08 August 2008
This past week one of the foremost Russian writers died. I've linked to two different obituaries, the NY Times and a Boundless blog post. There is always so much to be said about someone as controversial and pugnacious as Solzhenitsyn.
I distinctly remember reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The writing was hard and visceral and almost too simple to be real. I had wrestled (unsuccessfully) through Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, firmly convinced that Russian novels were an Everest I was incapable of climbing. But still, I had seen that unpronounceable name in the writings of individuals I admired. If I was to be an educated 20th century reader I had to read something by him. My reading was so random and lopsided. Here was a chance to fill in a gap.
Universal human experience is one proof, in my mind, of the centrality of a Creator. It is fact that, regardless of seemingly consequential differences, humans have a huge well of shared experience. Pain, loneliness, anger, fear, pleasure, happiness..... We have families and friends. We experience gain and loss. We love beauty, hate ugliness, and often times don't think past our stomach or our bed. Any person that I meet anywhere on the planet shares far more with me than could possibly be different.
Because of this great shared wealth the gulag became my life for the short time that it took to read One Day... I was a suburban teenager in my basement bedroom, surrounded by a loving family and recipient of the freedom and decadence of an American middle-class life. I was female, young and almost excessively sheltered. But I knew the reality of that life.
Solzhenitsyn reminds me often of an Old Testament prophet. I don't know that he wept much, but he was often misunderstood and he spoke truth when all wisdom seemed to advise silence. He championed against injustice motivated out of a passionate love of his homeland and people. He was often disillusioned and alone. The general public regarded him as a saint and crusader one moment and painfully awkward old coot the next.
He was just a man and one who lived long enough to prove that all men are fallible and easily misunderstood. But irregardless of some extreme and often mistaken views, he clung tenaciously to the truth when the truth promised little but heartache. In that respect, Solzhenitsyn was almost a living embodiment of anti-postmodernism. It is not all about questioning. Deconstruction is only valuable when you are actually taking apart something harmful AND are willing to subject your deconstruction to the lens of truth. Finally, truth doesn't change, no matter how you look at it, or whether or not it is fashionable or pleasant.
Haven't written anything this complex in some time. I am still wrestling with the implications of a life well-lived and whether or not I or Solzhenitsyn can lay claim to having one. Death brings so much to the foreground that I rarely think about. The NY Times obit is in my bag, haven't finished it yet, so I have some more time to think.