Cavafy's barbarians constitute a peculiar metaphor for the (self-)censoring process of revealing and hiding the voices of Others in the colonial order of the archive. The theme recurs in three of his works—an “unwritten” poem, a “hidden” poem, and a poem included in the canon—all of which reflect Cavafy's engagement with British colonialism in Egypt. The novelist and critic Stratis Tsirkas, also a Greek who grew up in Egypt, has argued that Cavafy's rising aversion to the British occupation regime developed alongside the shifting ideological lines of the Hellenic diaspora, as expressed by its dominant segment. Drawing upon Tsirkas's readings of the poems, we can revisit the poet's archive as a kind of “taxonomy in the making” where colonial reality is inscribed. In addition, Cavafy's “recording” of the hidden material allows us to reframe our readings of his canonical poems.
The Return of the Barbarians and the Colonial Order of the Archive
Yiannis Papatheodorou is currently associate professor of Modern Greek literature at the University of Patras. He has published articles on the Enlightenment, romanticism, ethnosymbolism, and C. P. Cavafy. His recent book On Reading (Athens: National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation, 2016), examines the visual representations of reading. His research interests include literary history and cultural poetics, while he also works on the archival sources of Modern Greek literature.
Yiannis Papatheodorou; The Return of the Barbarians and the Colonial Order of the Archive. boundary 2 1 May 2021; 48 (2): 161–176. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8936705
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