Álvaro García Marín

The successful self-concealment of canonicity: conscious and unconscious oversights in Greek literary historiography


Psychology has termed ‘self-concealment’ the ‘tendency to keep secrets that are perhaps too painful to recall, too stressful to reveal, or even too frightening to describe’. In my opinion, the concealment of the processes of canonicity in Greek literary historiography has operated in quite the same way. The painful, stressful or frightening secrets we are dealing with here are mainly related to the questions concerning the genealogy of Greek literature, the alternation of different canons throughout the 19th and the 20th centuries, and the political, ideological or even aesthetic criteria implied by them. Even if such elements have usually been disregarded in Histories of Greek Literature because of a methodological neglect on the part of the authors, the reasons for this (conscious or unconscious) concealment are mostly to be searched for in the vested interests of nationalism and in the commonly and implicitly accepted notion of Greek literature as a national institution that have guided Greek criticism until the last decades. In this context, I would like to bring to light some of these oversights, to briefly analyse why they have undergone such a process of self-concealment, and to reveal the ideological discourses involved in most Histories of Greek Literature so far. My aim is also to show why in this kind of works we cannot take for granted the notions that usually appear in their title, such as ‘history’, ‘literature’ or even ‘Greek’, and how they have been changing from the very modern foundation of Greece in 1821. Moreover, I intend to highlight the fact that, against the usual claims of Greek literary historiography, neutrality is not possible in such works, since the very choice of a canon or a historical presentation instead of another implies the choice of a precise evaluation or ideological discourse. In my analysis, I will focus on the self-concealment of some general processes of canonicity (literary politics, paradigm changes, linguistic choices, assumptions-rejections of foreign trends or genres), but also on the scarcely taken into account postcolonial and consequently non-European condition of Greek literature, as well as on his instrumental function for the construction of a Greek nation and cultural identity, which has determined many of the supposedly aesthetic criteria used for accepting or rejecting authors, genres, works or trends into the official canon.

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