REVIEWS / COMMENTS on Seremetakis’ books*
For the book SENSING THE EVERYDAY
“This book is an impassioned intervention in a changing European and modern political culture. It re-enchants the everyday, the grass-roots, the familial-feminine, and the concrete in unique and important ways…and proposes a new public anthropology of broad use refocused on the sensorium that emerges from the traumatic in everyday life. Drawing on her own continuing fieldwork and cultural participation in Greece, as well as elsewhere in Europe and the US, and inspired by Adorno, Taussig, Benjamin, Foucault, de Certeau, and other critics of a flattening, disembodying modernity, Seremetakis engages the politics of EU “management” and other practices of “modern development” with sensitive attention to their effects on ordinary people living everyday lives. The observations found in this book are rich and exciting, and the interpretations advanced are unpredictably open-minded…“
Judith Farquhar, Max Palevsky Professor Emerita of Anthropology and of Social Sciences, University of Chicago & Director, University of Chicago Center in Beijing.
“A major work that will certainly be discussed and become a reference point for many years …It reveals Seremetakis as an ethnographer of the everyday, strolling the world like a modern day flaneur, with her eyes open for telling details that are then woven into extraordinary anthropological analyses of diverse topics ….that add up to “the study of the quotidian in process.” Her ruminations…exquisitely and sensitively observed and poignant beyond words, reveal also that she has not stopped thinking on pain and death, just gotten better at it…. This is Seremetakis at her finest…”
Paul Stoller, Professor of Anthropology, West Chester University,
Gold Metal Ander Retzius in Anthropology 2013
“This book is marked by a heterogeneity of micrological ethnographic sites cut across by recurrent themes…such as the spatialization of sensory experience and memory, the critique of the axis of Dominant and Archaicized culture (as formulated by Raymond Williams), a counter concern with Residual and Emergent cultural forms excluded from that axis, and a unique philological approach to sensory experience through an archeology of vernacular language. This framework generates fascinating insights on cultural heritage as sensory archives in relation to the museumification of Greece which is in direct communication with its current debt collapse. …Powerful is also the author’s analysis of rumor as an element of corruption and deceit of Greek public culture.”
Allen Feldman, Professor of Media, Culture and Commmunication, New York University
For the book An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
“This invaluable textbook introduces cultural anthropology while also setting this American approach within a global context where there are competing national traditions of anthropology. Still more importantly, American-trained yet intimately familiar with Europe, professor and fieldworker Seremetakis is both an insider and an outsider to Cultural Anthropology proper and this makes her presentation unusual and most insightful.”
“An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology is a stunningly original and important introduction to contemporary cultural anthropology. Written in clear and compelling prose, this work places anthropology squarely within its powerful historical context. Seremetakis demonstrates powerfully how prominent anthropologists from Franz Boas to Michael Taussig have variously told the tale of social and cultural differences that have made a difference in our comprehension of the human condition. In these troubled times, Seremetakis has produced a work that shows students how anthropologists produce works that mark a path toward a better life, a path toward wisdom.”
For the book The Last Word
“The Last Word is bold, powerful, and moving. It should be our first word in our rehearing of the Mediterranean.”
Catharine R. Stimpson
(Dean & Professor, Comparative Literature, New York University)
“A remarkable book. Anyone who thinks they already know how to address the relationship between death and the social order – or relations between men and women for that matter – should read this book. It is a powerful invitation to think again.”
“A highly original, sensitive, feisty and exciting anthropological work that will invigorate social theory, ethnographic writing, feminist theory, and of course the anthropology of ‘modernizing’ Europe… A genuine even heroic contribution to the study of mankind.”
“A fascinating book and model of engaged scholarship… I have been searching in vain for a book that would effect a transitin between the present and the past. The Last Word provides the perfect bridge, an anthropological perspective on otherness as well as a sense of continuity and discontinuity between modern and ancient Greece.”
“Seremetakis’s book which I enjoyed teaching…, is a passionately conceived ethnography of death as social experience.… Imagery, writing style, argument – all are explosive. There will be no dispassionate responses, but few will forget the effect.”
“In the double sense of its title, this ethnography is indeed the last (or latest) word in contemporary efforts in anthropology to mesh the linguistic and the sensorial, the analytic and the aesthetic, the structural and the experiential. The result is a powerful work that should attract attention outside its specific ethnographic genre and location.”
“The Last Word combines… an assiduously scientific anthropology with convolutions of the imagination reminiscent of Baudelaire.”
“…An undeniable continuity links the Neolithic goddesses of birth and death excavated in the Balkans by Gimbutas with the oracular exhumation ceremonies performed south of there by present-day Maniat women. A similar continuity links Maniat women’s polyphonic laments with the corporeal polyphony celebrated in Kristeva’s Greek-borne poetics…”
“The Last Word is a most thorough, emotionally and intellectually inspired and inspiring consideration and interpretation of a people’s life, its mind and soul in their unique cultural individuality. …A highly-gifted offspring of her native soil…, [Seremetakis] instigated by her love for that soil, went back to devote for several years her rich, wide, multifaceted scientific knowledge and epertise, as well as her extraordinary perception, to the …study…of her native culture in its long history, its mind, beliefs, life and practices… Most expert, skillful and touching is the manner in which the author’s word, in informing, conquers and transports her reader.”
“A significant contribution to our understanding of performance as social practice,
The Last Word forces a reassessment of conventional views of gender, ritual and the interweaving of aesthetic form and personal experience. And it does so through a prose that engages and challenges a wide range of readers…”
“…Like Athena, who sprang from the head of Zeus fully grown and ready for battle, Seremetakis has made a dramatic entry into the fields of anthropology and Greek studies with her new book The Last Word, a tour-de-force of ethnography and theory… The depth of Seremetakis’s involvement…gives new meaning to the term participant observation… Her analyses illuminate the dynamics of sexual politics in ways not previously explored in Greece, or anywhere else to my knowledge.”
“In this remarkable work Seremetakis comes the closest that a reflexive and refined scholarship can to the resonance of moira, of human fate and affliction, to the timbre of womanhood amid the starkness of the Southern Peloponnese.”
For the book THE SENSES STILL
“I am quite taken by the breath and depth of Seremetakis’s… The Senses Still.
…This volume provides a detailed anthropology of the way that memory has been shaped and shapes us through our technical means of cultural memory… A solid, intellectually daring book!”
“The Senses Still explores areas of cultural life too complex, too experimental to be contained within the bounds of a traditional ethnography… An understanding of culture must include an examination of the role of the senses. Seremetakis…confronts us with this necessity.”
“…In most studies the body is examined as text that is “read” and “written.” In Seremetakis’s works the body is …also experienced by the senses… Many are the benefits of social sciences by the adoption of her poetically sensual approach…”
“…An important addition to the recent anthropological literature which is seeking to resist the anesthesia of objectivist method and exclusively formalistic analyses…”
“A thick satisfying soup of a book, with new flavors and new routes to rewriting a history of the senses. …A book to prod the anesthetized body of theory on modernity via a tour from early Hollywood camerawork on war to contemporary videowork on Rodney King, from newly opened body of Swedish interwar gymnasiums to the lost tastes of Grecian peaches…”
Reviews / Comments in Greece
On March 12, 1998, 12.30pm, in the Arcade of Books, the national space for the display and presentation of significant publications, in the Amphitheatre of Discourse and Art, the Livanis Publishing Co., in Greece, launched a press conference – presentation of Seremetakis’s three books, The Last Word, The Senses Still and Crossing the Body. The books were presented by well known scholars and poets and the event, as reported in the media, was attended by over 500 people, many well known politicians, academics, writers and artists.
Excerpts from presentations:
“… In THE LAST WORD, a really remarkable piece of work by Seremetakis, ….one understands that pain is the lament itself – the lament is not the description of pain – it is the necessary tool …of pain. Pain unites speech with ritual movement, the sob… The mourning singer in her improvised lament presents the dead… just like the corypheus in the ancient tragedy – a parallelism successfully drawn and analyzed by Seremetakis. Precisely because she understood so deeply that pain – substance, that poetry – pain; and saw it not only with the eyes of her discipline but also through her own personal poetics…”
“… When referring to the work of Nadia Seremetakis we actually speak of the poetry of human science. And in this book presentation – event today we are presenting the poet – anthropologist Seremetakis… Specifically her ethnography THE LAST WORD is a highly original and exciting work that radically invigorates existing theories of the last two decades in anthropology, literature, sociology, performance studies, and changes the ethnographic writing bringing it closer to poetic discourse in the context of European Studies and beyond…
Characteristic of her book is that rare position of the writer – researcher both inside and outside the culture under study… This gives a… richness in her writing which carries not only the strength of persuasion but the dynamics of imagination and daring…. Thus she opens horizons that her discipline itself has not yet thought of existing….”
” …The three books, The Last Word, The Senses Still and Crossing the Body, of the anthropologist Seremetakis map an inexhaustible anthropological topos: the senses.
…If the investigation of the unknown topos of the senses explains to some degree the enchantment that Seremetakis’s work exerts, the subversive way by which she achieves this enchantment, completes the picture – a picture that is heretical and unorthodox in the context of conventional anthropology. Seremetakis places the researcher to the position of the anthropological subject and visa versa. She in turn plays with the symbolic, emotional and performative use of everyday language. She reads sensory forms where classical anthropologists read mummified stereotypes, (in terms of her research subjects) she recognizes “donors” where others see mere “informants”, she moves through experiential fragments of the private which retrieve the collective memory that was fragmented by modernization, she mixes narrative tropes invisible to common scientific discourse; in short she merges the ethnographic with the biographical in the persona she herself terms “hybrid figure, the native anthropologist.” Following this dangerous route – dangerous because she does not adopt the neo-colonial gaze of the dominant discipline, the author is forced to constantly translate or, more accurately, transmute her voice…
Seremetakis proves to the reader that she knows the origin of language in the senses as much as she knows the anthropological code… Those who will look into her texts will learn it through a most enjoyable reading…”
“…The Last Word of Seremetakis is the most significant contemporary anthropological work I read… As a field researcher and excavator in and of archeology, I can testify the significant contributions of Seremetakis in my field as well…”
“…I can speak about two of the most significant books of Nadia Seremetakis, THE LAST WORD and CROSSING THE BODY, from my own angle, that of a woman who very early in her life got actively involved in the androcentric social and political life of Greece and in this long process I had the opportunity to experience, observe, evaluate and reevaluate facts and events of gender behavior. Today, looking back I conclude with sadness that we lacked a scientific guide, a scientific base of “Women’s Studies” that women activists, women politicians would be able to go to and draw documentation and, why not, self knowledge.…
Checking ,out of personal interest, the international bibliography…and seeing the significance that gender had acquired in the various disciplines, I became aware of our gap and terrible lack in Greece…
Given all this, I must stress the importance of the Greek publication of Seremetakis’s books. Nowhere in the international bibliography do we encounter anything parallel to her work. In my opinion her books do not simply add but they create a base of scientific quality and validity valuable to Greek researchers on gender issues…
” …Looking at Seremetakis’ s work in general, we can say she always experiments and pioneers methodological and thematic exchanges between disciplines. There one discovers her extraordinary ability to investigate difference but also connections between apparently unrelated phenomena, issues and spaces and to masterfully montage scattered fragments.
For her original, invigorating theory on montage we must read and reread THE SENSES STILL…
Her writings which began appearing abroad since 1991, pose questions and answers that concern the most crucial problems in Greece today. And her answers which are not easy, are given to the reader poetically, opening horizons we did not know before….”
REVIEWS in Newspapers & Journals
“…Books like The Last Word, The Senses Still, and Crossing the Body offer the fundamental infrastructure for all of us to clarify once and for all much discussed concepts of culture such as Tradition and Modernity. Besides, we live in times that exchange on all levels is identified with cheap modernization. In literature this has taken the form of epidemic. I recommend therefore Seremetakis’s anthropological stories as the most interesting, elegant and in the final analysis most “useful” tests among those circulating today.”
“The Senses Still, a very interesting, path breaking for the Greek context, book…
The texts of the volume lead us to the understanding of culture through the senses that shape it…”
“The Last Word inaugurates the perspective of “native anthropology” in European ethnography and especially in the anthropology of Greece. It opens the door to diachronic analysis of Greek culture and the investigation of self – knowledge that such analysis presupposes…”
“…Unlike all other anthropological works …Seremetakis’s work is not a unidimensional anthropological study but combines scientific interest with poetic sensibility and realistic documentation with philosophical interpretation… Undoubtedly this intermarrying of science with poetics in her books created a work that represents a theoretical and methodolical break in the context of Humanities and Social Studies…”
“…THE LAST WORD reveals the social foundation and the scientific base of the legal theory that ‘custom, wherever dominant, has the power of written law.”… THE LAST WORD is an original, indigenously revealing anthropological research…”
“…there is one thing that makes her work unsurpassable: the development of her theory of performance as poesis. In THE LAST WORD the concept of poesis is restored to include all three realities: the ritualistically material, the social-functional and the imaginary. This synthetic conceptual foundation points to the interpretation of poesis that Diotima realized in Plato’s Symposium. After Diotima… Seremetakis is second in the history of ideas and the first after the domination of religious…misinterpretations of the Middle Ages… to restore poesis as material praxis, as social intervention and as imaginary conception of human social past, present and future.… THE LAST WORD is… a foundational work in Greek anthropology.
–Comments-Presentations-Interviews have also appeared in local Presses and Magazines, as well as national and local TV programs and radio programs in Greece.
Seremetakis’s work has also been the subject of a 30 min. Greek Public TV documentary, which was aired first in 2001 and repeated several times during 2002.
* from the records of The University of Chicago Press(USA), Livanis Publishing Org., and PEDIO Publishing (Greece)