Constantine Cavafy, who identified as “Hellenic” but lived in Egypt, never published a commercial book. Instead, he circulated hundreds of copies of multiple collections whose assemblage was quite fluid, moving across multiple bindings, formats, orderings, imprints, inscriptions and revisions. Through a combination of close reading, analytical bibliography and historical contextualization, this talk will argue that Cavafy’s books functioned not as closed objects but open-ended assemblages, suspending textual consolidation and extending composition indefinitely—even as the books circulated. They were, it will be argued, a kind of twentieth-century precursor to the cloud document, open to revision while they were being read. This is crucial: given their nature, Cavafy’s collections allowed their several handlers to witness and, at least in certain key instances, to participate in the process of creation and revision. The marks left by the several handlers of these texts invite us to rethink the function of Cavafy’s Poems and, more generally, the twentieth-century book.

Will Stroebel is a comparatist specializing in Modern Greek and Turkish Literature, Book History and Mediterranean Studies. He received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan (2017). His first monograph project, tentatively titled "Reassembling the Greco-Turkish Book, 1910-1960," follows a handful of twentieth-century Greek and Turkish works that moved across multiple formats, editions, bindings, geographies, alphabets or languages, taken apart and reassembled in deeply transformative ways despite the partitions of the nation state. His published or forthcoming work ranges from trauma and media theory to Karamanlidika ballads to twentieth-century book history.

Respondent: Katerina Stergiopoulou, Classics

Supported by The Christos G. and Rhoda Papaioannou Modern Greek Studies Fund