Monday, August 4, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn RIP

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a titan of Western literature, died yesterday at the age of 89. The author of the seminal and essential, stunning and horrifying 1973 trilogy Gulag Archipelago was very deservedly the Nobel Laureate for Literature in 1970 for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle, and Cancer Ward, among others.

It’s a miracle the man lived to 89. He was arrested in 1946 for making what were considered seditious comments about Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend and spent roughly the next decade in the brutal Soviet penal system. His first novels, starkly realistic portraits of the abuses of Stalin, were published while Nikita Khrushchev was in power and anxious to erase any Stalinist legacy. Post Khrushchev, Solzhenitsyn was continuously harassed by the KGB until he was finally exiled from The Soviet Union in 1974. His fame was likely the only thing that saved his life.

While intensely critical of the abuses of Stalin and “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, he was equally disgusted by the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism and, after 1994, voluntarily allowed himself to fade into obscurity.

Much like Albert Speer’s Inside the Third Reich, Gulag Archipelago is an almost sickeningly detailed account of the evil perpetrated under a totalitarian regime and exposed to the world that Adolph Hitler wasn’t the only monster in human skin pulling strings in the 1930’s and 40’s, and that it’s impossible to say which one was taking a page from the other book. Ostensibly bitter enemies, they certainly shared a vision on how to dispose of threats real and imagined within their respective spheres of influence.

At least part of Solzhenitsyn’s legacy is this – the idea that “it can’t happen here” is profoundly naive and the result of allowing yourself to believe it can possibly aid in the creation of the kind of dystopian hell Solzhenitsyn’s novels describe. When Thomas Jefferson, for all his failings, said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” he wasn’t fucking around. I try to keep politics out of this blog to prevent it from decaying into an online slap fight about who’s right and who’s wrong, but I think it’s applicable here. I see a lot of bile being hurled back and forth out there, but a dearth of vigilance and a complete disregard for the idea that I may disagree with what you say, but will fight to the death for your right to say it. Patriotism is loving your country, not your government. Loving your government is called nationalism, and history has shown that, before too long, it generally leads to conditions described in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s work. Whoever you think is the better President, Congressman, Senator, or whatever, I think his novels can and should be taken as cautionary. End of political diatribe.

Another giant of Western literature is dead, and I’m wondering where the ones stepping up to take their place are. If I’m just missing them somebody let me know.

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