Monday, August 4, 2008

"Solzhenitsyn, Dominant Writer of the 20th Century"

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has died.

The NYT has a fine, long obituary, that captures much of the complexity of the man. (The Guardian has a brief, perfunctory obit, the barest courtesy. Perhaps they didn't like him. I'm not even going to link to it).

Solzhenitsyn was one of the formative figures of my life. As a child and teenager I heard of him, obviously, but hadn't read any of his books. I eventually did so during my university years. The final push came when I read Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor. The Survivor is near or at the top of the shortlist of best books I've ever read about the Shoah; it's an attempt to understand how people survived the camps. As worthy of a book seeking the fundamental truth rather than the froth, Des Pres began his disquisition with a reading of the more important literary efforts about the camps, and Solzhenitsyn was cited heavily.

Once I'd read Des Pres I spent most of a summer reading Solzhenitsyn's books, one after another. He talked about cruelty and suffering, malice and hope, callousness and friendship. Without elaborating on the word, he described evil. His books inured me forever - had I ever been so inclined - of the ability to relativize, to excuse away, to engage in foolish comparisons between mundane wrong doing and strategic large scale destruction.

As the NYT obit tells:

By this time, Mr. Solzhenitsyn had completed his own massive attempt at truthfulness, “The Gulag Archipelago.” In more than 300,000 words, he told the history of the Gulag prison camps, whose operations and rationale and even existence were subjects long considered taboo.

Publishers in Paris and New York had secretly received the manuscript on microfilm. But wanting the book to appear first in the Soviet Union, Mr. Solzhenitsyn asked them to put off publishing it. Then, in September 1973, he changed his mind. He had learned that the Soviet spy agency, the KGB, had unearthed a buried copy of the book after interrogating his typist, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, and that she had hung herself soon afterward.

In some countries, people were interrogated until suicide for telling the truth. In others, they get bad-mouthed in the literary circles. Long live the difference.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

FROM CAROL HERMAN

Yup. Being arrested and sent to the Gulag, hits ya like a brick. Too bad most russians never got the hang of knowing what it's like to have good government. They got, instead, the fear.

Yes, there are things to learn. And, there are things, when you know how to read, to learn about the ways of the world.

Of all the forms of government,out there, only America sits as the miracle where from the statement: Everyone is born free, and is entitled to life, liberty and the persuit of happiness ... there now sits a record where three presidents stand out above all the rest. Washington, who fought a fight against the British Empire, allowing for the birth of this nation. AND, her IDEAS. To Lincoln. Who fought to keep the Union together. And, didn't compromise. And, FDR. Who saved the world.

And, a whole lot of history is thrown into this mix.

Nice thing is you don't have to be a book reader to be a successful Americcan. You don't even have to be political. Plenty of people choose to be independent. And, Capitalism, run by businessmen, works best when there's the least amount of political interference.

And, more than once, when America was in jeopardy, it was the businessmen and their successes in the marketplace that made a huge different on the scale of outcomes.

While intellectuals? These people don't impress Americans. The EGG HEADS are seen as folk to can't make a decision to save their lives. And, yet they want to lord it over overs. So, when they're religious, they run their "peasants" as slaves. And, when they're the credentialing teachers? You have to go to the hard sciences, where math rules. And, inquiries produce new questions to be answered: ALL OF THE TIME.

Meanwhile, you don't want intellectuals in government!

Heck, Thomas Paine, with only a letter of recommendation from Ben Franklin (who was living in Paris at the time); came to America. Where in easy-to-understand English, he wrote COMMON SENSE. And, this pamphlet sold so well, just about everyone who could read, came on board "George Washington's war against the British." While the states, themselves, using politics avoided providing funds for ammunition. And, even food, and clothes to feed the hungry, shoeless, army. Fate must have intervened.

Ya know, in Europe, as the Jews wandered, they didn't divide up into groups, as the rest of the population got carved up between Church and State. Nope. Jews huddled together in small communities (villages, or shtetls, really.) And, the common denominator was the local rabbi. Who became the "problem solver." No matter what the problem, people went to the rabbi for soltuions to their everyday problems.

Meanwhile, the modern world has seen the birth of Israel; just as its seen the collapse of the thugs in russia. But ya just can't get the KGB out of the russian system.

Why is that?

If Solzhenitsyn's books were kept from the russian people, at some point they were able to also read them. To what effect? Like an intellectual holiday; your "t'zuris" now had "names."

But solutions sit in the hands of the thugs who run the country. Being equal in such a society still doesn't give you access to good politics.

High ideals can't survive the vacuum of political behaviors; where you can never see saints elected. Heck, in my view even the Vatican doesn't elect saints to the pope's chair. Just designing men who run a pomp and circumstance show.

While in Italy, today, it seems Italians are at least free enough from the dictates of the celibate priests. Since somehow (and, just as I suspect Ann Coulter also discovered), sex doesn't have to lead to having more children.

In Italy the birth rate is about 1 per couple. In a country that 50 years ago saw women reach menstrual age; and then never see a period. Because they were barefoot and pregnant each and every year of their adult life.

Ann Coulter talks a good game. But she's no virgin. She's just got a brain disease of imbedded religous clap trap; a nonsense she "schpiels" in public. To make money.

All politicians, to get elected, need to have jobs available for the people who do the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

Lincoln hated the patronage system in the WHIGS. Because it kept him to a limited one term in the House; and he couldn't get into the senate. He didn't have the political muscle. And, this had a lot to do with his personal feelings about patronage.

Still, in 1860, he learned that he'd be in the White House, and he'd have to offer out jobs. Because he needed the local level of politics to get his name on the ballot. And, to keep each neighborhood's possible voters aware of "going to the polls."

Morris Talansky happens to be such an operator. But your supreme court is blind. And, your police lie.

Well, in politics this is not a bunch of strangers doing things that are unknown. Quite the opposite.

But, yes, you can spoil people. You can confuse them. You can run riot on their heads. (But you can no longer take away the contraceptives.)

By the way, by now who reads Norman Mailer? And, in fifty years, how many adults will pull Solzhenitsyn off the shelf to get themselves depressed; as depraved human nature is put on display?

It's a question about something that takes place in the future.

Good for the world, here, that Baruch Spinoza's words still live! He was very unique. And, he was not treated well "by the locals."

MEN OF PEACE need defending when they are alive. Too bad Olmert's not being defended. And, too bad the characters out to take him down say they're doing this for the good of Israel. While spending all the good will capital in the world.

Give yourself a test. If you've stood with Olmert's betrayers; you're no better than the one's in russia, who used force.

That's what's eye-opening about the Gulag's first sentence. You are advised that when bricks fall on you like that; you are changed, forever.

Or? Like Spinoza you have to wait for time to pass to be vindicated.

God doesn't wear a watch. He's a timekeeper outside the sphere of time.

kai said...

When I was a young boy, my father had a copy of "Gulag Archipelago", hidden on the highest board of the book shelf, in a fake cover. He gave it to me: You shall know that!

When, in November 1989, we came to West-Berlin for the first time, everyone got 100 DM for free. Among the books, that I spent this money for, was Wassilij Grossmann "Life and destiny". (Others were Jean Amery, "Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne", Karl Jaspers, "Die Schuldfrage oder Von der politischen Haftung Deutschlands", Teddy Kollek, "Ein Leben für Jerusalem", Vaclav Havel, "Die Vanek Trilogie".)

Somewhen in the early nineties, I went with a Russian friend to a museum in Bremen, when we met by chance Lew Kopelew.

Just three steps in my life with Russian dissidents.

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