Michigan Paper Series 2008 - Koundoura

The Role of Greece in the Discourse of Modernity

Description: Lecture given as part of the "Conversations on Europe" lecture series. 'There is something on earth with one voice that is two-footed and four-footed and three-footed. Alone among however many creatures there are on land and on sky and on sea, it changes its nature. But when it proceeds, supported by the most feet, then the swiftness of its limbs is weakest.'(i) The answer is, of course, "Man," at least as Oedipus answers it. And so began, in Western culture's fiction of origin, the history of man.(ii) Oedipus' answer is "the only ideal and the only idea of man's possibilities," Henri Lefebvre tells us in Introduction to Modernity in which he attempts to think the modern by transplanting the myth of Oedipus.(iii) The Sphinx's riddle also begins my interrogation of the role of Greece in the discourse of modernity. But, unlike Oedipus, I am not interested in its solution, or, in maintaining the solution that has been accepted as his. Rather, following Walter Benjamin's advice in "Riddle and Mystery," I want to explore the riddle's "precondition."(iv) For, as Benjamim explains, "the key to the riddle is not only its solution… but also its intention...its foundation and the 'resolution' of the intent to puzzle that is concealed in it."(v) "Riddles," Benjamin explains, "appear where there is an emphatic intention to elevate an artifact or an event that seems to contain nothing at all, or nothing out of the ordinary, to the plane of symbolic significance." (vi) And, he continues: "Since mystery dwells at the heart of symbol, an attempt will be made to uncover a 'mysterious' side to this artifact or event." The mystery, however, is not inherent in the object but is found in the work of the subject that produces the riddle through its solution.(vii)"

Publication Date: 2008