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Cavafy in "pop" style

29 October 2013 / 23:10:36  GRReporter
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In the underground station at the University, a woman is sitting in front of a red wall that reads, "Return often and take me, beloved sensation." A young couple is commenting on the inscription, seeking reference to the poem added with a fine word below, "Return". The general public who travel around Athens and use the underground is not familiar with the work of the great Alexandrian poet. The Onassis Cultural Centre has undertaken to present to the residents and visitors of Athens "Cavafy’s Archive", which the Onassis Cultural Centre acquired a year ago. So, on 14 October, the walls of the underground stations at Kerameikos, Syntagma square and the University, the stops of three electric trains, a tram and 31 buses, were filled with lines of nine Constantine Cavafy’s poems, poems in the form of a poetic motto and close to the "pop" aesthetics.

The line that has become the bone of contention

The Onassis Cultural Centre, however, has disregarded the social media which have opposed the project, the reason for this being an article by journalist Natalie Hadzhiandoniou in Eleftherotipia newspaper.

The already popular verse "Haste is a dangerous thing", taken from the poem "In a Large Greek Colony, 200 BC", put in huge letters on a bus and in the background of the parliament, has become the apple of discord. Supporters of conspiracy theories as well as members of the radical left SYRIZA party such as Rena Dourou and Dimitris Papadimoulis have started talking, on Twitter, about "montage" and "propaganda". Those who are more sober have confined themselves to indicating the inappropriateness of the line, as the word which is closer to "violence" in meaning today is used in Cavafy 's poem in its obsolete meaning, namely "hurry, haste". The Onassis Cultural Centre has immediately responded, stating in a message, a day after the fuss, that it has no "partisan purposes" nor will it have any. The line has been completed with "Let's not be too hasty: haste is a dangerous thing” and is now quietly moving around the streets of Athens.

Poems’ traps

"Cavafy is a poet whose work is full of traps, as he widely uses irony. The above line hides a double trap," states Nassos Vagenas, Professor of Theory and Criticism of Literature at the University of Athens. "Not only has the Onassis Cultural Centre fallen into the trap, but also those who are protesting against the selection of the controversial line. I mean SYRIZA, which deems that "haste (violence) is a dangerous thing", is directed against the party, thus confirming the theory of the two extremes with its reaction. I think that people who are familiar with Cavafy’s works should be assigned to make a precise selection of his poems in order to avoid their misinterpretation as well as problems that have nothing to do with the essence of poetry. Poetic word is frugal and it should be used in the same way. Vagenas notes that the putting of lines on the mass transport means is not an invention of the Onassis Cultural Centre. While the National Book Centre was functioning (until 2011), poems by poets were put in public places on the occasion of the World Poetry Day or in connection with an anniversary and Vagenas himself had selected poems by various poets.

"Pop" approach

It is because "pop" strikes and provokes violent comments, some of them positive and some of them negative, regarding the aesthetics of the campaign, which is "fresh" and "modern" on the one hand and "cartoonist" and "inartistic due to the huge letters" on the other. Yiannis Haralambopoulos, who is a co-founder of Beetroot Design Group and in charge of the planning of the campaign, is the person who can comment on the issue. "The definition of ‘pop’ is relative. I would say that the project is more modern and less expected. This is clear from the instructions we had received from the Cultural Centre. The aim was to bring Cavafy closer to the general public. It was an outward move. For many years, the visual materials related to poetry had been serious and sterile, engraved on beige paper. Anyway, Cavafy was a forerunner of modern poetry therefore we thought this would have been a suitable approach, since it would have been designed for the pleasure of the general public. Cavafy is modern and contemporary. Why should we keep him in naphthalene?".

Multiple interpretations

Tags: Constantine CavafyAdvertising campaignOnassis Cultural Centre
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