Ismene Kapandai, Greece
TOLERANCE AND COMPASSION DO NOT DIE
When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Greek and Bulgarian book for you?
The house I grew up in was full of books and everybody was reading something or other, all the time. Children, though they tend to disobey orders, usually follow examples, so it is no wonder that I started reading from a very early age, just for the fun of it. Consequently, books – all those great books we all loved – have been the mainstay of my life.
Which books have given you the most, and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
There are so many – not only the classics – so it would be impossible for me to answer your question. A list would be very long, and I’m sure it would always be incomplete.
What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and the more distant future?
Nowadays, there is a tendency to speak about “the end of history”, “the end of literature”, “the end of humanities”, the end of this, the end of that. On my part, and in order to be able to cope with the enormities we face every day, I prefer to take the optimistic point of view and say that the world is passing through a rather difficult phase, as it has so many times in the past, and that there is always hope.
The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps the purely Greek specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?
I think that one would have to have a lot of relevant information about the subject, study it, and then, perhaps, come up with an answer. I’m afraid that, as it is, I have none.
There are many secrets to a book and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most mysterious. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his text to the reader?
If there is actually a part of the artist’s self, which is mysterious and enigmatic, the person who is less fit to try and analyze it, is, I believe, the artist himself.
What has been the major source of hope and belief for you through the years?
The belief that although societies may pass, and actually do– through long periods of cruelty and inhumanity, especially during wars, the two great virtues, those of tolerance and compassion, do not die, and are to be found again, flowering in people’s souls.
What is your vision of Greece at the end of 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
I would not call it a vision. It is only what I wish and pray for, and that is peace, I cannot say, though, that international politics allow us to be very optimistic at the moment. About the second part of the question, I confess I do not read Time, as most people do, like a horizontal line (past, present, future), but vertically as something that exists as an entity, a whole and indivisible one.
What is the weight of values created over the last 100 years and what is the burden that these years have placed on us?
I do not see any new values. There is great scientific progress, of course, new inventions, cultural achievements. But new values? No. The only values I see are the old ones, very much abused at that.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind? And why?
I have already said that what is happening at the moment does not allow us to be optimistic. I sincerely hope, though, that things will straighten out in the end.
Is there a peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
I neither am, nor consider myself as a public figure, so joking about myself would happen, and happens only when I am with friends.
What would you choose – if you had to choose today – between a bag of gold and an eternal book? And what would have your choice been thirty years ago?
The only way I can consider this question is as a joke, and I answer it as a joke. I would take the bag of gold in order to be able to buy the „eternal book“, as well as a lot of other useful things.
Do you think that in these times when the part of the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?
I wonder now, is the path to the reader today more difficult and uncertain than it was in the past? I’m not sure. In any case, my belief is that creativity never stops and new names will emerge. Recognition, though, is another question. One might gain recognition today, one way or another, but what really matters is to pass the test of time. Which books will survive and be read a hundred years later, unfortunately none of us will know.
Would you disclose your own anthology or collection of names of masters of the prose whom you hold in highest esteem – names from Greece and the world, including Balkan literature?
As I have already said, it isn’t possible for me to choose among the books I treasure, in order to make a list. When things of great importance are concerned, it isn’t really easy to make lists. Personally, I believe that sometimes it’s not only difficult, it is also dangerous.
The same questions were answered by some of Bulgaria’s greatest writers, the so-called living classics, who participated in another book series “The White Series – an Autographed Book” in April 1999. You have been able to read their answers – what is your comment?
Reading them made me want to read their books, meet them and come to know them better.
Is there a refuge from the monologism and masochism of the Balkan people? What is it?
If by “monologism” you mean a tendency we have to be concerned only with our own small universe, I am sure that, as we are living now in the age of communications, this trait will gradually disappear. “Masochism”, on the other hand, was a result of the very hard times people had to endure in this part of the world. Peace and prosperity are the surest remedies, I think.
Which authors – Greek, Balkan and world – would be essential for an imagined anthology of chauvinism?
Let’s not pay undue attention to this ugly part of human nature.
What cultural and literary complexes can you discern in Greeks and their neighboring Balkan people? To what extent is that the result of the fact that the Balkan people missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Great Geographical Discoveries? How long will we continue to live as if we were alone in the wold, as if nobody else existed but us?
I’m afraid I shan’t agree with you on that. I don’t believe that we live as if we were alone in the world. What may be the root of trouble, though – if there is any – is that our languages, are “small language”, i.e. their reading public is not numerous whilst English, for example, is read by millions all over the world. That may be the reason for our „literary and cultural complexes“.
How do you assess the role of Balkani, the private publishing house, for the Balkan literary and cultural cooperation, especially the role of the Balkan Library Series? Such a comprehensive series of all Balkan authors has not been published in Bulgaria since 1878. What hatred, prejudice and ideological taboos, what loss of time…
How else? I greatly admire it.
What do you think the Balkan people cannot divide?
What exactly do you mean by the word “people”? If “people” means states and governments, then Balkan “people” will always find some things difficult to divide. I must say, though, that this is not a peculiarity of the Balkan people only. All over the world, they have the same problems. If, on the other hand, by “people” you mean persons like you, Mr. Grozdev, or myself, your neighbor and my neighbor, then I am certain that we would be able, one way or another, to overcome difficulties and live in peace.
What bigger opportunities do you see in this initiative and what new partners and participants, besides your highly respected involvement?
To try to understand one’s neighbor, especially today, when communications make things that much easier, is a “must”. I hope that in the future there will be many others, all over the world who, following your example, will organize meetings, translate books in languages that have not as yet been translated, etc. etc., so that “imaginary barriers” will come down, at last.