Prof.Dr. Domna Pastourmatzi
Cristian Tamas : Dear Prof. Pastourmatzi, thank you for the acceptance of this interview !
You’re an Americanist, with a M.A. and a Ph.D. from US, with specific research interest in American writers such as Hamlin Garland, Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Kurt Vonnegut, Octavia Butler (the novelist Katharine Burdekin is an exception being British), but also you’re a feminist preoccupied with themes such as the “Analytical Study of the Female Characters and their Status”, “Shaking the Pillars of Patriarchy: A Gender Analysis of Willa Cather’s Nebraska and Colorado Novels”, “Nationalism and Sexuality: Crisis of Identity”, “Women, Creators of Culture”. A modern and scientific approach quite unique in our still patriarchal region. How did you become an americanist and a feminist ?
Domna Pastourmatzi: My first exposure to America was at age 11, when my family immigrated to Philadelphia in 1969 in search of a better future. My parents did not speak English and had a hard time adjusting to the new country. We stayed for two years (time enough for me to learn English and graduate from the elementary school) and then returned to Greece in June 1971. I went back to the US at age 18 through the program called Youth for Understanding. I spent a year with an American host family in Gas City, Indiana and graduated from the local high school. These early life experiences deepened my interest in Αmerica. After receiving a B.A. in English (1982) from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, I went to Bowling Green, Ohio to study American literature and culture. My graduate studies and teaching experience at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) laid the foundations for a career as an Αmericanist.
As far as becoming a feminist, the seeds were there very early in my life. Growing up in a very conservative and male-dominated Greece, I faced ocassional sexual harassment (although there was no such word back then) and a lot of pressure to conform to gender stereotypes because I was a tomboy. Close relatives kept asking me when I will get married. They could not understand my thirst for knowledge and self-cultivation. I felt liberated and followed my own path when I left Greece in 1982 to study in the US. While at BGSU I got involved in the effort to establish Women’s Studies classes. I even taught one for a few semesters. Feminism was in the air and it was a thrilling experience.
When it was time to choose an author for my dissertation I chose Willa Cather because her novels spoke to me as a woman. I discovered her myself; her works were not included in any of my American literature courses. In addition, the students in my Women’s Studies class introduced me to the African American women writers. So despite the lack of any graduate classes taught from a feminist approach, I was lucky to get acquainted with female academics and students who were trying to promote the neglected works of women and a feminist mindset. Basically, I became a feminist through my involvement in Women’s Studies and through my persistent endeavors to be enlightened about the women’s movement and women’s literature in the US. I kept building on that knowledge and political commitment ever since.
Cristian Tamas : Another area of your interest is science fiction, and that’s remarkable because in Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe there aren’t too many academic scholars (I can count them on my fingers) interested by such a topic, especially ladies (nothing patronizing or misogynist in my affirmation, it’s just admiration). How this interest (a passion, maybe ?) appeared ?
Domna Pastourmatzi: My passion for science fiction was also kindled at BGSU. I was assigned to teach an undergraduate course on Fantasy literature. One of the novels on the curriculum was Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Wizard of Earthsea“. I liked Le Guin very much, so I began reading more of her works. I was hooked after reading “The Left Hand of Darkness“. Then I began exploring the field on my own. Of course, as a teenager in Greece I had seen some films of the works of Jules Verne (I remember vividly the film “Around the World in 80 Days”).
The first SF novel I read was Robert Silverberg’s “The World Inside“. I had picked a copy randomly at a local bookstore. I had forgotten all about science fiction until I rediscovered it at BGSU.
When I returned to Greece to teach at Aristotle University, I designed a course on American science fiction for 4th year undergraduate students. I have been teaching that course regularly since the fall of 1991. Of course, the contents of the course have changed dramatically over the years. My passion for science fiction has remained steadfast.
Cristian Tamas : Greek SF&F is a terra incognita in Europe and in the world. Why is it so ?
Domna Pastourmatzi: I think one of the reasons why people know very little about Hellenic science fiction is the language barrier. If works by Greek authors are not regularly translated into English, readers with no knowledge of modern Greek do not have access to these works. If Greek scholars do not write about such works then they lapse into oblivion. It is a matter of visibility. I have tried to shed some light on Hellenic science fiction with some essays in English, but since my academic priority is American literature, I have devoted most of my academic work to science fiction written in the English language.
I did begin writing a book about Hellenic SF (a historical overview) in English but it remains unfinished due to the lack of free time. I intend to work on it this year and perhaps to have it published by the end of 2014.
I would like to mention that in 2004 David Connolly published “The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy“, the first anthology with 30 translated short stories that have elements of the fantastic. Some of the stories focus on inter-planetary travel. However, most of the Greek authors come from the mainstream.
In 2007 Tor Books published “The SFWA European Hall of Fame : Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent” (editors James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow); in this anthology, which features European SF writers, one may find the translated story, “Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound” by the Greek writer Panagiotis Koustas. There is much to be done before Europe and the rest of the world have access to Hellenic science fiction. What is really needed is an anthology with translated works by 20th century Greek SF writers.
Cristian Tamas : What is status in Greece of the Hellenic SF&F writer and of the Greek scholar interested in the local domain of the imaginary ? Are there in Greece, critics and theoreticians focused on SF&F, or only reviewers ? Do you have a literary canon in Greece ? Who is establishing the literary canon ? The Greek Academy or some influent literary critic/s ? What about Greek fantastic literature (fantastika), does it exist ?
Domna Pastourmatzi: Greek science fiction and fantasy writers are known and visible only to the Greek avid readers of these genres. There is a small group of devoted writers, readers and fans, who—rain or shine—will engage in their favorite hobby or special passion. Such authors have no real standing in mainstream literary circles. It seems that Greek SF writers are still trapped in the local ghetto, in the few SF clubs founded by fans. The same is true for Greek writers of fantasy. They are visible to those readers who have an interest in the fantastic.
In general, you may say that the Greek SF & F writer cannot compete with the mainstream authors who sell thousands of copies. Although, there are a few publishers who accept to print their works, no one is under the illusion that a SF or a fantasy novel or a collection of short stories written by an obscure author will have such an economic success so as to catapult the writer into the spotlight. This trajectory is reserved for foreign authors like Tolkien and J.K.Rowling or Asimov, Dick, and Le Guin, whose works have been translated into modern Greek and have sold well. After all, publishers are interested in making a profit, so they select writers and works that have already been tested and promise to bring high revenues. The Greek book market is flooded with translated works of fantasy and science fiction, some of them best-sellers, so the competition is fierce.
In Greece childen’s books have high sales. Besides, the literature of the fantastic is associated with children. Jules Verne is still promoted as a writer for children; his works have been simplified for a youthful audience and are regularly reprinted every year. SF and F works by Greek authors targeted to young readers also have better prospects than similar works written for an adult readership. Mainstream Greek writers of children’s book have also written SF and F; because they are popular and because their careers span decades they are mentioned in scholarly books that focus on children’s literature.
Unfortunately, there are no Greek theoreticians and critics who focus exclusively on the genres of SF and fantasy. As of reviewers, there are plenty of journalists or freelance commentators, who write for the literary sections of Greek newspapers or the review section of literary magazines; however, most reviews are mere plot summaries or very short informative pieces announcing the publication of a new book. Only in the handful extanct SF magazines or fanzines (with a very limited circulation) can one find extensive articles about Greek SF and F writers. Most reviews in the national press are about foreign authors and works.
Like all western countries, Greece has a literary canon as well. It was established both by foreign and native academics since they are the ones who write “histories” of Hellenic literature. The two most influential literary histories that are continuously reprinted as seminal texts are “A History of Modern Greek Literature”, by Linos Politis, first published in English in 1973, and “History of Modern Greek Literature” by the Italian scholar Mario Vitti, first published in Italian in 1971 and then translated into modern Greek in 1978. Since the 1980s other Greek academics have published similar books but the two aforementioned texts dominate. It is very hard to challenge the established literary canon, which continues to be male-dominated.
To learn about the Hellenic literature of the fantastic, one should turn to the six-volume anthology titled “To Elliniko Fantastiko Diigima” (The Hellenic Fantastic Short Story). It is edited by the legendary Makis Panorios, who is considered to be the guru of Greek fantastic literature. For many years he was engaged in a painstaking effort to locate and make visible the fantastic works of Greek authors. With his six-volume anthology he single-handedly put the fantastic short story onto the literary map. The first volume was published in 1987 and the sixth volume in 2012. This anthology is the treasury of Hellenic fantastika. Alas, it is accessible only to those who can read modern Greek. Some short stories are included in David Connolly’s “The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy”.
Cristian Tamas : What is the status, if any, of the Greek SF&F within the Greek culture ? Is it considered just “genre junk” as in the rest of the European continental countries ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : It depends who you talk to. There are people who have never read a single work of written science fiction but do have a negative opinion about it, mainly based on their impressions of SF film blockbusters. There are people who are willing to lose their prejudice after they have been initiated to some of the serious works of the genres. The loyal fans do not need any kind of persuasion. Perhaps for the older generations who are more into the maistream historical or realistic literature, these genres seem somewhat exotic and escapist.
However, the cinematic success of foreign writers has widen the younger audience in Greece. This means visibility and sales for books that have been made into films or TV shows. Unfortunately, Greek SF and F has no chance of being adapted cinematically. It remains obscure and neglected. When choosing to buy a work of fantasy or science fiction most readers will choose works by foreign authors with an established reputation. The Greek work will remain the second choice, if it is chosen at all. Status comes with sales. Some Greek SF and F works reach the book selves for a limited time because their authors have paid for the expenses themselves. When a book leaves the shelf or goes out of print, it lapses into oblivion. Take also into consideration that most Greek youngsters know English and that they prefer to read fantasy or science fiction in the original language and you will understand why the local crop has a long way to go before it can claim a place in the sun. In a few words, the status of the Greek SF & F remains very low because such works have to compete with the works of the foreign giants of the fantastic.
In the last six years, Greece has been under extreme pressure due to the ecomonic crisis and the austerity measures. Books in general have become a luxury item. People do not have money to spend on books. Many publishers have closed shop. The financial situation makes it even harder for the Greek works of SF & F to claim a place in the culture. Up to now there has been no scholarly or critical assessment of Hellenic SF and fantasy works. We cannot talk about a status when the majority of works are invisible or have a very short life span. Only the fantastic works written for children and young adults by established Greek writers enjoy a wide reception and are an integral part of the Greek culture.
You talk about SF & F being perceived as “junk.” Let me remind you that the attitude toward SF & F in western Europe has changed in the last few decades. Academic interest has increased in England, Germany, Austria, France, and Spain. Associations have been founded and conferences take place. Scholarly books are being written. There are devoted scholars who try to shed light on the merits and pleasures of each country’s fantastika. It is high time that Eastern European countries follow suit. The key is the English language. When millions of people have access to the original works through translations and to scholarly assessments in a language they understand, they can decide for themselves whether SF & F deserves their attention and acceptance.
Cristian Tamas : How would you characterize the Greek science fiction ? What’s its unique voice ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : I am not sure that we can talk about an “authentic” Hellenic science fiction. I dare to say that it is still in the making. After the establishment of the Greek state, our national literature was very much influenced by the literary models of the West. The educated elite imported, imitated and disseminated aesthetic models that were foreign to the reality of the Greek people. As Makis Panorios points out, the Greek writers were aware of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, E.T.A. Hoffman, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells but they imitated Alain Fournier, Guy de Maupassant, Honore de Balzac, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
For decades, the literature of the fantastic was considered paraliterature and was associated with folklore and the popular tradition. Prejudice and neglect are not conducive factors for the development of a Greek tradition of the fantastic. If the roots of science fiction are in the industrial revolution and in the rise of science, then Greece never being an industrial country and obsessively being consumed by the ideological task to create a nationalistic and patriotic literature did not offer the proper conditions for the emergence of works that would confront the effects of industrialization and later of science and technology.
Realistic literature still has a tight grip on the literary domain. Prejudice, stigmatization and contempt for science fiction until the 1990s did not prevent aspiring young Greek writers to produce such works. Unfortunately, the lack of a genuine Greek tradition made fledgling writers turn to American and European models, which abounded due to the various translations that began to flood the Greek book market in the 1970s. There have been attempts to Hellenize the mythic Atlantis, to resurrect Talos as a robot character, to implicate the Phaistos disc as an alien artifact, to send Greek travelers to the Moon, to Mars or some other planet, to write stories about robots or to produce space opera. In the 1990s Thanasis Vembos published two collections of cyberpunk short stories.
The influence of Anglophone and especially American science fiction is more evident than those elements that would distinguish such works as Greek. A new generation of young SF writers has emerged in the new millennium but their careers are still at a very early stage. I reserve my judgment until I have enough specimens before I can talk about a “unique” Hellenic voice in science fiction. Greece is flooded with the works of foreign authors and more often than not they are the influential models. It seems that it is very difficult for Greek authors to evade the foreign influence and produce a bulk of works that could be characterized as “genuine” Greek science fiction. In the age of hybridity and globalization to turn to native sources and try to protect whatever is left from an “authentic” Greek culture (if there ever was one) is considered to be a naïve and unprogressive act. Only the future can show whether Greek literary xenophilia is not functioning as an impediment and is not preventing the articulation of a Hellenic voice in science fiction.
Cristian Tamas : Can a Greek SF&F writer make a living only by writing ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : No, absolutely not. Greek writers of these genres cannot depend on their books for economic survival; they have unrelated jobs or careers; some are lawyers, some are doctors, others public servants, or teachers, or librarians. As I said earlier, the Hellenic book market is dominated by translations. Overshadowed by the success of popular foreign writers, they cannot compete in sales. There is very little money to be made by writing SF & F.
Cristian Tamas : Besides you, are there other active Greek scholars within the local or the international imaginary domain in the field ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : The only other Greek academic I am aware of is Giorgos D. Papantonakis who teaches children’s literature at the University of the Aegean. In 2001 he published a study in Greek, titled “Eisagogi sto Elliniko Paidiko Mythistorima Epistimonikis Fantasias” (Introduction to the Hellenic Children’s Science Fiction Novel). Other champions and lovers of science fiction, who do not hold a position in any Greek university, have published books on the subject. I should mention the “Bibliografia Ellinikis Epistimonikis Fantasias, apo ton Loukiano mexri Simera” (Bibliography of Hellenic Science fiction from Lucian to the Present) by Nikos Ch. Theodorou and Christos Lazos published in 1998 and “Fantasiografia” (2008) by Spyros A. Vretos.
Cristian Tamas : Why do you think that The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction mentions only three Greek writers, George Papadopoulos, Diamandis Florakis, Kay Cicellis, one SF Magazine (Universe Pathways) and two film directors of Greek origin, the Australians George Miller (Miliotis), the creator of the „Mad Max” movies and Alex Proyas ? Why do you think there is no ESF Greece monography ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : Someone has to devote a considerable time and effort in order to provide the world with a historical overview of Hellenic science fiction in English. As I said earlier such a study is part of my future plans. There is adequate material in the Greek language but in order to be included in foreign encyclopedias it has to be presented in English. Diamantis Florakis is one of the most serious and prolific writers with a career spanning decades.
I guess he is mentioned because his first novel “Epistrofi sto Mellon” (1973) has been translated into English as “Return to the Future: A Transcendental Novel” in 1981 and his work “The Ponotrons and the Anarchists of the Absolute” (1985) is available as a kindle edition by amazon.com.
George Papadopoulos is mentioned because he had two of his science fiction novels translated into English. In fact I have written a review of “The Last Dynasty of the Angels” for the British journal Foundation (see number 28, Spring 1999). As far as Kay Cicellis is concerned, the fact that she was a bilingual writer who wrote works in English probably has contributed to her visibility. Her science fiction novel, “The Day of the Fish Came Out” (1967), was made into a film by the Greek director Michael Cacoyiannis.
When there is no language barrier, Greek writers become accessible. The same goes for the SF magazine Universe Pathways ; several of its issues have been translated into English. In contrast, other Greek SF magazines remain obscure because they have no issues translated. If you read my essay “Hellenic Magazines of Science Fiction” you will realize that there have been many attempts in Greece to launch magazines devoted exclusively to science fiction. Unfortunately, they had short lifespans, and very little market success. A magazine that has defied all odds and continues to circulate despite the various setbacks and difficulties is called Fantastika Chronika (Fantastic Chronicles); it is published by the members of the Science Fiction Club of Athens (which was established in 1998).
Cristian Tamas : Are there any histories of Greek SF&F or overviews or panoramas or articles available in the main circulation languages ? Or other English language studies written by Greek scholars ?
Domna Pastourmatzi: As far as I know there is only material written in the Greek language. But I have not researched the field lately.
Cristian Tamas : What are the first Greek SF texts? Modern ones, not Plato’s “Timaeus”, its appendix “Critias” and Lucian of Samosata’s “True History” !
Domna Pastourmatzi : The first writer who wrote works that we may retrospectively categorize as science fiction is the mainstream prolific writer Demosthenes Voutiras (1871-1958). His novels “Taxidi ston Ari” (Journey to Mars, 1929) and “Kalpikoi Politismoi” (Counterfeit Cultures, 1934) are considered the first of their kind. However, the aim is not cognitive estrangement but social critique and political commentary. Petros Pikros wrote the first science fiction novel for young readers in 1933. “Apo ton Kosmo pou fevgei ston kosmo pou erchetai” (From the World Departing to the World Coming) describes the adventures of three Greek kids in a futuristic Athens.
Since the literature of the fantastic in Greece is still under investigation, I can only talk about a chronological classification. The academic/scholarly obsession to attribute paternity or maternity to specific writers actually offers nothing, when it is not very clear whether the designated progenitor has had a strong influence on subsequent writers. Especially when his or her works have been out of print or shamefully neglected. How does one assess the “Greekness” of a text? Is the nationality of an author enough to make her or him the source of all subsequent works of science fiction? That is an unresolved issue.
Cristian Tamas : The comparatist perspective of the Eastern European/South-Eastern European region (I want to avoid the term “Balkans” due to its pejorative connotation) reveals that in the orthodox countries (not exactly in the forefront of the industrial revolution) science fiction texts appeared (with the exception of Russia, in 1785 : Mikhail Shcherbatov – “Journey to the Land of Ophir”) relatively late (Romania – 1873 : Al.N. Dariu – “Finis Rumaniae” ; Serbia – 1889 : Dragutin Ilić – “A Million Years After”; Bulgaria – 1921 : Svetoslav Minkov – “The Blue Chrysanthemum” ; Ukraine – ? ). Greece was the only orthodox country not invaded and communized after World War II and its literature and its science fiction were created in the conditions of freedom of expression and the lack of censorship (minus the Colonels Regime/Military Junta, 1967-1974). This particularity created relevant Greek science fiction ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : Although there are Greek writers who have written science fiction novels or short stories in the previous decades, it is not a mistake to say that the first wave of Greek science fiction for an adult audience is launched in the 1970s.
After the collapse of Junta in 1974, the genre was boosted by the publication of multi-volume anthologies by the publishing houses Kaktos and Exandas. The translation of foreign SF writers fertilized the ground for some Greek authors as well. Specialized magazines devoted space to both foreign and native short stories. Yes, the restoration of democracy and freedom of expression in 1974 encouraged some publishers to test the Greek book market by printing SF works.
But if an unknown Greek writer wanted to make his debute by writing SF at a time when the genre was labeled paraliterature, he needed to either have friends in the book business, or work for a publisher, or set up his own small establishment. After the 1990s when the stigma attached to science fiction began to gradually fade, Greek SF authors could find more publishers willing to invest in their works. However, this is an area that needs further investigation. I have not examined the conditions under which the SF works by contemporary Greek authors were published, so I reserve any definitive opinion. But I do know that many SF works got printed only because the Greek authors were willing to cover the expenses. Hence, Greek SF exists not because Greece escaped communization after WWII but because aspiring writers found ways to get their books published.
Cristian Tamas : Who are the main Greek SF&F writers and which are their works ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : Because both genres are still developing and since there is no serious critical assessment about such works yet, I can not talk about “the main” SF and fantasy writers.
What I can do is refer to several Greek writers who in the last few decades have managed to publish several works and who seem to have good prospects. My comments will be limited to the writers I am familiar with. In the 1980s and 1990s some of the Greeks who published SF and fantasy works are: Michalis Antonopoulos, Alexia Athanasiou, Giorgos Balanos, Iro Giannopoulou, Dionysis Kalamvrezos, Andreas Doupas, Makis Panorios, Giannis Vatzias, Anthippi Fiamou, and of course Diamantis Florakis. The new generation of writers include: Vaso Christou, Panagiotis Koustas, Michalis Manolios, Nikos Mantis, Dimitris Vanellis, Thanasis Vembos, and Nikos Vlantis. None of their works (with the exception of some short stories) have been translated into English.
Cristian Tamas : Has anything from the Greek SF&F being translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc. ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : I have mentioned earlier some of the works that have been translated into English. I do not read German, French, Spanish or Italian, thus I cannot say for certain whether Greek works exist in these languages. I do not. This is another area worthy of investigation.
Cristian Tamas : In 1995 you had published the book “Bibliography of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror: 1960-1993”, Athens, Alien Pubishing Press. Why did you start your bibliography in 1960 ? Do you intend to expand it to the present day ?
Domna Pastourmatzi: One of the reasons why I began the bibliography was to gain knowledge about the SF scene in Greece (because I had no idea about it when I returned from the United States in the summer of 1991). I started looking for works that have been translated into modern Greek. Because there were no records available and because I did not come across any works (short stories or novels) translated before 1960, I decided to begin with that year. I have continued to register the translated works and thus have replenished my bibliography. However, personal and academic obligations prevented me from working systematically on the second volume. This year I am planning to complete the bibliography and publish a new volume that will cover the time period 1960-2013.
Cristian Tamas : In 2002 you had edited a very interesting collection of studies, “Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction” (Thessaloniki: University Studio Press) and in 2009 you collaborated with your essay “Flesh Encounters Biotechnology: Speculations on the Future of the Biological Machine” to the volume “The Future of the Flesh: A Cultural Survey of the Body”, editors : Zoe Detsi-Diamanti, Katerina Kitsi-Mitakou and Effie Yiannopoulou ; New York: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2009. What is this about ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : In October 2001 I organized the first international science fiction (academic) conference in Greece.
The book “Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction” contains reworked or expanded essays on SF authors, works and themes discussed during the conference. Unfortunately, the events of 9/11 in the United States prevented the American guest of honor, Greg Bear, from attending. He and other Americans (both writers and scholars) did not come to Greece fearing that they will not be able to return to the US if they left their country. Information about the conference can be found in my article “Science Fiction in Greece” in Science Fiction Studies 29.1 (March 2002): 152-56.
My essay “Flesh Encounters Biotechnology” is a critical analysis of two short stories which deal with the impact of biotechnology on the human body. I compare the story “The Extra” (1990) by Australian Greg Egan and the story “Lethe” (1997) by American Walter Jon Williams in order to point out that science fiction narratives are not ideologically neutral literary exercises but often embrace and promote specific scientific paradigms. Whereas “Lethe” validates the postmodern conceptualization of the body as code and flesh as text celebrating a posthuman future, “The Extra” is permeated with irony and skepticism regarding the commodification and malleability of the human body and its deliverance on the technological altar.
Cristian Tamas : You were very active writing, discussing, analysing Greek SF up to 2004 in the relevant academic journals as Science Fiction Studies and Foundation: the International Review of Science Fiction or important anglo-saxon SF magazines as Locus and Interzone. Afterwards, it seems to me that a shift in your area of research appeared. What happened ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : My absence may be interpreted as a shift in my research interests but actually that is not the reason why I have not written lately anything in English about Hellenic SF. Pressing academic obligations as well as family responsibilities have kept me from devoting time to Greek works. However, I have never abandoned the field. I wrote articles (in Greek) about Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler and Walter Mosley. And gave a few talks about Anglophone science fiction to Greek audiences. I am committed to science fiction (both Hellenic and American) but I also need to devote time to other types of literature.
Cristian Tamas : You have also taught science fiction courses at Aristotle University. Your article, “Researching and Teaching Science Fiction in Greece” (PMLA 119.3, May 2004) refers to your direct experience, right ? What are your conclusions concerning researching and teaching science fiction in Greece ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : Teaching science fiction in English to my Greek students has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my academic career. Let me explain first that we in the School of English (at my university) teach all our courses in the English language. The majority of our students are female. Most of them have very little contact with written science fiction when they register for the course. Undoubtedly they have seen science fiction films because they are very popular and because Greek TV stations are full οf them. But when it comes to written SF only a few of the girls have actually read such works. The boys that show up are more familiar with the classic SF writers. It is my pleasure to make my female students love written SF and to expose my male students to new works.
The experience in the classroom is very rewarding. I try to connect the recent developments in robotics, artificial intelligent, cloning, cryonics, biotechnology, cyberspace and other areas with the science fiction stories and novels we study. The point is to make the students see that contemporary science fiction has many things to say about living in a world ruled by technocrats. We look at the politics behind each technology and how the consumption of technological products and services may affect our lives. My overall conclusion is that the Greek students begin to appreciate written works of science fiction when they are given the opportunity to study them and to realize how relevant they are to their lives and to a world dominated by technology and science. It helps that many of them are already familiar with the genre through their cinematic experiences. A few of my students aspire to become science fiction writers.
Cristian Tamas : Some of your favourite SF writers are Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon), Octavia Butler and Katharine Burdekin (aka Murray Constantine). Mines, too ! I consider the first three being some of the best worldwide SF writers from all times. Unfortunately, I didn’t read anything yet by Katharine Burdekin, but I’ve found out that she’s the creator of one of the most important modern dystopias, “Swastika Night” (1937). Why do you like the above mentioned writers’ works ? What do you consider being so relevant and so specific with their works ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : I have many favorite women SF writers but the list is too long to mention. I like their works because they focus on gender issues and because they foreground the condition of women under specific circumstances. I have taught Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” and “The Word for World is Forest” for a few semesters. Some Greek students wrote excellent research papers on these novels from a feminist perspective. I also taught Burdekin’s “Swastika Night“, a novel which foresees the rise of Hitler in Europe and paints a very bleak future after the reign of 500 years of fascism and the deification of Hitler. Burdekin’s feminist utopia “The End of This Day’s Business” (1990), published posthumously, is very interesting as well.
Octavia Butler has been on my teaching agenda from the beginning. In my course on African American women novelists I have included her novel “Kindred” (1979), because it allows me to teach Greek students about the institution of slavery and the consequences of miscegenation. Butler uses the time travel technique to transport her 20th century African American heroine back to the early 19th century and makes her experience the effects of slavery first hand. My students love this book not as science fiction but as an ingenious narrative that makes visible how tyrannical regimes can deprive one’s inalienable rights with impunity. Works by women SF writers allow me to discuss the politics of gender, race, and sexuality in the classroom.
Cristian Tamas : Do you know something about the Romanian science fiction ? Or about Romanian literature ?
Domna Pastourmatzi : Unfortunately, I am ignorant about Romanian SF and literature. There are so many writers and so little time to explore all of them. It is quite a challenge just to keep up with Anglophone and Hellenic science fiction. I will be willing to read some Romanian authors if their works have been translated either into English or modern Greek.
Cristian Tamas : Kindly address some words to the EUROPA SF readers !
Domna Pastourmatzi : If science fiction or fantasy is your favorite literature do not stop reading it or defending it even if others around you do not find it respectable or see any value in it. You are in good company.
As Philip K. Dick says, “There is SF because the human brain craves sensory and intellectual stimulation” and people read it because “they enjoy abstract thought.” And Le Guin adds, “fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial ….”
Undoubtedly, “the truth is a matter of the imagination” and yes, fiction writers do tell lies but they “do desire the truth.”
Le Guin believes that “one of the most deeply human and humane” faculties is “the power of imagination” which must be encouraged to grow freely and flourish. I agree with her that there is nothing childish or escapist or untrue in the uses of the imagination in fiction.
As she points out, “maturity is not an outgrowing but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived.” I hope all of you are children who survived with your imagination intact.
Cristian Tamas : Thank you very much, Prof. Pastourmatzi !
© Cristian Tamas
Dr.Domna Pastourmatzi (born in 1958, Serres, Greece) is an Associate Professor at the Department of American Literature and Culture, University of Thessaloniki, Greece. She holds an MA (1984) and a Ph.D. (1988) in American literature from Bowling Green State University, Ohio, U.S.A.
She teaches courses on modern and contemporary American literature, Feminist Theory and Criticism, Science Fiction (Topics in American Literature ΙΙ: Science Fiction), African American Women Novelists, Postmodernism.
She has been elected the head of the department for the academic years 2002-2003, 2003-2004, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. She is also the department’s coordinator for the Erasmus/Socrates exchange program. She has been elected a regular member/representative to the Senate of Aristotle University for the academic year 2004-2005.
As chairman of the organizing committee, she contributed decisively to the organization and success of the International Science Fiction Conference “Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction”, in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2001 (18th-21st of October).
She has written numerous articles and essays on science fiction and fantasy and has participated with papers in conferences and workshops. In 1998 she participated with the paper “Relationships Between the Machine and Man in the Greek Novel” at the workshop dedicated to the Greek novel organized by the Ioannina Fantasy Club. She was a member of the jury of the Ikaromenippos Awards .
“Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction”, editor, Thessaloniki: University Studio Press, Greece (2002)
“Bibliography of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, 1960-1993”, Alien Publishing Press, Athens, Greece (1995)
“Women, Creators of Culture”, editors : Catherine Georgoudaki & Domna Pastourmatzi, Hellenic Association of American Studies, 1997
“Nationalism and Sexuality: Crises of Identity”, editors George Kalogeras & Domna Pastourmatzi, Hellenic Association for American Studies, 1996
“Toni Morrison”, editors George Kalogeras & Domna Pastourmatzi, Hellenic Association for American Studies, 1995
“Hellenic Magazines of Science Fiction.”, Science Fiction Studies 26.3 (November 1999): 412-430.
“Space Flight and Space Conquest in Hellenic Science Fiction.”, Foundation: the International Review of Science Fiction 77 (Autumn 1999): 59-83.
“News from the Hellenic Science-Fiction Front.”, Science Fiction Studies 23.3 (November 1996): 548.
“SF in Greece.”, Locus 42.4 (April 1999): 36-37.
“Science Fiction in Greece.”, Interzone 143 (May 1999): 4-5.
“Science Fiction in Greece.”, Science Fiction Studies 29.1 (March 2002): 152-56 .
“Science Fiction in the Biotech Age” in “Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction”, editor Domna Pastourmatzi. Thessaloniki: University Studio Press, 2002. 11-26.
“Cloning Out of Love: Jacques Testart’s Eve ou la repetition“ in “Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction“, editor Domna Pastourmatzi. Thessaloniki: University Studio Press, 2002. 165-85.
“Hellenic Science Fiction 1990-1999“, Locus No 508. Vol. 50.5 (May 2003): 38-39.
“Researching and Teaching Science Fiction in Greece“, PLMA 119 No 3 (May 2004): 530-34.
“Flesh Encounters Biotechnology: Speculations on the Future of the Biological Machine“, in “The Future of the Flesh: A Cultural Survey of the Body“. Editors : Zoe Detsi-Diamanti, Katerina Kitsi-Mitakou and Effie Yiannopoulou. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2009. 199-219.
Review of “Aioroumeni Pragmatikotita” (Hovering Reality) by Alexia Athanasiou. Foundation: the International Review of Science Fiction 73 (Summer 1998): 117-119.
Review of “The Last Dynasty of the Angels” by Yiorgos Papadopoulos. Foundation: the International Review of Science Fiction 28 (Spring 1999): 111-115.
Review of „Proliptikos Pyrinikos Polemos: To Orama tou Aidesimotatou”( Preventive Nuclear War: The Vision of the Reverend) by Yiannis Vatzias. Foundation: the International