Ποίηση και μύθος στα θεατρικά έργα του Βασίλη Ζιώγα (review)
February 25, 2016
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
Poetry and Myth in the Plays of Vasilis Ziogas by Walter Puchner, Professor of Theater Studies at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and an authority in the field of modern Greek and European drama, is a monograph in which the author attempts to "unlock" the body of the theatrical work of one of the most "difficult" and hence dismissed authors in postwar Greece: Vasilis Ziogas (1937–2001). Using a method reminiscent of Charles Mauron's psychocritical approach as developed in Des métaphores obsédantes au mythe personnel (1962) (a book not cited here), Puchner tracks Ziogas's personal myth by examining the recurrent themes, images, and patterns of thought that defined his creative evolution from his first one-act play, Discussion with a Coffin, written in 1956, to his last, Bozo, in 1998. Revolving around the poles of pantheism and nature worship that, in his view, function as two constants in Ziogas's plays, Puchner achieves a two-fold purpose: to vivify the author's peculiar and multifaceted theatrical world and to reconstruct in a systematic way his mystic Weltanschauung. Both these objectives are successfully met (although the latter remains the author's main concern) thanks to Puchner's careful scholarship that, besides his insightful and close readings of Ziogas's texts, also often includes a close look at the history of the performances of his plays and their reception both in Greece and abroad, for Ziogas, though a unique voice in the history of modern Greek theater, was first recognized in the rest of Europe and only later in Greece. Puchner does justice to Ziogas's work by situating it appropriately within the context of European and Greek theater, offering us a truly comparative study.
By analyzing the plays in chronological order, Puchner has produced a book that is a real treasure for both scholars familiar with Ziogas's works and laymen who might not be. The former will be introduced to the playwright's unpublished works and will benefit from Puchner's comparative approach that is comfortable on levels both of inter-textuality and intra-textuality, an approach that works well because Ziogas's are self-referential to a great extent. In fact, the greatest contribution of this book is to correct many of the misunderstandings about the work of this maverick writer who distanced himself from works representing the main theatrical circles of Greece such as Karolos Koun's Theatron Technis. After having absorbed many influences, Ziogas sought to implement his own views about the art of theater when he founded the Theatriko Ergastiri (Theater Laboratory). One such misunderstanding is the usual labeling of Ziogas as "surrealist," a label most probably due to his claim that, in the winter of 1958 at Nanos Valaoritis's (a member at the time of André Breton's Surrealist Circle) urging, he used the "automatic writing" to produce his so-called "one-act plays of the period of Paris" (Restaurant Humanismus, Raisin, Steaks and Vistourich the Bad) (p. 44). As Puchner points out, by "automatic writing," Ziogas probably meant that "he wrote these skits ceaselessly in one night, without interrupting the pace of writing with various concerns or by paying attention to the form and the elaboration of language" (p. 45).
Equally concerned with the term "surrealist," Puchner continues, is another critic, Gregory Ioannidis, who places Ziogas closer to Nikos Engonopoulos, one of the main representatives of Greek Surrealism in both painting and poetry. However, for both these critics, Ziogas's work is unlike Breton's "surrealist writing," defined as psychic automatism that denies any intervention of reason. Instead, Ziogas's poetic writing is the outcome of a free association that reconstructs reality in a way that has all the elements of the dramatic art, such as tension building, suspense, and situation reversal. Similarly, the material from which Ziogas draws is quite different from the main repository of dream imagery of the Surrealists. Rather, he focuses on the Greek oral tradition of fairy tales, folk stories, and myths as these have been filtered through his living memories as a child in the mountainous region of Epiros in northern Greece. Therefore, Puchner states, "Ziogas has never denied language as...