Topographies of Hellenism: Mapping the Homeland

By Artemis Leontis | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER I
The Topological Approach

One only knows a spot once one has experienced it in as many dimensions as possible. You have to have approached a place from all four cardinal points if you want to take it in, and what's more, you also have to have left it from all these points. Otherwise it will quite unexpectedly cross your path three or four times before you are prepared to discover it.

-- Walter Benjamin, "Moscow Diary"

Hellas is a disputed province of Western thought. A recurring topos of the modern literary imagination, it represents neither a monolithic essence nor an unchanging truth. The centers and limits of Hellas, both actual and imaginary, are constantly shifting, as different groups approach their ideal from distinct paths, with differing objectives. Some sojourners in Hellas have followed the course of travel, an acquisitive mode of displacement; others have excavated antiquities, a displacing method of acquisition. Some hold nationalist aspirations, engaging in linguistic, political, and cartographic battles in order to reclaim the territories of Hellas; others work the field of indigenous practices, in which they may wish to discover ancient survivals. Still others have followed the literary paths of classicism, with its idealization of ancient Hellas, or high modernism, with its skeptical reassessment of Hellenism. All have played their part in relocating the temples and backwaters of this revered and reviled place. They have also produced interesting topographies: travel narratives, essays on the identity of Neohellenes, and modernist verse, to name only a few items discussed in this book.

Knowledge of a place is more than any academic study should promise, especially when that place exists on the level of both ideas and geography. Yet intellectual journeys are not randomly made.

-17-

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