“In the writings of Kostis people recognize themselves”
Interview to Maria Nika for the 5th International Documentary Film Festival of Peloponnese
I hadn’t read Kostis Papagiorgis. Only some texts here and there at “Athinorama” (Greek magazine) and browsing of “Kapakia”, a book of his for ’21. Reason to discover him, even delayed, was this interview with the director Eleni Alexandraki for her movie “Kostis Papagiorgis : The sweetest misanthrope”, which will be screened Monday 21st of January in Kalamata as part of the 5th International Documentary Film Festival of Peloponnese. As I was preparing the interview, following a friend's suggestion, I read "Imeros and Klinopali". A wonderful philosophical essay on love and the passion of jealousy, of the heretical Greek intellectual and writer who left life in 2014. It immediately took me and I understood why he has so many fanatical readers. Because, as Eleni Alexandrakiou says, "in his writings people recognize themselves". Now I'm getting ready for “Regarding drunkenness“, followed by "Hi Asimakis" and of course the suggestions of Eleni Alexandraki: "The Red Fox", "Oils Vinegars”, “Dostoevsky" ...
-How did you meet Kostis Papagiorgis?
With Kostis Papagiorgis and his wife Rania, we were connected with an extremely close friendship. I met Kostis in 1993 when we wrote "Hi Asimaki", one of his most beautiful books: It is the portrait of Christos Vakalopoulos, who was his friend, and he died in January 1993. Kostis wanted at the time to meet people who knew Christos, called me and asked to meet. Since then we have become very friends with Kostis and Rania.
-Why did you decide to make a documentary about him?
The death of Christos and the death of Kostis delineate the most important period of my life. So I found myself in the position that Kostis had been found when Christos died. I felt the need to dive into my friend's life, to study his life and work, so that I could get to know him even better and deeper, to give him a tribute by making his portrait.
- Can a "misanthrope” be sweet?
In the case of Kostis it obviously happens. The title comes from a dedication written by Vakalopoulos in one of his books, which he had offered to Kostis: “To the sweetest misanthrope of Kallidromiou“ he said, which shows how good friends both were and how humorously and without demureness they were seeing things. I believe though that with Christos' sensitivity and sharpness, and despite the playfulness of the dedication, he clearly distinguished the two attributes of his friend, which was on the one hand the sweetness and on the other hand the agoraphobia, which as a defense transforms into a mask of misanthropy. Besides, Kostis himself, who, as we know, always writes with a compass the experience, in his writings he has been particularly indulged about the subject of misanthropy.
-In fact, in Paris he stole books from bookshops and sold them half the price to live? That's dreadful!
Yes, I can understand that it can alienating to you, but Kostis was neither a moralist nor a "comme il faut", nor has he ever acquired what is widely regarded as a "political correctness." He had a really, deep, own, anarchist tendency that made him go to the extreme, never at the risk of losing his own life, and never doing things that could be considered as conservative movements, such as an example his marriage and family, which for him was also something extreme and he did it in an extremely consistent way.
-Is it true that he did not like poetry and considered the essay and the novel more important?
Yes, he was more interested in the essay and drew too much from the novel that he loved. He was a bit disturbed by the easy-to-understand poetry. But no matter how he resisted, he really loved true poetry and admired it. For example, he admired the poetry of Nikos Panagiotopoulos and Michalis Ganas, who were both his friends, or the poetry of Paul Celan ...
-How many hours could he read in a day?
He read a lot, but not many hours. Same with writing. I think he said he did not sit more than four hours in his office to write. But, as Rania has told me, he was very organized in his writing and reading, and he did not spend a day not working. What is interesting is that in Paris, he studied in essence on his own, self-taught. He had incredible will and perseverance. In the attic, some friends say, read Heidegger's "Being and Time" for 40 times and copied by hand all Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment".
-His friends in your movie characterize him as selfish but not at all arrogant. In Paris, it is been said, they started publishing the magazine "Chora", but the third issue was never released because they had a fight. Was he easy to pick a fight? And on what issues could he fight?
He was a man who did not have the slightest "idea of himself" and he felt great contempt for those who spoke highly of themselves and considered they deserved something. At the same time, however, he was hypersensitive. In Paris the four-member company was extremely competitive. These were four friends, very young (Papagiorgis, Zervas, Leventis, Apostolopoulos) who practiced in the competition to control the knowledge and spirituality of each other. This had thrived and had been very enjoyable for all of them for some years, but it was so extreme and tough that it was next to have an expiration date.
-However, he considered friendship very important ...
Yes, friendship was everything for him and he was almost always organized in quadruple. Who knows why ...
- In the film you present a complete personality, not just the intellectual: Moments pleasant with his own people, but also his melancholy, isolation, his relationship with drinking ...
I try to convey as much as possible what I know about him either by experience or by what I heard.
-Why do you think he loved Dostoevsky and Papadiamantis so much?
Because he identified with their character, who’s is also double: "And holy and damned." He admires Papadiamantis for his writing, which expresses greatly what we all Greeks bear, as well as Dostoevsky, whose writing best expresses the holiness of a complicated type in some way evil or misanthrope.
-He was very prolific. Which do you consider more important of his books, which was your favorite and why?
My favorites are the books: "Red Fox", dealing with misanthropy in a very endoscopic way, "Oils Vinegars” that talks about metaphor and poetic travels of words and meanings and "Dostoevsky", because I find it a an amazing writer's portrait, and reading this book you understand for Kostis exactly what you learn about Dostoevsky.
-In the film it is mentioned he was not going to vote. Was he disappointed?
I think that if you read the above I told you, you understand that he was a very eclectic man who could not believe in parties and leaders. Besides, he himself said of today's Greece: "The whole country, this all that remains, reminds of the hyena that lies on her vomit. [...] Society is provocatively dissolving and the only thing that restrains it is the hope for political-party revenge. "
-His wife what did she say when she saw your documentary?
She was very pleased. Despite our friendship, during filming she was in suspense about what I would do. I think she could not see what I had in my mind. But now she is very happy.
-Its touching the conversation you have in the movie with an elderly woman, a small-seller at Aiolou street. The respect she talks about Kostis Papagiorgis is incredible! The same was the cook in the restaurant that he hung around every Thursday with his friends.
Yes, Kostis was not just a friend of intellectuals. He himself had a simple common way that brought him close to all sorts of people. I think it is due to the fact that he wrote experientially, and by extension that is the source of love and the abundance of his readers. Because although he writes philosophical essays, a non-commercial item, he has a huge reading public because people recognize themselves in his writings.
- They usually say "no one is irreplaceable". The gap left by Kostis Papagiorgis in Greek literature and intellect, will be replenished?
All I can say is that Kostis lives and will always live through his books. Replacement seems impossible to me, because anyway I think no one can be replaced. But I really wish that other talented people will come to excite us as well as he did.
Eleni Alexandraki is a renowned director and screenwriter in Greece and abroad. She studied directing in France and England (Paris I Sorbonne, graduation 1980 and National Film and Television School England, graduation 1985). In particular, the film “Kostis Papagiorgis: The Sweetest Misanthrope” in 2018 won the following distinctions: Prize of the Panhellenic Union of Critics at the 20th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, First Prize of the Greek Documentary Aegean Docs, Distinction at the Festival of Chalkida.
Long Fiction Films
2008 THE ARBORIZATION AND THE ANGEL
2004 THE NOSTALGIC
1995 DROP IN THE OCEAN
2018 KOSTIS PAPAGIORGIS, THE SWEETEST MISANTHROPE
2002 ABOUT THE SAINT AND MYSTERIOUS MYRUS
1999 IT SMELLS EASTER
1994 TONIA MARKETAKI (after death portrait)
1990 THE CHILDREN OF GREECE (series 6x30 '
1985 MARIA AND THE NIGHTS IN FEATHER
2001 THE HISTORY OF ASH Eleni Alexandraki / Caroline Thivel
1998 THE GARDEN OF THE PRIEST Eleni Alexandraki / Ersi Sotiropoulou
Works in progress
BLURRED SEA BED
NEAR THE AFTER (scenario Eleni Alexandraki / Caroline Thivel)
IN A NIGHT (television film)
SOULS (Multi media installation)