THE Alexis Stamatisthe award-winning and widely translated prose writer, playwright and poet, with more than 34 titles to his credit, in his latest novel, “The White Room”from Kastaniotis publications, talks about the heroes of his books, about the fear of death and the complexity of the universe.
Edda Gabler, the heroine of Norwegian author Erik Ibsen’s play of the same name, along with characters from prose and plays, come to life and find themselves confined in a timeless and out-of-place boarding house, run by the mysterious Mrs. Flora. There are iron rules, which if any disobedient inmate breaks, the horrors of the White Room await. What is this; Maybe something like solitary confinement in a maximum security prison? Or something like the White cells of post-war Germany that awaited terrorists? Or something else, even more terrifying, that was born in the fertile imagination of Alexis Stamatis, the author who signed the novel “The White Room”, published by Kastaniotis.
And other writers have imagined that novel and theatrical characters, their own and others’, should come to life and act, and take on personal life, escaping from the cranial cavity of the man who gave birth to them, and from the pages where he deposited them. But this is the first time I’ve read a novel based on this basic idea alone. Sure, Stamatis, using the White Room as a vehicle, takes the opportunity to speak allegorically about the bonds, about the confinements of living, “normal” peopleand to philosophize on the limits that entrench human existence, and in the pursuit of the highest good, which is freedom, whether for paper or biological people.
Also, Alexis talks about the responsibilities of spiritual people, regarding their attitude towards the bad texts of society, he also refers to his hopes and fears, which he hopes are healthy. As for whether man could be designed differently, the son of architect Kostas Stamatis and actress Bettis Arvanitis, who gave up architecture to write, has a good conversation: “…again good to say”.
In your book, “The White Room”, published by Kastaniotis, somewhere you have your heroine, Edda Gabler, say: “write fiercely and clearly about everything that hurts”. You, writing about resurrected literary and theatrical characters, do you think you wrote fiercely and clearly about what hurts you? And if so, why do you feel sorry for the fate of these imaginary persons?
These faces are not completely imaginary. They are creatures that were somehow resurrected. They were born of some human mind. This mind should have taken into account all the parameters of human nature. The possibility of this birth presupposes a wildness but also a clarity. So their construction, their posting on stage or on the page is of course not a product of mere curiosity. It contains a lot of inner pain, but also sympathy at the same time. This sounds contradictory, but it is true. The author has a huge, or rather the whole, responsibility. It gives birth to the book and gives it – if all goes well – the space to live.
This idea, that the heroines and heroes of writers cannot escape the fate prescribed for them by their Godfathers, as you characterize (really, why?) the fathers and mothers who made them, somewhat reminds me of the idea of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return. In your work, who is the Superman who could free them?
The sense we have of the heroes we distinguish in the theater and in books is of a character who has occupied us during a performance or a reading, has passed through our own exclusive filters and has settled somewhere inside us. When this character escapes the normal “consumption” of the reader, repeating this experience up to a point can be interesting, but beyond that it borders on obsession. But fragments circulate in our minds, obsessive images emerge (Remember how “Fucking God” Paul, the character of “Last Tango in Paris” said at the beginning of the film? Decades of self-questioning). The character essentially migrates from here to there. As for the “Liberator”, if we follow Nietzsche’s parallel, we can identify him philologically in a form that will resemble the superman, but in this case an “inner superman”. Such an act, such a thing could only be done by an inner force, a liberation from within.
Reading your book, I was left with the impression that his whole system of ideas is an allegory for real people, for ourselves. Are we locked into the roles that society has defined for us? What is our White Room? Where is our freedom? Or, as the Prince says, “do we not know how to exist otherwise?”
I’m glad you use the word “allegory,” because one of the definitions I sometimes use for this book is “allegory of confinement.” Our White Room is the world and this short or long time that is given to us to experience what we experience. If we expand the matter a little, in a planetary view it is unimaginably moving what man does in this fraction of time allotted to him in this hole in which he lives.
Literary and theatrical characters are, in a way, immortal. Is that why you were so fascinated by their plight, and wrote an entire book about them? To manage your own fear of death?
The fear of death expresses itself in me as something not so deep. The afterlife is my big question. Have I existed before birth? Possibly not. I will exist and exist during my life, but after I die I have no idea what will happen. However, I think death itself is something very natural and should not scare us as much as possible.
Woody Allen, who had also written some fine texts about literary heroes such as Madame Bovary and his relationship with them, had said that his greatest ambition in life was to be someone else. If you weren’t Alexis Stamatis, who would you like to be?
Now you are pushing me to answer in the classic way. “I would never want to be anyone else…” and so on. But I will attempt to make an attempt by saying that I would like to be my son’s grandson.
In your book, in addition to Ibsen’s Edda, Williams’ Blanche, Goethe’s Faust, Carroll’s Alice and Kafka’s Joseph, you also revive some of your own heroes. How are you doing with them? Do they annoy you, love them, torture you?
No, my own heroes, I don’t think they bother me much, they don’t visit me in other books, I haven’t made a group of heroes that moves from book to book. Every time I finish a text I think I’m the one treating them badly. Am I abandoning them, erasing them from within me?
You say somewhere “Look at man. He’s designed all wrong”, meaning that when people finally start to gain wisdom, they die. If you were the Godfather of people, how would you design them? What would you improve them on?
I can only be a designer – Godfather of imaginary persons. There I have the ability to do whatever I want and create whatever intrigues me about a character. Because in all probability (you never know, though) there will never be human to human planning, we have arrived at the state we would describe as humanity through explosions, games with matter, billions of centuries of energy interactions. Surely in our DNA there is a huge possibility of knowing the world. So, again, let’s talk.
In your books you have talked about many things. What’s left? What are those ideas that still bother you or fascinate you, what things do you want to talk about, and haven’t yet?
I think that I have talked about very few things and that there are many unimaginable topics and situations to be inspired. The universe is not only more complex than we imagine, but more complex than we can imagine. Already in a subsequent book I enter a way of writing that is very new to me, different.
Do you think that a writer should publicly take a position on the bad texts of his time, as he understands them, and come into conflict with the powerful, when they are responsible for the ills of society? Or should it observe strict political neutrality?
Neither one nor the other. An artist is like all people – if he wants to be exposed, fine, if he doesn’t, that’s his right. The artist has already taken his political and social position with his work – from then on it is completely indifferent what he does after he has written the last page, or after the illuminator turns off the lights of the square. What every citizen of the country does.
What do you fear, what do you hope for, what gives you joy and what saddens you most of all?
I’m only afraid of health issues, (and those in a… healthy way) I hope to live as many years as I can to make my son happy, who together with my wife give me enormous euphoria. I am saddened by the condition of man today.