I remembered something Zorba once said: “I always act as though I were immortal.” This is God’s method, but we mortals should follow it too, not from megalomania and impudence, but from the soul’s invincible yearning for what is above. The attempt to imitate God is our only means to surpass human boundaries, be it only by a hair, be it only for an instant (remember the flying fish). As long as we are imprisoned in our bodies, as long as we are chrysalises, the most precious orders given us by God are: Be patient, meditate, trust.
When I told people I was going to Crete for a vacation with my husband, I got a lot of questions about why Crete. For one, Crete is a fascinating place: it doesn’t really matter what era of history you are interested in, it’s interesting: from the Minoans to WWII to today, Cretans are a fascinating group. Second, Nikos Kazantnakis. I remember when Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ came out, to massive pearl-clutching from all my super-religious fellow Iowans. The movie didn’t show up in any theaters near where I grew up (none did) and I had no money for movies anyway, so I didn’t get to see the movie. But I did manage to check the book out of the University of Iowa library when I got to college.
THE ENTIRE TIME a person creates, he has the morning sickness of the woman nourishing a son with her vitals. I found it impossible to see anyone. The slightest noise made my entire body quake; it was as though Apollo had flayed me and my exposed nerves were being wounded by mere contact with the air.
Had nothing gone to waste, then? Considered separately, each of my intellectual ramblings and sidewise tacks seemed wasted time, the product of an unjelled, disordered mind. But now I saw that considered all together they constituted a straight and unerring line which knew full well that only by sidewise tacks could it advance over this uneven earth. And my infidelities toward the great ideas—I had abandoned them after being successively fascinated and disillusioned—taken all together these infidelities constituted an unshakable faith in the essence. It seemed that luck (how shall we call it? not luck, but destiny) had eyes and compassion; it had taken me by the hand and guided me. Only now did I understand where it had guided me and what it expected me to do. It expected me to hear the Cry of the future, to exert every effort to divine what that Cry wanted, why it was calling, and where it invited us to go.
A rabbi of ancient times, Rabbi Nahman, had taught me years before how to know when the hour had come for me to open my mouth and speak, take up my pen and write. He was a simple, cheerful, sainted man who used to advise his disciples
How they too could become simple, cheerful, and sainted. But one day they fell at his feet and complained: “Dear Rabbi, why don’t you talk like Rabbi Zadig, why don’t you sort out great ideas and construct great theories, so that people will listen to you in a transport, their mouths agape? Can’t you do anything but speak with simple words like an old grandmother, and tell tales?” The good rabbi smiled. It was quite some time before he replied. Finally he opened his mouth. “One day the nettles asked the rosebush, ‘Madam Rosebush, won’t you teach us your secret? How do you make the rose?’ And the rosebush answered, ‘My secret is extremely simple, Sister Nettles. All winter long I work the soil patiently, trustfully, lovingly, and have one thing in mind: the rose. The rains lash me, the winds strip off my leaves, the snows crush me, but I have only one thing in mind: the rose. That, Sister Nettles, is my secret!” “We don’t understand, Master,” said the disciples. The rabbi laughed. “I don’t understand very well myself.” “Well then, Master?” “I think I wanted to say something like this: When I have an idea, I work it for a long time, silently, patiently, trustfully, lovingly. And when I open my mouth (what a mystery this is, my children!), when I open my mouth, the idea comes out as a tale.” He laughed once more. “We humans call it a tale,” he said, “the rosebush calls it a rose.”
Any discussion of this one blunts its meaning.
Once realism begins to reign, civilization declines. Thus we arrive at the realistic, magniloquent, and faithless Helleuistic era, which was devoid of suprapersonal ideals. From chaos to the Parthenon, then from the Parthenon back to chaos—the great merciless rhythm.The great artist looks beneath the flux of everyday reality and sees eternal, unchanging symbols. Behind the spasmodic, frequently inconsistent activities of living men, he plainly distinguishes the great currents which sweep away the human soul.
In the US, what have we done with ourselves in terms of art, education, and ideas? It doesn’t feel promising to me.
Every man has a cry, his cry, to sling into the air before he dies; let us waste no time, therefore, lest we be caught short. It is true that this cry may scatter ineffectually in the air, that there may be no ear either below on earth or above in heaven to hear it. No matter. You are not a sheep, you are a man, and that means a thing which is unsettled and shouts. Well then—shout!
Everybody deserves to shout, whether it’s by crocheting nice things or writing poems or dancing or tidying or cooking or writing. Art is in us, and we are entitled to do it at the pace at which it comes to us, snatching back whatever we can from the powers that demand more and more and more of us, lest we have nothing left. Fight that, both on your behalf and on the behalf of others who don’t have your privilege.