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Haunting the future through poetry

Table of contents


Preface: Cavafy and Specters
1. Introduction: Cavafy’s Ghost Ships
a. Ghost Ships
b. Specters, Time, and Justice
c. Reading Cavafy Preposterously
d. The Writer’s Inkwell: From Tyrannical Prehension to Foreign Hands
e. Ghosts and the Archive
f. Outline
2. Cavafy’s Poetics of the Spectral: On Broken Promises and Conjurations
a. Introduction
b. On Broken Promises
c. On Conjurations
d. Living with Specters
3. Haunted Modernity: Cavafy’s Noonday Demon
a. Reading Preposterously: From Sotiropoulos’ What’s Left of the Night to Cavafy’s “In Broad Daylight”
b. Ghosts and Modernity
c. Cavafy’s Noonday Demon: From Religion to Capitalism and Back
d. A Little Box…
e. …and a Big Box
f. Ghosts of Capitalist Futures
g. Haunting and Desire
4. The Reluctant Ironist: Affect, Spectral Truth, and Irony’s Temperature
a. Introduction
b. Irony and Affect
c. “A Diary of Occurrences,” But Not Quite
d. Philosophical Scrutiny
e. Cavafy’s Little God of Irony
5. Specters of Barbarians
a. Introduction 
b. The Poem’s Literary and Artistic Restagings
c. The Poem as a Figure of Cultural Mutation
d. Waiting for the Barbarians After the Cold War
e. Between Enlightenment, Decadence, and Modernism: Barbarians and Historical Time
f. Barbarians and the Desire for New Narratives
g. Reluctant Irony as Being-With-Specters
6. The Futurity of Things Past: From Colonized Egypt to the Greek Crisis and Beyond
a. Introduction
b. Cavafy’s Fractured Statue
c. Verses in Transit
d. “Violence Is A Dangerous Thing”
e. Debt, Reform, and Violence in Colonies Past and Present
f. Reading-by-Fragments and the Promise of Futurity
Epilogue: Returns and Unknown Destinations
a. Cavafy as Control-freak, Collector, Surgeon, Reluctant Destroyer, Revolutionary
b. Concluding, Or Returning


The Greek Alexandrian poet C. P. Cavafy (1863–1933) has been recognized as a central figure in European modernism and world literature. His poetry explored the conditions for animating the past and making lost worlds or people haunt the present. Yet he also described himself as “a poet of the future generations.” Indeed, his writings address concerns and desires that permeate the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. How does poetry concerned with the past, memory, loss, and death, carry futurity? 

Specters of Cavafy broaches these questions by proposing spectral poetics as a novel approach to Cavafy’s work. Drawing from theorizations of specters and haunting, it develops spectrality as a lens for revisiting Cavafy’s poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, as well as his poetry’s bearing on our present. By examining Cavafy’s spectral poetics, the book’s first part shows how conjurations work in his writings, and how the spectral permeates the entanglement of modernity and haunting, and of irony and affect. The second part traces the afterlives of specific poems in the Western imagination since the 1990s, in Egypt’s history of debt and colonization, and in Greece during the country’s recent debt crisis. Beyond its original contribution to Cavafy studies, the book proposes tools and modes of reading that are broadly applicable in literary and cultural studies.

Maria Boletsi is Marilena Laskaridis Endowed Professor of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Amsterdam and Associate Professor in Film and Comparative Literature at Leiden University.