Friday, 20 February 2009

Kostas Karyotakis: impressions of a drowning man

Thanks to Hermes for drawing my attention to the recent ERT series on the poet Kostas Karyotakis, one of the most troubling figures in modern Greek literature, who committed suicide in 1928, aged 32.

I watched the first episode of Karyotakis earlier and it was very good. Watch all six episodes (in Greek) here. Above is the opening sequence from episode one (with my English subtitles), in which Karyotakis tries to drown himself, fails, then succeeds in taking his life using a revolver. In between suicide attempts, Karyotakis wrote this suicide note:

It is time for me to reveal my tragedy. My greatest faults were unbridled curiosity, a diseased imagination, and my attempts to become acquainted with every emotion without being able to feel most of them. However, I despise the base act that is attributed to me. I experienced but the ideation of its atmosphere, the ultimate bitterness. Nor am I the suitable person for that profession. My entire past will show that much. Every reality to me was repulsive.

I felt the rush brought on by danger. And with glad heart I shall accept the coming danger.

P.S. And, to change the tone: I advise those who can swim never to try to commit suicide in the sea. All night and for ten hours I was battered by the waves. I drank much water but, by and again and without me knowing how, my mouth would surface. Perhaps some time, given the opportunity, I shall write down the impressions of a drowning man.

Karyotakis' last poem, written a month before his death, was Preveza.

Death is the crows clattering

on dark walls and roof-tiles;

death – those women who make love

as if they were peeling onions.

Death these grimy, insignificant streets

with their great, illustrious names,

the olive grove, in all directions the sea,
and even the sun – death amid deaths.

Death – that cop who wraps up

an 'Insufficient' serving and weighs it;

death – these hyacinths on the balcony

and that teacher with the newspaper.

Base, Garrison, Platoon of Preveza.

On Sunday we'll hear the band.

I got a savings book from the bank,
first deposit – thirty drachmas.

Walking slowly on the wharf you say,

'Do I exist' and then, 'You do not exist!'

The ship arrives, Raised flag.

Perhaps His Honor the Governor is coming.

If, among these people, just

one would die from disgust…
Silent, sad, decorous,

we'd all have fun at the funeral.


Hermes said...

Karyotakis, a tragic figure, but some of the most humourous, darkest and lucid Greek poetry ever.

John, your last few posts have been hilarious. Well done. We must remember that Comedy was considered as profound as Tragedy.

john akritas said...

I've been reading Aristophanes – highly recommended – so he probably put me in the mood. I did notice, in fact, that in the Great Greeks list Aristophanes came out ahead of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, which, if we took such lists, seriously, could reveal something about contemporary Greek temperament, outlook and tastes; that we find life more baffling and absurd than tragic.

Hermes said...

I intentionally watched the "Great Greeks" program with my mother and father to hear their comments. Very interesting. My father, a lifelong PASOK supporter but recently disallusioned, actually applauded the election of George Papadopoulos given the context of the decay of the Left and broader societal chaos. Although he has always demanded economic justice he has never wavered from being patriotic and socially conservative. I suppose there are many PASOK supporters who feel the same.

Furthermore, the bias of the commentators of the program grated. Florakis got off as a fighter of freedom but Papadopoulos was deemd one of the worst Greeks. Personally, I have never thought highly of either of them - opportunists and bandits really. Also, the presence of Lazopoulos (and the voting of him) made a real mockery of the word "Great".

Lastly, I am not sure of the voting system, for example, how representative it is, whether people could vote twice etc., but some of the rankings were ridiculous.

john akritas said...

I suspect that next week we'll find Ioannis Metaxas quite high up the list, which shows that history judges dictators not by the unpleasantness of their regime but by the results it produces in terms of taking the nation forward. Metaxas' regime concluded with one of the great moments in Greek history, Papadopoulos' with one of the worst. I was surprised that only 36,000 people have voted so far, which indicates perhaps that the exercise hasn't captured the imagination of the Greek public. I know it's only TV, but it's a good form of national self-analysis and means of enhancing national consciousness.