Semicolon Author Celebration: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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According to WIkipedia:

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (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 Union’s forced labour camp system, and for these efforts Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. He returned to Russia in 1994.

I actually read The Gulag Archipelago, the whole thing I think, some twenty or thirty years ago. Honestly, I don’t remember much about it —except that it was long.

Solzhenitsyn, the man, was not a perfect person. He has been accused of anti-Semitism and of a superficial Russian patriotism that ignored the deep problems in post-communist Russia. Perhaps so.
But in his 1978 address to Harvard graduates, he was not afraid to speak truth to the elite students who were there to hear an innocuous commencement speech from a famous dissident. They got more than they bargained for.

Solzhenitsyn said:

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.

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.

Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. One would then like to ask: by what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the communist East a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time and with what prerogatives?

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.

The speech itself is worth reading.

So today we celebrate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, an imperfect man who wrote long books, showed great courage in his resistance to the oppressive system of Soviet communism, and spoke some hard truths even at Harvard. If you have something to say about Solzhenitsyn and his writings, please leave a link in the linky.

One more quote from Mr. Solzhenitsyn: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

4 thoughts on “Semicolon Author Celebration: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  1. Interesting post. i have read several of his books.

  2. I have SO much respect for Solzhenitsyn.

    His “One Day in the Life” was one of the books I had Christopher read in high school. I have a few of his large books on the shelf, waiting for the time when I’m in the mood for heavy reading.

    Christmas is not that time. 🙂

  3. Thanks for focusing on this author. I admire him greatly. My Bachelor’s degree was in History and Political Science with a concentration in Russian/Soviet Studies. I found the Soviet dissident movement to be a fascinating part of history and Solzhenitsyn was a powerful force during that time. Handwritten and typed underground books being passed hand to hand – a major phenomenon of the time – makes me appreciate the freedom we have today.

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