Monday, January 07, 2013

Cavafy Came to Read

The year 2013 is dedicated to Cavafy. So, I dug up my Cavafy and, in the second volume of the standard Savides edition, a postcard dropped out, Robert Campin's Annunciation triptych at the Cloisters Museum. A little note in the book tells me that I bought in the summer of 1992 during my second season at the Morea Project, where my adult acquaintance with Greece began. Dated a year later, the card was sent by my dear friend Angela Volan, a fellow Greek American that also found herself soul-searching her Hellenism in the academic mountains. Angela had not yet decided to go to grad school in art history. After the Morea Project summer, she started working for a publishing house in New York. Angela in New York became my ambassador to the intense NYC rembetiko scene of the 1990s. Our conversations were filled with Greece and post-structuralist literary theory. It was then that Angela had her first heart surgery, the first reminder of her Marfan Syndrome, which  sadly struck again in 2006, but fatally. Sent 20 years ago, this card from the past hidden in the pages of Cavafty puts me in a Derridian revelry, and helps me remember dear Angela. Fred Cooper, the director of the Morea Project where we met, passed away this year, adding an extra dimension of loss.

I look at myself in a photo from a trip to Istanbul I took with Angela and Celina in 2001  and note my Cavafian glasses on my nose (see here). What does Cavafy mean to us? This question will get repeatedly raised during the next 12 months and it will be answered by all the requisite sub-categories of importance, a landmark in global Hellenism, the postmodernism of his alterity, his Anglo-American homosexual aesthetics and (probably to a lesser extent) his internalized colonialism towards the real Alexandria. But for me, he is only a crutch to occasionally pull from the library and navigate through the other sides of ordinary life, where boundaries are less defined, where there are no expectations of reason or clarity. It is friendships with Angela and, indirectly, with Cavafy that help us juxtapose Campin's sacred inferior domesticity with a 23 year-old reader in abandon.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States