Of Pretense and Preservation of the Self: Theater, Trauma, and (Post)memory in The Mother of the Dog by Pavlos Matesis


  • Gonda Van Steen King’s College London


Pavlos Matesis, The Mother of the Dog, The Daughter, Novel, Postmemory, Narrative, Performance


This study discusses The Mother of the Dog, the first and now best-known novel of Pavlos Matesis, the celebrated Greek playwright. The 1990 popular novel, by its original Greek title of Η Μητέρα του σκύλου, was translated by Fred Reed as The Daughter, after its main character. The title switch is indicative of the reader’s willingness to move from the first to the second generation of those compelled to process devastating experiences and subsequent memories. This study unearths the novel’s themes of trauma and memory and speaks to issues framed by the theoretical concept of “postmemory.” In particular, I show how an extensive personal testimony from “postmemory” may fruitfully be read, analyzed, and integrated into Greek novel-writing as Greek history-writing—may even constitute the novel as history. Equipped with the notions and tools of postmemory and postmodernism of the 1990s, Matesis ironically reworks themes that have traditionally centered the master narrative of Greek nationalism. He subverts grand, patriotic Greek history and takes it down to the level of its perennial humble victims. Matesis presents the life of the nation, as of the heroine, as a performance manqué. He undercuts the “post-” of “postmemory” for demonstrating how Greek history failed to place both time and space between the first generation and the second generation of its trauma survivors and of its female victims, especially. The author’s deliberate inability to represent a romantic novel or even a few romantic characters, his preempting of any worthwhile performance, whether communal or individual, bestows on this Modern Greek novel a unique voice of cultural and sociopolitical criticism. This critique has transformed the oft-translated novel of 1990 into an early harbinger of a new and more challenging era of (internationally watched) crisis, whose harsh realities have curtailed patriotism and deflated appearances even further.