, those who are dealing with contemporary Greece, or modern Greece, it is almost a given that dealing with Greek heritage at large, and especially ancient Greek heritage, cannot be bypassed. So, for us it could possibly be just Greek studies, because we can immediately see the numerous genealogies that Greece has, be it the Ottoman, the Byzantine or the Classical. Whereas a classicist, probably, would need this kind of distinction.
KG: A question that many of your responses touch upon is multidisciplinarity within the field of modern Greek studies. In a recent blog post, Maria Boletsi and Dimitris Papanikolaou have argued that today, even if you work on Greece exclusively, at the point when you engage with different methodologies, coming from various fields, your approach is bound to be multidisciplinary and branches out. I was wondering what is your view on this, and whether you, in your work, found Greece a particularly good case study to elaborate on wider theoretical debates?
EM: Maybe I can add something here. I just finished a bachelor’s thesis in which I explored a number of imagined alternative futures of the Aegean islands in contemporary Greek artistic and intellectual expressions – all produced in the second decade of the twenty-first century, which is marked by crises: the Greek financial debt crisis, the European migrant reception crisis, against the background of climate crisis and now the virus outbreak. In my last project, I interpreted the Aegean islands as a prism onto other coastal regions and archipelagos around the world, breaching national borders. Now, again, I noticed that the things I could tease out of these objects led to conclusions very relevant not just for Greece, but concerning globally relevant questions, such as how to act politically in the era of social media.
TF: To add to what Eveline was saying, as you take Greece as a microcosm and a case study for a number of processes that are relevant to Europe or the world more broadly today, it is a microcosm of really relevant things that have happened in the last one or two decades. Even though specific examples might seem more naturally circumscribed to a specific Greek context, Greece is connected to the world at the moment in ways that you can’t overlook.
CM: Something else that Maria Boletsi and Dimitris Papanikolaou mentioned in the blog is Greece’s worlding, especially using Greece to break out of the established patters of engaging with hegemonic ideas and theories. This idea brought one specific example to mind. Konstantinos Kalantzis’s recent book Tradition in the Frame: Photography, Power and Imagination in Sfakia, Crete (2019). Kalantzis very closely engages with notions of tradition, visuality, masculinity and modernity in highland Crete, placing all of this within discourses in Crete, on the one hand, but also within wider theoretical discussions on modernity, visual culture and asking how these fit in within these insular communities that are up in the highlands. That’s the sort of approach that I found very useful for my own effort to think about Greece within a wider perspective.
KG: I want to return to the idea some of you mentioned at the beginning: dealing with the past but also the need to look for the future. Dealing with the past is one common thread that runs through many of your projects, albeit in different ways. The question is: from your perspective, what does looking at the past, now, have to contribute to the discussions in modern Greek studies? Why should we do that again?
EM: I could start by pointing out that if we consider these times as ‘times of crises’, of course these are not the first critical times that human history encounters or that Greece encounters. I think it would be good to think of these troubling times as cyclical; in the imagined island futures that I studied, for instance, a certain past behaviour of the agents involved is repeated, which leads to a familiar outcome. In the cultural objects that I analysed in my project, there is certainly a repetition of certain historical narratives, and I think that’s how I would see the past and how it functions.
CM: My work engages with archives, and archives often present themselves as neutral vessels, as if they are just preserving historical memory. But there’s always this negotiation with the past and creation of the repository of nostalgia for the future. We could go back to the discussion we were having at the workshop, when Elisabeth Kirtsoglou talked about anticipatory nostalgia within modern Greek culture and Greek temporality as nomadic: for me it offered some new ways and ideas to think about the construction of national identity, but also of historical memory, particularly in the context of the archives in Greece, as well as how nostalgia is formed within the consumption of photography.
YD: What’s your opinion, Kristina?
KG: What I find particularly interesting about looking at the past is that in some ways it unlocks different futures. If you look back at a particular moment in time, viewing it as a linear sequence of events, you would say: a happened and then b happened, and that led to c. But you can also look at a specific historical moment and see that actually at that particular moment there were multiple other envisioned futures that could have led to x, y, z instead. We eventually went to z, but we could have gone in so many different directions! And I don’t know if you would agree, but I think this is something that we could say is happening more frequently today, or at least it’s happening more in the works that look at the past within the context of the so-called Greek crisis. If you look at the historical novels of early 2000s or the 1990s, what they do is give voice to those that could not be heard before; they tell the histories hitherto untold. This is not so much what I see happening now in works that deal with the past. They are much more about showing the mishmash of connections and then making you a participant in unravelling them.
GM: Something that I also wanted to bring in is the notion of archeology. I think it is quite pertinent to our discussion about the past and the future and what layers of presence and absence are described in physical environment and how we understand ruins. Archeology is relevant, again, when it comes to the interrelation of seeing Greece from inside the country and from the outside.
CR: The archeological act is how I see that past. The past is so complicated that it’s impossible to grasp it all at once and that’s why we need to keep going back there, in order to also find out new things about us in the present. And then of course I agree with you Kristina, we do see how the past contains potential futures, but I think our need to return to them is the consequence of our continuous effort to understand the present in its own multiplicity.
TF: I also think that looking at the past exposes the structures in which we live in, how we shape our own present, it gives us a good map of how to think about that.
KG: Definitely, it has to do with the present as well, and that’s why in different presents, as they unfold, we are coming back to the same pasts and keep seeing them differently. In a similar way, perhaps, we also keep coming back to the notion of modern Greek studies, redefining key questions, remapping boundaries of the field as a way to respond to the challenges brought on by the present and at the same time charting future directions.
As a way of conclusion, I would like to go back to the conference in January, which brought us all together, and ask if anyone would like to share any specific moments you still hold on to from that event.
CM: One of the memories that I have from the conference was the heated discussion on how memorialization takes places within different societal and political spheres after the talk of Anastasia Tantarouda-Papaspyrou on the execution of the 200 men of Kaisariani. And the other moment that I have already mentioned is the discussion about the anticipatory nostalgia and nomadic temporality in Greece.
EM: I would also like to share a moment about which I wrote in my blog post as well. During the panel on Migration, Refugeehood and Citizenship, Eftychia Voutira brought to our attention the constructions of meaning of the concept of migrant and refugee and compared modern-day negative value judgement with more positive past constructions of refugeehood in Cyprus, Greece and other countries. Voutira saw as one of the tasks of modern Greek studies and modern Greek scholars to rehabilitate the term migrant, metanastis in Greek, and to reconstruct the more positive connotations of the concept. This is something that is of course as much needed in other languages as well. It’s a task for Greek studies in the 21st century.
TF: This is fascinating, because metanastis is a word that has a very old pejorative connotations in Greek. It comes up in the Illiad in the discussion between Achilles and one of the members of the embassy: he feels insulted by Agamemnon and what he says is ‘He treated me as if I was a metanastis [ως ει τιν’ ατίμητον μετανάστην]’, and what me means is a refugee with no rights: if you are stripped of your rights, and, what back then was not a citizenship but a sense of belonging, you are just a nobody. As for the conference, a lot of things stayed with me. The conference offered a cultural commentary and a standpoint in a fascinating way!
CR: I have to say that the conference for me was a first in so many aspects. It was the very first academic conference together with professors, lecturers and early career scholars. I received so many stimuli from everywhere that I cannot really pin down a specific aspect. Certainly, what struck me the most was the enthusiasm in the room for ideas of how to tackle modern Greek studies and especially the variety of topics that we heard about. To be honest with you, I was really not expecting such variety of people and topics. And it’s exciting, it’s absolutely exciting! When the conference ended, I was ecstatic! It gave me new strength.
YD: I also believe that it was quite a conference that gave birth to something that we will be coming back to in the years to come.
A different and shorter version of this conversation was first published in the Journal of Greek Media and Culture 6:2 in 2020.
Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, where his research revolves around the trial of the Golden Dawn as theatre of justice. He holds an MA in cultural analysis from Leiden University. His MA thesis was an examination of the Greek far-right’s use of cultural figures, focusing on Golden Dawn’s mobilization of C. P. Cavafy.
Tatiana Faia is a Portuguese poet and one of the editors of the Lisbon-based independent publishing project Enfermaria 6. In 2019, her book A Room in Athens won the Portuguese Pen Award for Poetry. Her postdoctoral research is focused on classical reception of the modernist and contemporary poetry in southern Europe. She lives and works in Oxford.
Kristina Gedgaudaitė is a Mary Seeger O’Boyle Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Princeton University, where she works on a project examining contemporary Greek comics and graphic novels as a site for both artistic innovation and social critique. Kristina holds a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford; in 2019, she was a visiting research fellow at the University of Amsterdam.
Geli Mademli is a Ph.D. researcher at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, working on Greek film heritage and the concept of crisis as a modality of media archaeology. She collaborates with the Thessaloniki International Film/Documentary Festival and the Syros International Film Festival as publications coordinator and film programmer, respectively, and is a member of the editorial board of the journal Filmicon.
Carl Mauzy is a Ph.D. researcher at the Department of Classics, King’s College London. His research focuses on the intersection of Greek photography, Greek photographic archives and Greek national identity.
Eveline Mineur is an MA student at the University of Amsterdam, who holds BA degrees in literary studies: literary and cultural analysis and in modern Greek studies. Her last project was a BA thesis titled ‘Utopia- and dystopia- thinking in the Aegean Archipelago: Alternative island futures imagined through and despite a present of “crisis”’.
Claudio Russello is a Ph.D. researcher at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford. His project focuses on the role of modern- ism throughout the 1960s in Greece. His research interests include comparative and world literature, translation theory and reception studies in Greek literature.