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The Rise of Eurocentrism: Anatomy of Interpretation.

Caveat historicus. The three extended essays that constitute this book are not historical in nature and give only peripheral attention to the issue of Eurocentrism. The author explores "the techniques of intrinsic governance that prevailed in modernity" by constructing a binary opposition of Greek and Jew as the essential category for explanation. Each chapter begins with "a major twentieth-century aesthetic position" and then digresses, disorienting the reader and conditionalizing the primary premise. There is no interest in writing a "linear history" or in providing "rational consistency" (xii, xiii).

For Lambropoulos the Reformation initiated the quest for interpretive autonomy, and since then the Hebraic (immanence, logos, law) has attempted to maintain its interpretive exclusivity by devouring the Hellenic (unrestrained aesthetic, spirit, pagan), even adopting its discourse. In the first chapter, Lambropoulos finds confirmation of this reshaped Hebraic "rite of interpretation" in Auerbach's representation of Western reality as repeating the Bible/canon that constitutes history. Legitimized during the Reformation, this form of interpretation (from Luther to Derrida) is self-referential, transhistorical, and valorized through contrast or differance. In chapter 2 Lambropoulos argues that in reducing Enlightenment to totalitarianism disguised as rational individualism, Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment invokes fears of creeping Hellenism and its by-product: evil, self-sufficient reason. Both men epitomize contemporary devotion to the "extinction of Greece," a prerequisite to the eradication of modern anti-Semitism. Hence, they depict a "culture of atonement" that demands self-discipline and, inevitably, a submission to the Hebraic truth. That deference is the subject of the final essay, which, through the works of Levinas and Derrida, contends that deconstruction is nothing more than an attempt to maintain the autonomy of interpretation that has been replaced (or transcended) by the modern regulatory state. This new "writing of the law" is compared to Kafka's parable where leopards disrupt religious rites so habitually that they eventually become part of the ceremony. For Lambropoulos the only way out is to stop fearing the Greek, "turn against the court of rights itself," and reconfigure freedom without the Hebraic matanarrative determining its limits (322, 331).

The writing in this book can be particularly dense, but there are remarkably lucid moments and epistemological epiphanies abound. Some discussion of anti-modernism, so well described in T. J. Jackson Lears' No Place of Grace, would have been helpful. Yet the whole of this book is not equal to the sum of its parts. The re-iteration of supraexplanatory Hebraic and Hellenic dyads is too all-encompassing. A tendency to caricaturize historical events and periods leaves the Reformation mostly in the hands of "new historicist" literary scholars instead of historians. The Rise of Eurocentrism is an intellectual game meant to shed some light on modern culture and the new fetters it has forged to enslave, all in the name of interpretive emancipation. That may have been just what the author intended. But convolution and lack of historicity will limit its appeal, and historians will leave Lambropoulos' project still wishing he had addressed the "how" as well as the "why."

Ben Lowe Florida Atlantic University
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Author:Lowe, Ben
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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