Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reading Kazantzakis as a friend

Judas sighed with vexation. This fellow just can't be caught, he reflected; he can't be caught, because he has no fear of death .. 

I have a friend who is Greek, who knows I like to study modern Greek poetry and pretty much all I can get my hands on, that's excellent from Greece. He tells me, if I want to understand Greece, I have to read Nikos Kazantzakis' Last Temptation. I've been putting it off for years, although I've started it several times. It disturbs me.

This problem arises because I want to understand my friend. I think I cannot do this without going to Greece, which I intend to take the time to do. Until then we meet in Greece by other means, and so this novel weighs on my mind as every Lent rolls around. 

I still haven't been able to read it except as an obligation to someone's advice. Coupled with the narrative's exotic subject matter, the ordinary problem of reluctance is compounded by the haunting question, What if I should like it. A bachelor resists a new passion, and can ill afford escalation in a rapport with a distant friend.

At the moment, he's deeply in the Balkans, for his final ski holiday of the season. I think of him at play in these ancient fastnesses of the Greek diaspora, fortress slopes, such playgrounds for the moment that their history all but vanishes in white. The sense that he's away seems to open a window for reading Kazantzakis as if it were one's own idea.

Sentences of friendship close upon us surrep-titiously, casting us into something that can't be contemplated alone. 

Judas, my brother, lie down next to me. The Lord will come in the form of sleep and carry us away. Tomorrow, we'll start off bright and early to find the prophet of Judea, and whatever God desires, that is what will take place. I am ready.

I am ready too .. 

Nikos Kazantzakis
The Last Temptation
  of Christ
P.A. Bien, translation
  pp 158, 206
Simon & Schuster, 1960©

Windmill, Mykonos
Photo: Norman Parkinson, 1962©


  1. You could have blamed me for many things (and many other temptations), but not for Kazantzakis!

  2. Yes, but you don't say you didn't recommend the book to me (I don't blame you for that, either). This is a pretty close paraphrase of the way you put the book forward to me. We were also discussing Elytis in that exchange.

    Would you not now recommend the book? I'm liking it more than ever; the fragrance of the paper is really coming out now from long shelving in moderate conditions, and yet there's still a fine texture to the pages.

  3. I recomemnd reading Kazantzakis. I just think you could have started reading first his "Travels"(I've only read "Travels in Greece, Journey to Morea"). My personal favourite though is his "Report to Greco".

  4. Why, then you must publish Greco's response, dear fellow. You're terribly observant and articulate and it's about time to pop a little paragraph into your page - for fellowship's sake, if nothing else. :)