Thursday, March 5, 2009

Solzhenitsyn On Art

Hi all. So I'm writing a paper for one of my history classes on Solzhenitsyn. I've been thinking a lot lately about what the role of the artist is in our society. We often tend to romanticize those authors who live in desperation, angrily highlighting the evils of society. While their insights are often correct, I find that they do not risk much in seeking only to condemn. When I read poetry for my classes, I always ask myself, "Where is the truth in this?" The following excerpt from Solzhenitsyn is, I think, something that we should all keep in mind when we consider the beauty of what we study.

"Archaeologists have not discovered stages of human existence so early that they were without art. Right back in the early morning twilights of mankind we received it from Hands which we were too slow to discern. And we were too slow to ask: FOR WHAT PURPOSE have we been given this gift? What are we to do with it?

And they were mistaken, and will always be mistaken, who prophesy that art will disintegrate, that it will outlive its forms and die. It is we who shall die - art will remain. And shall we comprehend, even on the day of our destruction, all its facets and all its possibilities?

Not everything assumes a name. Some things lead beyond words. Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience. Through art we are sometimes visited - dimly, briefly - by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking.

Like that little looking-glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see - not yourself - but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly. And only the soul gives a groan...

One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: "Beauty will save the world". What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes - but whom has it saved?

There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender. It is possible to compose an outwardly smooth and elegant political speech, a headstrong article, a social program, or a philosophical system on the basis of both a mistake and a lie. What is hidden, what distorted, will not immediately become obvious.

Then a contradictory speech, article, program, a differently constructed philosophy rallies in opposition - and all just as elegant and smooth, and once again it works. Which is why such things are both trusted and mistrusted.

In vain to reiterate what does not reach the heart.

But a work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force - they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.

So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through - then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar TO THAT VERY SAME PLACE, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?

In that case Dostoevsky's remark, "Beauty will save the world", was not a careless phrase but a prophecy? After all HE was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination.

And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today?"

1 comment:

  1. This is pretty cool. Not to be obvious, but what I like best is the thing at the end with the three trees and Beauty fulfilling the work of all three. What's cool about this article is it's pointing out that good art is the stuff that moves and that is somehow a conduit to some sort of mystery- of the universe and of the self.
    And just as a side note, sort of, I love that that can happen through any medium, through any genre (conventional or not).
    It's always possible for a reader or observer to become riveted (eyes-in-a-trance level) by works of art in any form, and that's amazing to me. Ie form never has to limit depth. I've been thinking about this lately with particular regard to non-conventional genres, and how there's almost never any real reason to rule out forms of literature we might not be used to or that the literary world is not ready to accept as "real literature."
    Anyway, I like how he gets at the core- and once you have the core, the forms it can come in really just evince the breadth of human creativity. They actually help you get at the core better, because they enable you to come at it from different angles. It's like form is the whole host of different beautifully embellished frames, all for the same looking-glass:

    "Like that little looking-glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see - not yourself - but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly. And only the soul gives a groan..."