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Kazantzakis: Politics of the Spirit, Volume 2

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 634
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    Book Description:

    Putting Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis's vast output into the context of his lifelong spiritual quest and the turbulent politics of twentieth-century Greece, Peter Bien argues that Kazantzakis was a deeply flawed genius--not always artistically successful, but a remarkable figure by any standard. This is the second and final volume of Bien's definitive and monumental biography of Kazantzakis (1883-1957). It covers his life after 1938, the period in which he wroteZorba the GreekandThe Last Temptation of Christ, the novels that brought him his greatest fame.

    A demonically productive novelist, poet, playwright, travel writer, autobiographer, and translator, Kazantzakis was one of the most important Greek writers of the twentieth century and the only one to achieve international recognition as a novelist. But Kazantzakis's writings were just one aspect of an obsessive struggle with religious, political, and intellectual problems. In the 1940s and 1950s, a period that included the Greek civil war and its aftermath, Kazantzakis continued this engagement with undiminished energy, despite every obstacle, producing in his final years novels that have become world classics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2442-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Technical Notes
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Kazantzakis’s Attraction to Fascism and Nazism In the 1930s
    (pp. 1-15)

    In the first volume of this study I treated theOdysseyas a “mythification” of Kazantzakis’s experiences up to 1929—a reworking on the plane of imagination of his frustrating attempts at action on the plane of reality. I also presented an articulation of “freedom,” Kazantzakis’s new “political” stance that had followed both nationalism and leftism, not to mention Buddhism.When we come to a discussion ofReport to Grecoat the end of this second volume, we will see Kazantzakis once again asserting this “freedom” as the goal of his spiritual journey, but calling it now “Odysséas.”


  7. CHAPTER TWO Travel Writing
    (pp. 16-21)

    The material on Spain and on the Peloponnesus to be discussed in the next two chapters obviously comes from Kazantzakis’s travel writings. Thus it will be appropriate here to detour briefly in order to recognize Kazantzakis’s accomplishments in this genre. So much has been written about him as a novelist that we may forget that travel writing was generally considered his forte by the Greeks—at least until non-Greeks began to convince folks in Greece that they ought to pay some attention to the novels. By 1946, the year thatAléxis Zorbáswas first published in Greece, he had already...

    (pp. 22-32)

    In chapter 1 we examined Kazantzakis’s attitude toward Hitler, and more generally toward war, circa 1932–1940, as he wavered between the dictates of the heart and the mind; we saw him awarding his allegiance (although not without misgivings) to aloofness, dedicating himself to a future synthesis.

    His basic political attitudes derive from ideas established well before the 1930s; yet they were sharpened and concentrated during his contact with the political situation in Spain, where he sojourned for almost six months during peacetime (October 1932–March 1933) and then returned for forty days (October–November 1936) during the Spanish civil...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Journey to the Morea
    (pp. 33-42)

    A great deal happened to Kazantzakis and to Greece between his return from Spain and his decision almost four years later to beginAléxis Zorbás. He reached home from Spain at the end of November 1936, after interviewing both Unamuno and Franco. He completed his articles forKathimeriní, then set to work on the sixth draft of theOdyssey.In the summer of 1937 he wrote the playOthello Returnsand the terzinas “Alexander the Great,” “Grandfather-Father-Grandson,” and “Christos” (Eleni Kazantzaki 1977:413, 1968a:344). Then, to earn his living, he began a series of fictionalized biographies that were to be published...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Greek Politics, 1922–1936; Metaxás
    (pp. 43-59)

    The nature of the regime that established itself on 4 August 1936 is probably best conveyed by its suppression of intellectual life. Pericles’ Funeral Oration was expunged from school curricula, Sophocles’Antigonecould not be licensed for performance until passages critical of authority had been removed, the Chair of Constitutional Law at the University of Athens was abolished, and so forth.

    Metaxás’s ideal was a corporate state “to be built about the simple and categorical loyalties to king, country, religion, and family in which individual interests would be transcended by more spiritual values, drawn from genuinely Greek sources and not...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Writings ca. 1935–1939: Jardin des rochers
    (pp. 60-80)

    I have concentrated so far on Kazantzakis’s external life during the 1930s. Of the books that he produced during this period (aside from theOdyssey) I have discussed onlySpain, Journey to the Morea, and (to some degree, in chapter 1)England, a list that does not exhaust even the travel volumes, sinceJapan-Chinaappeared in 1938, collected from the articles written and published in 1935. In addition, Kazantzakis employed these same materials for the novelLe Jardin des rochers, composed directly in French at the beginning of 1936.¹ Most important, however, were three ambitious plays:Othello Returns, written in...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Writings ca. 1935–1939: Othello Returns
    (pp. 81-85)

    The remaining imaginative works completed between 1935 and 1939 are the playsOthello Returns,Melissa, andJulian the Apostate. The first was written in the summer of 1937, the second in the late autumn of the same year, after a fortnight touring the Peloponnesus in September.Julianwas written two years later, in England.

    In connection withOthello Returns, which bears the rubric “a comedy à la Pirandello,” we must remember two things. First, in 1936—after having finishedLe Jardin des rochers, having thought about “En fumant,” and having composed a draft of “Mon père”—Kazantzakis translated Pirandello’sQuesta...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Writings ca. 1935–1939: Melissa
    (pp. 86-99)

    Melissais one of Kazantzakis’s major works. Primarily philosophical in orientation—its chief theme (once again) is reality is versus illusion— it also has political interest, if only because its external fortunes show how politics inhibited Kazantzakis’s commercial success in the short run but, strangely, aided him in the long run. Albert Camus esteemed the play (Prevelakis 1965b:584)and Nikifóros Vrettákos (1960:571)thought it the best of Kazantzakis’s dramas. Kazantzakis himself must have agreed, forMelissawas the theatrical work that he tried hardest to have produced not only in Greece but also in France and England, as we shall see.


  14. CHAPTER NINE Writings ca. 1935–1939: Julian the Apostate
    (pp. 100-110)

    Julian the Apostatewas written in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in late September 1939 at Hall’s Croft, the house of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna, in an atmosphere of Britain’s recent declaration of war against Germany, and evacuated children.Although it was dashed off in three weeks, Kazantzakis submitted it to the Royal Theater in Athens where— predictably—it was rejected (Prevelakis 1965b:498).¹ In 1948 he translated the play into French along withMelissaand several other dramas he had written in the meantime (Prevelakis 1965b:584). Directed by Georges Carmier,Julianreceived a single performance in French on 19 June of the same year at...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Period 1940–1944: The Albanian Campaign and Axis Occupation
    (pp. 111-133)

    Kazantzakis returned from England to Aegina in December 1939. Except for a trip to Crete before Greece was invaded and some brief sojourns in Athens that the German commandant allowed him during the occupation, he was destined to remain on Aegina until the enemy withdrew in the autumn of 1944. Thus he had four uninterrupted years to elaborate hiskravyías the world crumbled around him.

    His productivity during these years was extraordinary. At the top of the list are the playBuddha, which he later considered most appropriate for his swan song (Prevelakis 1965b:715), and the novelThe Life...

    (pp. 134-143)

    In the spring of 1941, Kazantzakis embarked on one of his most ambitious works, the playYangtze, now known asBuddha. If we consider the seven months from Mussolini’s invasion of Greece on 28 October 1940 until the capture of Crete by the Germans at the end of May 1941, we see in condensed form the whole of human existence as Kazantzakis had conceived it previously and had expressed it in earlier works. In the successful Greek defense against Mussolini we see the quixotic effort of a nation to do the impossible; then in the rapid German victory we see the...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Aléxis Zorbás: A Philosophical Interpretation
    (pp. 144-156)

    Zorba the Greekwas Kazantzakis’s first great success. In part because of Michael Cacoyannis’s movie starring Anthony Quinn, it remains Kazantzakis’s most widely known novel. It may also be his most poorly understood novel. Few people realize, for instance, that even the titleZorba the Greekis incorrect—supplied by the publisher, not the author. In Greek the title is Bíoς χαi πολιτεία του Λλέξη Ζορμπά, which might be translated as “The Life and Times of Aléxis Zorbás” or (better) “The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Aléxis Zorbás” on analogy with Daniel Defoe’sThe Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Aléxis Zorbás: A Political Interpretation
    (pp. 157-164)

    The philosophical interpretation ofAléxis Zorbásoffered in the previous chapter must now be supplemented by a political interpretation. It is fine (up to a point) to interpret books as projecting certain general truths. But we should also place a book in its historical and autobiographical contexts, worrying about precisely when it was written and what was happening to its author at the time.That is why I wish to proceed now to a political interpretation.With luck, the political reading ofAléxis Zorbáswill complement, rather than contradict, the philosophical reading just concluded, demonstrating the very Greek nature of this novel....

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Prometheus Trilogy and Greekness
    (pp. 165-196)

    Kazantzakis finished the second draft ofAléxis Zorbásin May 1943 and then reworked some or all of his previous manuscripts:Buddha, theIliad, theDivine Comedy. In early August he began his ambitious Prometheus trilogy, resolving, as we have seen, “to execute well, incessantly, the creative work left me before I die” (Prevelakis 1965b:513). He assured himself that this was his way of cooperating with the disintegrating universe. As for direct action to set the world right again, that would come as soon as the Germans left. He wrote to Angelos Sikelianós on 1 October 1943:“I want to liberate...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Kapodístrias
    (pp. 197-223)

    I have argued that Kazantzakis’s choice of subjects in 1943–1944 was determined by a need to investigate his own roots and those of other Greeks throughout the full span of Hellenic history. Having evoked the ancient civilization by means of his Prometheus trilogy, he next turned to the modern period inKapodístrias, and thence to Byzantium inConstantine Palaiologos. I have already given some of the relevant chronology: reworking of the “Akrítas” sketches sometime between January and March 1944, rewriting ofPrometheus Unboundin May (Prevelakis 1965b:516),Kapodístriasbegun in this same month and completed in first draft by...

  21. CHAPTER SIXTEEN Constantine Palaiologos
    (pp. 224-236)

    I have maintained that Kazantzakis spread the subject matter of his 1943-1944 plays over the full expanse of Greek history—ancient, Byzantine, and modern—in order to reaffirm the unity and endurance of Hellenism, as well as to find his own roots.We come now to the final play composed during this period,Constantine Palaiologos,whose action takes place on 28/29 May 1453, the fateful moment when the besieged city of Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, the last emperor of “New Rome” dying on the battlements and the Byzantine period coming to an end.

    Kazantzakis began the play in late July...

  22. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Athens, October 1944–June 1946
    (pp. 237-272)

    Kazantzakis had immersed himself in myth during his years in Aegina. It would be nice to think that his move to Athens shortly after the liberation meant a move away from myth into reality. But Kazantzakis was an imaginative man, not a practical one, and when he seemingly left myth behind him in order to immerse himself in the grit of everyday affairs, he was really not abandoning the imaginative life at all but rather acting out the myths (one could equally say the metaphors, or the eschatology) that he had created for himself and the world around him.We have...

  23. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN London and Paris, 2 June 1946–2 June 1948
    (pp. 273-278)

    The period that began with Kazantzakis’s departure from Piraeus for England on 2 June 1946 and that ended with his installation in the Villa Rose at Antibes exactly two years later on 2 June 1948 was a time of disorientation. The trouble at first was his continued involvement in world problems when he felt cynical not only regarding politicians but also regarding mankind in general. Realizing this contradiction from the start, he pursued his activism in a forced way until outward circumstances, combining with his moral honesty, made him desist.Then, as soon as the chimera of continued involvement had dissolved,...

  24. CHAPTER NINETEEN Sodom and Gomorrah
    (pp. 279-291)

    Sodom and Gomorrah, although probably not successful as a theatrical work, occupies a very special place in Kazantzakis’s career, since it inaugurates the flood of creativity during his final decade. More specifically, this drama provides the interface between an uncreative period immediately preceding and the composition ofChrist Recrucifiedimmediately following. I suggest in this chapter that the artistic success of Kazantzakis’s most remarkable novel is not unrelated to the relative failure of his play.

    In Kazantzakis’s letters during his stay in Paris, he speaks of various plays and novels that “are taking on flesh inside me” (Prevelakis 1965b:567) and...

  25. CHAPTER TWENTY The Political Comprehensiveness of Christ Recrucified
    (pp. 292-327)

    Strangely, given the gravity ofO Christós ksanastavrónetai, Kazantzakis regarded its composition of as a kind of lark, a relief from his truly serious responsibilities as an author. In the tiny interval between completing the playSodom and Gomorrahand beginning the novel, he exulted in his freedom from “problems” and in the simplicity of owing allegiance to only one god, Epaphus. He felt himself no longer the anguished Boss ofAléxis Zorbásbut rather the simpleminded yet profound peasant/worker, Zorbás himself, the man who slices good-naturedly through all problems. On 20 June 1948, just as he was about to...

  26. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE The Fratricides
    (pp. 328-355)

    According to his usual practice, no sooner had Kazantzakis completedChrist Recrucifiedthan he began a new project—indeed two at once, as we shall see in a moment.The hidden subject ofChrist Recrucifiedwas the civil war then in progress in Greece. Yet, perhaps because he felt that the contemporary relevance of the work just finished might not be sufficiently apparent, he determined now to treat the civil war again, this time in a totally noncryptic manner.The FratricidesisChrist Recrucifiedrewritten in contemporary dress with the mythic element removed. Once again we have the crucifixion of the...

    (pp. 356-362)

    We have grown accustomed to abrupt turnabouts in Kazantzakis’s style, but none, I think,was quite so abrupt as the shift fromThe FratricidestoKouros. Nor, at first glance, is it easy to understand how a work as detached asKouroscould have been written at a time when Kazantzakis was still so anguished regarding the Greek civil war.

    In technique, the play involves a return to verse (more accurately, to verse paragraphs) and, of course, to the theater. This in itself is hardly an unexpected departure, given Kazantzakis’s denigration of the novel throughout his career and especially in “Chazáïn...

  28. CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Christopher Columbus: Kazantzakis’s Final Play
    (pp. 363-371)

    On 11 May 1949, when Kazantzakis began to write the play that he had provisionally entitled “The Golden Apple,” he clearly intended it to be classical in technique, short, unified, and limited to four characters (Prevelakis 1965b:608). The finished work is very different: long, with five major characters, a chorus, and two pageants or visions involving five additional characters, in this case supernatural ones. Nor are the classical unities observed; each of the four acts has a different setting, and the action involves considerable gaps in time. Clearly, the original conception changed over the three months during which the play...

  29. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR O Kapetán Mihális: An Epic Manqué
    (pp. 372-393)

    O Kapetán Mihális (Elefthería í thánatos)is probably the most lavishly praised of all of Kazantzakis’s novels. Even such an astute intellectual as Emmanuel Hourmoúzios could write,“Seldom, during these recent months that I have reëstablished my contact with Greek books, has a novel given me such joy . . . as this ‘Kapetán Mihális’ by Nikos Kazantzakis” (1977:226). Nevertheless, to my mind, this work is severely flawed both aesthetically and politically, however much it may appeal to patriotic sentiment in Greece. Kazantzakis started it on 15 November 1949 (Kazantzakis 1972:303; Dimakis 1975:23), three and a half months after completing the...

  30. CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Kazantzakis’s Long Apprenticeship to Christian Themes
    (pp. 394-427)

    Most readers, when they think of Kazantzakis and Christianity, think ofChrist Recrucified,The Last Temptation of Christ, andSaint Francis, all of which were written in the last decade of the author’s career. Behind these books, however, was a lifetime’s involvement with Christianity. Kazantzakis was not exaggerating when he told Reynaud de Jouvenel in the year of his death (1957) that throughout his life Christ had been “like a cyst that one removes but that grows back again” ( Jouvenel 1958:99) or when he sighed to Pandelís Prevelákis on 5 July 1951, a few days after completingThe Last...

  31. CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX The Last Temptation as a Religious Novel
    (pp. 428-441)

    Next toAléxis Zorbás, O teleftaíos peirasmós(the Last Temptation) is Kazantzakis’s best known work, having sold well over 200,000 copies in the United States alone. It is also one of his final statements, coming near the end of an extraordinary career. Yet this novel, which offers the fullest exposition of his religious philosophy, has never been truly studied. Instead, it has been either condemned or praised according to religious bias, and sometimes by people who have not taken the trouble to discover what it is truly about. The condemnations have come from religious conservatives and fundamentalists of various faiths.The Greek Orthodox...

  32. CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN Is The Last Temptation a Religious Novel or a Political Novel?
    (pp. 442-452)

    IsThe Last Temptationa political novel as well as a religious one? A political dimension exists, of course; yet Kazantzakis’s prolonged grappling with Christ would seem to encourage us to treat the book primarily, if not exclusively, in a religious manner. Pronouncements by Kazantzakis himself may be produced to support this position. A particularly clear one dates from 1928: “I am not a man of action and I cannot be interested ad infinitum in the improvement of a [particular] social order” (Eleni Kazantzaki 1977:237, 1968a:189). The context here is the Soviet Union and Kazantzakis’s falling out with the “man of...

  33. CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Kazantzakis’s Meta-Christian Saint Francis as a Model of Soul-Force Creating His Own Fate
    (pp. 453-523)

    Kierkegaard, speaking of religious people (1951:116–125), emphasizes their nonchalance. Because religious people have learned to love a supreme and immutable value (God), they are no longer threatened by lesser values that had previously caused them to despair. Now they are free to indulge all their earlier fancies. Following Saint Augustine, they may love God and do as they please.

    The supreme and immutable value that Kazantzakis had learned to love in this final stage of his career was art. Loving art, he found himself no longer threatened by the lesser values, whether sensual or ethical, that had previously thrown...

  34. CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE Report to Greco
    (pp. 524-546)

    Report to Grecois in many ways a continuation of Kazantzakis’s novelSaint Francis. We see this at the very start when we encounter as the epigraph Francis’s prayer (Kazantzakis 1956d:173, 1962d:178–179), the last part of which is “overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break,” forewarning us that Kazantzakis, too, like the saint, will tend to be an uncompromising absolutist devoted to excess.We see the same affinity again in the splendid prologue toReport to Grecoin which Kazantzakis displays the caring indifference that he had bequeathed to Francis. And we see it in the autobiography’s overall...

    (pp. 547-550)
  36. Notes
    (pp. 551-582)
  37. Bibliography
    (pp. 583-602)
  38. Index
    (pp. 603-610)