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The Cretan Glance

Odyssey: A modern sequelThis was somethign that i sent to a bunch of friends in email some time ago, but has stayed with me. It is part of the Introduction to Nikos Kazantzakis‘s The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, translated by Kimon Friar. Being a huge fan of Kaztzakis after reading his famous and controversial “The Last temptation of Christ”, and “Saint Francis of Assissi” you can imagine my joy when i found an old version of the Modern Odyssey at Elliot’s Bookshop, back in Toronto. I bought, and never read it. I decided sometime ago to find give it a shot, and i was reading the introduction when i came across this, which truly struck me.
i will apologize ahead of time, for the lengh of this, and i realize that you may very well not really even read the whole thing, but that’s alright. i dont mind. I took immense pleasure in it today, and i just wanted to share it.
All emphases are added by me, and i’ve occasionally inserted comments in the brackets and in green[ ].
kazantzakis“a man, writes Kazantzakis, has three duties. His firs tduty is to the mind which imposes order on disordr, formulates laws, builds bridges over th unfathomable abyss, and sets up rational boundaris beyond which man does not dare go. But his second duty is to the heart, which admits of no boundaries, which years to pierce beyond phenomena and to merge with somethign eyond mind and matter. His thrid duty is to free himself from both mind and heart, from the great temptation of the hope which both offer of subduing phenomena or of finding the essence of things.
A man must then embrace the annihilating abyss without any hope, he must say taht nothing exists, neither life nor death, and must accpt this necessity bravely, with exultation and song [how lovely ]. he may then build the affirmative structure of his life over this abyss in an ecstasy of tragic joy [ lovely and tempting]
A man is now prepared to undertake a pilgrimmage of four stages. At the start of his journey he hears an agonized cry within him shouting for hlep. his first stepe is to plunge into his own ego until he discovers that it is the endangered spirit (or “god”) locked within each man that is crying out for liberation. In order to fre it, each man must consdier himself solely responsible for the salvation fo the world, because
when a man dies, that aspect of the universe which is his own particular vision and the unique play of his mind also crashes in ruins forever
[how beautiful, anthropocentric and narcissistic].
In the second step, a man must plunge beyond his ego and into his racial origins; yet among his forefathers he must choose only those who can help him towards greater refinement of spirit, taht h may in turn pass on his task to a son whomay also surpass him. The thrid step for a man is to plunge beyond his own particular race into the races of all mankind and to suffer their composite agony in the struggle to liberate God within themselves. The fourth step is to plunge beyond mankind and to become identified with all the universe, with animat and inanimate matter, with earth, stones, sea, plants, … with the vital impulse of creation in all phenomena. Each man is a fathomless composit of atavistic roots plunging down to the primordial origin of things. A man is now prepared to go beyond the mind, the hart, and hope, beyond his ego, his race, and mankind even, beyond all phenomena and plunge further into a vision of the Invisible permeating all thigns and forevr ascending [sounds almost oriental/eastern in its implications, doesn't it?]
The essence of the invisible is an agonized ascent toward more adn more purity of spirit, toward light. The goal is the struggle itself, since the ascent is endless.
God is not a perfect being towards whcih man proceeds, but a spiritual concept which evolves toward purity as man himself evolves on earth. he not Almighty, for he is in constant danger, filled with wounds, struggling to survive; he is not All-holy, for he is pitilss int h cruel choice he makes to survive, caring entiher for men nor animals, neither for vitues nor ideas, but making use of them all in an attempt to pass through them and shake himself free [my note: doesn't this almost seems like a personification or humanization of some eastern beliefs? not to mention 'natural law'] he is not All-knowing, for his head is a confused jumble of dark and light. he cries out to man for help because man is his highest spiritual reach in teh present stage of his evolution. he cannot be saved unless man tries to sav him by struggling with him, nor can man be saved unless God is saved. On the whole, it is rather man who must save God [how beautiful....]. …
…The essence of God is to find freedom, salvation. Our duty is to aid him in this ascent, and to save ourselves at last from our final hope of slavation, to say to ourselves at last that not even salvation exists, and to accept this with tragic joy [so much contradiction, so lovely]. Love is the force which urgs us on and which descend on us as a dance, a rhythm. Injustice, cruelty, longing, hunger and war are laders that push us on. God is never created out of happiness and comfort, but out of tragedy and strife [wouldn't nietzsche be proud?].
The greatest virtue is not to be fre, but to struggle ceaselessly for freedom [i can't help shaking off the feeling that there is far more latent in that, than is evident on the surface] ….
….Nietzsche confirmed him in his predilection for the Dionysian….vision of life: ….of ascending life, of joy in action , of eecstatic motion and inpsiration, of instinct and adventure and daungless suffering, the god of song and music and dance; as opposed to Apollo, the god of peace, of leisure and repose, of aesthetic emotion and intellectual contemplation, of logical order and philosophical calm, the god of painting and sculpture and epic poetry. … however, that though this was for him a predilection and a biased emphasis, it was not at alll a rejection, but rather an assimilation of hte Apollonian vision of life.
…. he then recounts how Dionysus came out of India clad in multicoloured silks, laden with bracelets and rings, his eyes ringed with black, his fingernails painted crimson. But as the god proceeded into Greece, his adornments fell from him on by one until he stood naked on a hill at Eleusis. Dionysus, the god of ecstatic and visionary drunkenness, had turned into apollo, the god of srence beauty. such, wrote Kazanzakis, is the progress is of art. Ultimately kazantzakis wished to combine the two in what he called the ‘Cretan Glance’. [more on that in a second]
kazantzakis also took the exaltation of tragedy as the joy of life, a certain ‘tragic optimism’ of the strong man who delights to discover that strife is the pervading law of life, the ‘melancholy joy’ which Wagner discerned in the last quartets of Beethoven [the pleasure of paper-cuts some might even dare say].
Henri Bergson…For Kazantzakis, as for Bergson, intuition (allied to instinct) is a more penetrating and more Dionysian vision which seks the essence of things, but both based their ultimate hop on the itellect which, as it growns stronger and bolder in evolutionary growth, sems to embody best the highest forms through whcih the elan vital may find its supreeme expression. …. Kazantzakis writes: ‘they ar no successive degrees of evoltuion, they are simply direction whcih the same fermentation took. Difference of quality and not of quantity exists between instinct and intellect. Instinct knows things, intellect the relationship between things. Both are cognitive faculties … intution has the advantage of entering into the very essence of life, of feeling its movement, its creation. But it has one great disadvantage: it cannot express itself.’ Language is an instrument of the intellect. That philosophy which wants to interpret experienc and to understand the essence of things cannot do it with the intellect alone. ‘intellect must therfore work hand in hand with instinct. Only the intellect, says Bergson, can seek to solve some prlbems, though it will never solves them; only the instinct can solve htem, though it will never seek them……
‘Life’, write kazantzakis stressing his words by underlining them, ‘is what inspiration is to a poem.
Words obstruct the flow of inspiration, but nevertheless they exprss it as best they can. Only the humanintellect can dissect words, sor unite them, or delineate them grammatically; but if we are to comprehend the poem, something else is needed; w must plunge into its heart, we must live in its inspiration, …. only then may the words lose their rigidity and inflxibility or may the current rush on its way once more ….
Like all poets, Kazantzakis is not much a sytematic Philosopher as one who, reachign out the tentacles of his mind and spirit, and garsping whatever might bring him nourishmnt, sucks up all into the third inner eye of vision peculiar to himself alone, and moves the reader with an imaginative view of life so intense as to be, in truth, a new apprehnsion. Basic to all of Kazantzakis‘ visions, as to that of Yeats, has been the attempt to synthesize waht seems to be contraries, antithess, antinomies. [talking about the Cretan Glance] this eye, this glance, between teh eye of the Orient (or Dionysus, who came from India or Asia Minor) and the ye of the Hellenic Greece (or Apollo_, Kazanzatkis called the Cretan Glance.
He make two distinctions between Greec and teh Orint. the chief characteristic of Greece is to erect the secur fortress of the ego, th fixed outline which subdues diorderly drivs and primivite demons to the dictates of the enlightened and disciplined will. the supreme ideal of greec is to save the ego from anarchy and chaos. The supreme ideal of the orient is to dissolve the ego into the infinite and to become one with it. He writes: ‘odysseus does not, like th greeks, cast a veil over chaos, for he prefers, instead, to keep a sleepless vigil and to increase his strength by gazing into it; yet he never abandonshimself to chaos, for on the contrary, until the very last moment, when Death appears, he stands erct before chaos and looks upon it with undimmed eyes.’ This attitude toward life and death is not Greek, nor is it Oriental.
He then goes on to trace the origins of his ‘cretan glance’: the cretan bull-fights has no relation to thos of modern spain. [i found this final passage very beautiful] The cretans confronted the Bull – the Titan-Earthquake- without fear, with undimmed eys, nor killed him in order to unite with him (the orient) or to be released from his presence (Greece), but played with him at their ease. “this direct contact with the bull honed the strength of the cretan, cultivated the flxibility and charm of his body, th flaming yet cool exactness of movement, the discipline of desire, and the hard-won virility to measure himself agaisnt the dark and powerful bull-titan. And thus the cretan transformed terror into a high game wherein man’s virtue, in a dierct contact with the beast, became tempered, and triumphed. The Cretan triumphed without killing the abominable bull because he did not think of it as an enemy but as a collaborator; without it his body would not have become so strong and charming or his spirit so manly. Of course, to endure and to play such a dangrous game, one needs great bodily and spiritual training and a sleepless discipline of nerves; but if a man once trains himself an becomes skillful in teh game, then evryone of his movements bcomes simple, certain, and graceful. The heroic and playful eyes, without hope yet without fear, which so confront the bull, the abyss, i call the cretan glance”

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This is a very interesting discussion between two rather well-known and well-mediatized scientist: famous anti-god and anti-religion flagbearer Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss one of the many pretenders to the throne of former physics/astrophysics for the layperson champion Carl Sagan. It is a very interesting discussion, about the agelong conflict between science and religion, why do we need one or the other, and other such matters.

It is a series of 12 videos (they load automatically), with the final three being a Q&A session with the audience. Enjoy:

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-But we want to lose our Self, no?
-What do we lose it in then?
-You lose your Self in Being, you lose your Self in existing.
-Does this mean we come back to the image of the person enveloped in the wind?
-Yes. You lose your Self in somethign greater.  You cannot lose eyour SELF in desire.  Because what you desire IS for your SELF.  You can lose your SELF if you do NOT desire.  If you do NOT feed it.
-Then we cannot lose our SELF in desire.
-You can, because when you desire that much, you will be lost in your SELF.  You will YOURSELF in your SELF.
-But it is hard. Very hard.
-What can i do then?




This was a conversation i had with myself recently, when i was struck by a very strong desire.  It is painful especially when one realizes that you cannot have that which you desire this strongly.  I think that desiring is so natural that we do not realize how much of our sadness and hardships come from it. It is natural to want or desire. Be it a thing, a condition or a person. I don’t think i’m immune to it, if anythign i think i am guilty of it more than others even.  But it is hard to not desire.  We are naturally selfish being.  Why? i dont know, perhaps it’s a built in survival mechanism, perhaps it is something else.  Nonetheless, if we wish to attain a certain measure of peace, we must take steps.  With the eventual goal of ACCEPTING, FLOWING and BEING.

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At the Gates of the Underworld

Little red dragonflies are flying back and forth harmlessly all around me, engaged in seriously in their own business. The water undulates serenely. The white goose stands on the ledge at the edge of the water. Calmly, he looks around, takes a couple of paces back and forth and then returns to the edge. He looks down in the water. Another goose, this one with black spots on its body is in the water. At first glance he looks like he is eating or searching food, with its head under the water. But he’s not. He’s dead. Caught between a rock and the edge of the lake, his body is moving freely to the rhythm of the water. It is Death, in its purest, most natural form. Not ugly, nor beautiful, but something transcending these insufficient mundane and manmade descriptions.

The dominant sound is the wind blowing through the branches and leaves of the trees. In the distance, birds chirping, or a duck quacking. The red dragonflies continue to buzz around, oblivious to the events around them, oblivious to all but their own mysterious business. The white goose, still not uttering a sound, looks up, walks a few steps away, and then comes back again. Once more he looks down at his fallen comrade. A gust of wind shakes the leaves, and pushes some of the dragonflies out of their way. But they don’t seem to mind; they readjust and continue on. A troop of ducks is in the middle of the lake, swimming around leisurely without any particular aim. The dead goose continues to bob up and down in the shallow water, and his companion continues to stand guard.

Several minutes pass. The air and the water, and the creatures go on as before. Only the white goose seems to be aware. Only the white goose seems to care about the dead body floating at his feet. But he keeps silent. He occasionally looks down at his fallen mate, staring for several seconds and then back up again. What is he thinking? I know he realises what has happened. I can see it in the eyes. There is concern there, perhaps. But each time he looks up, his regard contains a sense of determination and acceptance. And then he goes on with his silent vigil, pacing wordlessly, soundlessly, and faithfully. The loyal goose then looks and stares in the distance, as though waiting for something. What he awaits, I shall never know, save perhaps at The End. He then lowers his head, looks at the fallen brother and resumes his silent, calm vigil. Which he will undoubtedly continue for as long as it takes.


How ironic, or perhaps rather fitting all the events on this trip have been. From a postman named Antonio telling us about the “Il Postino” connexion of the lovely island of Procida, to the young man Arcangelo appearing nearly out of nowhere only to guide us to the Solfaterra and now the Lago Averno, it seems that no event has been without its due sense of irony and fittingness. So now why should I be surprised at finding such a beautiful scene of Death and Life, at this lake, where in ancient times it was believed that the entrance to Hades, the underworld, the Land of the Dead was located. The poignancy of the scene, its simplicity and naturalness has utterly stunned me.

Nature or rather Life itself offers us lessons at every turn it seems. So much to learns from these geese. The acceptance of Death – and by consequence the acceptance of Life. The acceptance of the passage as a normal and permanent part of life. The ever present spectre of impermanence, the all permeating notion of transience, in every single aspect of existence. That goose knows that his comrade is dead. He knows it. And he accepts it. He does not go into denial, does not cry and beat itself physically or emotionally. He accepts because he has to. Because it is a part of existence. Because he knows – even if it may subconsciously or innately – that life moves along lines which none can see. And he accepts that, and yet he will stand by the side of his fallen friend.

Our resistance in accepting death, especially of loved ones, is borne out of our own selfishness. We mourn because it is us who are deprived of the presence of the departed. What would life be without death? Nothing. How can we try and separate the two when they are two sides of the same coin? Can we enter a room without leaving another?


The dead bird lies there as lifeless as ever. The companion stands guard as loyally as ever, not a sound being uttered. He will eventually leave. And he too will eventually die. And the sun will continue to shine donw. The red dragonflies will continue to buzz around attending their mysterious business as seriously as ever, and the wind will continue to blow over the lake and shake the leaves in the trees.


This was an excerpt from my Italy Travel Diary from this past summer. It was the penultimate day and we had just arrived at the Lago Averno, by a most tortuous and misguided of paths, dead tired and hungry, only to find the place utterly deserted. We hopped a fence, and my two companions collapsed on the ground and fell asleep upset in the midday sun (the photos are all courtesy of various – generous – people on the web)

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Iraq’s New Democracy

 Here it is.  A new survey by Johns Hopkins University has put the estimate of Iraqi deaths since the 2003 american invasion, at 655,000. I'm going to rewrite that in large letters for those who need to see it in large letters:

 an estimated 655,000 iraqis have died since the illegal american invasion of 2003

You know, you have to congratulate the United States of America.  They managed to do in a meager 3 years, what one of the worst dictators of the 20th century was unable to achieve in over 40 years of tyrannical reign.  

This should shed some light in the eyes of even those idiots who justified their country's illegal invasion of a sovereign nation under false pretences and fabricated documents, by saying that at least we got rid of that dicatator Saddam.  Yea well, i bet iraqi's are looking back at the days of saddam hussein with fond memories.  At least their mortality rate wasn't a humanitarian catastrophe.  

good for you america.  And you american, if you were real patriots, if you really cared for your country, you'd stand up and do something about your government's beligerence, before every other country on this planet decides that they are better off without the country named United States of America. If you were true patriots, you would have realized this long ago, and done something about it.

Otherwise it would be interesting to look at the history books in the year 3000, when in one little box they make a mention the brief but catastrophic reign of the United States Wannabe empire, and how they crashed and burned like every other tyrannical empire before them.

[tags]United States, america, bush, US, Iraq, death toll, Johns Hopkins, invasion of iraq[/tags] 

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Read this and weep. It’s nice to know that God is the one responsible for bringing about, the pestilence of W.

Here’s a teaser:

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Fusing God and Country

An interesting editorial from the ever-insightful editor in chief of the Toronto Star, Haroon Siddiqui :

Read More here …

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  • I am sick of running away. Did brave heart run away? Did payback run away? (to Mel Gibson) - - - Homer Simpson

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