Again the poem puts forward the place between languages and translation as modes for understanding cosmopolitanism. The poet Rafael is asked to pour his Egyptian feeling into a greek epitaph for the dead poet Ammonis. The explosive imperative cavafy uses for pour or spill — χύσε (híse) — carries the sexual connotation of coming. He seeks to make a poem and to make love merge, creating a new kind of Alexandrian citizenship for what keeley aptly called the sensual city: Into a foreign tongue our sadness and love pass. Spill your Egyptian feeling into a foreign tongue. Rafael, your verses should be written so they have, you know, our life inside, so the rhythm and each phrase show All of cavafys poems are about blurring distinctions — between memory and desire, history and the present, the self and the other — and. Through punctuation, typography, homophonic rhymes, and different linguistic registers, the ancient binarism of Greek and Barbarian is replaced by an amalgam — hellenistic, byzantine, ottoman, Phanariot, and most importantly, alexandrian. In one of the prose texts Halim cites, On the Intellectual Affinity of Egypt and the west, cavafy remarks that Greek intellectuals from Egypt were reared in the Egyptian environment and produce works that possess something of that environment.
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How are ethnicity and belonging acted out in cavafys poetry and its intertexts? And how might this mark off Alexandrian cosmopolitanism from identity politics or what Stanley fish snidely labels boutique multiculturalism? This is a more descriptive approach to cavafy that many of life his own poems — certainly the ones Halim uses to parse out ethnic tensions — can be read as resisting. In those that show Greeks with the other, oppositions are repeatedly transformed and dissolved. While on the surface cavafys unpublished poem coins positions Indian and Greek on opposite sides of the coin, a closer reading reveals the Indo-hellenic mélange in which the two sides spin into one. The awkward transliteration of Indian kingships in the first few lines — coins with Indian epigraphs./ They are of the most powerful monarchs of evoukratidáza, of Stratága of Menandráza, of Eramaïáza — is not there to prove the true and proper Greek spelling of the. Such an interpretation misses how the names for places and people lipogrammatically intertwine: the foreign Indian way of pronouncing the kingdom and the more familiar Greek name of the ruler share letters and rely on each other. It also ignores the irony that the Greek reader in the poem, not a hellene but Graikos, an ordinary Greek, would stop abruptly face to face with the kings image on the good side of the coin, and feel himself reflected in the king,. Here, as in the phrase him Alexandrian, cosmopolitanism blurs any clear-cut definition of ethnic identity: it is more about living between languages and the act of reading and misreading and reading again. Multilingualism as a way to inhabit the space between nationalities is even more memorably invoked in cavafys most famous tombstone poem, for Ammonis, who died 29 years Old, in 610.
She is interested in reading cavafy and his poetry, as she puts it, in an ethnic key. The usefulness of attending to the mixed affiliations of time and place is undeniable, especially for a cultural history of Alexandrian cosmopolitanism. But surely the point cavafy makes through his poems about being Greek in Egypt is that one must incorporate management and thereby defend the mix and slippage of identity formally — in the look and sound of the poem, not simply as a political mandate. To be an Alexandrian is to be Greek, and Barbarian, and Philhellene, hellenophone and Egyptian, but also the spaces and commas in between. To pin down the degree of chauvinism or tolerance — more Anglophile, more Philhellene, pro- or anti-Islam — is only interesting if one can show the material modes of cosmopolitanism in the poems — what the philosopher Alexander Nehamas has called cavafys grammar of self. I participated in a panel at nyu with Halim, which was both a timely opportunity to ask her some questions about her approach, as well as a serendipitous moment at that point in the semester for my students, who were looking at the making. My first question to the author addressed the aesthetic imagination of her archive. How do the poems make the mix and slippage happen? If, as she points out, cavafys diasporic affiliation allows us to go beyond binaries in favor of a more cosmopolitan attunement to otherness and other textualities, what exactly is the textual nature of these other textualities?
All the same, i didnt recognize in Halims book the cavafy that I have lived and taught for over 25 years. Her discussion of Bernard de zoghebs libretto la vita Alessandrina was a revelation and made me eager to read the projected companion volume on the Arabic sources of Alexandrian cosmopolitanism. The fact is that in the English-speaking world we have been overly schooled in the British colonial reception that Halim is out to dislodge. Yet i also wonder if my lack of recognition has something to do with the broad-stroke approach entailed by such an ambitious rewriting. Like so many of the big public events Halims book leaves the poems, for the most part, unread. Though Halim tells us cavafy is cosmopolitan, it is difficult to attend to the forms of this cosmopolitanism when the terms of her discussion emphasize ethnicity and cover such an expanse — individual chapters on cavafy, forster, and Durrell, as well as a final longer. This approach makes it possible to talk about him as an Alexandrian in the poem with which I began, but not to consider what it means that the him that is Alexandrian is only partially legible in the text — him. This would require a much different kind of attention and more time. The title of Halims chapter on cavafy, of Greeks, barbarians, Philhellenes, hellenophones and Egyptiotes, suggests that such complications are not her main concern.
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Except for the goals two of us, the shop was completely deserted. An oil lamp scarcely burning. The waiter who had been awake, slept now at the door. No one would see. But we were so excited anyway we couldnt take precautions. We partly undid our clothes there werent many as it was in divine burning July. Enjoyment of flesh through half-torn clothes; quickly bared flesh; apparition twenty-six years passed; and now returned to remain in this poetry.
And then there are the historical poems. If we dont know that caesarion was executed in 31 bce, then the historical irony of Alexandrian Kings, with its retelling of the honors and kingships bestowed on caesarion in 34 bce, is lost. This history with its ruthless cutting out of Cleopatras son as the heir to julius caesars throne is formally encoded in another caesarion poem in which the young boys coming out of history into the poets study is recreated through a break in the typography. The repetition of dates and interlacing of historical figures throughout the cavafy canon, much like rhyme and meter, reorganize our expectations truth and make possible implausible connections. Him Alexandrian, history, especially post-colonial history, is crucial to the alternative archive hala halim has created in her. She reads the famous Alexandrian triumvirate of cavafy,. Forster and Lawrence durrell for the parts of their stories that owe more to Egypt than England.
Looking at the original, even without knowing Greek, the illegibility is evident. Spaces and brackets gesture to what has been left out. (The bilingual Oxford Worlds Classics edition is useful for this purpose.) The poem continues: Where they record his age The span of years he lived the kappa zeta is proof that he went to rest a youth. Amidst the erosion I see Him Alexandrian. The month of Hathor refers to the Egyptian goddess of tombs and sensuality. Kappa zeta (KZ) is the Greek number.
Dates signal the fleetingness of time, of love, but also the cosmopolitanism of Alexandria with its mix of gods and languages. They create the sense of Alexandria at the crossroads of East and West, at the interstices of Ancient, hellenistic, byzantine, and Modern times. The choice of the Egyptian Hathor instead of the usual Greek athyr in Mendelsohns translation makes the amalgam all the more available to the English-speaking reader. Years, months, even hours in cavafys poetry connect the past and the present. They do extra work and demand the same of the reader. Byzantine and Modern Greek studies article reminds us that cavafy first circulated to remain, one of his most openly homoerotic poems, in July 1918, thus echoing the date of the original encounter in the poem in divine burning July here it is in Spenders and. In a corner of the wine-shop; behind the wooden partition.
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Months also are significant. History and dates mattered to this Greek living and writing at the din edge of Europe in Alexandria in the first decades of the 20th century. Sometimes dates are hard to read. In cavafys tombstone poems they quite literally disappear before the readers eyes, a vertebrae white break that runs down the center of the poem mimicking the erasure of time on the worn surface of the stone. One such poem, In the month of Hathor, reprinted here in Daniel Mendelsohns translation, begins: With difficulty i read upon this ancient stone. O lord Jesus Christ. . I can just discern a soul. In the month of Hathor leucius went to his rest.
Its logo for the cavafy Archive shows the Onassis flagship floating in one lens of cavafys ubiquitous round spectacles. On operations the other hand, this sort of branding was only the public face of a much quieter time-intensive project to create new ways of teaching cavafy as well as to digitize the archive. What is it, i wonder, about our increasingly cosmopolitan, multicultural and multilingual cities, whether New York or Athens, that needs a poet like cavafy? What are the best ways to learn and go on learning from his poetry? How can we reconcile public legacies with the privateness of literature? As we mark the anniversary of this seminal Alexandrian poet, i want to consider what is missing from accounts of cavafy and cosmopolitanism that focus on public history, rather than the more private experience of reading poems. Days of, cavafy entitles many poems with the phrase days of followed by the year: days of 1901 or days of 1908.
an article by dimitris Papanikolaou that appeared in the fall issue. Byzantine and Modern Greek studies with the title days of those made like me: retrospective pleasure, sexual knowledge, and. For my part, i marked the anniversary with a visit along with my students to columbia universitys Rare book room to see the translations Stephen Spender and nikos Stangos made for Hockneys small print run of cavafy etchings — the unacknowledged subtext of the grand. This public and private whirlwind of birthday events actually resonates with cavafys own fascination with dates. They epitomize the space where monumental and minor meet. Some institutions found ways to bridge the distance. For example, the Onassis foundation managed to promote both the public and private cavafy with its wide range of initiatives. On the one hand, its bold move to buy cavafys papers turned the foundation into a key player in the fight to claim his legacy.
Twelve poems for cavafy (1963 wrote of the resume Greek diaspora poet Constantine. Cavafy: Many claimed him, many fought over him 1, this has only become truer this past year with the hubbub surrounding cavafys 150th birthday. Cavafy was promenaded around for a vast array of purposes last year as seemingly every institution jockeyed to honor him. Some events were extremely public, such as the extravaganza at Town Hall in New York city on november 18, in which Kathleen Turner and Olympia dukakis read poems while writers, translators, and critics from Orhan Pamuk and Mark doty to Edmund keeley and Daniel Mendelsohn. There was a much awaited finale (a sign in the foyer warned the audience of male frontal nudity) by the choreographer of the Athens 2004 Olympics Dimitris Papaioannou in which a naked youth borrowed a third leg from the choreographer himself in an intricate mediation. Other such events included panels like those at the Onassis foundation house of Arts and Letters in Athens on november 4 with the title, what Happens when cavafy Enters Mass Media? Or again on December 10, cavafy in Our Time. In the midst of celebrations around the poet and his work, hala halim took the canon to task with. Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism: An Archive, challenging the particular Anglo-saxon ownership of cavafys legacy.
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