Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nikos Kazantzakis: Feb. 18, 1883--Oct. 26, 1957

I first discovered Nikos Kazantzakis, not through his writings but through a film. I was so fascinated by the film Zorba the Greek that I went out and found the novel. After that, I searched for everything I could find by him. I now have around ten novels and several prose works--travel writings and some of his philosophical and autobiographical works. My favorite is, though, Zorba the Greek.

Zorba: on freedom

The Englishman, who in a way has been adopted by Zorba, is getting ready to leave. The Englishman says:

" 'Perhaps I'll stay here with you . . . I'm free.'

Zorba shook his head.

'No, you're not free,' he said. 'The string you're tied to is perhaps no longer than other people's. That's all. You're on a long piece of string, boss; you come and go, and think you're free, but you never cut the string in two. And when people don't cut that string . . .'

'I'll cut it some day!' I said defiantly, because Zorba's words had touched an open wound in me and hurt.

'It's difficult, boss, very difficult. You need a touch of folly to do that; folly, d'you see? You have to risk everything! But you've got such a strong head, it'll always get the better of you. A man's head is like a grocer; it keeps accounts: I've paid so much and earned so much and that means a profit of this much or a loss of that much! The head's a careful little shopkeeper; it never risks all it has, always keeps something in reserve. It never breaks the string. Ah no! It hangs on tight to it, the bastard! If the string slips out of its grasp, the head, poor devil, is lost, finished! But if a man doesn't break the string, tell me, what flavor is left in life? The flavor of camomile, weak camomile tea! Nothing like rum--makes you see life inside and out.' "

Zorba's santuri (a stringed instrument)

"He placed the santuri on his lap, bent over it, lightly touched the strings--as if he were consulting it to see what tune they should sing, as if he were begging it to wake, as if he were trying to coax it into keeping company with his wandering spirit which was tired of solitude. He tried a song. It somehow would not come out right; he abandoned it and began another; the strings grated as if in pain, as if they did not want to sing. Zorba leaned against the wall, mopped his brow, which had suddenly started to perspire.

'It doesn't want to. . . .,' he muttered, looking with awe at the santuri, 'it doesn't want to!'

He wrapped it up again with care, as if it were a wild animal and he was afraid it might bite. He rose slowly and hung it on the wall.

'It doesn't want to. . . .' he muttered again, 'it doesn't' want to . . . we mustn't force it!'

He sat down once more on the ground, poked some chestnuts amongst the embers and filled the glasses with wine. He drank, drank again, shelled a chestnut and gave it to me.

'Can you make it out, Boss?' he asked me. 'It's beyond me. Everything seems to have a soul--wood, stones, the wine we drink and the earth we tread on. Everything, boss, absolutely everything!' '

Zorba on dance:

" 'Why don't you laugh? Why d'you look at me like that? That's how I am. There is a devil in me who shouts, and I do what he says. Whenever I feel I'm choking with some emotion, he says: 'Dance!' and I dance. And I feel better! Once, when my little Dimitraki died, in Chalcidice, I got up as I did a moment ago and I danced. The relations and friends who saw me dancing in front of the body rushed up to stop me. 'Zorba has gone mad!' But if at that moment I had not danced, I should really have gone mad--from grief. Because it was my first son and he was three years old and I could not bear to lose him. You understand what I'm saying, boss, don't you--or am I talking to myself?' "

Zorba on getting old:

" 'I'm white on top already, boss, and my teeth are getting loose. I've no time to lose. You're young, you can still afford to be patient. I can't. But I do declare, the older I get the wilder I become! Don't let anyone tell me old age steadies a man! Not that when he sees death coming he stretches out his neck and says: Cut off my head, please, so that I can go to heaven! The longer I live, the more I rebel. I'm not going to give in; I want to conquer the world!' "

Zorba: the past, present, and future--

" 'I've stopped thinking all the time of what happened yesterday. And stopped asking myself what's going to happen tomorrow. What's happening today, this minute, that's what I care about. I say: 'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba? 'I'm sleeping.' 'Well, sleep well.' 'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?' 'I'm working.' 'Well, work well.' 'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?' 'I'm kissing a woman.' 'Well, kiss her well, Zorba! And forget all the rest while you're doing it: there's nothing else on earth, only you and her! Get on with it!' "

If you haven't read anything by Nikos Kazantzakis, then I would strongly recommend doing so, and Zorba the Greek is a good place to start. Perhaps you might want to try the film first; it's what ensnared me.

A link to the Cretan Museum Web page on Nikos Kazantzakis.

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