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The Cretan Glance : The Syncretic Spirit in the Novels of Nikos Kazantzakis
SubjectKazantzakis, Nikos, 1883-1957--Fiction--Criticism and interpretation; Spirituality in literature
The seven novels of Nikos Kazantzakis' great period of 1942-1956, i.e., Freedom or Death, Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Greek Passion, Saint Francis, The Fratricides, and the Report to Greco, are examined in order to make evident the spirit of synthesis in perceiving the chaos of life the novels express. The spirit of synthesis is essential to the making of a myth for modern man. Myth is considered to be identical to a religion in that it structures beliefs and attitudes for a social group. Because the novels are heroic in scope and partake of the mythic hero cycle in expression, the delineation of that cycle as offered by Joseph Campbell in Hero With a Thousand Faces is used as a basic guideline to the spirit of synthesis in the novels. Pertinent sections of Kazantzakis' philosophic writings, i.e., Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises and The Odyessey: A Modern Sequel, are mentioned in order to determine the Kazantzakian framework within which the hero cycle can be applied. Interpretation of the novels and the philosophic writing is done in the light of English language critical writing about Kazantzakis and also the structures delineated in the areas of mysticism and myth offered in the work of Jung, Kerenyi, ancl Eliade. The major influences on the thought of Kazantzakis, i.e., Bergson, Nietzsche, the Christ and Buddha myths, and Marxist theory, are considered in a secondary light to the mythic structures in order to determine further the Kazantzakian frame of reference. The monomyth or hero cycle is found to apply in all of the novels under consideration, with emphases which illuminate Kazantzakis' evolutionary and vitalisticallv spiritual philosophy. The novels, read together as a single work, are seen as a single hero cycle--Kazantzakis' own. Symbols pertinent to this latter hero cycle are examined in order to ascertain Kazantzakis' failure or success in delineating myth for modern man. The symbols, principally "God" and the "ascent," are dependent upon making new the symbols "death," "freedom," "suffering," and "evolution"; the principal symbols "God" and "ascent" are interchangeable and coequal. It will be noted that these symbols are names of processes; the final symbol is the process of Kazantzakis' own life. All the symbols are those of failure. Kazsntzakis, although more honest and Promethean than any other twentieth century novelist in his attempt to delineate a structuring myth for modern man, falls prey to cultural lack of place for symbols. He is not a myth-maker for modern man on the level of Homer in an earlier time; the ultimate symbol of synthesis, "spirit," is not acceptable to modern man.