The passage to postmodernism: the radical turn of Nanos Valaoritis
Antiquity has always been a board on which Greek writers played their games. Greek modernists, who claimed a place in the literary canon, were called upon to manage the Classics, the addressing of which was an issue much more complicated than a purely artistic, yet still paralogical, debate over imitation, high culture, education, and the aesthetics of antiquity by the deniers and descendants of any kind of classicism. The collision between ancient and Modern Greeks was basically a political and ideological issue involving a divisive paradox: denial and integration at the same time. The paradoxical combination of acceptance and resistance to the ancient past has been a symptom of both, the impediment of westernization -based on the western European roots in the ‘archaeophilic’ renaissance- and the retrieval of the Classics as a reterritorialization of Greek antiquity in the modernist present. The modernist Greek project was arduous: the Greek poets laureate, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, established their poetics in terms of the West combining it with their more intimate and proximate East; the complex way in which Greek modernism responded towards both, East (Asian Minor) and West (European) routes still persists as an important issue in Modern Greek studies. Indeed, the most systematic attempt to assimilate the westernized Classics by the moderns was made by the Greek modernists in the 1930s.
Almost half a century later postmodernism complicated even further the double vision of modernists. During the 1970s and 80s two key quests come to the fore: de-historicization of history and de-westernization of antiquity, that is, a shift to antiquity in new terms. Of course, in the Greek case, the conditions became complicated again: the issue was not only the response towards or approach of antiquity by postmodernism, but also the appropriation of antiquity as essentially Grecoroman. Therefore, while history, sociology, and their epistemologies were still responding to issues brought forth by postmodernism well through the 21st century, the artistic and literary postmodernisms completed their lives by the end of the 1980s, even in Greece. A significant moment of this finishing line was the symposium of the Greek SPIRA magazine in 1988 in Athens with the title Modern – postmodern, where artists, critics, sociologists, and linguists among others organized the stocktaking of postmodernism, not without either consideration of the extent of damage done to the tradition of modernism or some hidden joy for postmodernism’s differentiation from modernism in terms of its relationship with both, antiquity, and history (Aristinos, 1988).
Almost 30 years later, in 2015, the symposium of the Society of Studies of Modern Greek Culture and General Education on the Introduction of postmodern ideas in Greece conveyed the Greek concerns and discussions about postmodernism in the 21st century. In this symposium, Dimitris Tziovas speaking about the "Post of the post" brought together the developments in the reflection on postmodernism (as a crisis of representation, scientification of the artistic, relativity of truth, return to quotidian reality, bio-politics, sexuality etc.). Apart from the widely researched Greece’s Europeanization and cultural dualism, Tziovas notices, at the other side of the spectrum, the post-colonial provincialization of Europe: the notion that Greece is not a backward province, but a ‘fictional’ construction in constant ambivalence:
The Greeks, with the certainty of the custodian of the classical tradition, project feelings of superiority towards the West, but at the same time they are haunted by complexes of inferiority towards it as they constantly seek the western confirmation of their classical superiority. (Tziovas, 2018:130, my transl.)
If Greek antiquity is a dream or a fictional and/or imaginary construction, postmodern literary texts about it may be included in the theoretical discussion of the validity or truth of antiquity and the Classics. The Greek post-colonial (or semi-post-colonial) view of Greek antiquity may therefore be considered as another version of the postmodern. After all, colonialism already involves fiction. The two trends’ common grounds would consist of antimodernist, syncretic, or “hybrid” textual strategies which politically criticize the hegemonic and the authoritarian.
The postmodernist attitude towards classical heritage is the focus of this paper. More specifically, it will explore the position towards the Classics of Nanos Valaoritis (1921-2019), a major Greek writer, born in Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th century and has lived and worked in Greece, England, France, and the United States. Before focusing on our reading, it is imperative to shed light to some critical yet less emphasized aspects of postmodernism.
1. Towards a definition of radical postmodernism
Postmodernism in literature has been a reservoir for a long time collecting the residue of late modernist and contemporary readings. The adjective ‘radical’ is used here to include a series of parameters within the postmodernist context of Valaoritis’ work during the 1990s. I borrow the term ‘radical postmodernism’ from a fertile ground for postmodernism, that of architecture. Deriving from the ‘corporal ersatz’ of the late 1980s and mainly focusing, according to Helen Castle’s editorial, on “communication, formal tropes, and social content” (Jencks, 2011:5), that alternative trend explored the dichotomies of high and low culture, and concentrated on the ordinary, the social and the real, as well as the public and the significant, the particular and the local, the border, the post-industrial, and the post-utopian.
Interestingly, ‘radical post-modernism’ appears to be a flexible and rich term for literature as well. The above radical features of postmodernism would become more distinctive when combined with the new ‘shock of the old’ as opposed to the avant-gardist ‘shock of the new’, which Jencks encountered in the work of artists like Carlo Maria Mariani, Gerard Garouste and Malcolm Morley (Jencks, 1987:48). According to Nicholas Zurbrugg, Jenck’s reference to Mariani’s works advances a series of ‘remythications’ through the “fusion of allegorical iconography and satirical jest” (Hawkes, 1988:401). That heretical use of the myth in radical postmodernism refers to a process of mythication / remythication, as defined by Barthes in Mythologies (1957). Myth is ‘depoliticized speech’ only when we have not modified “its circumstances, the general (and precarious) system in which it occurs, in order to regulate its scope with great accuracy”. The specific, the responsive, the interpretational and the objectified signifier make the myth politically meaningful (Barthes, 1972:144).
Through that process of ‘mythication / remythication’, according to Staniškytė, “the myth is deprived of the abstraction and re-inscribed with marks of the social thus creating the ‘counter-mythical system’ (Staniškytė, 2006:33).” Such a complex use of the myth, more relevant to the contemporary cultural context than to history in a direct and unmeditated way, radicalizes the postmodernist neo-classical turn. There, in the unconventional social, communicatory, or even parochial and anti-humanist use of myth lies the radical part of postmodernism. Indeed, as Hal Foster argues, opposed to neoconservative postmodernism is a critical and constructive rather than passive attitude towards reality. The ‘anti-humanist, ‘constitutive of reality’ use of the myth thus mobilizes a nihilist remythication.
Indeed, according to Will Slocombe, the radical transcendence of postmodernism is the ‘nihilistic’, negative, more critical, and most political moment of the postmodern phase (incorporating meta-narratives, but also language games). Meta-fiction (the integration of theoretical and ideological discourse into narrative, Lyotard's postmodernism, Althusser's ideology, and Baudrilliard's surrealism) is the critical, subversive, or controlling moment of postmodernism (Slocombe, 2006:57). The poetics of radical postmodernism would upset the eclecticism of the postmodern and add an unconventional, unorderly, heretic tone to such postmodernist choices as formalism, ornamentality, and subjectivism. Τhe ‘nihilistic’ moment of radical postmodernism may correspond with what Raymond Williams’ called ‘emergent cultural elements’ which co-exist unevenly but synchronically with dominant and residual ones within the main movement (Padgett, 2016:12). In other words, radical postmodernism transcends the quest for new stylistics and becomes a discursive exploration of the present.
The iconoclastic and skeptical use of the myth originates in a cynical and antifoundationalist tradition which may, usually through Nietzsche, go back as far as classical Greek philosophy. Yet, both the cynical doubt in the use of myth and the experimental ways of showing mistrust towards the cultural institutions correspond to the Beats and the 1960s and culminate with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry.
2. Valaoritis’ postmodernist turn
According to Valaoritis’ autobiography, at the age of the elementary school, in 1927, a time of educational reform and the abolition of teaching ancient Greek in primary education, “an old Greek teacher taught [him] to read elementary Greek” (Andréws, 1997: 264-265).  In the 1990s Valaoritis, who started publishing as a late modernist immediately after the war, had already made a significant turn to the postmodern, an evolution which came naturally after his strong bonds with post-war surrealism, May ’68, the San Francisco post-beatnik scene and the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. His writing career, which began with modernism in the late 1940s, went through the 1960s surrealist and avant-garde experimentations, the ‘language’ centered East Coast as well as Change magazine poetics during the 1970s, the post-structural critical interests in the 1980s and the radical turn to postmodernism in the 1990s.
Valaoritis’ surrealist interests are obvious in his work of the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially between 1954 and 1960, during his stay in Paris and acquaintance with his future wife artist Marie Wilson who belonged to André Breton’s circle. Suggestive of his renewed interest in surrealism, which already had inspired him in Greece during the war, were his poetry books Terre de Diamant (1958) and Feathered Confession (written in Greek between 1961 and 1968 and published in 1982) as well as his bretonian influenced French plays L’hôtel de la nuit qui tombe, staged in 1959, Henriette ou est-elle passée? and Les Tables rondes (both written in 1957). Valaoritis’ surrealist attachments, being the common denominator of his entire oeuvre, had an international and cosmopolitan nature. His subsequent ‘language-centered’ shift (which is recalled by the poet himself), took place from the late 1970s onwards, due to his contacts with the French ‘language’ poets of the Parisian magazine Change, as well as with the American L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets he himself introduced to the French readers. During the 1980s Valaoritis’ post-structural interests were in the core of his poetry, prose and essays. His understanding of writing as écriture (the word chosen in Greek is ‘graphe’, meaning both, ‘writing’ and ‘scripture’) was obvious in his creative and theoretical work. Within the context of a Greek “neo-avant-garde”, the choice of ‘graphe’ is a way of exploring intertextuality and undermining the Greek logocentric tradition. The cultural and radical trend of “neo-avant-garde” after the 1970s in Greece, which included both the inter-war cosmopolitan and the post-war political surrealism-inspired texts, offered the grounds for a radical postmodernist turn. The traits of that trend were a critique of the institution of modernism and the avant-garde, and the promotion of popular, nomadic, diasporic, ethnographical, naive, pre-industrial, psychoanalytic, and post-structural elements. In the 1990s Valaoritis’ turn to postmodernism acquired a distinctive post-colonial character. The writer produced texts of meta-narrative nature; in the core of his production was literary prose with theoretical or critical concerns about issues such as the Greek tradition, the Greek perception of the ancients as opposed to the western European one, the use of mythology, canon formation, criticism, literary institution, modernism, and the avant-garde.
The integration of criticism into literature occurs in a variety of post-narrative (ironic, and self-referential) circumstances and in mainly metafictional prose. In these texts, criticism is narrativized or allegorized as a strategy of national determination. Thus, the national is constructed through fictional or mythological textuality or in narratives of lost space and time. Incorporating into his literary prose critical discourse about Greekness and national determination, as well as subconscious inspiration, Valaoritis himself identifies his texts as, interchangeably, postmodernist and neo/post-surrealist (Valaoritis, 1990:168), hyper-modernist (Valaoritis, 2005(1): 15) or post-realist (Valaoritis, 2013: 64-65). Radical postmodernism, having inherited the critical, cultural, and hydridic elements of the avant-garde, has also been embraced by other Greek writers and poets who followed, the majority of them, a tradition of surrealism, and political critique.
At an international symposium at Delfi in 1995 on “Greece. International Spiritual Center: National Right and Duty” Nanos Valaoritis spoke about “The post-colonial intellectual and the formation of the nation-state” (Valaoritis, 2016). In that groundbreaking speech, Valaoritis explored the symptoms of post-colonialism in the Greek literati. While ancient Greek language is considered by the metropolis to be the national cultural heritage and is controlled by foreign cultural institutions, the local language and thought are ignored. The dilemma as to whether the foreign or indigenous language should be used results in imitation or sometimes hybrid works and mixed language. The Greek intellectuals’ oversaturation with history creates confusion, insecurity, lack of self-confidence, and attraction to the metropolitan centers of power. This tendency to "escape to the center", namely the metropolis, is not accompanied by a desire for the unknown, but by a need to return home (nostos).
An almost instinctive reaction against any influence on the one hand and, absolute submission to the West, on the other, generates sensitivity in matters of national identity. The ambiguous tendency of rejection and/or absolute submission to the Classics made Greece a deceptive country that is interpreted according to its visitors’ disposition. Greeks abroad were embarrassed because they experienced Greece as a vacuum; Greece is a country with complexes of persecution and grandiosity, with hermetic and novelistic (myth-historical) literature. The term ‘myth-historical’ is interpreted as a tendency to both, mythologize history (a history both painful and humiliating) by connecting of the earthly with the eternal, and demonizing the idea of genius.
To summarize, the features of Greek post-modernism are, for Valaoritis, a defensive stance toward or complete subjugation to any foreign influences, the insistence on national identity, the recognition that there is an indigenous and a non-local academic view on literary tradition and language, the ideological projections of language choices, the disruption between oral and written speech, and finally, the imitation of the metropolitan literature (Valaoritis, 2016, 35-7).
 Winckelmann’s classical ideal as a coagulation of those imperatives already set the basis of the paradoxical comparison of the ancients and the moderns. According to Larson “in conferring absolute value upon the formal particularities of a single historical period, Winckelmann involves himself in a paralogism. Greek sculpture, when approached as an aesthetic achievement, affords the only reliable rule for creation. Greek sculpture, when approached on the basis of grounds and causes, must be described as a unique historical phenomenon, since its conditions cannot be re-created. In other words, Greek art is inimitable, yet furnishes the sole basis for imitation. This contradiction emerges quite naturally from Winckelmann's extended comparison of the ancients and moderns.” (Larson 1976: 400).
 Descending form Smyrna, the modern Turkish Ιzmir, Seferis’ family was repatriated in Greece after the Asia Minor war in 1922. Gerhard Emrich, and Jocelyn Pye demonstrated that “Byzantium” for Seferis “exists only on the side, in his academic studies, but not where his poems are created.” (Emrich 1992:197) Elytis’s Prosanatolismoi (Orientations), on the other hand, explore the Orient in a Eluardean way. According to Leontis “The advocates of Romiosyni (a term opposed to Hellenism) extolled the Byzantine and Ottoman-Christian popular heritage, with its demotic language and folk songs, alongside an idealized ancient genealogy” (Leontis 1991:195).
 The milestones of the main discussions about Greek modernism are two collective publications in the 1990s, Modernism in Greece? (Layoun, 1990) and Greek Modernism and beyond (Tziovas, 1997); notably, there is no question mark in the second book. About the narratives of constructing Greek modernism during the 1930s, see Tziovas, 2012.
 Tziovas discusses the main debates on Greek postmodernism in his Greek article “The post of the post. Theoretical formalism, postmodernist dispute and peripheral modernization” (Tziovas, 2018). On the use of Greek mythology and the homeric tradition by Modern Greek poets, see, for example, Ricks, 1989 and Mackridge, 1996.
 According to Stathis Gourgouris, the imaginary construction of the nation is included in narratives that proceed to the rupture of temporal linearity -based on a dream-like situation where antiquity coexists with both, modernity, and eternity. Of course, the phantasy of the Classics is related to the colonization of the ancient Greek ideal by the enlightenment and the new sciences of antiquity (Gourgouris, 1996:129).
 The discussion opened in the 1990s about situating the post-colonial in the postmodern or considering the two theories as conflicting produced interesting although culturally specific results (e.g., see Bhabha, 1994, Hutcheon, 1994). Interesting concepts have emerged since, such as Bonaventura de Sousa’s term “Oppositional postmodernism” (Bonaventura de Sousa, 2010:11).
 Katsan summarizes the discussions on the inhibitory circumstances and complex nature of Greek postmodernism (Katsan, 2003: 1-34). Jusdanis (1987) was the first to examine the feasibility for Greek postmodernism considering the absence of its enabling conditions, such as an established modernist tradition in Greece. Commenting on his view, Tziovas (2018:128) points out that Jusdanis's starting point remains west oriented, while this western model of approaching modernity has been lately challenged by those who speak of ‘multiple or varied modernities’.
 About ‘radicalism as an avant-garde practice’ see Arseniou, 1998. Radicalism in Valaoritis’ theoretical and critical thought relates to his critique of the ‘classicist’ and Apollonian elements of Greek modernism as opposed to the Dionysian avant-garde. In his reproval towards the way Seferis was read during the 1960s, Valaoritis “promoted a counter-modernist debate by focusing on foreign, non-conventional, written, ‘low’, exotic, futuristic and sensual elements” in his essays and editorials in the journal Pali (Arseniou, 1998:206).
 A special issue of Architectural Design in 2011 was guest edited by Charles Jencks and FAT (Fashion, Architecture, Taste), a British architecture studio directed by Sean Griffiths, Charles Holland, and Sam Jacob. The issue was entitled What is radical post-modernism?” (Jencks, 2011:5, 21, 37, 26).
 Nicholas Zurbrugg in his criticism of Jencks’ Post Modernism: The New Classicism in Art and Architecture pinpoints Jencks’ ‘idiosyncratic antipathy’ towards the avant-garde (Hawkes, 1988:403).
 On the reception of antiquity by the Greek surrealists see Yatromanolakis, 2012. About the use of myth in Greek surrealism and esp. Empeirikos see Siaflekis, 1998:86.
 Foster remarks: “Poststructuralist postmodernism, on the other hand, assumes ‘the death of man’ not only as the original creator of unique artifacts but also as the centered subject of representation and history. This postmodernism, as opposed to the neoconservative, is profoundly antihumanist: rather than a return to representation, it launches a critique in which representation is shown to be more constitutive of reality than transparent to it.” (Foster, 1985:131).
 For Forster “Neoconservative postmodernism is defined mostly in terms of style, it depends on modernism, which, reduced to its worst formalist image, is countered with a return to narrative, ornament and the figure. This position is often one of reaction, but in more ways than the stylistic — for also proclaimed is the return to history (the humanist tradition) and the return of the subject (the artist/architect as auteur.” (Foster, 1985:131). Foster’s dualistic antithesis has been expanded since by extensive literature on the political and cultural conservativism of postmodernism.
 According to Fredric Jameson, in opposition to mainstream postmodernism’s moral judgments, radical postmodernism constitutes “a genuinely dialectical attempt to think our present of time in History.” (Jameson, 1991:45-46).
 For Resham (2020: 629) one of the best Ways of describing postmodernism as a philosophical movement would be a form of skepticism - skepticism about authority, received wisdom, cultural and political norms, etc. - and that puts it into a long-running tradition in Western thought that stretches back to classical Greek philosophy.” He adds: “For many writers, it seems that a departure from the norms of traditional writing is a necessary facet, if not the unavoidable result, of questioning grand-narratives: the Greek literary tradition is possibly the most troubling of these.” (ibid).
 Emblematic in this direction are two texts, “The New Mutants” by Leslie Fiedler, who presents the post-male and post-heroic world of the artistic 1960s (Fiedler, 1965), and Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice (Perloff, 1991) which explores the ways in which contemporary poetry that has inevitably assimilated postmodernism initiates strategies of resistance to it.
 In 1933, at Makris Private School, his high school teacher of Greek was I.M. Panagiotopoulos, the acclaimed ‘demoticist’ essayist, critic and writer of neo-symbolist concerns inherited from the ‘generation of the 1920s’. Venizelos’ educational reform of 1929 had not yet been interrupted by Kondylis’ dictatorship of 1935.
 Vassiliki Rapti presents Valaoritis’ critique of bourgeoisie’s lack of linguistic imagination and his employment of ludic strategies as tools of social disruptiveness, experimentation with language’s patent nonsense and creation of new connections between games and playwriting (Rapti, 2013:10-12, 75-78, 113-115). See also Rapti, 2017.
 For more about Greek surrealism and the avant-garde in the 1960s see Arseniou, 1995: 87-99). About Valaoritis’ role in the Greek 1960s see Arseniou, 1995: 265-274. Also, about the nature of the Greek neo-avant-garde see Arseniou, 2003: 131-135.
 Valaoritis traces the beginnings of his interest in language poetry in the 1960’s and the magazine Pali, while he presents as ‘language-centered’ his publications in the magazines Change, and Fin de Siècle, the creation of the magazine Syn-teleia and his collections written in the 80's, namely Sto kato kato tis grafis (At the bottom of writing) (1984), Anideogrammata (Anideograms) (1996), and Helios ho Dimios mias Prasinis Skepsis (The Sun, the Executioner of a Green Thought) (1996). See Valaoritis, 2016: 234, 242-243. About Valaoritis’ interest in ‘language-centered’ writing see Arseniou, 2003: 357 and Pagoulatos, 2005: 453.
 In the sense the term acquired in Barthes and Derrida, namely as a self-referential way or as différance.
 On the ‘cultural’ character of the Greek ‘neo-avant-garde’ see Arseniou, 2003: 405-415). On the hybrid nature of the Greek avant-garde see Arseniou, 1997.
 Apart from his My Afterlife Guaranteed (1990), and his account of his modernist career in Modernism, Avant-garde and Pali (1997), Valaoritis’ novel O Skilos tou Theou (1998 God’s Dog), as well as his poetry books, follow a revisionist tradition of avant-garde intertextuality. In his prose since the 1990s Valaoritis included criticism in a meta-narrative way, introducing a transition from literature to critical discourse about it, from fictional narrative to multi-level, post-literary writing. Valaoritis' prose comment on other texts, challenge the linearity of reading and transform expectations of the common reader in a direct, swift and determining way (Arseniou, 2018).
 I take one of many examples, that of Serbian literature, where postmodernism, as represented by Milorad Pavic, is further explored in texts written after 1960 where literature, myth and history are linked. Cases of such a connection are The Time of Miracles (1965) and The Golden Fleece (1978-1986) by Borislav Pekic and A Tomb for Boris Davidovic (1976) by Danilo Kis.
 Among others the texts of Andréas Empiricos, E.Ch. Gonatas, Nikos Kachtitsis, Alec Schinas, Dimitris Kalokyris, Nikos Stampakis, Kostas Voulgaris and the poetry of Manto Aravantinou, Hector Kaknavatos, Iason Depountis, Zachos Siaflekis, Yannis Zervas Andréas Pagoulatos, Michael Mitras, Natasa Chatzidaki, Kostas Stathopoylos, Theofanis Melas, Dimosthenis Agrafiotis, Spilios Nikos Argyropoulos, Panos Bosnakis, Sotiris Liontos, Vassilis Amanatidis.
 That international symposium, which was organized by the president of XYNIS Educational Group Sophocles Xynis, was inspired by the concept of 1927 Delphic movement organized by the poet Angelos Sikelianos and his wife, Eva Palmer. As far as I remember, there were many reactions to Valaoritis’ speech, beginning with his use of the term ‘intellectual’ (let alone ‘post-colonial’) which seemed -to some people at the audience- foreign and disputatious.
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- ALAM, AFROJA
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