- Poetics of a Sea
Mediterranean: Prospect and Retrospect opens up a space of encounter with leading scholars, writers and academic practitioners in and of the Mediterranean. These are purposely solicited, non-peer-reviewed features intended to generate intuitive reflection on the state of Mediterranean Studies, the many and diverse approaches to it and its understandings, past and present.
In this first session of Mediterranean: Prospect and Retrospect, Norbert Bugeja speaks to Stephanos Stephanides, a poet, essayist and memoirist, translator, ethnographer and documentary filmmaker. Born in Trikomo, Cyprus, Stephanides was taken to the United Kingdom by his father when he was eight years old. He lived in several countries before returning to Cyprus in 1992 as part of the founding faculty of the University of Cyprus, where he retired as Professor of English and Comparative Literature in 2017. Stephanides has held several writing fellowships and awards. Most recently, he was writing fellow at International Writers Program at the University of Iowa (2016), and in 2012 his film Poets in No Man’s Land won first prize for Video Poetry at the Nicosia International Film Festival. He has been judge for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (2000 and 2010), is a Fellow of the English Association and a Cavaliere of the Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana, awarded by the Republic of Italy. A bilingual, English-with-Greek translated selection of his poems and fragments of memoir, titled The Wind Under My Lips, will be published in Athens by Rodakio Publications in early 2018.
Stephanos Stephanides, welcome to the ‘Mediterranean Fractures’ special issue of the Journal of Mediterranean Studies. You have built a diversified and inspiring portfolio over a lifetime of scholarship, poetry, memory writing, and documentary-filmmaking. I’d like us to open the conversation on a forthright note of curiosity. Why do you write?
‘Why I write’ has, of course, been the title of literary essays of many writers. If I were to write such an essay, the anthropologist in me would probably begin with the rites of writing. What do ‘write’ and ‘rite’ share with each other? What is the ritual process involved in writing? I write best when memory unleashes unexpected moments of revelation from I don’t know where. Rituals like writing are a kind of allegorical process, a magical weaving of words in our attempts to salvage what feels to us irretrievable or invisible. Perhaps I seek in writing an oracle against the weight of the impossible, or against the burden of our histories, routing for moments of celebration in our experiences of absence and loss. [End Page 109]
And from where do you write?
To answer that I would have to ask myself ‘where in the world am I?’ I don’t write from a single place and my writing and imagination are steeped in many places — a fellow Cypriot writer, Andriana Ierodiaconou, has said that — for all my cosmopolitan wanderings — my work always returns to Trikomo, the village of my birth, where I spent the first eight years of my life. She means this imaginatively, of course, because the village has been in the Turkish-occupied part of the island since 1974. It was not until 2003 that displaced Cypriots were allowed to cross and visit their homes, villages and the places they were forced to abandon. There is some truth in that memories of my early childhood, my first feelings of family and community, have certainly shaped my feelings and imagination deeply. However, I would say that I write out of place, trying to find a place or way of being in the world. I write from here, there, elsewhere, everywhere, and nowhere; and where all of these are continually redistributed in the act and process of writing.
You have spoken of translation as a ‘performative intervention’, a basic gesture of the transcultural, as it were. And you’re inclined to argue in turn for the serendipitous as a staple currency or outcome of the translational. How do you see acts of translation exchanging gazes with acts of cultural criticism in our part of the world today?
Yes — like writing itself, translation is...