Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

La Pensee De Midi: Mediterranean Cosmopolitanism in the Work of Camus, Cavafy, and Chahine

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

La Pensee De Midi: Mediterranean Cosmopolitanism in the Work of Camus, Cavafy, and Chahine

Article excerpt

Albert Camus, Constantine Cavafy, and Youssef Chahine all celebrate the Mediterranean as a quintessential ideal of cosmopolitanism. This article examines their poetic rendering of the Mediterranean as a space of tolerance, diversity, and intellectual sophistication against the backdrop of emerging nationalist movements that fostered homogeneity. It seeks to contextualize these artists within an international avant-garde that defended freedom of expression and empowered artists to reject official culture and its version of history. It also reevaluates these artists in light of the reemergence of cosmopolitanism as an "ideal" in a world fractured by racism and sectarian violence.

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Albert Camus (French-Algerian), Constantine Cavafy (Greco-Egyptian), and Youssef Chahine (Greco-Lebanese-Egyptian) are outsiders to their native countries who affirm Mediterranean life as a cosmopolitan ideal. At the same time, the three offer unique--often controversial-poetic responses to the historical events shaping their fates in their adopted homelands in the midst of national movements which sought to eject foreign nationals and set strict parameters for determining national identity.

Both the Mediterranean and cosmopolitanism have reemerged in the past decade as framing concepts to address the challenges facing cities worldwide whose populations are racially and ethnically diverse with competing religious beliefs. The need to foster greater harmony in cities around the world and decrease sectarian violence has inspired a reexamination of older concepts in light of the inadequacy of more recent frameworks such as multiculturalism, post-colonialism, and globalization. Steven Vertovec identifies no less than six rubrics in his impressive survey of competing discourses on the subject of "Cosmopolitanisms." He suggests that the term's recent revitalization is due to the need "to displace the aloof, globe-trotting bourgeois image of cosmopolitanism in order to propose more progressive connotations" (284). Vertovec highlights the need to move from theory to practice in fostering cosmopolitanism. In his example of Berlin, for instance, he points out that 13 percent of the population of the city (nearly half a million) consist of registered non-Germans from 184 countries (288). Yet, as Craig Calhoun writes, "We should approach nationalism with critical attention to its limits, illusions and potential for abuse, but we should not dismiss it. Even when we are deeply critical of the nationalism we see, we should recognize the continued importance of national solidarities" (1). Kwame Anthony Appiah has no qualms reconciling the nation and cosmos, arguing that national identity is coexistent with human identity, noting that the leaders of twentieth-century national independence movements in Africa and Asia--such as Nkrumah, Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah--were all Western-educated bourgeoisie (79). Rejecting concepts such as globalization and multiculturalism, Appiah "rescues" cosmopolitanism, personifying it as "a survivor," a concept that has been around since Diogenes and the Cynics, elaborated on by the Stoics, codified by the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, enshrined by diverse intellectuals at different times in various parts of the world, and condemned by tyrants such as Hitler and Stalin (xiv-xvi). Regarding cosmopolitanism as "an adventure and an ideal," Appiah suggests that to "our perpetually voyaging species, Cosmopolitanism isn't hard work; repudiating it is" (xx).

Appiah's value-laden approach to cosmopolitanism also informs the discourse on the Mediterranean. Of particular interest for this study is Thierry Fabre's effort to put into practice Albert Camus' early theory of Mediterranean cosmopolitanism, which the young Camus entitled La pensee de midi. This includes a literary journal by the same title published by Actes Sud between 2000 and 2010, which was edited by Thierry Fabre. …

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