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Tracing the Alphabet in Psycharis’s Journey

Van Dyck, Karen

Yannis Psycharis left a large legacy of novels, scholarly essays, and personal lore in French and Greek. I will focus on his book My Journey, with some reference to his lecture "The Kiss" (1893), because it offers a window onto how Psycharis's experience as a writer of the Diaspora affects his views on language. Psycharis's My Journey, half literary travelogue, half diatribe, is most often read for its contribution to the "struggle" or "idea," to make demotic the national language of Greece, and by doing so give Greece her rightful place in Modern Europe. This is how Psycharis himself understood his project. Psycharis and the majority of critics who have written about his work view My Journey as national literature, not Diaspora literature, or, for that matter, a contribution to linguistics or translation theory. As we will see, however, this canonical text of monolingualism in the name of nation-building actually deals with many different forms of Greek as well as French, German, Italian, and Turkish and can be read as offering a vision of the Greek language as irremediably diasporic and multilingual. A closer look at how words are moved from one language or form of language to another in this text shows that translation, transliteration, etymology, and loan words are not just practical conventions in his writing, but conceptual models for grappling with cultural displacement. Along side the message of transparency and perfect substitution suggested by his oft-quoted aphorism "language and nation are one and the same," another tale of diasporic and linguistic disorientation unfolds.

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O Psiharis kai i epohi tu: zitimata glossas, logotehnias kai politismu
Institute for Modern Greek Studies, Manolis Triandafillides Foundation

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July 28, 2015