Thursday, 18 November 2010
EXISTENTIALIST FICTION: KAZANTZAKIS
Kazantzakis is indeed the best modern Greek philosopher/literary figure who was profoundly influenced by the existentialist philosophical and literary trends in the interwar era when T.S. Elliot, Hollow Men and Oswald Sprengler, The Decline of the West were making an impact. My fellow Greek students in Athens, as well as my fellow U.S. students in the late 1970s, were captivated with Kazantzakis and other existentialists and Eastern philosophers. Was there an urban college student in the 1970s who had not attended a session on ZEN Buddhism or a forum on Indian philosophy? Kazantzakis' works became popular amid the cultural revolution in the western world of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when young educated middle class people were questioning the political status quo, western bourgeois values, and even the very foundations of western civilization like Christianity. Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, among other existentialist thinkers were of interest to a generation questioning everything from the war in Vietnam, to the white-minority regimes of southern Africa, and to Christianity, which appeared to be identified with the political status quo and with a decadent middle class society bent on materialism as a substitute for human happiness. Kazantzakis had an interesting life, questioning marriage and sexuality, questioning the ability of human transcendence, questioning all facets of faith while clinging to it. Questioning the foundations of western civilization just as did many of his contemporaries who lost faith in the rationalism of the Enlightenment after the destruction of WWI followed by Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, Kazantzakis tried to find that which fills the void in the spirit/intellect through writing which gave meaning to an otherwise absurd existence. Like most Greeks at a time of a collectivist peasant society not very different than Catholic Spain in values, he was profoundly influenced by Christianity, but his view is closer to Fyodor Dostoyevski's. The enduring quality of his work is that he raised the issue of human alienation, and he tried to answer it by relying on a combination of Buddhism, Christianity, and Existentialist thought. In both Zorba the Greek and The Last Tempetation he raises questions about what matters in man's transcendent spiritual life and in every day life, where meaning is not a priori, but it has to be defined for the moment. His message remains as pertinent today as when he wrote these works".