Kyriakos Margaritis: “We are obliged to write about love because people are hungry!”

4 jul.

Kyriakos Margaritis is Greek-Cypriot writer and editor. He wrote his first novel at the age of 16 and now, in his thirties, he has already published over fifteen. Some of his short-stories have been translated into English and German, while several novels have received prizes. As an editor, working for Psichogios Publications, one of the leading publishers in Greece, he has acquired the works of Catalan writer Care Santos. At my friend David Ventura’s last book presentation for “Someone talks about me”, Care Santos told the public about her Greek editor, she told us about literature in a bailouted country, and she told us about hope. She did this in Kyriakos Margaritis’ words, words that moved me and pressed me to obtain this interview, which she obtained through correspondence with her editor. I owe much thanks to Care Santos for her mediation, to David Ventura for writing his novel, to Amsterdam books for publishing it and to the fact that we came all together to celebrate it.

In your correspondence with Care Santos, you wrote some words to her that she read in public and had a great impact on me. You said that literature is also about our belief and hope. Is there still belief and hope in Greek literature? And in Greek people?

Yes, literature is about our belief and hope and, more or less, about everything that has to do with us, with our life as it is, as it could be and/or as it should be. We write, we narrate, in order to hold on to life, to breathe, in order to create our memories and that is, perhaps, the most important thing, at least as I see it. You know, ancient Greeks used to believe that Memory was the great mother of the Muses…! I think that there is a great truth hidden behind such a belief.

In any case, it’s better to return to modern Greeks, to my people – I am actually a Greek-Cypriot but that’s the same, I think, and I know that you (I mean the Spanish), of all people, can perfectly understand what I mean.

So, yes, you can actually discover hope and belief in modern Greek literature. Despite the fact that, in terms of European history, Greece is a rather new nation (approximately 150 years old!) we have managed to create an important literary corpus of poetry and we are on our way in creating an equally important corpus of fiction/novels. I don’t think that it’s necessary to remind you of works like those of Cavafy or Seferis or even Elytis. We have these wonderful poets, these martyrs of a deeper, inner truth and we can always return to them and discover again and again our true self – the one who is actually capable of loving other people, of being tolerant, helpful, able to realize the changes -even the painful ones- in our world.

Of course, the same thing happens when one goes back to read Lorca or Joyce or Dostoyevsky. Literature is our global country – our only humane home and hope.

Modern-day Greek literature (I’m talking mostly about novels now) stands against this global social-political and existential crisis and explores or tries to explore the possible explanations of what went wrong, tries to capture those moments in history when we made (as people, not as a government or a state) fatal mistakes, when we forgot to care about our neighbors or, even worse, our own relatives and inner selves. You could say that it’s a long study in Greek psyche.

I believe that young Greek authors are fully aware of what’s happening both inside and outside our country and they seek for answers that are not only provincial but global, equally important for us as well as for the people of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland etc. but, also, for the people of Germany, Sweden, Austria. We are all together in this game and we should play it really well if we want to keep our values alive.

There is no doubt that the great majority of Greek people are living in fear, many of them are even desperate – we had over a hundred suicides these last months! It’s a modern tragedy but it is our own tragedy, our reality and no one other than us is capable of dealing with it and prevailing in the end. We can be saved and remain “slaves” or we can save our own selves and go on living as free individuals. Literature can provide us with the memory, the inspiration, the hope and the humble power we need to make this salvation reality.

Literature can bring utopia to our present time and place. Of course, this is a continuous, non-stop struggle but that’s good news for us, for our people and, especially, for our generation. It’s news that says, hey, guys, here’s a really important mission for you, save your beloved ones, save each other.

Let me finish by saying that, even if there is belief and hope in our literature, in our stories, it’s always up to the people to take these stories, to read them, think about them and discuss them. Victor Hugo used to say that, when you are in the dark heart of abyss, you can still tell stories. Well, we are deep inside abyss right now so we must keep going, we must keep telling our best and most authentic stories.

Your last novel takes place during a financial (social) crisis in Athens. In which way is this european economic crisis changing literature and the literary world? Are authors more realistic? Are they more pessimistic, more reflective, and more revolutionary? Do readers appreciate that these new authors are trying to explore what the fatal mistakes were, that the authors are trying to find answers?

I believe that the economy is just the tip (a really fatal one but, still, just the tip) of this iceberg of the crisis that we are dealing with. The crisis has more to do with our societies, our values, our mere existence and deeper psyche. I think that we are living in an existential check-point right now and, whatever the results will be, it’s for sure that our world won’t be the same after the tragedy has passed – supposing that it will pass at some point…

So, there is a huge change for literature since there are several changes for our world and our way of living. One could say that this crisis provides us with a much more dangerous environment in which we are trying to survive – but not only survive. We must also live in this dangerous new universe and describe it, talk about it, understand it, realize it. We must live to tell the story! It’s not at all easy since everything that surrounds us becomes fluid, there’s no certainty, no security of any kind. Anything could happen – and that lies beyond good and evil.

In my last novel, I tell the story of a serial killer in Athens – there is no history of serial crimes in a small, Mediterranean capital city as Athens. But I’m arguing that the crisis is so deep that it actually becomes the matrix for this dark god to be born and kill young girls. And my killer is conducting his crimes not because his is just an evil man but because he wants to create a Modern Greek myth, a legend.

A new narration.

Only literature can create this new narrative for our people without shedding blood. So here’s another new challenge for literature: resurrect narration but to do it in a completely different way from what it used to until now.

To be more clear, let me refer to the perfect example (in my opinion) of this new kind of literature. Roberto Bolano. He is an author of our times, he shows a completely new way and I think that his prose and his style and his stories can talk about our century in the best possible way.

Of course, it’s a challenge for our generation of authors to go beyond this grand master!

I don’t want to sound too philosophical or anything but I strongly believe that we are reliving the death (or the exile) of gods – yet, we are now talking about modern-day gods, idols that we created after the Holocaust and after the fall of Soviet Union. We are watching these gods of post-modern capitalism (our fake need for more and more items and goods, our greed for money and power, our transformation into robots in order for industries to keep working etc.). We are watching these idols fall. Alas, they are falling on our heads.

And that hurts.

Therefore, it goes without saying that literature changes both in terms of language and theme since it is now not only trying to present life but to mourn it as well. We need a new tragic prose – and a new tragic comedy. We need brave clowns and comedians and since there are no such clowns out there, we have the opportunity and the mission to become these clowns ourselves! And what clownish divinity lies here!

Authors are re-discovering a world where all possibilities lie open and this is both dangerous and creative in a genuine way.

Adorno’s aphorism about poetry being “forbidden” after Auschwitz is once again important for us. I have often talked with fellow Greek authors who feel guilty to write, let’s say, a love story, because the crisis makes them feel so that they shouldn’t. I disagree. They say: “Are we allowed to write about love when people are hungry?”

What do I believe? We are obliged to write about love (amongst everything else) because people are hungry! We must dance with agony and Angst (even better than Kierkegaard did) and we must make love with desperation and sadness and pain in order to allow hope to be reborn, stronger and truer than ever. Sorry if I’m being melodramatic but that’s what I believe.

And it’s not about pessimism or optimism or even revolution, not as I see it. It’s about going down into the abyss and returning to reclaim Light. It’s about drowning like Paul Celan but leaving behind some verses, some lines, some stories—not for your Ego—but for the story of your community (your global community, we are in the 21st century) to be heard throughout the ages, the countries and the stars. We are down in the sewers but our stories can make it to the stars once again. We must be realistic, accurate and, yet again, lyrical, passionate, love fanatics and maniacs at the same time.

We must learn how to be “fortune’s fools”. And I think that we are getting better and better at this, our generation in Spain and Greece and everywhere else, even if we are not the majority for the moment, I think that we are taking some important steps towards the Light.

As for your last question, about the readers, well, I am sure you can guess the answer. The majority of readers don’t care much about these authors trying to talk about the problems and the mistakes and the dark side of our common story, of our common tragedy. However, that’s not a reason to quit or become disappointed. There are hundreds, even thousands of readers diving into these not so pleasant stories, trying to meet with the author and the meaning of the story, trying to meet with each other. This fact should give us hope and courage and strength to continue. Don’t get me wrong. I am a devoted pessimist myself – but, in my state of mind, in my world, this is the only reason to continue. When you feel that hope is dying, you must go on and save the story – and save hope itself.

You dream about a sort of international or global literature. You said young Greek authors’ stories are important for people in Spain, Italy, Ireland but also for people of Germany or Sweden so that we can discover other people’s worlds. Is literature, nowadays, taking this path or is there still a lot that needs to be done?

There’s no doubt that a lot still needs to be done – but I insist that this is good news for us. It would be really boring if things were different. I believe that there will always be a lot that must be done, this journey inside stories is a neverending one and, sometimes, I feel like this is an image or a piece of Eternity – honestly! You see, Eternity would be really boring if it was just a timeless present, a still / dead life of “happiness” with no essence, movement, constant changing and transformation.

Instead of this, I believe that Eternity (and, thus, our very own literary adventure) is a fluid universe, a return with no ending, a continuous effort of getting closer and closer to real life, to Life without Death, to Light. Let me say this in a simpler way: Our journey doesn’t end in Ithaca. We also have to go back to the palace as Ulysses did. We must fight, we must reclaim our bride, Penelope. And even after that, we must learn how to love and care for her – and this love, this exploration of our lover’s universe cannot end.

So, to go back to your question, yes, I believe that modern literature goes towards this global dream, this vision of a global community – and, oh, think, dear Nereida, think of the words: Community. As George Steiner (and Heidegger, of course) used to say, community is something much more than society, something much more real. You don’t need to be a Christian to know that Community and (Holy) Communion mean the same. I am saying that, of course, we must learn to be citizens of Europe and citizens of the whole world but that still won’t be our fulfillment. We must keep struggling in order to be members of a community, members of the same family.

We are not natural born Humans, you know. We are transforming into Humans and we must fight for it. As Nietzsche said: “become who you are”. Well, let’s become Humans since that’s what we are. It’s not at all an easy job, you know that.

Literature (and art in general) is the best way we have to keep struggling towards this way. Imagine a world that functions and works like a real family – neither a divine one nor a divided one, of course. Just a true, honest, humane family.

It’s simple. That is why it is so difficult.

In any case, I think that young authors all over the world are getting closer and closer to make this happen. Our stories are offers, donations. Our stories are gifts we are making to each other. When I’m telling you my story and my people’s story, it is as if I am coming to your house for a visit, I’m knocking on your door and I’m asking you to let me in, to listen to my story and tell me yours and, after that or, even better, while doing that, we can drink some wine, listen to some music, watch the world keep spinning and spinning, dancing in the secret rhythm of our breath.

We must keep breathing and that’s why I have my faith in Literature. Because words are the keys that allow us to keep breathing and this air around us, this air that keeps us alive, well, this air is what we share, what we create and what we give to each other.

What is it like to live in Athens nowadays? I know it is a typical question but I think the answer is very interesting. A few days ago, I came across a report about the growing citizen journalism in Greece and the people interviewed criticized traditional media. They said. “It’s all about numbers and we don’t wanna talk about numbers”. In the other European countries, what we hear about Greece is often about numbers, elections and political resignations, but what about people’s life and stories? Which are the most relevant changes you have noticed? Which ones have had an impact on you – beyond these terrible suicides you have already mentioned?

I absolutely agree that this is a really important and not at all typical question. Don’t forget that these everyday life stories is the mere source, the best material for great literature – the opus of a living human being, the adventure of man in our world, this is what we care about, this what we talk and listen about and yet, sometimes we are missing the point.

Numbers are often used to blur the picture. I often think that talking about numbers is a noble way of lying – but they are lies, nevertheless. And the worst part is that we tend to forget that behind these numbers lie human faces – shouting, laughing, crying.

Kissing – sometimes…!

But let’s go back to Athens’ everyday life. I think that if I were living in another European country and I knew about Athens (and Greece, in general) just from watching the news, I would actually believe that people in Greece are carrying weapons or that they are already killing and eating each other – or just dying from hunger etc. I am trying to say that we must be careful not to exaggerate. Things are bad enough without exaggerations that do nothing else but give a wrong picture.

That’s why it is so important for our story to be heard and read. That’s why it is important to be honest with ourselves and others and to try and tell the truth.

So, an everyday walk in Athens downtown would be revealing. You would feel the sadness and the frustration in the air, that’s for sure. The “voices” on the walls, “voices” of paint – and pain. Several shops that have permanently closed, lights that have gone out, beggars and junkies and fearful faces of old people looking suspiciously behind their backs.

Yes, these things exist and one can see them just by going to the office or by hanging around. And they emerged straight out of the crisis.

However, at the same time, we are struggling not to give up. So, apart from the sad sights I described, one can also see students discussing and laughing at bars and coffee houses and pubs, you can see couples kissing in the middle of the street, you can see tourists (yes, they still come) walking up and down in our squares and the legendary (and quite kitsch, of course) taverns of Plaka etc.

Life goes on – for better or worse, one way or another.

The important thing, for me, is not to waste this chance that we have been given – because of the crisis, that is. I mean that we must keep life going on but, at the same time, we cannot forget the pain of that junkie who is slowly dying just next to us – while we are drinking our beer and discussing about art and politics etc.

And that’s where literature kicks in – as our consciousness or, better yet, as our very own bleeding heart. Literature will prevent us from forgetting or just pretending that everything’s alright.

You know, Plato used to say that Greeks are “eternal children”. I’ve visited Spain and I think that the same can be said about you too – and for several other European people. It’s really good to be children forever.

But it’s also important to be children at heart – and an elder at state of mind, at wisdom. So let us combine this childish, tender heart of us with the mind and the insight of an elder and let’s prevail and let’s make our everyday story a really fascinating one for the generations to come and for our own selves to celebrate.

How do you imagine the way out of this crisis? You told me a few in our email exchange before today: “It depends on us”. In which way?

Let me stick to my Ithaca metaphor. You see, for Ulysses, the Ithaca that he left behind in order to go to war and the Ithaca that he found twenty years later when he returned home were two completely different islands. By this, I’m trying to say that we need to return but this return, this new homecoming of ours will be to a completely new and unknown country – to a no man’s land that we need to discover (or to create) and where we will build once again our kingdom, our humble and humane kingdom, not this tyranny of capitalism (or communism or fascism, of course!) that we used to “enjoy” until today.

So, our way out of the crisis is straight forward. We must make a step out of this foul circle, out of this stupid zero – this nothingness. It would be really a shame if we just wanted to go back to a pro-crisis situation. That is why I insist so much to say that this is mostly an existential crisis rather than a financial one. If economy were our only problem, well, several of us would just die out from hunger (sorry if being cynic but I have to in order to present my case) and, after several years, global capitalism would be just fine again and the whole play would start all over and, and, and…

And so it goes – as Vonnegut used to say, with his magnificent and bitter humor.

I am saying that we must decline and refuse the temptation of going backwards. We must not revive our dark idols of greed and fake needs. We must learn how to live differently.

We must learn once again (or for the very first time) how to breathe normally, correctly, humanly.

It depends on us – of course. We need to believe this in order to make it happen. And how is it depended on us? Well, if we remember that by saving a life we are saving the whole world, we will start to realize what I mean.

You know, there is a film by great Tarkovsky where an old man, a very old man, wakes up every morning, goes to the sink, fills a cup with water and, after that, he sheds the water back in the sink. It seems stupid, right? But this old man does it again and again with no obvious reason.

What’s his reason? Well, he feels that this is his mission in order to save humanity. He actually believes that if he didn’t wake up every morning and didn’t fill and empty that cup of water – well, the whole world would be destroyed!

I hope that you understand what I’m saying here. We don’t have to fill and empty cups of water. But we must learn how to live for others as well as for ourselves. We are not alone here. We are all together in this and we must learn to live dangerously. Living dangerously doesn’t mean to go jump over cliffs and mountains!

Living dangerously means to love without terms, without end, without negotiations. Love to death – the death of you. Love as a constant sacrifice. This is the only way to save ourselves from the crisis and retain our freedom.

In any other case, some “boss” or some “humanitarian” or some other modern tyrant will come and will give us some money and will feed us and then he will make us obey him and… That’s a form of dictatorship and we have had enough of dictators of any kind.

We must learn how to put others before ourselves – this is community, this is the one and only extreme sport we ought to be good at. Because, my dear Nereida, it is an extreme sport to climb on the Cross of martyrdom just for your beloved ones to live – to live in freedom!

Let’s be gods for each other – that would be a good change. And, in order to be god, we must realize what god that is. Not a tyrant, not a ruler, not an avenger. No, our god is a humble servant, he is a brave clown, a comedian, a fortune’s fool. This is the only god we need, the only god we believe in.

We: our generation, our people, you and me – all of us. Let’s hope that we will really soon see the face of this god. Trust me, it will be the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen. It will be a face made of all faces, it will have Johan’s chin and Jean-Paul’s nose, perhaps, it will have Nereida’s eyes and Ingrid’s lips and we will all be there, somewhere amongst eyes and eyelids and lips that are made for story-telling, singing and kissing and lips that are also made for the most divine sound of all ages.

The sound of our silence when we are dreaming the same (and yet unique) dream of two people loving each other.

And that’s god. And that’s beauty. Which will save the world once again – that’s a promise.

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Una resposta to “Kyriakos Margaritis: “We are obliged to write about love because people are hungry!””

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  1. Kyriakos Margaritis: “Hem d’escriure històries d’amor perquè la gent passa gana” « Nereida Carrillo - Juliol 5, 2012

    […] Kyriakos Margaritis és un escriptor i editor grecoxipriota. Va escriure la seva primera novel·la als 16 anys i ara, en la trentena, ja n’ha publicat més de quinze. Algunes han estat traduïdes a l’anglès i l’alemany; altres li han valgut el reconeixement de premis importants. Com a editor, treballa a Psichogios Publicacions, una de les principals editorials de Grècia, que publica en grec les obres de l’escriptora catalana Care Santos. En la presentació a Barcelona del llibre “Algú parla de mi”, de l’amic David Ventura, l’escriptora catalana va parlar del seu editor grec, de la literatura en un país rescatat, i d’esperança. I ho va fer amb unes paraules que han mogut i enceten aquesta entrevista, feta originalment en anglès, amb una cadena de mails, gràcies a la intermediació de Care Santos, a que un dia David Ventura va escriure una novel·la, a què Amsterdam Llibres l’ha publicat i a què ens vam trobar tots per celebrar-ho. (La versió original de l’entrevista en anglès, que millora la de Google translate -sense ofendre al Google translate- pot llegir-se aquí). […]

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