Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Remembering Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died a little more than a week ago at the age of 89. Perhaps the most important literary figure of the 20th century, Solzhenitsyn did more than anyone to expose the horrors of Stalin's regime. I know very little about this epochal individual, and hence I've been trying to read up on him. Thankfully, Jason Goroncy appears to have read a veritable ton of Solzhenitsyn, and provides some helpful resources at his blog. To whet your literary appetite, here's a quote on the condition of the West from Solzhenitsyn.

‘But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening.

A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life’s complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper and more interesting characters than those produced by standardized Western well-being. Therefore if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt, that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor and by intolerable music.


- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘A World Split Apart’ (A paper presented at the Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, Harvard University, Thursday, 8 June, 1978).

(HT: Per Crucem ad Lucem)

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