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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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Well, this book review has been far too long in the writing, and while my trip to Italy took place between the reading of the book and the current review of it, believe me when i say i’ve reviewed it in my head, in the critical way that i always treat Harry Potter books, so it is not just the emotional reaction that i had upon finishing my first reading of the book.

The period leading up to the book

I have to admit that during the two year gap between HP and the half-blood prince – a book which i enjoyed enormously – and the latest and final installment, i partook quite gratuitously in the whole world of predicting the outcome of the Harry potter series, going to the extent of analyzing past data scientifically, reading a good number of essays and predictions by fellow enthusiasts, and coming up with some theories of my own.  My good friend Jai, a fellow potter-adict (the man responsible for my own addiction) can attest to this.

I won’t actually go into any details, but suffice to say, that i ended up with much more meta-reasoning than reasoning within the framework of the stories themselves.  Mainly because as interesting a world as JK Rowling has created, it is alas! not the most self-coherent one.  I mean, i’m a tolkien fanatic, and i set his style of creation as the only way to go, somethign matched only by the likes of Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov.  But i try to not let incoherences in the Potter World take away from the immense pleasure they create. 

I had predicted that Potter himself would not die, and that Snape would.  Simple metareasoning.  Rowling wouldn’t disappoint and send into depression millions of young people by killing his hero off at the end.  And Snape had to end up as a good person because, otherwise how could you get the message across that everyone has some good in them, especially when love is involved.  For the same reasons i argued that the Ron and Hermione characters would survive, and believed that Neville Longbottom (one of my favourite characters) must die in a heroic manner. While Jai claimed thathe was sure Harry was a horcrux, i didn’t think believe it woudl be so, however, i was sure that the scar would have be a near horcrux, or a critical part of the final defeat of voldemort. Other predictions included a very high likelihood of Severus Snape having been previously in love with Harry’s mum Lily Potter.  Finally, i was sure that Dumbledore’s past would certainly have to be involved, especially somethign concerning the enigmatic character of Grindelwald.  I figured Grindelwald would have to be somethign based on a Hitlerian archetype, considering his defeat at the hands of Dumbledore was coincidental with the end of the WWII in the muggleworld.

While i admit, i did not venture too far from the standard sort of prediction i did happen to come across some very well-written articles and essays concerning the future of the varios characters, the most interesting of which i found over at, wherein the writer drew a parallel between Severus Snape, the so-called Half-blood Prince, and Macchiavelli’s The Prince.  The idea i thought was beautiful. And considereing Ms. Rowling’s track record for subtlety, especially in use of character names (didn’t even realize the connection between the Phoenix Fawkes and the infamous Guy Fawkes until a couple of years ago!), to use the name Half-blood Prince as a sort of, not just hommage, but a hint at the character of Snape.  In fact i personally thought and hoped that by the end the book would become much more about Snape than harry potter.  Potter, like most heroes even in the best works of fiction or mythology, is boring, and one dimensional (eg. Frodo Baggins, or Luke Skywalker).  Whereas a character like snape who is flawed has so much more potential and is so much more interesting (look at how Lord of the rings was so mcuh more about sam gamgee than frodo, or how star wars was so much more about anakin/darth vader than the straight up hero luke). 

Anyways, with these thoughts in my head, the days counted down, until finally, as detailed previously, i got my hands on a copy of the book at 2am on the 20th/21st of July.

The First Review of the Book (spoilers coming up)

I knew that if i wanted to fully immerse myself in the book, i had to read it in one sitting. So i started at 2.30 AM on the 29th and finished at 1.15 AM on the 30th.  I did take pee breaks, as well as food breaks. I’m sure at one point i passed out, but all in all, it was a near straight cover to cover read.  In hindsight i wonder if that influenced my very first impressiosn of the book. 

I will warn readers that from this point forward i will discuss SPOILERS AND PLOTSSLINES IN THE BOOK.


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So the famous Cannes film Festival has ended, and so the prizes were awareded. The Palme d’Or was given to the Romanian film "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," which depicts the horrors a student goes through to ensure her friend can have a secret abortion.  But …

The cinematic adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s "Persepolis" won the Prix de Jury at the Cannes film festival!!! Good for her.

Read about it here

[tags]france, cannes, film festival, satrapi, Persepolis, jury prize[/tags]

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Wow, JKRowling has given us a christmas treat by revealing the title of the 7th and final installatioin of the Harry potter saga. As if it wasn’t bad enough already, i can just see the wave of new theories coming out given this important bit of information.  Let the games begin!

So the 7th book shall be called:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

[tags]harry potter, final book, jk rowling, book title, deathly hallows[/tags]

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Da Vinci Brouhaha

So the windstorm surrounding this book and now movie continue, with denouncement and so forth coming, from teh vatican to Moldova. Since the opening of the movie, there have even been some book burnings. I dont know about you guys, but i think Dan Brown should be proud. There are several things i want to talk about regarding the book/movie. So first off

The Religious Reaction

I have one thing to ask from all those who are complaining about this book being blasphemy. Do you think this has anything in common with the Mohammad Cartoon debacle? Well i think it does. And i find it very hypocritic that many of those complaining this book, which is A WORK OF FICTION, is blasphemy; are those who were complaining that the mohammad cartoon’s should not be such a big deal, and it was and expression of one’s views, and to suppress it would be stifle freedom of expression.

Moreover, why do these fundamentalists beat their chests so hard over this. I mean, if you truly believe your religion, don’t you believe that Jesus will be judging dan brown in teh end? So just let him go to hell, if he chooses to.

Secondly i think that the main reason that the church is pissed off, is because someone else is trying to get into their bracket (i.e. make a whole of posthumous money off of Jesus). And they don’t like it.

The Critics Reaction

Now, i have actually read the book (it’s another one of those things that is Jai’s fault). The book was very entertaining, i’m not – anymore – ashamed to admit that. It was obviously well researched in terms of its facts, and well constructed as far as thriller books go.

I have not yet seen the movie, but I asure you that i will. However, the critics have been VERY down on the movie. I have a proposal as to why, I’m sure its a bit of a stretch, but who knows. I think the problem is that too many people have read the book and loved. The movie is a bit of a failure, for hte same that Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings was a bit of a failure for the die-hards of the work of JRR Tolkien (me included, although i only had major issues with the changes to the story in the Two Towers). This is the first time that popular mainstream book has evoked the kind of adoration that is usually reserved for cult books. And thus, so many people are familiar with the book and loved it that, naturally, they will never be really satisfied with the movie.

Moreover the book is rather long-winded and discussion based in parts, which is very hard to translate into a movie, especially if you want to truly stay honest to the book.

Having said all that, I am sure that i will go and see it at least once in the theatres.

Now, if you want to see a really good movie, go and see V for Vendetta. It is absolutely sublime.

[tags]da vinci code, dan brown[/tags]

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  • Filed under: Books, Cinema
  • Ubik


    Well, well, well. So i’ve finally been introduced to Dick.

    No, no, no you dirty perverts. Not that kind of dick. Philip K. Dick. I recently finished my first of his stories: UBIK. But let’s begin at the start.

    It’s all jai’s fault. He was the first to introduce me to science fiction. He kept insisting and insisting that read DUNE. “it’s different from other science fiction” he said. And I, in my youthful folly believed him.

    What originally started as me reading the first volume of DUNE just to shut him up, ended up with me not going to classes, or piano, or the gym, for a period of one month, so that i could finish all the six volumes. Something on the order of 3000+ pages in 4 weeks. Right in the middle of the second term of what was supposed to be my final year too.

    He was fine with that for some time. We had many discussion on various topics related to Dune, and why frank herbert was so cool, and what the heck did the ending of the final book mean, what with the net and the god-thingy laughing and so on.

    Time went by, until jai started to tickle my curiousity bone once again. This time it was Asimov. So i’d read asimov, since i was a kid. But only his non-fiction. In fact he is probably as responsible as anyone for my going into physics. His non-fiction books about the solar system and stars was what first got me enamoured with science. In fact i didn’t even know that he wrote science fiction.

    So jai started telling me about the FOUNDATION series, and how it’s really great, and that it’s right up my alley, and that i really should. And so i did. I started by reading PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION. Which was interesting enough. But unfortunately the bing reading did not stop there. I had to get all the other books. And then that wasn’t enough. I had to get CAVES OF STEEL, and so i read all the robot novels. But that wasn’t enough. (thanks to my brother) i read all the robot short stories. I even just finished reading NEMESIS (which was quite a disappointment compared to his incredible normal levels).

    So then you’re thinking it stops there. No. Seriously. He first had to infect me with the HARRY POTTER bug, before relenting finally. (more about harry potter later).

    So the point is that reason i went for Philip k. dick is actually NOT jai. Which makes all the stuff i’ve said to this point in the post, somewhat irrelevant. Well, we’ll just say that it was for atmosphere. So at the insistence of my brother. I took to reading dick. (also the fact that some of the best sci-fi/philosophical movies of recent times have been based on his writing vis a vis minority report, blade runner, total recall ….).

    So i took on UBIK. It was one of the most confusing openings to a story i’ve read to this point. Which adds to everything, in the sense, that you want to read on further for the sheer sake of understanding what the heck stuff means. His vision of the future unlike Asimov and Herbert is thoroughly distopic (which is visible to anyone who saw blade runner, and NOT visible to anyone who saw minority report). I have to say my favourite hting about his future, are the coin-operated home appliances and doors! Very cool.

    The story itself is very … incoherent at times … but somehow that adds to the feel of it. There are times, you’re reading when you suddenly ask, what happened just now, did we just leave the story. It truly feels like Dick has veered off to a daydream of some sort. But it works. At least for this story. The entire story is a meditation on what is real, and what is reality. The ideas are abundant, and not well explained enough to make them seem natural for the time. The characters with the exception of Joe Chip and Glen Runciter seem to flow in and out of one another.

    All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. IN fact i’m going to definitely read more of his stuff. One thing that bothered me about the story however, was the ending. It was like ‘huh’? what? What was the poitn of all that? i think he kicked it up a notch, one notch too many.

    So that is a short history of my first dick.

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    Kicking some Asimov


    - Isaac Asimov

    I can only wish that politicians would read more Science Fiction!

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