EDITOR John O. Iatrides
[On the occasion of MGSA's 20th anniversary the Bulletin reproduces below a segment of Peter Bien's "Introduction" to Modern Greek Writers,, edited by Edmund Keeley and Peter Bien (Princeton University Press, 1972) which traces the origins of the Association.]
A sense of modern Greece's cultural importance, a concern over the relative absence of coordinated scholarly attention to her achievements, a hope that these might be made accessible to a much wider public led a group of American scholars to found the Modern Greek Studies Association. They were encouraged in this by the brilliant contributions of previous scholars, both Greek and European, and by continuing work in centers such as Geneva, Rome, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, Chicago, Princeton, Cincinnati, and Montreal -- not to mention Athens and Thessaloniki. They wished in particular to coordinate existing efforts; to stimulate further activity, especially in North America; and to see that more scholarly and critical material became available in English, the twentieth-century koine. In sum, the founders sought to provide for modern Greek language, literature, and history the services given other disciplines by existing associations of a similar nature.
The actual beginning of the MGSA (as it is known in abbreviated form) had a large element of the spontaneous in it. The idea emerged initially from an informal meeting of American scholars who came together in the fall of 1967 to plan a symposium on modern Greek literature under the sponsorship of the Comparative Literature Department at the University of Maryland.(1) The symposium that was held the following spring -undoubtedly the first such gathering in the Western hemisphere and probably the first anywhere in the world -- proved to be a warm and stimulating occasion (although somewhat casually organized, since the various papers were not united by a central theme). (2) The planners of this symposium were so delighted to see how many others shared their enthusiasm for modern Greek literature, and so determined that the momentum achieved should not die at the symposium's end, that a small group of them joined several of the leading participants in forming a provisional executive committee which charged itself with the task of shaping the Association. (3)
The next step was to draft a constitution stating details of membership, administration, finances and, above all purposes. The latter were articulated in this document as follows:
1. The general purpose shall be the fostering and advancement of modern Greek studies, particularly in the United States.
2. Toward this end, the association deems as its specific purposes (a) to organize scholarly symposia in the various fields of modern Greek studies; (b) to finance, edit, and publish a professional journal; (c) to compile an annual bibliography of publications relating to modern Greek literature, culture, history, etc.; (d) to assist in establishing chairs, programs, and departments of modern Greek in American universities; (e) to encourage the teaching of modern Greek language, literature, and culture at all levels; (f) to serve as a center for the dissemination of literature and information regarding courses, books, and professional opportunities in the field of Byzantine and modern Greek studies, including literature, language, history, political science, and all other aspects of Greek civilization; (g) to support other groups and individuals sharing an interest in the realization of the above goals; (h) to encourage the formation within the Association of sections covering the various academic disciplines, such sections to be coordinated by secretaries elected by their membership; (i) to engage in any and all other activities as may be deemed necessary or expedient for the better realization of any of the foregoing purposes.
Some of these specific purposes are more visionary than others. To endow professorial chairs, for example, requires vast sums of money. Unsuccessful campaigns in the past have led the Association to feel that it should concentrate at first on realizable goals. Its initial action, therefore, was to establish an annual bibliography. Â·rhis was made possible by affiliation with the Modern Language Association of America (MLA), in turn an affiliate of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), and by the good fortune of securing the services of Mrs. Evro Layton, a trained librarian formerly in charge of the modern Greek collection at Harvard.(4) The bibliography will continue to be published in PMLA each June, and it should prove an indispensable resource for anyone interested in modern Greek studies. As an additional service in this general area, the Association is sponsoring a cooperative project to encourage and facilitate libraries in the purchase of books and journals printed in the Greek language. Under the terms of the project, Mrs. Layton selects items, orders them, and supplies cataloguing data, all according to the individual needs of subscribing institutions.
A second realizable goal to which the Association turned its immediate attention was the organizing of meetings where scholars could present papers and discuss aspects of modern Greek culture. A seminar was established in connection with the annual December convention of the Modern Language Association. The first of these yearly seminars, held in New York in 1968, concentrated on the novelists Theotokas, Myrivilis, and Kazantzakis; the second, held in Denver, on the poet Cavafy; and the third, again in New York, on the Greek folksong and its contribution to nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature. The 1971 seminar, held in Chicago, focused on the poetry of Sikelianos.
From the start, however, it was clear that a meeting of one hour and a half each year, even when supplemented by a business meeting, would be hardly enough to satisfy the Association's interest in bringing together, for the sharing of mutual concerns, scholars devoted to all aspects of the field. Especially since another cherished goal, the inauguration of a journal, seemed a relatively long-term project, the executive committee voted to direct the Association's limited initial resources toward a series of biennial symposia lasting three or four days and hopefully offering an opportunity to invite distinguished foreign scholars to meet with their colleagues in this country. The proceedings of the first such symposium, convened at Princeton for three days in the fall of 1969 (October 30 to November 1) and attended by approximately 200 persons, form the basis of this book, to be discussed in detail below. The second symposium, sponsored by the MGSA in cooperation with the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard and the Fogg Museum, took place in Cambridge on May 7, 8, and 9, 1971, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence. Because of this historical context, and because the Princeton symposium had focused on literature, the meetings at Harvard were given over chiefly to historical themes, supplemented by papers on the literature most relevant to the occasion and by other cultural manifestations, such as a demonstration of Greek shadow theatre (Karaghiozes). It is hoped that the proceedings of the Harvard symposium will eventually be published in a volume similar to the present one.
(1) Among those attending this meeting, called by Professor K. Mitsakis (then Acting Chairman of the Comparative Literature Department at Maryland), were Andonis Decavalles, Kostas Kalzazis, Edmund Keeley, John Nicolopoulos, and Byron Tsangadaso.
(2) 0n the first day Basil Laourdas, visiting from Thessaloniki, surveyed the novels of Pandelis Prevelakis; A. O. Aldridge spoke on "Kazantzakis and the Modern Spirit"; and Kimon Friar ,another visitor from Greece, roused the audience with his account of Kazantzakis’ Odyssey. The second day offered studies of cavafy’s mythology and his position in the diaspora by John Anton and Basil Christides, respectively, and a survey of Kosmas Politis’ novels by Andonis Decavalles. On the final evening, Edmund Keeley spoke on the “mythical method” in the poetry of Seferis. The program ended movingly with a talk on “Modern Greek Literature: A Quest for Identity,” by Benjamin Jackson of the State Department, who was already visibly affected by the disease that was soon to kill him.
(3) The provisional executive committee consisted of John Anton, Peter Bien, Andonis Decavalles, Thomas Doulis, Mary Gianos, Edmund Keeley (Chairman), K. Mitsakis, John Nicolopoulos (Secretary), Byron Sangadas, and Peter Topping.
(4) The first fruits of Mrs. Layton’s industry appeared in the annual bibliographical supplement of PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association), June 1969, pp. 1064-73, under the following headings: I. General and Miscellaneous; II. Folklore; III. Medieval Literature in the Vernacular; IV Literature 1453-1669; V. Literature 1670- 1830; VI. Literature 1831-1880; VII. Literature 1881-1922; VIII. Modern Literature After 1922. Each section has subheadings such as General, Poetry, Prose Fiction, Drama and Theatre. Books and periodicals are listed alphabetically according to author under these headings.