A dialogue between past and present

Was he a writer with native talent, a storyteller who wrote brilliantly about what mattered to him, or a writer who supported and broadcast the ideology of the right during the civil war and the years that followed it? Last week’s two-day conference on M. Karagatsis at the Benaki Museum was lively, full of passion, exaggerations and polemics. Love, sex, war, the nation, the political clash between the left and the right, and history in general all have their place in the work of the most popular Greek writer of the 1930s generation. Leading scholars and critics came to grips with every aspect of his work and ideas. Some described him in harsh terms – including a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic and nationalistic, while others lauded his work and his role in contemporary fiction as impulsive, self-sufficient, independent, free and exuberant. ‘Durable’ work As Stavros Zoumboulakis of Nea Estia literary journal, who helped organize the conference, said, Karagatsis’s work is «durable and open to multiple interpretations.» The conference was like a dialogue between past and present, which showed the distance between us and the passions and enmities recorded in his work, and which we must now examine in literary terms, without their ideological freight. The conference fought it out. Some, mainly Modern Greek scholars and historians, took a more critical stance. The writers, by contrast, who spoke at the final session on Saturday evening, lauded Karagatsis. Stratis Paschalis, Menis Koumandareas, Dimosthenis Kourtovik and Christos Homenidis. They enthused about his unbounded imagination and the bridge he created between literary and popular fiction. That session attracted the largest audience, despite heavy rain, showing what an appetite there is for literature and literary events. The author’s daughter, Marina Karagatsis, was present throughout the conference. Some of the views expressed must have made her uncomfortable at times, and she deserves credit for doing what the families of artists must – stand aside to allow scholars to explore the work.

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