Maria Hadjipolycarpou: Lives in Disguise

Lives in Disguise: Autobiography in the Modern Mediterranean

Maria Hadjipolycarpou

Maria Hadjipolycarpou

Over the course of time, emblematic Mediterranean structures like the Parthenon in Athens and Haghia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul generated an environment of shifting affiliations—from the Ancient, to Byzantine, to Catholic, to Venetian, to Ottoman, to the post-Colonial period. Autobiographers living in this region trace their family genealogies in the foreground of these shifting affiliations to more than one culture and tradition. Constantine Cavafy, the nineteenth century Greek poet, for instance, goes as far as to say that his family’s origin is Byzantine, but at the same time Italian, Ottoman, Constantinopolitan, and Alexandrian, while he himself is a British subject. These multilayered, perpetually interactive influences make their way down to the twentieth century through the narratives of writers who turned to autobiography. In my book I argue that the existence of such texts makes the study of Mediterranean autobiography indispensible to any clear understanding of Mediterranean identity today.

By juxtaposing select autobiographical texts from a variety of Mediterranean traditions, my book establishes the existence of an autobiographical style, shared by traditions across this region where the afterlives of the aforementioned pre-modern empires still circulate. The lens through which I explore these multifaceted autobiographies, and the fluidity of identity that they convey, is that of the religious conversions of individuals that occurred in the Mediterranean. Echoing the religious conversions of their family pasts which required them to camouflage themselves either as Christians, Muslims or Jews, modern autobiographers capture an underlying culture of self-camouflage. In their autobiographies, writers cover their life stories behind the veil of historical narratives. In innumerable cases, this mode of historical self-camouflage enables literary autobiography to sometimes disguise and other times reveal the writers’ most intimate conflicts about their own lives.

A native of Cyprus, Maria Hadjipolycarpou holds a PhD from the University of Michigan and is Lecturer in the Classics Department at Columbia University. She is also a Visiting Fellow at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies (New York University 2016-2017) and co-founder of “Mediterranean Topographies”, an interdisciplinary research group interested in modern Mediterranean culture, literature, society, architecture, and history. She is an affiliate with the Initiative for Mediterranean Studies at the University of Michigan and an affiliate to the United Nations Mission of Cyprus in New York. Her research and teaching focuses on self-narratives in the Mediterranean and the connection of history and autobiography. She is particularly interested in islands and their contribution to the project of empire. Maria has presented extensively on her research in the US, Canada and Europe. She has organized panels and conferences in various fora in the American Comparative Literature Association, the Modern Greek Studies Association, and Mediterranean Topographies. Her most recent publication “The Nation of Saints: The National Theological Rhetoric of Archbishop Makarios III (1913-1977)“ was published by the Journal of Modern Greek Studies in May 2015. She is currently revising a monograph entitled “Lives in Disguise: Autobiography in the Modern Mediterranean.”


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