Monday, February 13, 2006

Nikos Kazantzakis Quote of the Day No. 4

[From Report to Greco, Faber and Faber, 1973, p174]

Would we moderns, I wondered, ever in our turn achieve the balance and the serene, heroic vision of the ancient Greeks? Every pilgrim, after he disengages himself from his Olympic dream, after he emerges through the museum door and faces the sun of our own day, surely, and with anguish, must pose this basic question to himself. For us Greeks, however, the despondency is twofold, because we consider ourselves descendants of the ancients. Thus, we give ourselves the duty to equal our great ancestors--and even beyond this, every son's duty to surpass his parents.

More on Nikos Kazantzakis Quote of the Day No. 3

[Clarification of previous quote]

Well, Panos found the source of the quote. It appears in Kazantzakis's Travels to Japan and China. I've only got a Greek copy in front of me - have no idea if it has been translated into English - and Kazantzakis is on his way to Kyoto, expectant, and contemplative on the joys of travel. The quote comes at the end of a paragraph that discusses the "thrill-of-the-chase" element to travel, on the one hand, and on the other hand, says that travel is like wine - you drink and your can't imagine what dramas will appear in your head. Of course, he says, when travelling you always find what is already within you. Without really wanting to, he says, from the countless impressions that arrest your eyes, you always chose those that respond to your own needs and to the curiosity of your soul. Objective truth, he suggests, exists on photo booths and in souls that gaze at the world without emotion, without a connection. *And here we are getting close to the leadup to today's quote* Whoever aches and loves conspires in secret with the landscape he sees, with the peole he meets, and the events he choses to witness. *And now the quote of the day* That is why, every good traveller creates the country in which he travels.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Nikos Kazantzakis Quote of the Day No. 3

Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Charlie Williams is "King of the Road"

Charlie Williams launched KING OF THE ROAD, the third installment of his "Mangel trilogy." The notorious Steve Kane was present.

Nikos Kazantzakis Quote of the Day No. 2

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.

Nikos Kazantzakis

Friday, February 10, 2006

Nikos Kazantzakis Quote of the Day No. 1

Leading up to the great man's birthday on February 18 thought I'd spend the next few days reading up on him. I'll post a quote a day, kicking off with his most famous one. One that appears on t-shirts in the tourist stores in Plaka.

I expect nothing. I fear no one. I am free.

- Nikos Kazantzakis

Of course, Nikos, I think, struggled to achieve this sense of freedom. He really really wanted to be recognised for his work. He chased after that Nobel prize, he wanted it desperately. But I think he did always struggle to overcome himself, his humanity, to release. I struggle with this. Is it possible to achieve?

Nikos Dimou, a prominent Greek thinker who recently started his own blog, has been contemplating the proximity of death and the desire for more life, more interaction, more more more. Having spent an entire life learning, reading, meeting people, how can one easily give it all up?

Is it possible to live fully and yet not expect more life and not fear the end of life?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Danes, free speech, and a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Found this comment and thought it was fitting. It dates back to 1905 and was spoken by a Swedish journalist, Johan Janzon, at the "Tenth International Congress of the Press" first published in The Athanaeum, London, I found it in the journal American Journalism Vol 22, No. 1.

There is nothing so foolish as a duel. For the man who insults another, not the man who is insulted, is dishonoured.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A brief intro to Nikos Kazantzakis

This article by Lewis Owens was published in the Philosopher's Magazine in January 2003.

Nikos Kazantzakis: a snapshot

Lewis Owens

Although many may be familiar with the novels Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, both of which have been adapted into films, few are as familiar with their author, Nikos Kazantzakis. Although Kazantzakis has a large following in the United States, and is becoming more and more accepted in his homeland of Greece, he has, as yet, failed to achieve the recognition elsewhere that he so richly deserves. Novelist, dramatist, poet and journalist, Kazantzakis's philosophy consist largely in a pioneering attempt to retain a spiritual world-view whilst heeding Nietzsche's devastating attack on metaphysiscs.

Kazantzakis was born in Iraklion, Crete, in 1883. He studied law in Athens before moving to Paris to study under the influential French philosopher Henri Bergson. In Paris he also developed a deep appreciation of Nietzsche, and soon afterwards became heavily interested in the teaching of the Buddha. He also composed travel books about his journalistic visits to Europe and the Far East. His magnum opus, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel consists of a monumental 33,333 verses and was completed in 1938.

In the latter part of his life he concentrated on his novels. One of these, The Last Temptation of Christ, was placed on the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books by the Pope in 1954. Due primarily to the condemnation of Kazantzakis's portrayal of Christ, permission was refused for his body to lie in state in Athens after his death on October 26, 1957. It was finally transferred to Crete and his humble grave now overlooks his beloved Iraklion.

He narrowly missed out on the Nobel Prize for literature by one vote in 1956 and remains one of the most highly respected writers of his time. Albert Camus, recipient of the Prize in 1957, claimed that Kazantzakis deserved the honour "a hundred times more" than himself. Other strong admirers included Thomas Mann and Albert Schweitzer.

Kazantzakis's work is linguistically challenging, at times conceptually disarming, but ultimately existentially inspiring. Many commentators have labelled Kazantzakis's work nihilistic and pessimistic, particularly in the light of his 1927 book The Saviours of God: Spiritual Exercises, which remained the philosophical backbone to all his subsequent poetry and prose. This work ends with the assertion that one must stand on the edge of the abyss and proclaim the terrifying secret: "Even this 'One' does not exist!" On the surface, the ending of the Spiritual Exercises implies that Kazantzakis has no religious priorities - the non-existence of God is to be heroically accepted with Nietzschean strength of will. However, in correspondence subsequent to its publication, Kazantzakis was at pains to emphasise its deeply spiritual content, resulting largely from his profound interest in the theory of "creative evolution" espoused by Bergson.

Central to Bergson's theory, from which Kazantzakis develops his concept of "God", is the notion of the élan vi tal, a pre-existent life-force that wills to become alive and ascend to higher levels of self-sconsciousness. Yet to become alive it must collaborate with matter, which it then seeks to "unmake" in a perpetually dialectical system. In this sense, therefore, the "abyss" or "Silence" is, for Kazantzakis, symbolic of a non-material "womb" from whence Bergson's élan vital (Kazantzakis's "God") can re-enter the material world and resume its evolutionary ascent. As self-consciousness is the prime channel through which this spirit flows, Kazantzakis asserts that we all have a duty to "save God" by preventing our own spiritual stasis.

Kazantzakis believed that his was a transitional age in which one civilisation was collapsing and another raw, untamed civilisation was emerging. In every age, he claimed, it is our responsibility to seek out and work with the most vibrant ideological movement that enables life's élan to ascend. The dominant aim in every society in every age is thus to further creative evolution.

This dialectic of destruction ("unmaking") and creation ("renewed manifestation") runs throughout Kazantzakis's cosmology, existentialism and politics - in sum, his "world-view". Kazantzakis predominately used the novel genre to formulate his philosophical world-view, whilst at the same time challenging elements of a religious, Christian tradition in which he was immersed but which, he felt, no longer spoke to humanity's existential concerns.

Kazantzakis seeks answers to the most profound questions that impinge upon our individual existence, whilst recognising the importance of the process of questioning itself. His work challenges the individual to act authentically in this "brief lightning flash" of life. We are called upon to 'save God' by overcoming spiritual lethagy. Moreover, it is our existential duty to do so.

Suggested reading
Zorba the Greek (Faber and Faber)
The Last Temptation (Faber and Faber)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Friend and documentary-maker extraordinaire, Angelike Contis, has a new work-in-progress called Muttumentary, a mini-documentary about the lives of eight Athenian dogs.

This comes as Athens is learning to become more responsible about the stray dog population in the modern-ancient city.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yo, Amerikanakia, you wanna know what we're talkin' about?

US Embassy spies on Greek telephone calls.

Naturally, the "government attempted to quell speculation yesterday that foreign agents were behind the eavesdropping," but
"location of the snooping phones has given rise to speculation that American secret agents were involved, since the US Embassy is within the area defined by the four masts."

Full article from Kathimerini

Probe into phone spying begins

Vodafone denies suicide of its technician had anything to do with mobile telephone snooping


A mobile telephony mast pokes out from the top of the Athens Tower in the center of the city yesterday. It was one of the four masts used to eavesdrop on around 100 mobile phones, including the prime minister’s.

An urgent judicial investigation began yesterday into finding out who tapped the cell phones of the Prime Minister and much of his Cabinet while the mobile telephony company at the center of the maelstrom said the suicide of one of its employees last year had nothing to do with the matter.

Magistrate Giorgos Aktipis was yesterday given the task of discovering who tapped the phones of key government and defense officials and how they managed to do it without being caught. Aktipis has been instructed to look into not just the breach of privacy laws but also the possibility that espionage was involved and that state secrets were compromised.

Fifteen people gave evidence in a preliminary investigation, including top government officials and officers from the National Intelligence Agency (EYP). Giorgos Koronias, the CEO of Vodafone in Greece - where the spy software had been installed - also answered questions.

Sources said Koronias defended his decision to deactivate the software, saying he did so to protect the privacy of Vodafone customers. On Thursday the government said that once the software stopped working it was impossible for authorities to trace where the calls were being monitored.

The unidentified eavesdroppers had installed the software on Vodafone's central system. It allowed calls to and from around 100 numbers to be diverted to 14 pay-as-you-go mobile phones, from which conversations could then be recorded.

Technicians from Swedish mobile phone firm Ericsson, which supplies Vodafone with its technology, discovered the software on March 7 last year. Vodafone deactivated the program the next day and then informed the government.

The mobile telephone company issued a statement yesterday denying any link between the suicide of a top technician at the company on March 9 of last year and the phone tapping. The man, whose initials have been given as KT, apparently hanged himself even though friends and family said he had shown no signs of being troubled.

Sources said that shortly before committing suicide KT had his resignation turned down by Vodafone. A prosecutor is now examining the circumstances surrounding his death.

The government attempted to quell speculation yesterday that foreign agents were behind the eavesdropping. Engineers discovered that the 14 receiving phones were using four mobile telephone masts within a radius of some 2 kilometers in central Athens.

The location of the snooping phones has given rise to speculation that American secret agents were involved, since the US Embassy is within the area defined by the four masts.

Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos categorically denied that US officials were responsible for the phone tapping. «Relations between Greece and the USA are, and remain, good,» said Roussopoulos. He also rejected assertions that the government had indirectly tried to finger the US Embassy by revealing the location of the mobile phone masts.

The government also sought to allay fears that national security had been put at risk by the recording of potentially sensitive conversations. «[The phone tapping] did not affect the defense or security of our country,» said Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos - one of those whose phone was tapped. «All the Defense Ministry communication that has do to with matters of national security or classified information is done through secure lines and handsets.»

Three left-wing activists and a journalist who were on the list of 46 names of people whose phones were tapped said yesterday that they would sue Vodafone and the Greek State for breach of their privacy and for failure to track those responsible. Nikos Sifakakis of the Stop the War coalition, who was also spied on, said he would take legal action as well.

«The reality is that the government has a huge responsibility because it is breaching the constitution,» said PASOK MP Evangelos Venizelos. Sources said the Socialists are considering asking for a parliamentary committee to be formed to examine the matter.

Synaspismos Left Coalition leader Alekos Alavanos accused the ruling conservatives of keeping «the Greek people and other political parties in the dark.»