Solzhenitsyn On Writers and Lying–May He Rest In Peace
“One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”
“Aren’t writers supposed to teach, to guide? Isn’t that what was always thought? And for a country to have a great writer-don’t be shocked, I’ll whisper-is like having another government. That’s why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”
~Solzhenitsyn, First Circle
Great Souls: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
A very great writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, died Sunday. May he finally find peace.
Of his experience in a prison camp, he wrote:
Writing on lying in order to survive, Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956:
The permanent lie becomes the only safe form of existence, in the same way as betrayal. Every wag of the tongue can be heard by someone, every facial expression observed by someone. Therefore every word if it does not have to be a direct lie, is nonetheless obliged not to contradict the general, common lie…But that was not all: Your children were growing up!…And if the children were little, then you had to decide what was the best way to bring them up; whether to start them off on lies instead of the truth (so that it would be easier for them to live) and then to lie forevermore in front of them too; or to tell them the truth, with the risk that they might make a slip, that they might let it out, which meant that you had to instill in them from the start that the truth was murderous, that beyond the threshold of the house you had to lie, only lie, just lie papa and mama.
More writers in Russia and other countries will “As Breathing and Consciousness Returns” bear witness in their writing to the truth and discover their humanity and the humanity of others.
Solzhenitsyn gave an address at Harvard University thirty years ago, entitled A World Split Apart in which he preciently pointed to the decline in civil courage by the ruling intellectual elite in the West:
A decline of courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
His remarks on media or the press in the West were equally revealing:
The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media). But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?
Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, it does not happen, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.
Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified, they will stay on in the readers’ memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters, pertaining to one’s nation’s defense, publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.
Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press. It stops at sensational formulas.
The entire address is well worth reading and listening to (see below) for the reflection from the mirror may not be the one we imagine reality to be.
Writing of the Soviet system, Solzhenitsyn realized that our souls need to be liberated from the lie of communism or socialism.
“Our present system is unique in world history, because over and above its physical and economic constraints, it demands total surrender of our souls, continuous and active participation in the general, conscious lie. …”The absolutely essential task is not political liberation, but the liberation of our souls from paticipation in the lie forced upon us.”
~Solzhenitsyn, From Under the Rubble
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Background Articles and Videos
Solzhenitsyn, Literary Giant Who Defied Soviets, Dies at 89
By MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN
“…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!”
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. …”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s life in pictures
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (IPA: /ʌljikˈsɑːndʌr soʊlʒʌˈniːtsʌn/ Russian: Алекса́ндр Иса́евич Солжени́цын, Russian pronunciation: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr ɪˈsaɪvʲɪtɕ səlʐɨˈnʲitsɨn]) (December 11, 1918 – August 3, 2008) was a Russian novelist, dramatist,and historian. Through his writings, he made the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet labour camp system, and for these efforts, Solzhenitsyn was both awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 and exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. He returned to Russia in 1994. That year, he was elected as a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in the Department of Language and Literature. He was the father of Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a well-known conductor and pianist. He died at home after years of declining health on August 3, 2008.
Nobel prize winner Solzhenitsyn dies at 89
Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89
“Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who exposed Stalin’s prison system in his novels and spent 20 years in exile, has died near Moscow at the age of 89.
The author of The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, who returned to Russia in 1994, died of either a stroke or heart failure.
The Nobel laureate had suffered from high blood pressure in recent years.
After returning to Russia, Solzhenitsyn wrote several polemics on Russian history and identity. …”
Stalin critic reveals gulag secrets
“… former Nobel prize winner, and one of the Soviet Union’s most famous dissident writers, has released a biography about his life opposing Stalin. RT caught up with Natalia Solzhenitsyna at a book launch of her husband. …”
Solzhenitsyn: death of an emblem of dissidence
Charlie Rose – IRAQ / JACOBS / THOMAS (interview with Thomas starts about 41:50)
“… D.M. Thomas, Author, “Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life” [St. Martin’s Press] …”
Charlie Rose: July 30, 2001
Russian Writer Awarded by Putin
Last struggle is over for Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“…He was the conscience of a nation whose writings exposed the horrors of the Communist Gulag and galvanised Russian opposition to the tyranny of the Soviet Union.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s long struggle for his beloved Russia ended last night at his home in Moscow, 14 years after he had returned in triumph from exile imposed by the Soviet regime that he had helped to bring down. His son Stepan said that the Nobel laureate had suffered heart failure, aged 89. …”
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, R.I.P.
By the Editors
“When 1999 turned into 2000, a lot of people asked, “Who was the Man of the Century?” And many answered, “Solzhenitsyn.” That was a very solid choice.
Death of a Giant
By Bruce Walker
“…His masterpiece, a work unprecedented anywhere at any time in human history, was The Gulag Archipelago, a three volume history of “our sewage disposal system.” With a combination of detail and eloquence, Solzhenitsyn page by page, chapter by chapter, book by book, goes through the forgotten stories, the horrific details, and the minute procedures of the Gulag. Books – a very few books, all of which I have read – described the Gulag before Solzhenitsyn, but these sad and serious books are like Kindergarten picture books beside Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece.
All this might not have been quite as monumental if he not been for the fact that Solzhenitsyn became profoundly religious, and remained so until the end of his life, after his arrest and transmission to the Gulag. When all of the rest of the civilized world, as well as the Marxist world, was tossing God into the dustbin of history, Solzhenitsyn realized that only God really matters. He chided the West for embracing materialism and forgetting God, a lesson that is just as true today as thirty years ago. …”
“…Alexander Solzhenitsyn was an anachronism: A real giant, in every sense. Let us small souls be silent in respect for the death of a giant.”
Empire-Slayer: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
by Daniel J. Mahoney
“Solzhenitsyn’s massive Gulag Archipelago was published in English in three volumes between 1974 and 1978. It is one the indispensable books of the last fifty years not least because it undermined the moral and political legitimacy of the entire Communist enterprise. This unique experiment in literary investigation” brilliantly wove together Solzhenitsyn’s personal experience and the testimony of 256 former prisoners with historical research and spiritual reflection. It allowed readers on both sides of the Iron Curtain to encounter totalitarian oppression as though for the first time, “to hear and see what it was all like: search, arrest, interrogation, prison, deportation, transit camp, prison camp … hunger, beatings, labor, corpses,” to cite the words of the Russian writer Lydia Chukovskaya. Moreover, Solzhenitsyn’s multifaceted, often sardonic authorial voice served as powerful instrument for indicting Communism and all its works.
At their root was mankind’s and Solzhenitsyn’s nemesis: ideology. Unlike the conventional analyses of academic historians and political scientists, Solzhenitsyn’s understanding never treated the Soviet Union as merely one tyranny among others. Rather, it was an ideological regime built upon the twin pillars of violence and lies. It was “thanks to ideology” that the 20th century experienced “evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions.” Ideology allowed tyrants and intellectuals alike to justify the unjustifiable and to amplify violence to nearly unimaginable levels. …”
by Daniel J. Mahoney
“Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the great souls of the age. He is also among its most maligned and misunderstood figures. It is hard to think of another prominent writer whose thought and character have been subjected to as many willful distortions and vilifications over the past thirty years.
Things were not always so. Until the early 1970s Solzhenitsyn was widely admired in the West as a dissident and as a critic of Communist totalitarianism. On the left he was appreciated as a defender of human rights against an undeniably illiberal and autocratic regime. But with the publication of works such as August1914 (1972), the Letter to the Soviet Leaders, and the cultural-spiritual anthology From Under the Rubble (both published in the West in 1974), it became impossible to claim Solzhenitsyn as a champion of left-liberal secularism. He continued to be, of course, a ferocious critic of the ideological “lie” and a tenacious defender of fundamental human liberties. But this antitotalitarian writer clearly did not believe that a free Russia should become a slavish imitator of the secular, postmodern West. It became increasingly clear that he was both an old-fashioned patriot and a committed Christian—but here also he was perplexing to some, because he adamantly rejected “blood and soil” nationalism, expressed no desire to return to the Tsarist past, and asked for no special privileges for Christianity in a post-totalitarian Russia.
A World Split Apart (audio)
delivered 8 June 1978 on the occasion of Class Day Afternoon Exercises at Harvard University
Simultaneous translation by Irina Alberti
at Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises,
Thursday, June 8, 1978
A World Split Apart (text)
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich’s book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in English in the United States. …”
Russia remembers Stalin’s purges
Joseph Stalin: Red Terror
A Portrait of Stalin: Secret Police
Soviet Propaganda Machine
Joseph Stalin Biography 1 of 2
Most Evil Men in History – Joseph Stalin (1 of 3)
Most Evil Men in History – Joseph Stalin (2 of 3)
Most Evil Men in History – Joseph Stalin (3 of 3)
Stalin- Robert Duvall
In The Face Of Evil: Reagan’s War In Word And Deed 3 of 29
In The Face Of Evil: Reagan’s War In Word And Deed 4 of 29
In The Face Of Evil: Reagan’s War In Word And Deed 5 of 29
USSR ANTHEM IN ENGLISH WITH JOSEF STALIN AND SOVIET VIDEOS
Tribute to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
A Visit to Soviet-era Concentration Camps