The Reception of American Literature in Greece in the Long 1960s and the Perception of Greece in the Poetry of the Beats

  Nikolopoulou, Maria. "The Reception of American Literature in Greece in the long 1960s and the Perception of Greece in the Poetry of the Beats." CHS Research Bulletin 9 (2021). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:NikolopoulouM.The_Reception_of_American_Literature_in_Greece.2021



Abstract

The aim of this project was dual: to explore the reception of American culture, and especially literature, in Greece during the 1960s, based on translations in magazines; and to examine the way Greece was perceived by American Beat poets who lived there during the same period and published in magazines. Research was based mainly on the printed press, which was the most powerful and influential media in Greece in the 1960s, focusing on the representations of American culture, the cultural products that were presented, translated and diffused and their reception. Periodicals of different types were examined: general interest magazines, literary and student periodicals.

Reception of American Culture in Cold War Greece

The 1950s and ’60s are the period when American cultural texts systematically reach international audiences. The role of the US state cultural foreign policy through institutions as the USIS and the Congress for Cultural Freedom has been extensively researched and the research about their role in Greece is a rapidly developing field. Τhese institutions aimed to exercise soft power on the states that were under the US political and financial sphere during the Cold War, through the promotion of American culture and an American way of life, participating in a Cultural Cold War. The cultural texts promoted by these institutions belong to high culture (such as jazz music, abstract impressionism, contemporary dance), but they are also monitored the diffusion of mass culture, such as Hollywood cinema. They also financed the edition of journals, which promoted liberal ideas, and exchange programs. Moreover, leadership programs and student exchange programs aimed at the creation of networks that would promote American policies and culture. Greek writers participated in these and they published literary texts or essays based on their impressions.

During the Cold War, the reception of American culture was not uniform, but it very much depended on the countries’ position vis-a- the Cold War power blocs; therefore, it is political. During the 1960s, Greece can be placed on the border of two different mappings: regarding industrialization and capitalist development, it borders the developed countries; regarding the Cold War geography, it borders the ‘Iron Curtain’. This defined an ambivalent attitude of Greeks vis-à-vis American culture, which was very much political, as was also the case in other countries in similar situation, such as Japan and Sweden. The cultural practices and identities associated with the reception of American cultural texts can be creative, resisting the ideology promoted by the cultural industries and institutions.

Moreover, in the aftermath of the Greek Civil war (1946-1949), the defeat of the Left and the persecution of its supporters, the cultural field was deeply polarized. Culture was one of the very few areas where the Left could exercise any influence, creating its own narrative of national history and emphasizing the experiences silenced by the Right. During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s anti-American discourses were developed in both the Centre and the Left, due to the USA attitude vis-à-vis the Cyprus independence deliberations. This allowed some writers and intellectuals of the Left to tentatively approach the liberal intellectuals and writers who gradually distanced themselves from the Right.

American literature in the 1960s magazines

The political character of the reception of American culture and literature in particular is obvious in the printed press of the period. Research in different types of periodicals (general interest magazines, literary and student periodicals[1]) shows that the representation of American culture and the presence of American literature is closely associated to the magazine’s political and cultural profile.

The general interest magazine Tachydromos (1954-1993) was a weekly published by the prestigious Lambrakis publishing group, which was traditionally associated to the Center. In the early 1950s, it is overtly pro-USA and systematically promotes American cultural texts. On the other hand, there are articles presenting the American way of life in terms of moral panic, especially concerning drug use and youth crime. The image of American culture presented in the period is rather stereotypic: a powerful country with different moral values and low culture. After 1958, the magazine acquires a more sophisticated profile. In terms of politics, the magazine is somewhat more critical towards American policies and the American model. On the other hand, contemporary American literature is translated systematically, promoting a richer image of American culture. Following the model of American general interest magazines, the texts are illustrated by well-known artists and translated by prominent writers who worked for the magazine. Although there are writers from other countries translated in the magazine, American literature is dominant.

In general, Tachydromos gives a rich overview of how American culture was gradually received in a more nuanced and ambivalent way. Both high culture and popular culture were positively received until 1960. The gradual approach of the center with the Left towards the 1963 elections means that American culture is not as well-promoted by the magazine, although we know now that at the same time its editor was in contact with the CCF for the financing of the intellectual journal Epoches (1963-1967). In the mid-1960s, although American cultural texts are much less present, the social upheaval in the US is represented as a proof that the American model is not as perfect.

The reception of American literature in literary periodicals is also political. In the case of the established Nea Estia (1927-present), which during the late 1950s was in contact with the CCF, so as to promote its aims, American literature is translated systematically, but not to the same extent as English, German or French literature.  

On the other hand, the literary magazine of the Left, Epitheorisi Technis (1954-1967), publishes very few texts of American literature, while European literature is well represented. Most of these texts belong to non-canonical writers, connected to resistance or decent. It is interesting that one of the earliest references to the beat generation can be found in this periodical in 1959, in a translation of Cyrill Arvanov’s History of American literature. Although the beat generation it is criticized for its marginality, its dissent is considered promising by the French critic.  During the 1960s, magazines of the Left published articles on American counterculture and the Beat generation, but they remained skeptical, due to the lack of political engagement.

The Beat poets in Greece

While mainstream magazines promoted high and popular American literature, there is an alternative channel for the transfer of American beat literature to Greece as early as 1959, which is the presence of certain Beat poets. Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Conrad Rooks, Ted Joans, et.al. lived in Greece for short of longer periods in the 1960s.

Their connection was Nanos Valaorites, who introduced the Beat poets to representatives of the Generation of the 1930s, such as Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis. Nevertheless, they were somewhat skeptical towards them, due to their subversive cultural practices and identity. On the other hand, Andreas Embiricos, a prominent surrealist, was inspired by their writing and cultural identity and extensively refers to them in his poetry of the period. Moreover, younger poets and artists, who already had a more underground cultural and artistic identity, adopted beat writing and practices.

The interaction of the American Beat poets with their Greek counterparts is obvious in the avant-garde periodicals of the period, such as To allo stin techni and Pali. Many of these texts portray the Beats’ experience of Greece, such as the coexistence of the classical past with the present, or their drifting in a pre-modern space while seeking a spiritual experience. On the other hand, the presence of the Beat poets encouraged the revival and reappreciation of the historical avant-gardes.

The American Beat poets experienced Greece within its double cultural bind. On one hand, they viewed its modern reality through its classical past. On the other, the element of tradition, which made the country the pre-modern space that allowed their free movement and personal freedom, by the same token made it a parochial cultural and social environment, which they aimed to alter through their presence, cultural identity and practices. In this respect they adopted a typical paradoxical western view of Greece.

During the CHS fellowship

Part of this research, especially on the presence and reception of the Beat poets in Greece, was conducted previously. During my CHS fellowship, I focused on the perception of Greece on the poetry of the Beats and the impact of the Cultural Cold War on the political reception of American literature. Thanks to the access to the Harvard online resources, I researched the Beat little magazines and drew on the extensive bibliography on the Beats and the Cultural Cold War. I am grateful for the support offered to me by the Center of Hellenic Studies, during a difficult pandemic year, where research resources were limited. The access to the Harvard online resources was very conducive to my project.

Dissemination

Although the CHS summer school did not take place due to the pandemic, I had the chance to present my CHS project to the Centre for Hellenic Studies research community in February 2021 and to enjoy the feedback from the CHS scholars.[2] Moreover, part of my research was presented in the 1st Annual Research Workshop held in CHS Greece in July 2021.

Results relevant to this project are discussed in the following papers in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes, published in 2021 or currently in press:

  • Μαρία Νικολοπούλου, «Η πρόσληψη αμερικανικών λογοτεχνικών κειμένων στον περιοδικό τύπο της σύντομης δεκαετίας του 60: η περίπτωση του Ταχυδρόμου», [The reception  of American literary texts in the magazines of the 1960s: The case of Tachydromos] στο Δέσποινα Λαλάκη και Χρήστος Μάης (επιμ). Πόλεμος Ιδεών: Πολιτιστικός Ψυχρός Πόλεμος και η Κατασκευή της Φιλελεύθερης Δημοκρατίας στην Ελλάδα, Ψηφίδες, Αθήνα (in print).
  • Μαρία Νικολοπούλου, «Η πρόσληψη της αμερικανικής πολιτιστικής παραγωγής και η πολιτική λειτουργία της μαζικής κουλτούρας στη λογοτεχνία της Μεταπολίτευσης», στο Γιάννης Δημητρακάκης – Αναστασία Νάτσινα (επιμ.), Μεταπολίτευση 1974-1981: Λογοτεχνία και πολιτισμική ιστορία, Εκδόσεις της Φιλοσοφικής Σχολής, Πανεπιστήμιο Κρήτης, Ρέθυμνο 2021.

Selected Bibliography

Bournazos, Stratis, Το Congress for Cultural Freedom και η δραστηριότητά του στην Ελλάδα, 1950-1967: Πολιτισμικός Ψυχρός Πόλεμος και αντικομμουνισμός, Ph.D. Thesis, Dept. History and Archaeology, University of Crete 2019.

Karpouzou Peggy, «Από την ουτοπία στην ατοπία: Η Αμερική ως “πραγματικός-και-ϕανταστικός” χώρος στην ελληνική ταξιδιωτική γραϕή του 20ού και των αρχών του 21ου αιώνα», in Th. Agathos, L. Ioakimidou, G. Xourias (eds.), Θέματα Νεοελληνικής λογοτεχνίας του εικοστού αιώνα: Τιμητικός τόμος για την Έρη Σταυροπούλου, Gutenberg, Athens 2020, 175-192.

Lalaki, Despina, “The Cultural Cold War and the New Woman of Power. Making a Case based on the Fulbright and Ford Foundations in Greece”, Histoire@Politique, 35, May-August 2018.

Laliouti Zinivia, Ο ‘άλλος’ Ψυχρός Πόλεμος: Η αμερικανική πολιτιστική διπλωματία στην Ελλάδα, 1953-1973, Πανεπιστημιακές Εκδόσεις Κρήτης, Heracleion 2019.

Malli, Morphia, Στον δρόμο των Beat: Μία ανάγνωση της ποίησης του Λευτέρη Πούλιου (On the Road of the Beat Generation: A reading of Lefteris Poylios’ poetry), Futura, Athens 2016.

Mikelli, Eftychia. “The Greek Beat and Underground Scene of the 1960s and 1970s.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 18/5, 2016. https://doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.2964 .

Murnaghan, Sheila and Rosen, Ralph Mark (eds.), Hip sublime: Beat writers and the classical tradition, The Ohio State University Press, Columbus 2018.

Moulios Paulos, Η Αμερική της δεκαετίας του 1950, μέσα από τα ταξιδιωτικά κείμενα των Η. Βενέζη, Γ. Θεοτοκά και Μ. Καραγάτση: μια απόπειρα πολιτισμικού διαλόγου, Εκδόσεις Red Marks, Athens 2019.

Nikolopoulou, Maria, “The Transfer and Appropriations of the Beat Generation in Greece” in Harri Veivo, Petra James, Dorota Walczak-Delanois (eds.), Beat Literature in a divided Europe, Brill-Rodopi, Leiden 2019, 101-131.

Nikolopoulou, Maria, “Η αμήχανη ανάδυση του Underground και το αίτημα της διπλής πρωτοπορίας στο λογοτεχνικό πεδίο της Μεταπολίτευσης”, in Effie Gazi, Kostis Kornetis, Manos Avgeridis (eds.), Μεταπολίτευση: Η Ελλάδα στο μεταίχμιο δύο αιώνων, Themelio, Athens 2015, 263-282.

Ioannis D. Stefanidis, Stirring the Greek nation: Political Culture, Irrententism and Anti-Americanism in Post-War Greece, Ashgate, Aldershot 2007.


[1] The magazines examined were: The general interest magazine Tachydromos, the art and literary periodicals To allo stin techni, Pali, Kainourgia epochiKritirio, Nea Estia, Epitheorisi Technis, Martyries, the student magazine Panspoudastiki. 

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bl1cdF-wEWQ