Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Good night, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, defeater of lies

“Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful works of the 20th century [The Gulag Archipelago, The Cancer Ward, The First Circle, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich], died late on Sunday at the age of 89 in Moscow.

“His son Yermolai said the cause was a heart ailment.

“Mr. Solzhenitsyn outlived by nearly 17 years the Soviet state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile...

Gulag was a monumental account of the Soviet labor camp system, a chain of prisons that by Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s calculation some 60 million people had entered during the 20th century. The book led to his expulsion from his native land. George F. Kennan, the American diplomat, described it as 'the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.'

“Mr. Solzhenitsyn was heir to a morally focused and often prophetic Russian literary tradition, and he looked the part. With his stern visage, lofty brow and full, Old Testament beard, he recalled Tolstoy while suggesting a modern-day Jeremiah, denouncing the evils of the Kremlin and later the mores of the West.

“In almost half a century, more than 30 million of his books have been sold worldwide and translated into some 40 languages. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature...

“Mr. Solzhenitsyn dared not travel to Stockholm to accept the prize for fear that the Soviet authorities would prevent him from returning. But his acceptance address was circulated widely. He recalled a time when 'in the midst of exhausting prison camp relocations, marching in a column of prisoners in the gloom of bitterly cold evenings, with strings of camp lights glimmering through the darkness, we would often feel rising in our breast what we would have wanted to shout out to the whole world--if only the whole world could have heard us.'

“He wrote that while an ordinary man was obliged 'not to participate in lies,' artists had greater responsibilities. 'It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!'”

-- “Solzhenitsyn, Who Defied Soviets, Dies at 89”

PLUS: From David Remnick's monumental, Pulitzer Prize-winning Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, a view of “the cranky side of Solzhenitsyn, the prig worrying that Russia would mindlessly pursue the road to Gomorrah because it couldn't find the off switch on the TV set:

'Our young people, whom families and schools have overlooked, are growing in the direction of mindless, barbaric emulation of anything enticing coming from alien parts, if not in the direction of crime. The historic Iron Curtain protected the country superbly from everything good that exists in the West... However, this Curtain did not reach all the way down, and this is where the liquid manure of debased, degraded 'mass pop-culture,' most vulgar fashions and excessive public displays seeped through. It was this waste that our impoverished, unfairly deprived young people swallowed greedily.'” [How to Revitalize Russia, 1990]

Remnick, New Yorker editor, discussing Solzhenitsyn with TV host Charlie Rose in 2001: “It's impossible to imagine a writer whose effect on a society has been greater than Alexander Solzhenitsyn's effect on the fate of Russia and the Soviet Union. You could easily make the argument that he has done more than any other person to undermine the Soviet Union and lead to the collapse of the last empire on earth. That's saying a lot for a writer.” [Full TV clip here.]

PLUS PLUS: A personal account of a 2006 trip to Moscow, Russia here. [“For the next 20 minutes, like a bad suspense-thriller movie, we wended our way through narrow, eerily deserted side streets, the street signs mocking us with their unreadable script, the driver himself turning left-right-left in utter confusion. I had visions of KGB men in trench coats suddenly materializing out of corners, seizing us and packing us off to Siberia (a Russian reading this would be smirking and saying, Who does he think he is, Solzhenitsyn?).”]

More--a pictorial tour of Moscow's splendid churches. [“Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the onion is strong.”]

1 comment:

Sunny said...

Gibbs- I'm gratified to see that there are other folks here in Manila who admire Solzhenitsyn. His personal courage and literary talent blew me away. May he rest in peace.

I'm sending you a copy of an e-mail I sent some friends yesterday about Solzhenitsyn's death.

Long time no see- hope you're well and that our paths cross again soon.


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