I’ve mentioned before my love of Russian writers. Folks like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy just knew what was up. Not only with Russians, but with humanity in general. If you want to research and study the “human condition” there is going to be a pretty significant Russian presence in there somewhere.
A conversation (argument…fight…call it what you will) with someone a couple of days ago got me to thinking about this topic. About one Russian writer in particular, really:
Now, I’ve mentioned before my admiration and respect for both the writer and his works. He is one of those guys I think everyone should read. What he has to teach transcends, well, just about any and all divisions I can think of.
The first thing to know about Solzhenitsyn is that he loved his country. In spite of everything that happened to him, Russia was everything to him. You get the same sense reading Tolstoy, but (much as I love Tolstoy) Solzhenitsyn just pulls it off better.
Keep in mind, this was a man sent by Stalin to the Siberian gulags. A man who, even after he was “released”, was forced to live in internal exile thousands of miles from home. A man who spent his entire life, until he finally fled to the US, under the eye of the KGB.
But he still wrote. Not just wrote, but wrote honestly. Most of his works came out first via the uniquely Russian samizdat*.
*Underground press for a lack of a better term (there’s a lot more to it than that, but I’ll save the history/sociology lesson).
When Khrushchev began to relax things – a bit – Solzhenitsyn was finally able to openly publish A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch. And it was still honest, still powerful. He didn’t pull back, in spite of the very real danger…because he loved his homeland.
The Cancer Ward is perhaps the most memorable, gently presented and effective indictment of totalitarianism and evil that I’ve ever read. The Gulag Archipelago? Yes, it’s huge. Yes, it’s powerful. And, yes, you will be rewarded if you read it.
Every single thing the man wrote was for Russia. Yes, he was an ardent anti-communist. Yes, he was against the tyranny and insanity of Stalin and the leaders who followed him. But Solzhenitsyn was never really defined by being against, he was for. For, most of all, his homeland, the nation he loved.
Why do I bring this up now?
Because we, as a society…we, as writers and artists…we, as a people…are very, very much falling into the trap of being defined solely as being against. There is danger in that.
To be against is inherently negative and destructive. To be against is also meaningless as it does not, and can not, lead to anything better. What it leads to is, instead, the bullshit tit-for-tat idiocy we see so much of in politics and society today.
I don’t care what you are against, tell me what you are for. And, no, semantic word-play does not count. To be for is to build, and to strive for more.
That, as much as the search for faith and meaning, has come into focus as I write the current story. My protagonist is bitter and angry. He resents…everyone. And, even more, he is against: against the corruption, against the pain, against pretty much everything for which his society stands.
It’s not enough. Not for Connor, and not for me.
That is what I’m exploring: this kid, who has lived such misery in just eighteen years, has to find…something…he can be for.