Ewa Róża Janion is a Modern Greek studies scholar, an assistant professor at the Center for Modern Greek Studies at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, Poland, where she teaches courses on 19th and 20th century Greek literature and culture. She works mainly on Greek Modernism and its Polish contexts, her other fields of interest involve the history of the Greek Revolution and minority cultures, especially the Calabrian-Greek (Grecanic) language.
Cavafy’s Modernism and Polish Homosexualities
After 1945, Polish literature went through a period of nearly entire tabooisation and sublimation of non-normative sexuality. Due to the mandatory silence over sexual difference, the literary discourse of this time was characterized as “the modernist poetics of inexpressible desire” – queerness could be addressed only indirectly, through coding strategies. The twilight of the camouflage period began in the 1980s, the decade when the Polish gay liberation movement started developing. In my speech, I explore the importance of Cavafy’s modernism to this paradigm shift.
I will argue that Cavafy is pertinent to Polish queer literature, especially at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s: the period of the collapse of the social state regime and the post-socialist transition, when the politicization and rising visibility and of the gay rights movement destabilized modernist poetics of camouflage. Cavafy was central because his poetry provided Polish male homosexual authors (most importantly Grzegorz Musiał and Tadeusz Olszewski, but also Antoni Romanowicz) with both the modernist codes of non-normative desire (such as references to the Greek antiquity, the homosexual myth of the Mediterranean, and decadent aesthetics) and the tools to transcend it, namely an attractive vision of gay identity and explicit homoeroticism. Therefore, as I will show in my speech, Cavafy offered inspiration and provided tools to gradually abandon the poetics of modernism and move towards emancipatory patterns of speaking about non-normative sexuality. At the same time, Cavafy marked Polish proto-emancipation queer literature with the very modernist stigma of melancholy, loss, and unrealized homosexual possibility; this stigma could have become transcended only in the 21st century.