Kazantzakis's Comedy: The Tragedy of Christianity as a Discipline

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Nikos Kazantzakis's drama Comedy: A Tragedy in One Act, published in 1909, is a critique of Christianity. Michel Foucault's notion of a discipline—"a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets: it is a 'physics' or an 'anatomy' of power, a technology"—serves as a lens illuminating how Kazantzakis refashions Christianity as a social system that is constructed in such a way that the subject, living in a world where Christianity is the dominant context, is always implicated in the discipline's framework (1991:215). Kazantzakis critiques Christianity by adapting the Biblical parable of the ten virgins who anxiously await the Bridegroom's arrival. Unlike the Biblical tale, however, Kazantzakis's narrative inverts the original lesson that teaches its believers that earnest devotion to God leads to salvation. Comedy presents 12 characters—men and women of varying ages—literally stifled by their anticipation of God's arrival at the moment of death. Kazantzakis creates a performance of the existential anxieties that emerged in the early twentieth century and have been perpetuated long afterward in the Western world.

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"No author who lives in Greece," writes Peter Bien, "can avoid politics." This first volume of his major intellectual biography of Nikos Kazantzakis approaches the distinguished--and controversial--writer by describing his struggle with political questions that were in reality aspects of a fervent religious search. Beginning with Kazantzakis's early career in fin-de-siècle Paris and his discovery of William James, Nietzsche, and Bergson, the book continues by describing his experiments with communism in turbulent Greece, his visits to Soviet Russia, and the publication of his epic Odyssey in 1938. Bien demonstrates that politics and religion cannot be separated in Kazantzakis's development. His major concern was personal salvation, but the method he employed to win that salvation was political engagement. Did deliverance lie in nationalism? Communism? Fascism? He eventually rejected each of these possible solutions as morally appalling. Abused by both left and right, he insisted on an "eschatological politics" of spiritual fulfillment.