Dreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece

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Dreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece
By Charles Stewart
Harvard University Press – £48.95

Living not too far from Lourdes in the Pyrenees, as well as being something of a history buff, I was rather interested to read the following in Chapter Three (‘Dreaming of Buried Icons in the Kingdom of Greece’) of this relentlessly engaging book: ‘’Catholic European visions and pilgrimages of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries show a pattern of contagious influence. At Lourdes, many thought that Bernadette envisioned the Virgin as she was depicted on a medallion executed according to the vision seen by Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830 […]. The events in Marpingen (German Saarland) in 1876 looked back at Lourdes, and people immediately spoke about it as a ‘’German Lourdes’’ at the time […]. Lourdes itself drew increasing numbers of pilgrims north across the Pyrenees from Spain following the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception and the visions of Bernadette (1904 and 1908 respectively). This heightened level of devotional consciousness formed the context for the witnessing of a moving cross in the town of Limpias in Cantabria, northern Spain […].’’

So it continues until the historical thread of devotional spirituality, invariably reaches the Greek Island of Tinos – a few hours’ boat journey north of Naxos. Here, as well as throughout the book’s entire ten chapters, the depth of further profound analysis is proclaimed in such a way as to startle even the most stoic of stubborn, imaginary stasis.

To be sure, Dreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece is something of a literary, centrifugal prism, through which the faculties of dreaming and theology, history and philosophy, most curiously collide. And in so doing, author Charles Stewart – who is Reader in Anthropology at University College, London – pinpoints where the (ever changing) boundaries between each lie. Not to mention morph into one another.

This alone, constitutes the book’s validity within the realm of socio-aesthetics, while simultaneously introducing and clarifying new modes of thought within each contextual area.

It is indeed, just as Laurie Kain Hart of Haverford College (and author of Time, Religion and Social Experience in Rural Greece) writes: ‘’This is a magisterial study. As a contribution to philosophy of history and an exploration of the meaning of dreams and the faculty of imagination it is a serious and profound book. It is a worthy successor to Stewart’s earlier study of Greek religious cosmology.’’

I have to say I haven’t (yet) read Stewart’s earlier book, but this one is uber compelling. Like the Series Editors have stated in the Forward: ‘’[…] Stewart’s analysis approaches dreams not as repositories of the individual unconscious but rather as dynamic embodiments and agencies of communal historical consciousness, interlinking all possible levels of temporality: past, present, and future.’’

David Marx

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