Arcadiana

A Blog about Literature, Culture and the Environment

Gr/ecocriticism: A Conversation with Nikoleta Zampaki

Arcadiana, BLOG, Conversations
A young olive tree against a dark sky

© Miltos Gikas


This series wants to know what contemporary ecocritical research is like – what people are working on, and how they’re doing it. We’re asking PGRs and ECRs from across the world to discuss their work with us, reflecting on the ways in which their social and cultural contexts influence their understanding of what they do. We’ll ask our contributors for a short biography and starting proposition, and then open space for a conversation.

Nikoleta Zampaki is a PhD Candidate in Modern Greek Literature in the Faculty of Philology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece. She attended courses at MIT (U.S.A.), Harvard Extension School, Stanford University, Oxford University, Universität Tübingen etc. Now she is International Student at the Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. Her disciplines are Comparative Literature, Environmental Humanities, Posthumanities, Literary Theory and the Phenomenology of M. Merleau-Ponty. She is an editor and reviewer in many journals overseas; Founding, Associate and Managing Editor of the Journal of Ecohumanism, and current member of ASLE U.S.A, The International Merleau-Ponty Circle, The International Ecolinguistics Association, BCLA, Posthumanism Research Institute at Brock University in Canada, and the Environmental Humanities Network at Warwick, among others. She has also participated in many conferences and she is multilingual student by working on English, French, Romanian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, Turkish etc. Her academic website is https://uoa.academia.edu/NikoletaZampaki.

Nikoleta is in conversation with Arcadiana co-editor Milo Harries.


MH:

So, Nikoleta, what’s your starting proposition?

NZ:

To speak of Environmental Humanities in Modern Greek Studies is at the same time a way to speak of the future of Modern Greek humanities. Human beings and the more than human world come out of that future.

MH:

Your prompt suggests to me that you think that the future of Modern Greek Studies will inevitably be ecological – that the humanities already are and will have to be ‘more-than-humanities’. Is that accurate?

NZ:

My main question here is if Modern Greek Studies could take up the concepts of nature, human being, ecological citizenship to shape new perspectives on our reading practices in literature, arts, modern philosophy and so on.

If one inquires in Modern Greek literature departments about the current state of ecocriticism in the country, the answer tends to be that certainly not much as be going on in rather ‘unusual’ or ‘exotic’ field. However, on closer examination it becomes obvious that environmental approaches to literature and culture are actually popular in Greece, but in contrast to other European countries, the amount of work done in the field of Environmental Humanities has not increased in recent years.

MH:

I see – so you understand your research as introducing an ecological lens to a Greek critical context?

NZ:

Yes, or perhaps several lenses: my PhD thesis in progress brings together three main disciplines such as Ecocriticism, Ecopsychology, and Phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty under the term of Ecophenomenology in American and Modern Greek Poetry of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I’m grateful, in this, for the support, strong willingness, efforts and encouragement shown to me by my Professors Mr. Dimitris Angelatos and Ms. Peggy Karpouzou who are literary scholars and theorists of literature and culture, and have been avid readers of the eco-lensing in my research.

MH:

You mention ‘lenses’ in your response – how, or to what, will you be applying these critical, psychological, and phenomenological filters?

NZ:

My comparative study case brings together these three epistemological terrains by studying nature and body in Walt Whitman and Angelos Sikelianos’ poetic works. The translation of ‘universal flesh’s’ rhetorics, expressed by Merleau-Ponty, in the ecopoetics and zoopoetics of both poets, is a central means of understanding natural and human world-being, and transcends any dualistic boundaries between body and ‘nature’. The in-habitation of ‘universal flesh’ is held through the embodied and lived experience which shapes an eco-identity of both poets. This kind of identity is perceived in terms of an ecological citizenship that resists the irrationality and logocentrism of poets’ era.

MH:

And does this project have specific resonance or importance for a potential Greek ecocriticism (or even – sorry – Grecocriticism)?

NZ:

The notion of oikos (home), polis (city) and citizenship have roots in Ancient Greek Antiquity. Specifically, in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Culture the citizens were liberal beings and closely connected to nature and natural daily practices, found in religion, medicine, cuisine etc. Nature was an anthropomorphized being and adored as goodness, the Mother of all Beings. The citizens were active beings in all spheres of life and this action could be considered as a primary form of ecological awareness. Protection of and respect for nature was one of the major aspects of their biocosmic perception. This perception is found in literature and culture right up to the late 20th century, where pastoral poetry, nature writings, lyric poetry, movements of Romanticism, Symbolism etc. are full of nature and body, and the symbiosis of nature and humans, expressed in varying ways.

My research aims to revive an eco-sense and raise the possibility of discussing an ‘eco-turn’ in the Modern Greek Studies. Two central questions, therefore, one global, one local:

How can we live in balance with all of life on Earth?

How about the Greek eco-humanist perspective?

MH:

I see – so it’s a question of global concerns thought through and into a local frame, shaped by Greek cultural and intellectual histories (particularly concerning citizenship)?

NZ:

Yes: the Modern Greek Studies requires a reimagining of who we were and are, and the story that we live by. Through my ecophenomenological perspective we could observe the constant interplays of the global phenomena which are in progress and try to understand their complex mechanics. New reading practices of Modern Greek Literature will not only offer an interpretation of nature and body as representations, ideas, expressions etc. in the texts, but they will shape our ethos and offer a new model of thinking in praxis: the extension and expansion of a new kind of eco-cosmopolitanism, a universal perspective of partial subjectivities in space that lead to the shaping of an identity of eco-citizen.

Here emphasis will be given to the meanings of cosmos and universal being which are ascribed to Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the ‘flesh of the world’. The latter is considered to be the classical beauty of Wholeness, and it based on the constant chiasms of nature and body in time and space. This symbiosis is the unfolding of an eco-identity which describes the ‘birth’ of a new planetary perception of human action: an eco–flâneur, like us, but found throughout history. This kind of action could be the Greek eco-humanist perspective of a globalized and cosmopolitan being in both theory and praxis.

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