This essay provides an alternative reading of modern Alexandria's social and cultural history as a basis for a better contextualization of Cavafy's poetry. It revisits the watershed year 1882, which marks the city's destruction after its bombardment by the British fleet, using new evidence from a little-known diary by the nineteen-year-old Cavafy. It then examines the overlooked context of Alexandria's late Ottoman cosmopolitanism and shows its decisive contribution to the city's modern culture, including Cavafy's own diasporic ethnic group, the Egyptian Greeks. Finally, the argument reassesses some prevalent misconceptions about the impact of British rule in Egypt, including the problematic view that it purportedly enhanced the city's cosmopolitan life. Instead, the article shows that British colonialism sought to constrain Alexandrian cosmopolitanism, whereas Cavafy, and a circle of radical intellectuals around him, actively defended it through nuanced expressions of opposition to the injustices of colonial oppression in Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece.
Another Colonial History: How Cosmopolitan Was Cavafy's Contemporary Alexandria?
Alexander Kazamias is senior lecturer in politics at Coventry University. He is the author of Greece and the Cold War: Diplomacy, Rivalry and Anti-Colonialism after the Civil Conflict. He has written extensively on modern Greek history and politics, Greek-Turkish relations, and the history and politics of Egypt. He has contributed press articles to The Guardian, Kathimerini, Ta Nea, EfSyn, Anti, and Al-Ahram Weekly.
Alexander Kazamias; Another Colonial History: How Cosmopolitan Was Cavafy's Contemporary Alexandria?. boundary 2 1 May 2021; 48 (2): 89–121. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8936691
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