Obituary: Nikos Gavriil Pendzikis
Saturday 23 January 1993
THE EXPERIMENTAL range of Nikos Gavriil Pendzikis' writing, which encompasses novels, prose pieces, poems and essays, makes him an elusive author to categorise. He was championed by many as one of Greece's most original artists, although there were those who criticised the solipsism of Pendzikis' vision. 'Writing is my hope,' Pendzikis once remarked, 'but the problem is, who will read me?'
In most of his writing Pendzikis adopted a stream-of-consciousness technique, focusing on details through the eyes of a first- person narrator. Often this leads to syntactical disjunctions, where the logic of a conventional narrative is disrupted in favour of a series of cinematic frames. In this respect it is significant that for an interval Pendzikis studied optical physiology at the University of Paris (1928-29) and that he was a self-taught painter exhibited widely throughout Greece. In a review of Pendzikis' The Novel of Mrs Ersi (1966), the poet George Seferis pointed to the intimate relationship between painting and writing in Pendzikis' work. Characterised by the author himself as 'extended texts', Pendzikis' novels are poetic in their ellipticity and condensed use of language. Indeed, the literary influence of Virginia Woolf, and particularly James Joyce, is evident in much of Pendzikis' prose. During the 1930s, Freud's writings began to circulate, and Pendzikis was closely associated with the journal Macedonian Days (1932-39), one of the first periodicals to promote Joyce's work in Greece.
Born in Thessaloniki in 1908, when Northern Greece still formed part of the Ottoman Empire, Pendzikis spent periods abroad studying pharmacology at Paris and at Strasbourg. Subsequently, he returned to Thessaloniki to inherit the city's oldest pharmacy. Until he sold it in the 1950s, the shop was one of the city's intellectual gathering points for Thessalonian writers such as Stelios Xefloudas, Alkis Yannopoulos, and Yiorgos Themelis. In fact, of all contemporary Greek writers Pendzikis was perhaps the one most closely associated with a locale: Thessaloniki. Steeped in the city's history and folklore, books such as Mother Thessaloniki (1970) demonstrate a profound engagement with place. Indeed, in this work the writer so identifies with the metropolis it becomes 'the landscape of his being'. Moreover, the city's proximity to the monastic republic of Mount Athos provided him with an important source of inspiration.
Beginning with the publication of the novella Andreas Dimakoudis in 1935 (under the pseudonym Stavrakios Kosmas), Pendzikis contributed prose and poetry to periodicals such as Kochlias and Morphes. In 1966 he published The Novel of Mrs Ersi, which has recently been reissued, and in 1970 a collection of his prose pieces covering the period 1936-68. Apart from Pendzikis' familiarity with 20th-century European fiction, he was also, like his sister, the poetess Zoe Karelli, much influenced by the Orthodox Church. This is manifest in titles such as The Dead Man and the Resurrection (1944) and Towards Churchgoing (1970). As the French Hellenist Jacques Lacarriere once remarked, Pendzikis combined 'a pronounced taste for Surrealism with a passion for the Byzantine tradition'. His first poetry collection was entitled Icons (1944) and reflected his attempts to combine the geometric rigour of iconography with an explorative use of language. Drawing upon Byzantine hymns and chronicles, Pendzikis strove to fuse a local tradition with contemporary experimentation. As a result his prose is densely textured but, as Seferis put it, as meticulously woven as a precious rug.
Pendzikis was a self-styled materialist who characterised his prose as 'fastidious realism'. His book Filing Cabinet (1974), for example, focuses on the contents of a chest of drawers while his collection of essays Knowledge of Things (1950) adopts an impersonal fly- on-the-wall descriptive technique. Nevertheless, his writing is also enthused with a visionary affirmation. This springs both from his religious belief and from his painterly response to colour. Even if the discontinuities of Pendzikis' writing sometimes disorientate the reader, at its best it mixes modernity with tradition in a way that sheds light upon both. As Pendzikis once expressed it: 'within the cracked jug' the reader is made to see 'another incontestable reality'.
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