Following the Axis' occupation of Greece in 1941, scores of Greeks fled the country, making their way to Syria and Palestine via Turkey. The Greek government itself was in exile in Cairo, Egypt until 1944. My lecture will examine the Greek literary production that came out of this wave of displacement, with a special emphasis on the ways in which these narratives may inform our historical understanding of a time when Europe was its own worst enemy, and Europeans were seeking refuge in the Middle East and North Africa. The talk will offer a comparative analysis of texts produced by Greek authors displaced to Egypt and Palestine between 1941 and 1944. These texts include the diaries and poetry of Greek Nobel Laureate George Seferis, the poetry of Smyrna-born Ellie Papadopoulou, and the first novel of Greek Egyptian author Stratis Tsirkas’ Drifting Cities trilogy, The Club. The lecture will explore the various ways in which the first-hand experience of forced migration - at the margins of the Greek world - was transformed into literature, often in the precarious conditions of transit and exile. How does the political subjectivity of the displaced play out in aesthetic terms? Can this literary archive of displacement offer a narrative ethics capable of withstanding the wrecking-ball slogans of nativism? What is the cultural political significance of this literary canon today, and how can it inform contemporary debates about migration in Europe, and the Greek world in particular?
Argyro Nicolaou is a writer, filmmaker and scholar from the island of Cyprus. She specializes in the representation of migration in literature, film, and visual art with a focus on 20th - 21st century Greek culture and the Mediterranean region. Other research interests include Cypriot literatures; contemporary Middle Eastern visual art and cinema; island literature; and the relationship between art and activism. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Critical Media Practice from Harvard University. Nicolaou’s dissertation, titled "Europe and the Cultural Politics of Mediterranean Migrations", examined the ways in which narratives of migration have shaped Europe's relationship with its southern and eastern Mediterranean neighbors from antiquity to the present day. In 2017 - 2018 she was the recipient of Harvard's Bowdoin Prize, and her research has been supported by the Mahindra Humanities Center (Harvard); the Center for European Studies (Harvard); and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (Harvard). Argyro Nicolaou's scholarly work has appeared in the Journal of Mediterranean Studies and is scheduled to appear in the American Historical Review (forthcoming February 2020). Her films and video works have been screened at festivals and exhibitions in New York, Boston, Cyprus, and Romania. In 2018 - 2019 Argyro Nicolaou was part of the Museum of Modern Art's Media and Performance curatorial staff.
Respondent: Efthymia Rentzou, French and Italian