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J. Sapountzis

Balkans and Literature

  Concerning my previous participation I would like to inform you that I wrote an article in some local newspapers in Kavala and Serres (maybe you know the cities just three hours from here) about the last conference in Bulgaria. The articles were nicely accepted and raised some doubts whether neighboring people are well informed on cultural and social issues. I think I slightly made a small step towards that, which is the principal aim of the Balkanika Foundation: Starting to know each other, getting used to the awareness needed between us. Especially small cities and places should be better informed.

I was recently interviewed in a national newspaper about my latest novel. The headline was based on the whole spirit of the interview: «My village, the Balkans» the journalist wrote after our meeting. He knew that all my books take place in Northern Greece and the newly published one is about the old Balkan Peninsula in the beginning of the century. It?s called «The waters of the Peninsula».
Of course Greece is a Balkan country but the people who live in the northern part have a stronger feeling towards it. I hope my Greek company here mainly Athenians in origin will excuse me for feeling a bit more balkanian but I don?t feel that on purpose or because it?s a bit fashionable. It?s just a closer affinity due to my birthplace, still a place of inspiration and sentimentality...
But I believe that we shouldn?t get stuck in the same ideologies. Balkans exists between western and eastern civilization and they should take care of the new international political tendencies.
Literature might be a good way to examine the present and the past under a new perspective.
It?s time to turn again to history and politics in literary studies, to reveal literary texts as political and historical events. To turn towards history in literal studies because no discourse, imaginative or archival, gives access to unchanging truths nor expresses inalterable human nature.
Literary texts are embedded in social and political discourses and many of them are still preoccupied to old ideologies and assumptions. Literary and social identities are formed in certain cultures.
To see the relation between intellectuals and power. To take notion that certain literal texts offer an alibi to the systems of power. As an example think of Shakespeare how different we treat him today and how representative he was for the establishment of the Elizabethan Culture. I insist we should re -read literature in relation to history, society and politics. Literature could be one of the sources for reading the past, for reading the past relation of past societies and cultures.

Renewing our images of the past is revisiting the past. Of course literal texts are more complicated than they appear to be but this complexity is a relief for the writer to keep on working. Think that one day our texts might be approached in a different way. That makes me afraid whether the motives of a writer are simply his talent and inspiration or his intention to «invent» an interpretation of his present situation in his own society.
For example the historical setting of my novel was due to my will to examine the past and connect it to the present under a present perspective. Perhaps a critic should reinvent other theories to apply to texts which were written by us.

We should do our best to start a conversation between us and our texts. Modern texts and old texts. Actually storytelling is a comfort, a shelter for people without narratives. Storytelling has the power to change human situations. Our work can rearrange and reinvent the conceptions of our living. It may be that in the course of telling stories we will improve the values of the Balkan territory. Friendship and mutual understanding.
At last if we do not see any crucial changes we can see ourselves reflected in those texts. But we may also encounter something quite unexpected and unpredictable in those texts, something which reorganizes our knowledge around different objects and dissident ideas.
Actually to describe our future is to bring it into existence. To predict our future is to begin to prescribe it with our texts. We should work on the interface between literature and history practicing them as if for the first time.

Read at the Balkanika Foundation of Writers by the novelist Theodoros Grigoriadis.
1997 Hysira, Bulgaria

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