Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cathy Gere's "Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism"

Cathy Gere is an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of The Tomb of Agamemnon.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, and reported the following:
The book is about how an eccentric cast of modernist artists and thinkers responded to the excavation and reconstruction of the Palace of Minos on the Island of Crete. The dig began in 1900, and the archaeologist Arthur Evans recreated ancient Crete as a peaceful, goddess-worshiping, matriarchal paradise. As the twentieth century launched wars of ever-increasing reach and ferocity, this pacifist interpretation proved to be incredibly appealing, and modernist intellectuals from Freud to James Joyce to Robert Graves all celebrated the Minoan epoch in their writings.

Page 99 is dominated by a quotation from the artist Giorgio de Chirico, one of the 'prophets of modernism' of the title. During the Balkan Wars of 1912 to 1913, de Chirico produced a whole series of paintings of the mythological Cretan princess Ariadne, which are clearly indebted to the excavations at Knossos. The quotation on page 99 is about his feelings about warfare, in particular about a war that his family was swept up in when he was a child. This was the conflict that won Crete her independence from the Ottoman Empire, the gruesome aftermath of which led Arthur Evans to suppress the evidence he had already amassed for ancient Cretan militarism, and to recreate the society as a sort of peaceful Eden. It’s really a book about an archaeological fantasy – how the trauma of modern war produced Europe’s false memory of a peaceful Cretan childhood – and so in that sense page 99 is very representative of the major themes of the work.
Read more about Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism at the University of Chicago Press website.

Learn more about Cathy Gere's scholarship at her UCSD faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue