Κυριακή, 24 Φεβρουαρίου 2008

8. Cypriot literature

Theoretical Problems in the Study
of Cypriot Literature

Stephanos Constantinides

RÉSUMÉ
Cet article se concentre sur les concepts qui s'appliquent dans l'étude de la littérature
chypriote. L'auteur explore l'identité de la littérature chypriote qui est reliée à la discussion de
l'identité chypriote. Il suggère une identité républicaine civile commune pour tous les
Chypriotes qui pourrait aussi abriter la littérature grecque et turque de l'île. Il est également en
faveur de l'utilisation du terme littérature chypriote pour ce qui est écrit en grec, la considérant
comme faisant partie de la littérature néohellénique.

ABSTRACT
This article focuses on concepts that apply to the study of Cypriot literature. The author
explores the identity of Cyprus's literary output in relation to the Cypriot identity. He suggests
a common republican civil identity for all Cypriots which could embrace the island's Greek and
Turkish literatures. He also argues that Cypriot literature could only be in Greek, and considers
it as part of the neohellenic literature.

The Concepts
Discussions of Cypriot literature, its place, name, autonomy and
specificity in the broader Greek literature remain fragmentary. There is
almost a fear to tackle these problems as well as a series of others related to
it, because they are not only philological, but ideological and political,
because Cypriot literature has always evolved in a social context that
exercised a very decisive influence on it.
There is no doubt that the study of every national literature is confronted
with problems of ideological and political nature. However in the case of
Cypriot literature these problems are more complex and difficult because they
don’t concern a literature that could be qualified as national, whilst even the
use of the term Cypriot literature is contested. Even if the problem of the name
already existed and was discussed in a certain way from the time of the British
colonial era 1 it took an even more explosive dimension after independence.
At that time step by step began to be formulated the question whether the
Cypriot state would dispose its own national symbols. And if among these
symbols one could speak of the existence of a national Cypriot literature. It
was during the same period that some people began speaking about the
creation of a national Cypriot identity. For the Greeks of Cyprus such
discussions were questioning the long struggles for national restitution i.e.
union with the Greek motherland. That’s why these efforts had been
identified with the old propaganda used by the British rulers either
contesting the Cypriots’ Greek identity or promoting the idea of their
dissimilarities from the rest of the Greeks.
Yet beyond all these questions was the problem of the strong Turkish
community, which of course identified itself with Turkey. If one was to
consider a national Cypriot literature, what this term would include? The
Greek or the Turkish literary production, or both? Given that language is the
main substratum of a national literature, it would be impossible to combine
Greek and Turkish Cypriot literature to form a single national literature.
This doesn’t mean that their coexistence would be impossible in the context
of a Cypriot state, in the context of a secular democratic society. Otherwise,
a national Cypriot identity or conscience wouldn’t exist. But it would be
possible that a common civil identity could exist, without bring into
question the composing ethnic identities of its parts. It is understood that
one cannot exclude shared cultural practices and traditions. More
problematic, if not utopian, is also the idea of the existence of two “Cypriot
literatures” or of one Cypriot literature having as starting point Cyprus’ two
“languages and literary productions”2.
In any case the term Cypriot literature was regarded as one of the Greek
peripheral literatures, like those of Crete, Ionian Isles, Alexandria, which
have gradually eclipsed because the heavy Athenian dominance did not leave
enough space for them. Nowadays Cypriot is the main peripheral literature
together with that of the Greek Diaspora3, although some particular literary
voices are still heard from Salonika. Of course the phenomenon of the
Athenian centralist model which barely admits the traditional cultural
polycentrism of the late Ottoman Empire and the first period of the national
Greek state, doesn’t concern only literature but all aspects of Greek
contemporary life, ranging from economics to politics and from nurture to
culture. Nevertheless the concentration of everything in the national capital
is not only a Greek phenomenon. We meet it also in most European
countries. Only in the English speaking world, i.e. America, Australia and
Canada, we meet, for reasons which are not going to be examined in this
article, an important decentralization in all fields of human activity. In these
countries there is a relatively strong multicentrism and their capitals are
rather administrative centres than anything else.
In the case of Cypriot literature, one extreme opinion is that it does not exist
independently but only as part of contemporary Greek literary production, in
the same sense as those of the other Greek regions. The difference, though, lies
in the fact that today we can hardly speak about a peripheral literary
production in Greek territory, if we accept the general rule that a Greek writer
must live, work and produce in Athens or be related with it. On the contrary,
Cypriot writers, with some exceptions, live, produce and publish their work in
the precise geographical space of their island. In other words Kazantzakis may
be Cretan, Ritsos or Vretakos Peloponnesians, but they had not been
recognised in their region of origin, but at the Athenian centre.
Thus linguistically speaking, there is a Cypriot literature as this term has
been used for the Greek literature of Cyprus. It is the last peripheral literature
of the Greek space with its own specificities, thematic and at a certain point its
relative autonomy and particularity, as part of it has been written in the
Cypriot dialect. It is natural that this literature has links with the Turkish
Cypriot literature of the island. I suppose that the Turkish Cypriot literature is
included in the larger context frame of Turkish literature, even if some want it
to be included together with the Greek Cypriot one.
One realises that the terms used to define Cypriot literature are fluid. And
they are so because the same applies to the terms related to Cypriot identity,
especially those used by intellectuals, rather than in reality. For many years,
from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the end of English rule, the term
Greeks of Cyprus was standard. After independence the term Greek Cypriots
was gradually imposed. But at the same time, the term Hellenism of Cyprus
was emphasized.
Same discussions seem to exist also among the Turkish Cypriot community.
Rauf Denktash’s position about the non existence of Cypriots but of Greeks
and Turks of Cyprus is well known. Of course to be Greek or Turk doesn’t
exclude to be also Cypriot. Other people, though, in the Turkish Cypriot
community promote the idea of “Cypriotism” or “Cypriotness”. The idea was
to create a common national Cypriot identity. It has to be noted that in the
Greek side an effort has been made to promote the same idea of “Cypriotness”,
but it was the object of many strong reactions and remained marginal. Greeks
of Cyprus, without ignoring their local specificities like in various other Greek
peripheries, consider that their Greekness and national conscience deriving
from it are unquestionable. Besides, it is worth mentioning, that from the
beginning of independence, voices from various circles either within the island
or abroad, have promoted the construction of a unified national Cypriot
identity. Something that the Greeks of Cyprus have seen as a continuation of
the English propaganda effort to present them as “phinikizontes,” behaving
like Phoenicians rather than Greeks.
Identity issues preoccupy societies that are not confronted with the same
political problems as Cyprus. Societies thinking having solved it and in spite
of that it appears strong in front of them4. This is because identity is never
static. It is a strong process leading to its continuous redefinition,
construction and deconstruction, especially today in the context of the
globalization. That is why the study of Cypriot literature, its definitions and
theoretical problems, are linked to the concept of identity. And as every
identity the Cypriot one is also multileveled. Any “Cypriotness” is not
different from the “Kritikotita”(local identity of Cretans) or the
“Ipirotikotita” (local identity of the Epirotes). If this Cypriotness can link
Greek with Turkish Cypriots without abolishing, as some want it, their
Greekness or the Turkishness, so much the better. And of course all these
local identities, as far as Greeks are concerned, are included in the frame of
Greekness. Thus Cypriot literature is included in the broader Greek
literature following the same principle applied for the literature of
Alexandria, Crete, or the Ionian Islands. A question remains though, if we
can speak of a Cypriot school of literature in the same sense that we speak of
a school of the Ionian Islands. Some characteristics of Cypriot literature such
as its thematic specificities and dialect could give it this character. It would
be difficult though to consider it as a school in the sense of some different
philological, even ideological current or in the sense of some break that has
been brought to the Neohellenic literature. Cypriot literature is more a
geographic reality than anything else.
On the other hand the abandonment of ethnic identity would drive to a
cultural alienation, given that it cannot be replaced by a hermaphrodite
artificial identity with a taste of Cypriotness: an identity drawn from an
ideological nursery without social background and support. Any identity is
the result of a long social process, sometimes of centuries and it is not
produced by recipes, as some in Cyprus believe after independence,
especially when most of the time these recipes were coming from outside.
From London as had been experienced during the colonial era, from
Washington where the term of nation is more political and didn’t have the
European sociological comprehension of this definition, but also from the
Athenian centre, from some people who mainly after ’74, may feel guilty,
because of the coup d’état and the Turkish invasion. Such people would like
to get rid of this Cyprus problem. So the foreigners like it more to impose
an artificial identity because this facilitates to impose also their solution to
the Cyprus problem. Willing to safeguard its national identity is not a
question of nationalism as some neoliberal apostles of a unidimensional
globalisation advocate. It’s a question of human dignity and people have the
right to oppose a unidimensional conception of culture. The sense of
togetherness between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but also between other
smaller communities of the island, doesn’t require either the abandonment
of everybody’s national identity or the homogenisation of cultural diversity.
This sense of togetherness requires only a common civil identity. This
common civil and political identity means no exclusion of the “Other”. Its
construction is and will be based on the ground of the common Cypriot
citizenship5. Common European identity will be also an important
ingredient for this Cypriot civil identity.

A Comparison: The Canadian Case
Those who dream about the Cypriotness should study the case of other
countries in order to understand how difficult is the production of identities
or national symbols through an ideological nursery process against people’s
will. The case of Canada may give them an answer to many questions and
would lead them to the realities of the social process which doesn’t follow
recipes. The Canadian federation exists since 1867. The various Canadian
governments spent millions if not billions of dollars, in order to impose the
Canadian identity. In vain. During the first years of federation, Canadians of
English origin were identified as British. Only Canadians of French origin
were considering themselves as Canadians. Later the terms were inverted:
British adopted the Canadian identity and the Francophones became French
Canadians. When the numbers of French Canadians began to diminish and
their main residence was limited to the province of Quebec, then French
Canadians became “Quebequers”. Certainly there is a common Canadian civil
identity, as there is the common Canadian citizenship. But at the same time
on ethnic grounds people have a multileveled identity. Because apart from
those of English and French origin we have a multitude of other ethnic groups
resulting from immigration and as far as literature is concerned of course there
is no Canadian national literature. Sometimes the English literature of Canada
is claiming this definition of national literature. As far as French literature is
concerned, given that during the last decades it is developing in Quebec, it has
been proclaimed as its national literature. The Anglophone Canadian literature
is threatened in its very existence as a distinctive autonomous specific literature
from the American cultural influence. On the contrary Quebec’s French
literature, in spite its relations with France, became completely autonomous
and is defined as a national literature. I don’t know if it is possible to draw
some conclusions from the Canadian experience. Of course the failure to build
a Canadian national identity may foretell also the failure to create a national
Cypriot identity. Nevertheless one may be inspired from the Canadian
example of a common civil identity and see as very possible a common Cypriot
civil identity. On the other hand the failure to create a Canadian national
literature with the participation of English and French speaking Canadians,
shows how unrealistic is the expectation to create a national Cypriot literature
based on the Greek and Turkish language. On the contrary the autonomy of
Quebec’s literature from this point of view could give arguments to those who
see a similar orientation in the Cypriot literature as this term is understood to
cover the literature written in Greek. But even in this case the comparisons are
difficult. Quebec has a population of seven million and an economy which if
it was an independent country would be ranked fortieth in the hierarchy of the
world’s economy. One realises that it is a different case from that of Cyprus.
Nevertheless in spite of the autonomy of its literature and its definition as a
national literature, all the writers active in Quebec tend to consider as their
ultimate consecration the recognition of their work by Paris and the French
salons. In short, the Parisian literal salons continue to play the same role in
Quebec’s literature as that of the Athenian salons do on the Cypriot one.
Something that was happening in older days also with the interrelations
between the English-Canadian literature and the British one is less visible
today. Having said this, even if in Canada they refer to two “solitudes” English
and French, the interrelation between French and English culture is vivid6.
The difficulties of definition of Cypriot literature derive also from the lack
of comprehensive studies which would relate the Cypriot literary production
with the historical, political, ideological and cultural developments on the local
Cypriot level but also the Greek and international levels as well. In reality there
is a lack of critical evaluation of Cypriot literary production apart from some
hagiographies or public relation presentations. Some exceptions don’t
invalidate the rule. Because neither the rhetorical outbursts nor the
superfluous talks in the presentation of some Cypriot writers either in Cyprus
or in Greece, constitute an interpretation, a critique, or a philological study.

Relations with the Athenian Centre.
It is natural that Cypriot writers try to be recognized by the Athenian
centre. Nevertheless Greek critics rarely showed a continuous interest for
Cypriot literary production. The same is valid for neohellenists, philologists
and other specialists. There is a lack of systematic study and presentation of
the work of Cypriot creators to the Greek public. We could say that the
interest of Greek writers, critics and neohellenists for the Cypriot literary
production is occasional. This was happening even in the first half of the 20th
Century, it happens and in its second half and continues up to now7. During
the post war period it appears that the Cypriot experience of Seferis who gave
the collection “Kypron ou m’ethespisen” (Cyprus, where it was ordained for
me… 1955) created in Athens some interest for Cypriot literature. Lefteris
Papaleontiou attributes the interest of George Savvides for Cypriot literature
to its relation with Seferis. George Savvides is perhaps the first Greek critic
and neohellenist who after the war, basically in the ’70s, made an effort to face
somewhat globally Cypriot literary production. Nevertheless these studies
were in their major part selective. Even the increased number of tributes of
Greek revues to Cypriot literature “take, according to Papaleontiou, a festive
character and are written in the heat of the moment, on the occasion of an
important political event or anniversary, but also on the basis of personal
contacts. Thus often the texts published are not the most representative or the
most important of Cypriot literary production. Or there is a lack of a real
critical evaluation”.8 We could say that the participation in these special
editions is depending on interpersonal relations and even to use a term from
politics on clientelistic relations. The same is valid, beyond the special tributes
and for the presence in Greek publications of some Cypriot writers, not after
a critical evaluation but more on the basis of public relations that they
maintain with some circles in Athens.
What is characteristic of the limited, if non-existent interest of Greek
critics – if there are nowadays such critics, – or specialists, neohellenists and
historians, is the fact that there is a complete absence of reference to Cypriot
writers in the histories of the neohellenic contemporary Greek literature.
The limited presence of some names in the last edition of the history of
Mario Vitti doesn’t change this reality.
Apart from the older Cypriot writers who lived in Athens or Alexandria
(Loukis Akritas, Tefkros Anthias, Emilios Hourmouzios, Nikos Nikolaidis,
etc.) and who somewhat have been noticed by the Athenian centre, if one
would look to see who of the Cypriot writers have won some recognition in
Greece, he would hardly find others than Costas Montis and Kyriakos
Charalambides. The first was noted somewhat mainly at the end of his life,
because of George Savvides. The second built himself from very early a
network of interpersonal relations which permitted his promotion, in
contrast with others who stayed unknown because they didn’t have this
opportunity or they didn’t want to work in the same systematic way for
their promotion.
This finally proves the limited Greek interest in the study and critical
evaluation of Cypriot literary production, apart some conventional and
occasional presentation related most of the time to political events. Also the
occasional presentation of certain Cypriot writers is done mostly on the
grounds of public relations than on any other evaluation of their work.
These presentations are generally anodyne, conventional, colourless and
odourless. They avoid the obstacle of serious critical evaluation in order to
satisfy everybody. The Cypriot writers contribute also to this phenomenon
by accepting a superfluous promotion and even they go after it. They are
satisfied and even search through public relations a little “recognition”
instead of claiming the real study and critical evaluation of their work. Often
it is a behaviour of “poor relatives”. One could argue that Cyprus doesn’t
have writers who have provoked a rupture within the Greek contemporary
literature analogous to those of Cavafis, Kazantzakis, Seferis, Ritsos, or
Elytis. Nevertheless Vassilis Michaelides or Costas Montis, closer to us, and
perhaps some other poets, could stand next to big names of the neohellenic
Greek contemporary poetry. Also contemporary poets such as Pantelis
Michanikos or Costas Vassiliou, but also others, could stand next to some of
the best Greek poets of the so called generation of the ’ 70s. The question is
why they are absent from anthologies, studies, histories of literature, and
from school manuals. The same could be advanced and for some prose
writers such as Georges Ph.Pierides, or Ivi Meleagrou and others. It is
characteristic that Georges Savvides has admitted himself that till 1973 he
had never heard the name of Costas Montis9.
Of course if Cypriot literature remains in the margins the responsibility
doesn’t only lay on the Athenian centre. Equally responsible are the Cypriot
writers themselves who look spasmodically for its favour, some of them even
using the clientelistic way instead of trying to be presented by serious
publications, or perhaps to create publishing houses which will promote
Cypriot books in the Greek market10. Cypriot philologists are also responsible
because they didn’t show interest to study, interpret and evaluate the work of
Cypriot writers. In other words, there could be created a pole of a systematic
study and promotion of Cypriot literature in Cyprus. The aim would be to
present this work in a critically evaluated way at the larger Greek public. A
Cypriot pole in the space of neohellenic literature could help to put into
evidence a polycentrism and favour Greek voices of the regions neglected by
the Athenian centre. Naturally the question is if they could put aside the
clientelistic relation and conventionality which kill creativity and help to
promote mediocrity. There even exists the “inferiority” complex from which
suffer many Greek Cypriot creators as well as the complexes of “superiority”
afflicting their Greek-Helladites (the ones residing in Greece) counterparts.

Conclusion
It is certain that in discussing all these subjects we move into a fluid and
slippery landscape. Aphorisms are always dangerous, as well as definitive
conclusions. It is well known that what we believe today is based on scientific
documentation that tomorrow may be challenged and inverted. Also, we
should not ignore the dynamics of the political situation in the island and
the ideological currents deriving from it. From another point of view
“scientificity” is never neutral.
With these reservations, we would advance some early conclusions:
1. As far as the term Cypriot literature is concerned, it is scientifically
correct. It adds nothing and substracts nothing from its Greekness, nor
cuts it from neohellenic literature. Furthermore it doesn’t add more
Cypriotness to it from what it carries with its specific characteristics. This
literature as a peripheral one disposes of a relative autonomy.
2. The relations with the Athenian centre remain superficial. As it happens
with the literature of the Diaspora there is a limited if not inexistent interest
for it and for everything done beyond the Athenian ramparts. But it’s a fact
that the Cypriot writers try in general to obtain artificial applause and
provisional recognition rather than the real appreciation of their work. The
same thing is going also on in the narrow Cypriot space where usually are
held equilibriums in the distribution “of applauses” and “prizes”.
3. Finally the subject of identities which troubles all the contemporary
societies in the context of a neoliberal globalising economy is even more
painful in a country partly under occupation. Something which is
necessarily reflected on the theoretical discussions concerning Cypriot
literature. Without a strongly built national identity, cultural alienation
waits in the corner. The coexistence, though with the Turkish Cypriots
imposes also the parallel common republican political identity. This
republican identity could shelter and interrelate the Greek and Turkish
literatures of the island without cutting them from their corresponding
ethnic trunk.

NOTES
1. For this subject see Lefteris Papaleontiou “Greek reception of Cypriot literature
during the after war years”, Porphyras, Octobre, December 2002. See also
Stephanos Constantinides, «Some Rather Heretical Thoughts on Cypriot
Literature» Etudes helléniques /Hellenic Studies, Vol. 13, no 1, Spring 2005, as
well as the article of Lefkios Zafeiriou in the present volume.
2. Matthias Kappler in his article in the present volume and Mehmet Yas,ιn, “On
Cypriot literature and indeterminable identities”, Syghrona Themata [Current
Matters] 68-70 (July 1998-March. 1999) 321.
3. In the special volume of the academic revue: Etudes helléniques/Hellenic Studies,
a tribute to the literature of the diaspora (under the direction of Stephanos
Constantinides, Kathryn Radford and Thalia Tassou) the term used is
“Literatures of the periphery”, vol. 13, no.1, Spring 2000.
4. Stephanos Constantinides, Preface to Michalis Damanakis, Identities and
Education in the Diaspora, (in Greek), Athens, Gutenberg, 2007.
5. Another way to destroy the identity of Cypriots – Greeks, Turks, or whatever
other origin – is to accept the colonisation of the island by the settlers from
Turkey. Something that apparently doesn’t trouble some neoliberal intellectuals
on grounds of “non-exclusion”. These people on grounds of their
“antinationalist” obsessions are ready to accept colonisation and expropriation of
Cypriots and to legitimate Turkish neocolonial expansionism.
6. Craig Brown (sous la direction), Histoire générale du Canada, Montréal, Éditions
Boréal,1990.
7. Lefteris Papaleontiou, “Greek receptions of the Cypriot literature during the after
world war years”, op. cit.
8. Papaleontiou, op.cit. p. 423.
9. Papaleontiou, op.cit. p. 434.
10. An effort to create a publishing house in Athens has beeen done by the
intellectual Tassos Psaropoulos of Cypriot origin, during the 60s, whose aim was
to publish important works of neohellenic literature as well as of Cypriot. It was
the publishers Alvin Redman Hellas in cooperation with the English publishing
house of the same name. At that time there have been published in Athens some
books of Cypriot writers, among them the well known anthology of Cypriot
poetry (under the direction) of the Cypriot poets Costas Montis and Andreas
Christofidis. In a note in this anthology signed by Tassos Psaropoulos reference
is made that this anthology of Cypriot poetry and an analogous anthology of
Cypriot prose will be republished from time to time updated. Reference is made
also to the formation of a committee for this purpose with the participation of
Costas Varnalis, Andreas Karantonis, Michalis Peranthis, Lili Iakovidis, and
from Cyprus of Costas Montis and Andreas Christofidis as supervisors. It was
also mentioned that Athina Tarsoulis would be responsible for the section of the
folk songs. The publishers activities were atrophied after the imposition of the
dictatorship in Greece. Psaropoulos is also known for his literary work, mainly
for his novel O Dimios (The public executioner), published by his own
publishing house at that time.

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