Sunday, 18 March 2018

Nikos Kazantzakis speaks

An unusual gem I found here on youtube. It’s an interview with Nikos Kazantzakis on French television, in which the great author discusses his novel on St Francis of Assisi, God’s Pauper. The interview is from May 1957 and Kazantzakis, who was ill at the time, died five months later, which accounts for his frail appearance.

The person who uploaded the video also provided an English translation of what is said, which is below. (The reference in the interview to ‘the one who must die’ is to Kazantzakis’ novel Christ Recrucified, which was filmed by Jules Dassin in 1957 as He Who Must Die).

Pierre Dumayet: that Zorba has existed?

Max-Pol Fouchet: Absolutely. Me, I’ve never doubted that he existed and I have even less doubts, tonight, ever since I‘ve known Mr Kazantzakis because earlier, Mr Kazantzakis was saying that he would have liked to be Zorba but he is Zorba. He is Zorba through what he writes, what he thinks, through his sensitivity, absolutely. Besides, I must say that the main character of what we refer to in cinema as ‘the one that has to die’, right? (I give this title voluntarily so that listeners can relate to your book more easily), well, he’s also someone who's very close to Zorba. Your shepherd who, at a certain time, chooses justice, chooses charity perhaps doesn’t dance, but, you know, he could dance. And I always get the impression that your books are very close to the principles of Greek mythology because your Zorba is, after all, a sort of Antée (Antaeus), if you will. He makes contact with the earth and finds his force there and he finds his strength and his order in this very earth, since, we could easily say, he’s an anarchist, he has an order that he respects and it’s that which is the order of the earth which is the Plutonian order by excellence.

Pierre Dumayet: Now, I think we should ask a few questions about [your novel on] St. Francis of Assisi that was just published. You told me that you wrote this book in gratitude, because Francis of Assisi saved your life twice.

Nikos Kazantzakis: Yes. I owed Francis of Assisi something, that’s why I had... I had the great desire to explain my gratitude by writing a book about him. And the first time he saved my life, it was during the German Occupation. The Germans... I was on a small island near Athens, so the Germans... We had nothing to eat. And I was almost dying of hunger. And everyone around me was dying. So one day, I received a letter from a Franciscan friar who lives in Athens. He told me: ‘If you would translate St Francis of Assisi’s biography, done by Jurgensen, then we will send you a case of provisions.’ So right away I’m... I received... it was a case that had marvellous things, almost unheard of, and I had forgotten them, meaning sugar, coffee, macaroni, rice, etc... And I wrote this book with a long prologue.

Pierre Dumayet: And the second time?

Nikos Kazantzakis: The second time was when I was very ill so, all of a sudden, I thought about St Francis of Assisi. I mean, I wanted to think about a man who was able to conquer death. And right away I thought about St Francis of Assisi. And while... I had a fever, fever, 40, 41, I don’t know how. And my wife would come, she told me: ‘Take this pen and I will dictate.’ And I started to dictate to her St Francis of Assisi. And poetic things, especially. One day, I remember that I told her... Because, you know, this book isn’t a biography, it’s a summary of a biography, the poetry and things that St Francis didn’t say but that he could say because he was [inaudible]. So I told my wife: ‘Take the pencil and write. I’m going to dictate something that St Francis didn’t say but that he could have.’ One day, St Francis saw an almond tree in the middle of winter. So St Francis said to it: ‘Brother almond tree, talk to me about God.’ And all of a sudden, the almond tree became covered with flowers. That’s very Franciscan, isn’t it?