‘The Dual Masks of Nikos Kazantzakis’. Adele Bloch. Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 2. No. 2. Pp. 189-198.
Masks are omnipresent in the works of Nikos Kazantzakis. In real life, Kazantzakis was under the mask of Nietzsche. His fascination with masks can be traced to his visit to Berlin in post-World War 1, when a display of African masks at an ethnic museum made a lasting impression on his mind.
Kazantzakis sees the shadow side of everything. He perceives a deep unity despite the flow of appearances and contradictions. Kazantzakis’ world is devoid of an external God. His divine being, who is neither the Biblical nor the Christian God, bears the innumerable masks of nature and is a pure projection of the human mind who conceives it.
Kazantzakis create his own reality or express it by selected symbols. Kazantzakis’ masks can be equated with myths.
He felt most aware of the split of the powers of darkness pitted against the superior powers of light, although he realized that his case was not unique and that a similar battle prevails to some extend in every human being. He considers his writing to be the catharsis which would deliver him from his own inner darkness.
Kazantzakis’ personal struggle was also conceived on a higher plane as the perennial split between masculine and feminine spirits battling in an erotic fashion within him. He acutely felt the division within his own self: man, he felt, wants to conquer death, necessity and the treadmill of time, whereas woman adjusted to nature’s ancient rhythms longs to descend, to merge with archaic patterns rooted in animal, vegetal and even mineral past. This he tells poses a threat of enslavement and regression for the male spirit.
Only after the ancient myths had been unearthed, understood and superseded could a new myth be created with lucidity.
Kazantzakis, who was often described as a nihilist, disagree with the pessimistic mask that many have assigned him.
In all of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novels, plays, philosophical writings and also in his romanticized autobiography Report to Greco, masks occupy a noticeable place.
In Kazantzakis’ works, illusion reigns supreme, death is the only certainty and even death may be a dream. Yet his nature is permeated with extreme religiosity and a thirst for sainthood.
Kazantzakis freely chose his myths to express his own concerns and emotions without ever becoming their dupe.
According to Kazantzakis, conflict and dualism are the only erotic and creative forces in nature.
Kazantzakis viewed the world as resting on the twin tendencies of asceticism and sensualism inherited from his Cretan ancestry rooted on an island at the crossroads between orient and Occident, Africa and Europe.
Kazantzakis’ draconian discipline bears masochistic overtones, as he dismisses happiness as disgusting and subhuman.
Good and evil, Christ and Anti-Christ mystically combine and complete each other. In the clash between conscience and subconscious, a threefold unity is attained on personal, panhuman and prehumen basis.
True maturity had to be attained, after a thorny progress which included strife, indulgence, remorse, suffering and denial.
Kazantzakis plays a part akin to God’s, as he peoples and unfashions a world that is void and unreal. This is why the he, like the divine creator, wears so many masks: male or female, bestial or spiritual, daemonic or saintly.
Kazantzakis’ myths represent poeticized commonplace occurrences or figures transformed by archetypal associations and unconscious resonances. He projects the mythicized portraits of his ancestors, friends, mistresses and mentors from both real life and vicarious experience. Often Kazantzakis adorns the social face of a protagonist with a timeless mythical mask, while on other innumerable occasions he views it from the opposite angle and paints over it the features of his repressed shadow side.
Kazantzakis, primarily is dealing with his own personal battle which he transmutes into a work of art, while using his private experience as perennial raw material and though he may confuse the casual reader by the multiplicity of masks, myths and ideas expressed in his poetical creation, he displays one constant factor: he consistently shows us the struggle as its own end. To him, freedom was the ultimate goal, freedom from inertia and primeval sloth.