Book Cover

Modern Odysseys

Cavafy, Woolf, Césaire, and a Poetics of Indirection

Michelle Zerba

250 pp. 6 x 9
Pub Date: February, 2021

Subjects: Classics
Gender & Sexuality Studies
Literary Studies, British & Irish
Literary Theory
Race & Ethnic Studies

Series: Classical Memories/Modern Identities

Order Hardcover $99.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-1464-0
Order PDF ebook$29.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8098-0

“In addition to being riveting to read, Modern Odysseys offers readers a compelling new framework for thinking about the emergence of counter subjectivities within international modernism and enlivens scholarly debates about the modern afterlives of Homer’s Odyssey. The author’s intellectual flair, theoretical verve, and impressive range all command attention.” —Emily Greenwood, author of Afro-Greeks: Dialogues Between Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Classics in the Twentieth Century

“The book’s distinctiveness and charm are enhanced by the author’s clarity and usefulness. Modern Odysseys makes a valuable intervention in the popular subfield of reception studies within classics.” —Alexander Beecroft, author of Authorship and Cultural Identity in Early Greece and China: Patterns of Literary Circulation

Michelle Zerba’s Modern Odysseys explores three major writers in global modernism from the Mediterranean, Anglo-European Britain, and the Caribbean whose groundbreaking literary works have never been studied together before. Using language as an instrument of revolution and social change, C. P. Cavafy, Virginia Woolf, and Aimé Césaire gave expression to the forms of human experience we now associate with modernity: homoeroticism, transsexuality, and racial consciousness. More specifically, Zerba argues that Odyssean tropes of diffusion, isolation, passage, and return give form to works by these writers but in ways that invite us to reconsider and revise the basic premises of reception studies and intellectual history.

Combining close readings of literary texts with the study of interviews, essays, diaries, and letters, Zerba advances a revisionary account of how to approach relationships between antiquity and modernity. Instead of frontal encounters with the Odyssey, Cavafy, Woolf, and Césaire indirectly—but no less significantly—engage with Homer’s epic poem. In demonstrating how such encounters operate, Modern Odysseys explores issues of race and sexuality that connect antiquity with the modern period.

Michelle Zerba is the Maggie B. Martin Professor of Rhetoric and Classical Studies at Louisiana State University.


Introduction    A Poetics of Indirection and Telling It Slant

Chapter 1        Diffusion and Mixture

            Homer: The Odyssey in a Sea of Difference

            Cavafy: Diaspora, Oblique Encounters, and Homoerotic Desire

            Césaire: The Colonial Antilles and a Map of One’s Own Spilled Blood

            Woolf: Tilting at Pagans’ Heads in a House That Is a Town

Chapter 2        Islands and Isolation

            Homer: From Calypso to the Therapy of the Word

            Cavafy: Cosmopolitan Isolation and Sexual Shaming

            Woolf: Domestic Katabasis and Moments of Being

            Césaire: Peléan Eruptions and Portraits of Blood

Chapter 3        Passage and Detour

            Homer: Odysseus’s Wound and Narrative Detours

            Césaire: Lagoons of Blood and Literary Cannibalism

            Woolf: Constantinople and Exile as Carnival

            Cavafy: Mediterranean Routes and Ephebic Visions

Chapter 4        Return and Split Endings

            Homer: Murder in the Home and Split Endings

            Woolf: Time Warps and Wild Goose Chases

            Césaire: The Incised Tree, the Slave Ship, and the Pirogue

            Cavafy: Hedonic Ships on Policed Waters

Epilogue          Toward an End



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