The Lies That Bind Us

Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses identity.

"And now what will become of us without barbarians? / Those people were a kind of solution."

 C. P. Cavafy, “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1898) 

Perhaps you know this poem? Constantine Cavafy was a writer whose every identity came with an asterisk, a quality he shared with Italo Svevo. Born two years after Svevo, he died only a few years after him. Cavafy was a Greek who never lived in Greece. A government clerk of Eastern Orthodox Christian upbringing in a tributary state of a Muslim empire that was under British occupation for most of his life, he spent his evenings on foot, looking for pagan gods in their incarnate, carnal versions. He was a poet who resisted publication, save for broadsheets he circulated among close friends; a man whose homeland was a neighborhood, and a dream. Much of his poetry is a map of Alexandria overlaid with a map of the cla

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