Personal Truths. 2. Creativity. Art. Thought

Everything inaccessible is beautiful, everything beautiful is inaccessible. Life emerges from unfathomable beginnings and strives for unapproachable ends. As long as we are in this life, we have access not to beginnings, but to ideas of beginnings; not to ends, but only to the limits of aspirations, beyond which we cannot go… Everything is mystery and darkness, and at the same time in ourselves we feel the light and the key to the world’s darkness and mystery. This is how poets and philosophers become: from the dual sense of inner light and surrounding darkness.

Both poetry and philosophy are not necessarily what is ‘printed in books’ and fills libraries. At least, not always. Almost everyone carries within themselves their own understanding of the world, their own understanding of poetry. But these understandings almost never go beyond the limits of the life that gave birth to them. And in unfavourable epochs the elaborated, thought-out understandings of the world, combinations of images — remain also outside written literature and outside libraries.

We write and speak, of course, for ourselves. If we are surrounded by culture — as an environment in which thoughts can dwell — then our words may be shared with others, and sometimes understood. But this favourable environment might not exist, I think even — it no longer exists; the word is not devalued by this. As an inner human faculty, speech remains always with man and continues to distinguish him from the beasts — even on a deserted island. Thought has now found itself on such an island, and it is left either to be silent or to recognise its value as sufficiently great, even in the absence of capable evaluators, without evaluators at all, on a completely deserted island… and to continue its seemingly useless work.

Speaking is a low-value art, beautiful only in that it introduces us to the art of living and experiencing happiness. Does the writer suspect, going out on his road, that he will one day reach a state when the good things about himself cease to please, and the bad things are not believed, because you know much more good and bad about yourself than any outsider? The weight of approval, the value of outside opinion in general, is terribly exaggerated by people who take it upon themselves to judge the matter. ‘You have written a good book’, they say to a writer. But he knew it the very minutes he wrote it; what can he hear new? ‘Inevitable inner questions’, of which Gogol spoke, are not cancelled by anyone’s approval. There is, however, still the happiness of recognition; but to one who has long since recognised himself it is useless. To one who is occupied in an endless conversation with his soul, all other conversations seem insignificant.

‘Manuscripts do not burn’ is a noble self-consolation. Thought separated from the reader is powerless. The book is the earthly refuge of thought, in which it survives unfavourable times to be preserved for other generations, and reading is the most common way of communicating with spirits; for most writers are already beyond the edge of the world, so that literature represents the most extensive bequest. Every reader is a bit of an enchanter, a bit of a spell-caster of the dead. Reading belongs to the category of everyday miracles.

Inspiration. Creativity

What is creativity? Let’s discard everything we’ve heard about it and listen to our own soul. What will it tell us? Is not creativity, for example, a hidden desire for power, for success? Does not the creator labour for power over his creation? Surely the obedience of the material under the hands of the creator serves as an encouragement to those hands. It is sweet to impose one’s will on things in general; in this sense, no human endeavour is without a ‘will to power’… And at the same time, creativity is not only a matter of will and power, but also a matter of paternity and condescension. The creator is a father to everything he creates; he condescends to it with love and the desire to see his likeness… Creativity in all its manifestations is the search and creation of a mirror in which the creator would be reflected, but a living mirror. The meaning of creativity can be defined as the gradual animatement of the world, beginning with the very act of creation; man, too, is looking for someone to give his soul to, and he gives it to a stone, and a book, and a dog, as far as he is willing and able to create.

Creativity does not begin with ‘I want’ but with something else: inspiration. Only those words have value that are in conflict with the will of the speaker, or at least unexpected for him. The point of creativity is to extract value from nothing. The work must be unknown to the creator in advance in order to be successful.

Here is the stumbling block to material explanations of creative labour. Atheism has the hardest time when it meets with inspiration. ‘I am nothing’, says the man of inspiration, ‘but I know my God. He speaks with my voice, and no matter how much you persuade me to love myself alone, I know that without Him I am nothing. I am a dry tree, only a stroke of lightning makes me a torch’.  Any pattern can be embroidered on the canvas of inspiration; yet not only we, but books are made of ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’. They are just as stitched from the clouds of inspiration; plots and ideas are only staples for this material. If all the creations of Dostoevsky’s thought had remained in drafts, had not materialised into novels, they would have lost their form, but not their value.

The inspired author, it is generally believed, denounces his own stupidity or ignorance of life. It is generally believed that life is not worth inspiring, or if it was, it was once before. Modernity places itself above life, i.e., above reflexion, inspiration, and creativity; it uses life, but sees nothing to reflect on. ‘There was a man and there is no man; live while you’re alive’.

Such a worldview is not nourishing for the creator. An indispensable condition of creativity is the certainty that everything that happens is not the only and final reality. The creator for the success of creativity must believe in his immortality or at least not be afraid of death, otherwise his works will not outlive the creator. The temporary does not create the eternal. The worship of fact, i. e. visible reality, educates men of action, but not creators. Art does not exist apart from the belief in the immortality of the soul.

Poetry is the eternal and most obvious to us image of inspired creativity. Let’s talk about poetry. What distinguishes it from, say, composing newspaper articles?

Poetry is the art of concentrated inattention. It is almost a platitude to say that a poet does not have to see anything that everyone else sees in order to notice something that no one else notices. Poetry is the art of extracting the great — not necessarily from the insignificant, but from the available (for the everyday is not necessarily insignificant; repetition does not diminish greatness). ‘if thou take forth the precious from the vile’, said the Lord to an Old Testament prophet, ‘thou shalt be as my mouth’. So is the poet. If magic is the achievement of a goal by straining the will and uttering special words-spells, then poetry is its direct heir. By a special state of mind and extraordinary words it makes golden ‘trash of life’ [1] .

Plato said that the soul consists of wise and fierce parts. The same can be said of poetry. There must necessarily be wit and there must be fury, that is, a combination of love and despair with which those who believe in their cause fight for it.

Poetry is a means of partaking of another’s inspiration, though incomplete. That is its only charm. It makes everyone feel at least some of the movement and fire that a truly inspired soul knows. The need for poetry is therefore a transcendent, metaphysical need (like the genuine, so rare in our time, need for love). ‘Transcendent’, after all, is anything that takes the soul beyond its limits. Poetry tells the soul about what awaits it beyond the edge of the everyday… Only a great nation, i. e. one that does not fit into historical reality, can love poetry. Only that nation does not need it, which can fully accommodate itself in the existence of the present; which has not enough space under the sun and the moon; poetry, like religion, expresses those aspirations that lack a place in historical eternity. The craving for poetry is a measure of animation and religious capacity; it is no accident at all that the Bible gives the highest examples of poetry. The poetic thirst, like the religious one, increases with the realisation of the impossibility of its quenching, and leads the soul into that region where all its knowledge of the possible and the impossible is useless; where only those truths are suitable that are not obtained from the sources of reason or enthusiasm (since enthusiasm, as Pushkin noted, is not the source of inspiration; inspiration is unreasonable, but at the same time not enthusiastic)…

True poetry must be ruthless: sensual and at the same time cruel; undiluted sweetness is harmful to it. The best poetry is only a breeze, like every high movement of the soul… Neither truth, nor justice, nor love is found in the world in abundance, not as a breeze from above; true poetry is obliged to follow them. Yet Nietzsche called for truth to be spoken sublimely and cynically…

Poetry is the joining of things that are difficult to join. When the terrible and the sad are together, it is poetry (like the thought of the resin of long ago trees that became amber); there is nothing poetic in the terrible and the sad separately. The forever gone, by the way, is an eternal source of poetry; the present is rarely poetic, very rarely the future… The ruins and remains that inspire Romanticism speak more to the imagination than to the mind. Reality almost never appeals to the most effective and powerful sense of the impossible; man, as a son of God, is attracted — almost exclusively — by the uncreated and seeking fulfilment, including that which can only be brought to life by imagination.

The poet can say: we follow the trail and see the footprints everywhere, but the one who left them is invisible. Art is the pursuit of a tangible image of the invisible, of expressing in words what cannot be conveyed in words. Only that which cannot be expressed in words constitutes the subject of literature. When a writer speaks of a ‘starry night’, he does not mean the luminaries that an astronomer studies, but the starry awe and many-eyed terror, in short, the ‘feeling of the starry sky’ that Nabokov mentions. Poetry is therefore the tip of the arrow called literature. Poetry teaches nothing. Its meaning is the direct transmission of the experience of life.

In conveying this experience, creativity makes extraordinary things out of ordinary ones. It usually has a composition and a foundation. An entirely new, unfounded creativity would be incomprehensible to anyone in the first place, even assuming a genius capable of it. Art and thought are doomed to be rooted in the existing; they cannot change their objects, unless the objects themselves change. Only the relation to the content, i. e. the appearance, can be new in art.

Creativity is the light that illuminates the soul from within. The difficulty is not how to get it, because this inner light is given freely, the difficulty is to keep it. Inner cheerfulness, lightness, even levity is needed to give importance not to the pressing reality, but to the light, almost ghostly creations of one’s soul. It is impossible to live by simply taking reality into oneself. On the contrary, one should fill reality with one’s soul. Positive knowledge of the world is always only knowledge of what things are not. By enumerating the differences and attributes, it does not touch the essence — that is, the meaning — of objects, so the only source of soul wealth, creativity and all goodness is not outside, but within man. Knowledge of the habits of things has not yet enriched anyone, has not pleased and even less able to please others… And it is also deceptive, because it tempts the researcher to feel himself a creator, while he is only an observer. The external world, generally speaking, is accidental, it could have been different, therefore it is ridiculous to adapt to it and to seek comfort in it. The art of life is not to put the eternally given external things into a new combination — let technology do that — but to give one’s soul a certain position in relation to external things and to maintain it without embarrassment to the end.

In the eyes of society every creator is mad, and it is good for him if he manages to conceal this madness. The creator encroaches on the most sacred tradition: the soothing conviction that the majority is always right — a lie that alone ensures the cosy existence of every human multitude. The victorious power must necessarily find a good reason for its triumph, independent of itself. Self-justification is the occupation of the strong. Weakness, insecurity, illness are looking for a way to survive — the force needs to justify itself and the conquered position. Not rich in courage, it is always surprised by the fearlessness of the powerless. Thus one tyrant valued poets who defied him.

Our time exaggerates the importance of ‘sincerity’ in poetry. However, sincerity is no substitute for talent. A gift, moreover, knows how to be cold, that is, as if it were insincere. The ability to be cold, speaking of fiery subjects, may be considered a sign of true gift. The gift is able to separate experience from explanation; the former requires inner warmth, the latter — calmness and clarity. Pushkin separated inspiration from enthusiasm; Khodasevich, the last of the great Russian poets, even suggested abandoning the name: ‘inspiration’, because of the constant confusion of this state with enthusiasm… And yet there is inspiration. Mixing inspiration with warmth of feeling is the danger of youth. A young man should be engaged in life, not in art, because the latter needs wisdom. You must first realise that life as you dreamt of it has failed, and then you can do art…

Poetry is rarely combined with a successful life. ‘A sizzling life’, said Khodasevich, ‘is most valued in a poet’. How many soul-damaging truths the poet encounters only because he is not careful enough; with more self-love he would be more virtuous and ignorant. But truth burns, truth is harmful to the soul, and is not given into the hands of the calm, judicious, and virtuous. To know a little more about a man, one must give either calmness or good name, or calmness and good name together. ‘Do many and great sins draw one upward? — Quite the contrary’.

The reason is different. The eleventh commandment of the poet says: any satisfaction found apart from creativity is immoral. Be what you like, do what you like, but create. The cowardice of the poet (by which I mean, as always, the man of creativity in general) is that he takes the first part of this rule: ‘do what you will… ‘ without the second: ‘…but create’. This is the essence not only of creative freedom, but of all freedom. No one is above morality, but everyone has to pay for his freedom — and the poet pays for it with creativity, in the fiery furnace of which he burns his soul.

Poetry — and all inspired creativity — is built from the most personal, inner material. The most personal experiences are the most universal. Cleansed of everything accidental, usually called ‘personal’, they speak of the soul, not of the worldly dust in which this soul is immersed. The painter of such experiences was Dostoevsky, who, however, is not accepted by people who demand ‘pictures’ from literature. There is nothing ‘picturesque’ in the descriptions of the soul’s life, but there is beauty in them — the beauty of the flame, to which alone the inner life of the spirit can be compared. The soul is exactly like a flame; Khodasevich correctly said of it: ‘I live, and my soul beneath the surface, some fiery miracle, lives apart from me’.

What is a ‘soul’? Can it be seen? Nevertheless, it is it that we lean towards as a source of creativity. The most important place in the spiritual life of mankind is occupied by poetry as knowledge of what cannot be known. Skills and sciences must bow before poetry, because no science can eliminate death from being, but poetry explains death, anxiety, and danger, gives them meaning and deprives them of their sting. Science is not among the vital human needs, but poetry is. Science is a luxury, and poetry is bread, because neither fight, nor labour, nor love, nor die without poetry, that is, without truth, — you can’t, but without science — you can. Maybe the day will come when science will triumph over truth. Then the life of mankind will be explained to the end — and devoid of meaning, because the meaning of life is higher than the totality of its mechanical causes.

A poet (if you like, choose any other word) differs from an ordinary man in that he does not stop where an ordinary man stops. He does nothing half-heartedly — for this he is called ‘a man of passions’. Well-behavedness requires stopping halfway, a little to love, a little to hate, a little to suffer… Who follows these rules, he fulfils his duties to society: he is neither happy nor unhappy, but does not make neither happy nor unhappy others. He is safe, and what else is required? Society seeks security, the soul seeks happiness, but society is stronger.

It is not enough for a creator to express the truth, he must also express it strongly and clearly, so that every word not only was, but also sounded true. Darkly expressed truth, inarticulate truth is nonsense, a combination of incongruous concepts. What is true is well spoken; only falsehood stutters. However, there is a reverse movement: the lie also strives, if not for clarity (this is inaccessible to it) and not for beauty (even here the world order is ruthless), then for grandeur. The majestic lie has a greater effect on the mind and begins to like itself — the lie is very sensitive and above all wants to be liked, here its great difference from the worldly inexperienced truth, which generally does not care what people think of it.

And it should be remembered that the capacity for creativity and the capacity for mental labour are two different things. Everything good and durable and truthful in the world is created by creativity; mental labour occupies a subordinate, serving position in life: it does not set tasks, but only develops those already set. In this case, the mind envies creativity and in every possible way counterfeits the fruits of its hard work, achieving their resemblance to easy and willful works of creativity. A well-known, if not predominant, part of philosophy consists precisely of the fruits of strained reflexions, which have as their basis anything but inspiration. The scientist is a type of man of mental labour in its purest form: he works on facts, but does not create facts, whereas creativity creates new facts of human existence at every step, and gradually builds culture out of the totality of these facts. Creativity lays the stones in the wall — the mind takes the wall apart and studies the individual stones; it is surprisingly helpless when it takes up the unfamiliar task of building itself, even if it first gets rid of its rivals, as Plato, who had no sooner embarked on the ideal state than by removing the poets from it.

Poets hinder the builders of everything ‘positive’. At least because books are created from the material of unquenched desires. If every movement of the soul had a complete and complete embodiment, the world would be a different place and, among other things, there would be far fewer works of art, which — for the most part — are fuelled by unquenched desires. What is the difference between art and science? Art speaks of what the human soul craves; science speaks of what it finds in the world and what it possesses. Truth, in my opinion, is in the realm of the soul’s thirst: what we most acutely lack in the world is truth; what we possess are only facts that have no moral significance.

No wonder peace of mind rarely coexists with creativity. A man of gift may say, ‘A sense of chosenness? Ha! If so, then it is chosenness to suffer. The thought of one’s singularity, of the Gift, is not at all soothing, rather disturbing; it is at best a sweet anxiety… The Gift is something unknown behind the door of your soul; it is the night behind the curtain; it is the wind behind the trees; it is the mysterious night sky hidden behind the clarity and simplicity of the day… The Gift is the great unknown that takes part in all the events of your life. It is the double bottom of the soul, in which every word awakens an echo, and a totally unexpected echo; it is the ever-open door to a very different world. In other words, the gift is as close to madness as you can get, but only with complete clarity of mind and sobriety of thought. It is a constant and intense inner life that takes place in a world without extension, which for most people simply does not exist. A person of gift lives in two worlds and sometimes does not know which of them is more real: visible to everyone or not visible to anyone… A sense of chosenness, you say? Nothing of the sort’.

The creator is not ‘positive’, not ‘standing firmly on the ground’. For creativity — not for ‘success’, but simply as a condition — one needs the ability to be not quite here, a certain abstraction. Whereas normally the inner life of the soul only reflects the movement towards certain external goals, with the creator it is the other way round. His inner life is more material, more dense than the life of things and events around him. Otherwise there is an absorption with the world; a life exclusively in the external, which is not favourable to creativity. To ‘influence’ things or people is quite the opposite of the essence of creativity as the inner life of the soul. Creativity means striving not for power, but for inner clarity, i. e. truth, and if it influences people or things, then only indirectly, subsequently. Activity, on the other hand, as the opposite of creativity, is primarily preoccupied with power and success, directed exclusively outward; activity does not strive for enlightenment of one’s inner life and rarely achieves it. Which is better? What is more worthy of man? There are no answers here, but only questions. There is no answer to them, at least not one and suitable for all.

We can express what we cannot contain — and that is perhaps the only thing we can do with it. Art is entirely based on the psychic ability to overcome horror by giving it expression. The images that tormented us until they had no form — like terrible dreams — release the soul as soon as words are found for them. The mind, contrary to popular belief, is not concerned with understanding, but with expression. Our ability to express far exceeds our ability to understand…

Art is that which sets the soul in motion, I can offer no other definition. Rest, a state without thought or excitement, is the opposite of art. But there is no need to confuse the spring excitement of the body, which ‘mass culture’ is so good at inducing, with the trembling of the soul. Modern times in general have been too successful in communicating with the element of sex. What is wrong with this? The fact that it addresses itself directly to the dark core of sexual life, bypassing all its higher and purified forms connected with love. The soul is taught to experience longing and dark excitement and voluptuousness without preparation, without being led through the tempting and purifying path of love for another person, i. e. through self-disdain and self-giving and recognising an equal, if not greater, value in the other. We learn to plunge into the very sources of pleasure, and miss that which is above pleasure — happiness inseparable from suffering.

The whole world may be turned into words and into an easy, subtle connexion of concepts. This is what the thinker and the artist, and especially the artist-thinker, are engaged in. In every thing is hidden the truth about it, and wherever you direct your gaze, from everywhere there are springs of meaning. The world becomes a waterless desert only for dry minds that think in terms of goals and achievements, achievements for themselves. The wind of higher goals, higher and therefore useless, refreshes even doers, people of goals and achievements, so that they also begin to see in things a meaning separate from their own benefit, but without it the world is a dry desert in which languishing humanity wanders, wishing to find and failing to find at least a rivulet of meaning.

A poet should be brief and precise — to the point of suspicion of cynicism, but not to the point of cynicism. Those who do not follow this rule are usually considered poets by the public. A poet is one who is able to bind the meaning of a moment with a network of well-chosen words. His work is the network, not the meaning itself. An inept poet and an inept reader — one by his inability to express, the other by his inability to read — destroy the snares and the meaning flies away. The unskilful reader reaches out for meaning, but receives only a hint of where, in what combination of thought and emotional turmoil it should be sought… A true poet always speaks in hints, but about the main thing; passes us knowledge of things without describing them. Poetry is rain over dry ground; its success requires a certain thirst — otherwise the waters of poetry will spill over and go back into the sea. And what can the philosopher learn from the poet? Not to describe anything; not to lead the reader by the hand, asking him to look to the right or to the left. Philosophy is only a net thrown over truth; a veil over the sculpture. The reader has nothing to do with philosophical truths without the ability to guess and discover for himself.

The only, or almost the only, meaning of creativity for me is in self-discovery, in comprehending that glittering and sometimes impenetrably dark reality which I find deep within myself, and which is somehow, in a way unknown to me, connected with the whole world. It is only for the sake of explaining myself to myself that I write. In the state of luminous wholeness that is characteristic of us in childhood, and even in adulthood for some of us, there is simply nothing to write about. At least, there is no room for philosophical creativity, because everything in this state is good and there is nothing to add to it. Creativity begins where harmony is broken, the heavens have darkened, but in the soul remained an imperious longing for clarity and confidence in its possibility, and even more — the feeling that this clarity, harmony is natural and native to the soul. The soul may be tormented by the darkest images, the ugliest visions, but in its depths it is always clear. If there were not this premonition of harmony, faith in the possibility of harmony and its affinity to us, there would be no search for purity and beauty in the world. There would be no grounds for it. It is much easier to explain the craving for the ugly, the low, than the thirst for light. The urge to acquire and absorb, to possess and devour looks much more inherent, for a ‘natural’ being, as one would like to see humans. Yet there is light in us, ‘and the darkness comprehended it not’.

For — this is a sidenote — according to modern views, there is nothing more natural to man than evil. Desire, achieve what you want, act according to your needs, and you are already on the road. I will say to this that there is a power in man to resist evil, no matter how ‘natural’ it is, and what is more, that this power in man is predominant. If evil were actually so natural to man, there would have been nothing but evil in the world long ago, and what is there — there would have been no family, no society, no culture, no state. Not sharing at all the belief in the ‘beautiful natural man’, we should recognise that natural for us are not only temptations, but also the opposite and, as a rule, stronger movements of the soul. Mankind, at least in its best representatives, tends steadily to complicate, deepen and clarify the soul life. The viciousness of modern thinking is that following the path of least resistance is declared to be the natural behaviour of man, whereas, on the contrary, in all his paths he has succeeded only by going against the current and natural aspirations, from simplicity to complexity, from temptation to overcoming. Roughly speaking, Sodom and Gomorrah are declared the model of ‘naturalness’, and Lot, fleeing from Sodom, is seen as an enemy of society or, at the very least, as a dangerous eccentric. The state of extreme weakening of defence forces, I mean moral ones, is proclaimed as the norm. But it is not!

The old question: if creativity is madness, a deviation from the ‘norm’, why does this madness invariably gravitate toward the same goals, toward beauty and truth — with rare, almost non-existent exceptions? There is a clear contradiction here. If on the soil of the ‘norm’ grow both moderate vices and moderate virtues, in short, there is a certain diversity, on the contrary, in the garden of ‘deviation from the norm’ all the trees are tilted in one direction, there is much more uniformity and order. It seems as if we are looking for normality in the wrong place. ‘Normal’ in man is the highest, and indifferent, is only the soil for growth — everything else. Let man grow and he will find the real norm, he will find the truth. From this we can draw some conclusions as to the purpose of evil in the world: to prevent people from rising above the average, and even more, to make this semi-natural existence be considered natural and the only possible existence. And it should be said that evil, as it operates in history, has at all times endeavoured to do just that. Even the dreamers of the ‘harmonious man’, beginning with Plato, have endeavoured to limit this imagined man in advance; democracy has proclaimed the salvation of mediocrity; and tyranny has resolutely enforced its domination…

But if creativity strives for harmony, it is still a visible, unmistakable sign of pain and transition. We wade through the thorny bushes, the reader sees our creativity so undeniably — in his eyes — witnessing the idleness of our souls. The best food and air for creativity is in desolate places where the unanswered questions lie; where one is afraid to go and does not want to go. Creativity is a sign of struggle; in youth, for love; often for truth; and very often a sign of the soul’s struggle for eternity. The man of creativity is ‘normal’ in the conventional sense then, and only then, when the hand of God is not upon him. Then he is occupied with empty, i. e. achievable goals, with the ‘mouse race’ of life, in short, he is entertained and distracted from himself. But he returns to himself… and then Bielinsky, without hesitation, calls Gogol crazy, and the newspapers almost openly call Dostoevsky mentally ill. But how good it is that to be ‘normal’ for a long time for a man with a mind and soul is impossible!

For creativity — insofar as it is liberating, i. e. it brings us closer to a religious understanding of the world — it is necessary to free oneself from one’s own normality; to cease to be merely human. To the extent that he succeeds, the creator becomes a philosopher and a prophet; if he fails, he remains an artist of his time, curious to his contemporaries and, perhaps with great luck, to attentive historians. Out of the human in his soul is born only a human creativity, that is temporary and local. For creativity to succeed, it is necessary to break out of the limits of the self. He who does not go beyond them will remain a nice interlocutor and a pleasant person, but will not see the stars, as in the ancient engraving they were seen by a wanderer who looked outside the celestial circle.

The question, ‘What is a gift?’ is equivalent to another question, ‘Why do I see what others do not see?’ He who has never asked himself this question, for him the former does not exist. He is free to believe in ‘equality’ and to assert positive ideals… For him, however, who has asked himself whence his distressing ability, looking at one thing with others, to see different things this is a poignant and important question. ‘This or that is obvious to me. Why only to me? What does this ability to see beyond the ordinary mean? Illness, ignorance, self-indulgence? Why is what is unimportant to others, sometimes to whole generations, important to me? Why is the generally accepted and universally endorsed despicable to me…?’ These and similar questions are asked by the man of gift. There is no satisfactory, i. e. comforting — and only such answers are considered satisfactory — answer to these questions. Either ‘everyone’ is right, and then you are chasing a wandering light; you are wandering in the mire; you are walking in darkness — or you and a few others are right. This answer is even harder than the first, because it forces one to part with the comforting faith learnt from childhood in the rightness of the majority, on which so much is based. One’s own ugliness and inferiority is somehow easier to reconcile with than the frightening thought of exclusive rightness. ‘Scripture is always written by others’. Exactly so: in the most important matters it is easiest to believe others.

The writer and his time

I began this conversation with the idea that the press and the reader are not necessarily companions of creativity. There is also creativity without a reader, apparently ‘for no one’. The position of a writer who writes for no one is much more favourable than that of a public favourite. He knows that he will never see his reader, and for young people in this ‘never’ has even its own sweetness, as in any unknown and unattainable. But he who writes for no one writes for nothing; for the solitary writer the question of the meaning of life is much more acute than for a man whose abilities are recognised by society. His life is meaningless, yet he continues it, and even finds creative delight in the futility of existence. Between the beautiful and the useful, the solitary writer chooses the beautiful.

To be heard in time — not everyone is given, even among the writers admitted to the printing press. Why, say, Dostoevsky was not heard in time? Why did not any of his contemporaries follow the path of his thoughts?  Different answers are possible. But we should start with the fact that it is difficult or impossible to follow the creator: he leads us into his world, in which all questions are resolved and at the same time exacerbated to the limit. The contradictions that usually braid the feet of those who walk, in this world favour movement. But (and this is always pointed out by sceptics) this world is permeated with inner meaning, all in pursuit of this meaning, but it does not contain it in itself. The meaning is outside the inner life of the creator, just as it is outside all life.

Those to whom modernity does not want to listen have only to turn to eternity. Only those voices continue to resound in history that contemporaries did not want to hear. The condition for the longevity of a work is the absence of timely evaluation.

Speaking of Dostoevsky. Times that demand ‘honesty’ from writers are unfavourable for literature. It is much easier to judge ‘honesty’ than ‘gift’. The gift is hidden, and in its manifestations too personal, and besides, its charm is not universal. Creativity is not only based on gift and inspiration, but also requires a gifted environment for itself. Art, no doubt, educates; but even before that it needs a slightly educated evaluator, otherwise it will remain an art for creators.

And in general: the measure of truth, including literary truth, is suffering, not success. Success has no moral value, it is necessary as a justification of efforts, but it cannot be a means of educating peoples and individuals, just as praise cannot be a means of educating children. Adversity is necessary for the establishment of personality; without it, it can only be charming but fragile.

It would be wrong to think that high truths are given only at the cost of moral failure or at least the loss of the beauty and goodness of life (as hinted at in the famous passage of Isaiah, where he speaks of Him who has come), but it must be recognised that high truths at least come from the same life that has known failure, powerlessness and despair. Familiarity with the higher truths is at the same time familiarity with a sense of ultimate abandonment. Higher truths are such that they are not worn out of a prosperous, successful, triumphant life. Triumph does not teach at all.

So, a writer is not necessarily needed by his society  (and, under certain conditions, deliberately not needed). ‘Write for yourself’, society says to such a writer. ‘Pardon me’, the writer has the right to object, ‘it is a kind of self-satisfaction and unnaturalness to write for oneself! The poet “throws the fruit of creativity to the crowd” not least because he no longer needs this fruit. Love of creative labour is rarely combined with love of one’s own work, at least when it is complete’.

However, he still continues to write. The motivations of a real writer are crazy enough. How can the urge to work for posterity, to appeal to the children of the children of the modern generation, be regarded? These urges can be carried in the chest, but cannot be expressed. But what real writer does not speak to the future? I will say more: one can even be a personality exactly to the extent that it is unknown to others. The majority is hostile to personal uniqueness in all its manifestations.

We are speaking to the future. Our thought, expressed with sufficient force and passion, begins to live independently in time, even if its original meaning has decayed and gone out. We will never know the original meaning of many, if not most, of the most important ideas of mankind. Let us appreciate the writer not for this or that meaning of his speeches, but for the ability to give them the power of existence in eternity.

Every gift manifested in creativity can also be defined as the inability to stop where everyone else stops. The man of the gift goes too far, beyond the line of reasonableness, and that is why he finds what others have not found. He is not rational. True creativity does not come ‘from the mind’. A writer might say to a reader about his books:  — The main ideas? Subtract them. The philosophy? Skip it. Leave only the direct relation of the soul to the world, not formalised in words, or at least try to find it among words. The author perceived the world in a certain special way; being for him had a certain taste and colour; this is what books are written for, look for it in them. Remember, as Rozanov said: ‘Who is a writer? He who has music in his soul all his life’. The universe was the love and music of my soul, — a writer can say, — and as far as I could, I conveyed this music in words. All words, however, are weak to express the feeling of a living thread stretched between the world and the soul, the tension and vibrations of which we call creativity.

And in another way the irrationality of creative labour manifests itself. A writer is by definition a daring man. He dares to do what others are afraid of; he dares to speak where it is customary to keep silent or cry. Daring is the first quality of a true writer. He brings out the secret from his soul, and — notice! — it does not necessarily have to be ‘treasure’ in the ordinary sense of the word. Dostoevsky was not afraid to portray Svidrigailov and Stavrogin; these secrets of his soul can certainly not be considered ‘treasures’ in the conventional sense, but this does not diminish the value of their images… Here it is important to tell the truth, faithfully witness, and to such faithful witnesses our moral assessments are inapplicable. To the spirit, — allow me this harshness, — it is not ashamed to confess anything. Where the spirit is, everything is holy. Nikolai Strakhov, who whines to Tolstoy about Dostoevsky’s bad morals, is worthless. I am not justifying Dostoevsky, I just want to say that it is not our business to justify or condemn him, it is our business to accept his evidence. What do we care more about — good morality or the truth about man? If we want the truth, then burn it to the ground, this morality! The truths available to man are obtained in man’s own ways.

A writer can be with his time or against it. In both cases he can be modern. The modernity of a work depends on the amount of inner fire in it, on the extent to which it is nourished by the inner experiences of the creator.  Personal means eternal, or at any rate durable. Our Herzen and Dostoevsky are modern; Christ and Isaiah are modern… All of them express not ‘their epoch’ but themselves; a writer, a thinker is by no means ‘representative of his time’; in this case one would have to attribute to this or that time some special talent, at least to declare some times especially favourable for creativity, but this would be against the truth: on the contrary (I think it is not even necessary to prove it), the times of Isaiah or Christ, of Nietzsche or Dostoevsky were not somehow particularly favourable for creativity, and moreover, were rather particularly difficult for the thinking man. If we speak about the place of ‘epoch’ in this or that creative work — the epoch creates difficulties that the thinker overcomes; it gives food for the fire in which his soul burns — and the soul life, as far as it is present, is always a fire. That is why philosophical, and any other work, is not at all ‘for eternity’. Nothing of the kind. It needs its epoch and its society; it is meant for the nation, and more broadly for humanity, for that segment of cultural history in which its words and images are still comprehensible, which is like-minded with the creator and does not need to explain ambiguities and hints. Outside this segment, creativity is only a subject of enquiry. To point out to the creator that eternity lies before him is like consoling Romeo that he will meet Juliet in the grave.

(On the other hand, it is a childish misconception that Pushkin is Pushkin because he was recognised and glorified. Even if he had not shone, he would still be the same, and the depth of his soul life has not changed. Young men ambitiously compare themselves with one or another of those who shone, forgetting that it is not the outer radiance that matters, but the inner light of the soul. ‘Full of golden thoughts, understood by no one’, he would have gone his way, and no one would have noticed him. And how many creators pass this way? The brilliance and complexity of a deep soul life is not necessarily revealed to mankind. Modernity does not know that greatness is not at all dependent on public opinion and the democratic casting of votes…)

Time catches us in a loop, and the strongest fighter fights only within the circle delineated by his time. ‘The enemy of his time’ is first of all a prisoner of his time. We raise certain questions primarily because they are neglected by the epoch (I am speaking precisely of ‘enemies of their time’, of untimely, i. e. modern, thinkers). If the time suffers from nihilism and the depletion of the stock of values, then the strongest fighters against this time will also be partly nihilists, only suffering, reasonable and conscious. Some recognise their nihilism as an advantage, while others recognise it as a misfortune, and it is from the latter came Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and in modern times Shestov, and other independent thinkers will emerge.

In order to fight successfully against one’s own time, one must be at least on the same or higher level of development with it; only then can we speak of a struggle; otherwise we can only speak of the naïvety of the thinker, of being unaffected by cultural influences. This means that one must carry within oneself all the contradictions of one’s time and the will to resolve them. This is the challenge of modern free minds — their freedom is quite different from that of the esprit-forts of the 18th century. It is the freedom not of licentiousness, but of self-determination and inner clarity; the freedom of the sober among the drunk; the freedom of self-control in a world that sees no value in self-control and inner integrity; in a world in which the mindset of the 18th century is still essentially alive, complacent and limited, like all revolutionary worldviews. It has a peculiar pride of mediocrity. In the 18th century man — the enlightened man — has taken off his crown, stripped off his armour, all the marks of royal and chivalric dignity, dethroned himself, and of all voluntarily become nothing. ‘Remove this burden from us: our shoulders cannot bear it!’ With these words, a generation of weak and morally shaky people threw off a weight that was unbearable for them — not only for themselves, but also for their descendants…

The artist can be either with his time or against it. In the first case, it is a time of rise, in the second — of decline. The path of the artist is always forwards and upwards. ‘Modernity’ is not in itself a virtue. In times of falling water level it signifies shallowness, in times of high tide it signifies depth. When an era is on the decline, mediocrities proud of their modernity float downstream to nowhere, while creators move against and reach eternity. Since the defining characteristic of the democratic age is vulgarity and accessibility to the middle, everything ‘ contemporary’ to it can in no way count on its longevity. Only that which was said and done ‘against the current’ in the latest epoch will leave its mark. This is the general rule: only the spiritual in the history of mankind takes root and bears fruit, everything else passes away, and it is the spiritual that is recognised by our epoch as ‘untimely’ and pushed out of the way.

Art, all art, is brought to a standstill by modernity. By its very nature it is spiritual, it is based on the idea that man is what he looks like, i.e. a spiritual self-moving being. Modernity, however, sets before art the task of pleasingly exciting an empty shell, behind the appearance of which lies Nothing. Art does not need this task, and it gradually withdraws from the world. At all times, art has been primarily concerned with man and the universe passed through his soul, so that the elimination of man (which is exactly what is happening before our eyes) means the elimination of art. Perhaps only those kinds of art that appeal directly to the body, without requiring spiritual experience for their perception, may survive — rhythmic but meaningless music, vivid but meaningless painting… Literature will still have a loophole — naturalism on the border with outright pornography, but even those will soon cause satiety. It will all be gone — until the return to the human world, if and when it comes.

The importance of a writer in literature is determined not by his ability to weave words (as the Soviet Platonov had, for example), but by whether the next generations will look to him for answers to the same questions that tormented him. The true measure of literary merit lies outside literature, at least for us Russians. Either the writer knew how to ask the right questions, or he did not know any questions — and wrote for himself and his epoch, nothing more. Now they try to make us believe that true literature is not the literature of questions (as it was in Russia before 1917), and not even the literature of answers (as the revolution tried to create), but the literature of more or less curly words that ask nothing and answer nothing, in general, the literature of tickling one’s heels, about which Korobochka asked Chichikov: ‘Perhaps you would like to have your heels tickled before retiring to rest?’ This is a lie. Literature is something quite different.

It is not intelligence, success, ‘honesty’… The greatness of, say, Dostoevsky is not in his intelligence. His human mind was just as prone to error as any other. Dostoevsky’s greatness was in his ability to listen to his madness, not to drown out its speech with the babble of a self-confident mind. ‘Only geniuses and idiots are capable of transcending reason’, says, if I am not mistaken, his Stavrogin. Here is the meaning of Dostoevsky’s work, not the ‘humane ideas’ instilled in him by reason. All subsequent Russian thinkers were as great as they were able to speak from their madness, or to put it another way — as far as they were poets, meaning not the tendency of poets to dissolve in sweet sensations, but their commitment to the truth given by the direct feelings of the soul. If we can learn anything from Dostoevsky, it is that there is a powerful source of truths that are completely independent of reason and not confirmed by reason, and that this source is the real nature of man — his soul. We can learn to listen to our soul from Dostoevsky, and nothing else.

Speaking of Dostoevsky, let us remember Rozanov. As a disciple of Dostoevsky and a witness to the collapse of Russia, he has one foot in the ‘old world’ and the other on the shore of the ‘new’. Forcibly removed from literature in 1918, he returned to it in 1991. We can learn a lot from him if we want to.

In Rozanov’s ‘secluded’ books, we can clearly see the rule common to all thought: external events are only impulses, indirect occasions for the events of the inner life, the life of the soul. As if two rows of gears rotate, sometimes touching each other, but most often independently — this is how the soul relates to the outside world. External events are not causes, but occasions, and random occasions, for something purposeful and non-arbitrary to find expression and break through. Rozanov’s books are instructive, and his heroism and shamelessness (inseparable) were not wasted. He showed that the original soul life goes on within man, even without any connexion with external circumstances, and manifests itself outwardly, in fact, incompletely and accidentally. For all his enormous shortcomings, Rozanov liberated creativity, even if he himself suffered a personal failure. Even Dostoevsky, his teacher, had to hide behind his heroes, and so — inevitably! — had to tell us less than he could have said if he had not had to hide behind the plot and characters, and especially behind the ‘general idea’… Rozanov gave the Russian writer freedom. Will there be someone capable of accepting this freedom, and if so, will his contemporaries forgive him? [2]

In fact, it was Dostoevsky, with his ‘Notes from Underground’, who made both Rozanov and Leo Shestov possible. Of course, Dostoevsky still had to pretend. For example, he had to make ‘Notes’ a confession of a ‘bad person’, for who but a bad person could doubt materialism and Socialism…? Otherwise, the reader would not have accepted the philosophical first chapter of the ‘Notes’, and not just ‘philosophical’, but philosophical and personal, expressed in the first person, and not in the conventional ‘we’, draped in a uniform, beginning with the obligatory analysis and ending with the invariable synthesis, which Shestov later mocked so much: ‘Stand up, look cheerfully! Synthesis, the general idea is coming!’ The reader is accustomed to a philosophy that ends with a soothing ‘general idea’ and, on the contrary, is completely unprepared for a philosophy that ends in nothing at all. Criticism and doubts are only allowed as the basis of a building, which — once erected — will already obviate the need for criticism and doubts. However, this is one of the thoughts of the Underground Man… Dostoevsky was clearing this path to philosophy without ‘final conclusions’, to a truthful expression of my, just my soul’s relationship to the universe.

Rozanov finds the basis for all his favourite thoughts in the Old Testament, but he reads it very selectively. He does not notice the words: ‘we are strangers before thee, and sojourners’ in the Old Testament, and they are completely contrary to Rozanov’s plan to ‘pull down’ all the sanctities and life goals ‘on earth’. It is true that he makes a reservation in the sense that something heavenly is also manifested in the sexual element [3] . But in essence it follows from his sermon only that all sanctities are here and now, and values are here and now, and God is also here and now. The horizon closes into a narrow circle. The vitality and power of this worldview beckons Rozanov like a moth to a flame; and, flying into the light, he does not notice that he is striving backwards, into the past, into the epoch of the unawakened spirit. After all, the spirit is mobility, going beyond oneself, family, homeland; connexion with the whole world, not just ‘one’s own blood’; constant instability, the possibility of falling or flying. Precisely because the spirit does not see the ground for itself in the world and does not know its ultimate goal, it can have goals beyond itself. It is mobile because it is unrooted in earthly things, does not belong to anything on earth, and feels kinship with everything. ‘The religion of conception and birth’ preached by Rozanov comes from nowhere and leads nowhere, is all on earth, sees in God a dark power speaking to man in the language of the passions and in the moment of human passion — and has very little need of the human soul. What is a soul next to the Race, a chain of conception and birth, majestic precisely in its impersonality? (For it is worth paying attention to the personal, unique-soul, as history ceases to be the ‘history of births’ and becomes the history of the spirit). [4] This worldview does not indicate to man any purpose on earth and beyond, except to be a means for the continuation of the sacred Race. There is very little room left for the personality in such a view; its lot is permanent sorrow, at least from the hour it has fulfilled the duties required by the Race. This thought is what poisoned ‘Solitaria’ and ‘Fallen Leaves’.

Rozanov’s merit is not that he opened new paths for humanity (he did not); not that he found new answers to eternal questions (though he thought he did); but that he saw new questions where they had not been seen before. He did not ‘shed a new light’, but in the darkness he saw something even blacker stirring. That is his real achievement. In the realm of thought, this is common. Finding new questions is no less honourable than giving new answers — perhaps even more so, since questions have existed from ages, they are something truly existent, unlike our answers, which — after all — are most often only the creations of the human mind. The existence of questions, if I may say so, is more indubitable, and a timely question has more influence on the development of thought than a dozen answers to a long-known topic. Those of us who pose riddles to mankind are ultimately more significant than those who supply it with clues and solutions, and more often than not these solutions relate to the technical conveniences of life …

Faith and thought

In Dostoevsky and Rozanov, Russian literature knocks at the door of philosophy. Rozanov’s first work was even a philosophical treatise — forgotten by both author and readers. Let’s talk about the philosophical understanding of things. Is it from reason, or rather, is it from reason alone, or does it, like poetry, have an invisible thread connecting it to something deeper?

The root of philosophy is probably beyond reason. To the question Kierkegaard, and later of Shestov, ‘does sobbing have a philosophical meaning?’, one should answer, ‘yes’. However, the subject of creativity should not be personal questions, but personal answers, leaving the reader to guess at the questions themselves. ‘There was given to me a thorn in the flesh’, says the Apostle; the crowd wants to know everything about this ‘ thorn’, and nothing about the personal experience with which it has enriched the writer.

The thinker is burned by a single question; the reflexions of this flame fall on various subjects… This is how philosophy is formed. The thinker can say: ‘I have survived the foundations of my thoughts’; [5] the reader most often does not know these foundations, which is why the public is so fond of interpreting the creator’s motives. It is not too bold to say that the main motivation of creativity is unreconciled inner contradictions, inner discord and inconsistency of desires with reality. People in harmony with reality have no need for creativity. It is triggered by mental unsettlement and unquenched desires. Of course, I’m talking about creativity in the realm of thought…

The meaning of ‘philosophy’ is to walk in dangerous places. It does not exist without chance, the unknown, and adventure. Things about which complete knowledge is possible are not the subject of philosophy. If the thinker makes paths, he makes them for himself, not for others. Philosophical discoveries are such that they cannot be applied. Knowledge found by philosophical paths is of value always and only to the individual in his life and death; to any majority it is worthless. When it is asked of a thinker, ‘What does he teach?’ it may be answered, ‘He teaches that which cannot be taught’.

Philosophy is not only ‘walking in dangerous places’, but it is also a search for anxiety. To be quiet is immoral. Anxiety, including anxiety of conscience, speaks of moral fitness, or (not to use the abused word ‘moral’) of the worthiness of the soul. This is why the publican is better than the righteous man, because he is insecure and suffers. It may be objected that there is happiness in peace; but happiness is rather a state of flight between losing balance and hitting ‘solid ground’. It is not in tranquillity, but in the consciousness of uninterrupted movement; he who has lost happiness finds peace and, perhaps, longing.

And it is almost impossible to remain calm, letting the world in. Two truths about the world live side by side. The first one says: the world is meaningless and unsuccessful. The second is known to the creative or loving soul: everything it encounters becomes meaningful; the reproach of the meaninglessness of existence comes only from a nothingness that does not know creativity or love. The world is saturated with meaning to the extent that we seek it. Truth requires effort on the part of the cogniser. Thus we go beyond the realm of rational constructs — into the realm of religion. The realms of the religious are inspiration, creativity, suffering, love. A stone or a tree has no reason to be religious; neither did man have any while he was merely wandering on the face of the earth. Religion accompanies labour and the struggle against circumstances. The mystic who speaks of constant direct communication with God should not be believed already because this communication is given to him for nothing.

However, direct communication with the object of thought (intuition) is perfectly appropriate in philosophy. I believe in knowing by experiencing. One comes to wisdom through poetry (the art of experiencing) as much, if not more, than by other means. The ultimate case of wisdom is the unity of soul and world, in which there is no more room for thought, or everything will be one whole thought. In this view one may see disrespect for reason, i. e., the art of reasoning, but thought in its origins is vague, fluid, and not clothed with words. Words are only the armour of thought, but not its body; mediators in its passage from one mind to another. Rather, I can be accused of disrespecting the word, i. e. my own personality, because the writer’s personality is most manifested in his words.

’Exact knowledge’ in philosophy is the conviction achieved by reasoning. He who gives up reasoning and chooses intuition has to give up conviction as well. To the man of thought in such a position only the certainties of soul life remain, to the extent that they can be verified. His philosophy becomes psychology, psychology approaches religion; and all together — though such a synthesis has not yet been achieved — may seek connexions with physics as the science of the subtle interactions of the external world. This is a path away from philosophy as a science based on the ‘art of reasoning’. There may be many misconceptions along the path. But real, well-sought, passionate misconceptions are more useful than complacently repeated truths. A well-spoken delusion seeks its own refutation, that is, it ultimately increases the amount of truth; but ‘truth repeated without conviction is a lie’. The mind should be encouraged in its delusions also, so long as it preaches them peacefully. Truths, in order to live, need negation; negation is not an independent value, but only the soil in which new truths grow and old truths take root.

Looking at the world, as stated above, does not make one a calm optimist. Deep thoughts are produced by wrestling with deep, overwhelming despair. The brilliance of these thoughts may delight outsiders, but they do not know the purpose of that brilliance. When the fruits of the inner struggle are brought to light, they see in them both the sharpness and the play of the mind, but they do not know that these brilliant and sharp thoughts were only weapons forged to protect the mind from the pressing inner darkness. The mind of genius in general is probably not so light as is commonly thought. There is not infinite light there, but a longing for infinite light; not eternal day, but extended creative night. Day is not the time of creation; day itself is something already created, the triumph and success of some previous intention, the outcome of movement and struggle; the time of true creation is night, and the Bible tells us (and we do not pay attention) that the world was created at night, and only then did light come… The brightest thoughts, of those which illuminate the life of mankind, have been brought out of the inner darkness in which God pushes man and compels him to take a step, even though the way is not visible. This is how one comes to the light of truth: by touch, along dark paths, over dark waters… He who has lighted the way for mankind has himself spent much time in darkness.

Faith makes life an insoluble riddle, throws on the way the keys of meaning, but hides the doors to which these keys fit. The less merciful life is to us, the more it tempts us with the feeling of a close solution, that feeling which makes poetry possible, that is, understanding without knowledge, direct feeling for the truth and beauty of things… Not everything in the soul is light, even in a soul illuminated by faith.

So, the world is twofold. The search for ‘one truth’, which is all-explaining and all-conquering, has never been successful. And the idea that there can be two truths is intolerable to the mind. It prefers to be left with no truth at all than with two equal truths. The cogniser is not impartial: he seeks a truth to worship, and from a free choice between objects of worship, even simply between different explanations of the nature of things, he flees. Affections are either exclusive or they do not exist; the love of truth, in spite of its ostensibly exclusively intellectual character, is also one of the affections; it seeks not merely its object, but its only object.

So what is philosophy?  Philosophy is the realm of the impossible and unrepeatable, of what happens once and cannot be reproduced. The origin of the world and the life of the spirit are subject only to philosophical study; there is no food for science in them. Neither genius nor the universe is amenable to scientific enquiry, for where there is no repetition, science has nothing to apply its tools to; its domain is the domain of repetition and experience. ‘Scientific philosophy’, in which the best features of both philosophy and science have been lost, can only become a kind of substitute for religion, that is, a set of dogmas existing solely for the sake of maintaining its own existence; in it dogmatic disputes are possible, but not the search for truth.

In a world of unconditional faith (religious or ‘scientific’), hosanna is possible, but not philosophy. Philosophy presupposes the trial of the world by thought; some initial doubt. In the face of God one does not philosophise, but believes, hopes and lives. Philosophy, like David’s psalms, is the fruit of a certain complication; a gap between facts and their understanding; philosophy, as Leo Shestov pointed out, visited Job not when he learnt of his first troubles, but when he was already crushed by the immediate, personal misfortune that separated him from humanity. The thinker is necessarily separated; he did not understand something, and so secluded himself, or secluded himself because he was not satisfied with the common understanding. Either way, he has secluded himself, and from his seclusion he judges and rejudges things in which his confidence has been shaken for some time, and for this confidence he now seeks a new foundation. The philosopher, however, is one who precisely doubts, not despairs. Doubt has the same meaning as a step, that is, the transfer of the gravity of a body from one point of support to another. One doubts not only about something, but necessarily for the sake of something. Mental development can also be viewed as a sequence of successive doubts, broken by times of firm conviction. If firm opinions are points on the line of knowledge, doubts are the segments connecting them. The view of development as a succession of doubts avoids the worship of private truths, transitory firm opinions; what is the use of worshipping this or that point of view if it is only a stepping stone to the next doubt? — So says the paradoxalist, which to a certain extent the thinker must be.

How are philosophers made? One day the soul begins to question, and happy are those to whom this has not happened: they can live a life of faithlessness or faith and be happy either way, but the soul that has learnt to question will no longer be at peace. Philosophy, however, is more than the ability to doubt everything, which is usually seen as a sign of a strong mind. Positive judgements evoke the thought of the weakness of the judge: truly easy success is given only by negation, and as loudly as possible. Truth occupies society less than novelty, so that the naysayers always have success. By doubting, man ‘rises’ above the questioned value; this is what the tempter lives by: he raises man’s opinion of himself by encouraging him to judge superior truths. The meaning of this temptation is that truth and man change places: truth is at the bottom, and man, in his new capacity of judge and evaluator, is at the top. He unabashedly condemns old truths and establishes new ones, forgetting that any opinion acquires the right to be called truth only after suffering. Freshly established truths, obtained by all-embracing doubt, do not have this property: they are neither tried nor justified by anything but the whim of the judge. Doubt, i. e. philosophising, is necessary, but the truths achieved through doubt must also be suffered for, otherwise they will only add to the collection of human delusions. The feeling of general meaningfulness which sometimes visits us is strong enough to induce faith, but not clear enough to give an answer to all the questions of the soul. And this is also the way philosophy comes to light: when there is a hearing sharp enough to hear the coherent chorus of the world’s voices, but not enough sight to see their source. The roots of philosophy are in the twilight, before the dawn.

The concepts of ‘thinker’ and ‘philosopher’, once homogeneous, have now been divided almost to the point of complete contradiction. Christ was a thinker; but who would dare to call Him a philosopher? The thinker is he who seeks the law and explanation of his, above all his life; the philosopher plays with indifferent notions which neither threaten nor promise his soul. The future of the philosopher has nothing to do with the future of his philosophy, for this philosophy is so impersonal that it cannot have any effect on persons; at best it can be learnt, but in no way can it be followed, whereas true philosophy, if it is learnt, is learnt in order to follow it.

According to the laws of its thinking, the mind builds the edifice of philosophy, and in the remote chambers of this edifice it finds its truths, which, however, are only the truths of the human mind. Here is the irreconcilable contradiction of philosophy. Truths are to be sought above or below the plane of our mind, but not in it. The building of philosophy may be as grand as it pleases, but in any case it is only another house built by man. Only that which is obtained by the soul without the aid of reason has value. Truths obtained from reason do not save. That is why the soul searches for intoxication, danger and love — because only by going beyond reason can one find a truth worth living for. He who does not become mad will not know happiness. And since we can only strive for the desirable, only happiness can guide us on our paths. Profit and reason are bad teachers of man. One has to be mad to achieve happiness or at least the dream of happiness. All that is highest human, that is divine, is attained only through madness or dreaming.

There are two kinds of thinkers: some develop their own definitions, others use other people’s definitions. ‘Scientific approach’ in the ordinary sense consists in the readiness to use other people’s words; hence the own content of ‘scientific’ work, especially in the field of knowledge of man, may be negligible. The one who uses other people’s definitions has only to work out the subtleties of ready-made concepts: this is the bread-and-butter business that many generations have been engaged in. But he who digs so deep that he can no longer find ready-made words to describe his experience — he becomes either an outcast or the founder of his own teaching. He may have disciples who are busy with the subtleties of his teaching, but not with the study and search for their own language. A common language, a common set of concepts facilitates communication, but makes it very difficult to express new thought; whoever does not break his speech and create it anew will not say anything new to mankind.

Philosophy, moreover, is the teaching of the meaning of the universe, as religion is the teaching of the meaning of a given human life. To the people of today, at least the enlightened part of them, one could say: ‘You know all the philosophies of the world, but you yourself have no philosophy. You know all the religions of the world, but you yourself have no religion. You only study the meanings with which the lives of others have been filled, but you yourself find no meaning in your own life’. They study all sorts of cultures, but they themselves have no culture; it is replaced by the ‘scientific method of enquiry’. ‘Science’, according to popular belief, puts man above all culture, which from the height of scientific knowledge is now looked upon as a collection of prejudices. Culture in the eyes of the scientist is only a marvellous garden cultivated by generations of gardeners, but the gardeners themselves and the trees and leaves of this garden are now subject to study, only to study — with a cold heart and an insensitive soul. Culture, it is believed today, can be studied, but one cannot belong to it. Our great-grandfathers were proud of their belonging to European culture; now all pride is suspected, ‘we have technology’, they say, ‘why else culture?’ At the same time, there is nothing tragic in the self-perception of the modern enlightened man. For all the gloominess of their view of the universe and man, such people can be called optimists: they expect all sorts of benefits from the future of our culture. They are still not ready to admit to themselves that ‘progress’ does not mean change for the better, ‘progressive’ does not mean ‘better’. The intrinsic meaning of progress has nothing to do with human aspirations. There is simply some fatal movement which carries us along, subject solely to its own internal connexions and influences… ‘Progress’ might be called the purely mechanical development of human society, quite free from the influence of the spirit. It is immoral — or, to put it more accurately, it has no moral purpose. It is a disappointment to a generation brought up on the idea of the beneficence of ‘natural development’. If the forward movement that has gripped the world in recent centuries has any moral content, it is the constant increase in the tension between good and evil. Progress and freedom put the soul to greater and greater trials, giving more and more room for the actions of personal evil. A higher degree of freedom and power requires a higher degree of morality. The higher the development of society, the greater the threat it exposes itself to.

Philosophy, like all creativity, is produced by the urge to escape beyond one’s own personality, beyond private and transitory existence. Remember this image of Dostoevsky: ‘eternity, perhaps, is a village bathhouse with spiders in the corners’? Svidrigailov, who expressed this thought, could say in explanation: ‘There is only what I feel now; there is only me alone in the world, and nothing else. I am separated from the whole world. And it will be the same in eternity’. The real fullness of life is given only by joining with other people, values, thoughts; by rejoicing with the other. Without this, in the circle of personal desires and goals, there is no joy: only the same ‘village bath with spiders’. No ‘I’ is good to the extent of rejoicing about itself. ‘Within oneself’ in the highest and last degree is only the last sadness.

So the writer, though he knows everything only through himself, cannot quite close in on himself. The personal in literature can be allowed only in a purified and therefore universal form. The ‘personal’ allowed to the writer is universal, learnt not from others. It is in the knowledge received not from others that literary guilt is now seen. The right to pray and suffer is recognised for dead writers alone — it is indecent for the living. The sincerity, depth and integrity of experiences give a strange impression of something unfashionable and of an attempt on the rights of deceased authors, who alone are allowed not only to suffer, but also to think about their suffering. This ‘thinking’ is what a modern writer is not supposed to do, apparently, because the epoch imagines itself to have found the keys to all locks and answers to all questions. But even the one who understands everything finds it extremely bitter when his mouth is shut. ‘Just keep silent! Do what you want, but just keep silent!’, Time shouts at the writer. And he keeps silent — and writes, all from the material of his own soul, but only sadder and sadder.

Once it was called a philosopher who sought truth; later it was called a philosopher who learnt the rules of truth-seeking; modern philosophers are not concerned with truth, but with those who have previously sought this truth, with or without rules. ‘Scientific philosophy’ will always be only a history of itself, because if it is ‘scientific’ it means that there must be a single correct way of philosophising that leads to unchangeable and repeatable conclusions, regardless of the personality of the philosopher… But it is impossible to imagine such a philosophy; the only thing left is to study the predecessors. And society remains without philosophy, i. e. without worldview, and this is fatal for society and man, because our life is what we think about it. Whole societies are defined by their worldviews, moreover: worldview is the way the world acts on the beholder. The sides we notice in things are precisely the ways in which things affect us. Our behaviour does not depend on what we have not noticed, but on what we have noticed. ‘Objective’, unchanging, above-the-star reality exists only in dreams. In this case, there is still hope for the restoration of the freedom of the human soul placed in an inhuman society, intoxicated by the fact that it is supposedly a faithful mirror of nature, that is, of the world of chance and senseless violence….

Philosophy differs from other kinds of knowledge in that it deals with things that are irreparable. And, I might add, incomprehensible. What can be cured, glued, corrected — does not create philosophy; there is nothing to ask… Only questions that do not find satisfactory answers grow to enormous proportions and cause the greatest and most fruitful tension of thought. What can be understood does not attract us with irresistible force; what attracts and draws us in is incomprehensible — like death or love. Between wisdom and reason there is an unbridgeable boundary, for while reason deals exclusively with questions that have a resolution, wisdom avoids them.

The condition for cognition of the world is intense and attentive self-cognition, but the modern age is characterised by attention to external things with no curiosity about the researcher’s own soul. The scientist turns into an appendage to his own knowledge, into an observer of everything in the world, into a mirror that sees everything but himself. One could call this self-forgetfulness, but I think it is simply inattention caused by a general lack of personality.

The notion of ‘objective’, i. e., cold cognition hides a trap. Thinking to look at nature with an open mind, modernity looks in the mirror, and quite ‘objectively’ recognises in it its own traits: lack of spirit, purpose and meaning. But whose traits are these, nature’s or the researcher’s, we are not supposed to ask. We are witnessing a severe crisis of natural science — on the one hand, hidden under the external successes of fact-gathering, so overwhelming that they give the impression of omniscience, and on the other hand, only a reflexion of the severe crisis of the society to which natural scientists belong. The situation could be called amusing: in the complete absence of any inclination to self-discovery, to sober self-evaluation, the flawed society of our days finds in nature everything that it should have found in itself, and complacently passes judgement such as: ‘humans and gorillas do have a lot in common’, or some other such verdict. It may be asked, was the ancient or medieval idea of a harmonious universe less a product of the social consciousness with its ideal of an eternal ordered Empire? It may be so, but I will say that these conceptions were still conceptions natural to a healthy mind in which order prevails over chaos; remaining on the ground of psychology, we may say that the conception of the world as a disorderly wirlpool of scraps and fragments is much more natural to a disturbed mind, to a sick soul, than to a healthy one. Of course, the question posed does not exist for the firmly believing representatives of science, who are sure that their mental constructions are identical with Truth itself. But for you and me, who remember how short-lived all natural-scientific ‘truth’ is, it is more reasonable to think otherwise. Is it any wonder that it is again necessary to defend reason against blind faith, and on the side of this blind faith stands science, known for its hostility to all faith! Apparently this hostility is not its inherent characteristic; apparently it was youthful ardour, or even a mere ruse, a device of the times in the jealous struggle with the Church for our souls. Now that souls have been won, it is possible to return to blind faith, especially as it best preserves any doctrine from criticism and development. So — again reason against faith, but only in the name of God, soul and freedom, to which our age is so hostile.

The philosopher is the one who is most wounded by the inconsistency of existence with the conventional view of it. Life hides its face before others, but it has revealed it to him. He has fallen in love with this face, but it both horrifies and torments him. What others contemplate occasionally, he sees hourly — a frighteningly complex and elusive connexion of concepts. What is so painful about it is that the meaning is elusive and inexpressible, yet it is undoubtedly there. However, we are here, and the meaning is somewhere beyond, so that we see it as if in reflexion — vaguely, implicitly… As Pascal said, the universe would be less painful if it were blatantly devoid of meaning, and much more pleasant if the meaning were present in it everywhere and explicitly; however, it embarrasses us with the excess of nonsense in the presence of meaning.

Philosophical knowledge is of an essence such as cannot be applied to life. That is why life pays so little attention to philosophers and their questions. What occupies them has nothing to do with buying and selling, getting married and giving in marriage… I will not reveal a secret if I say that a philosopher is concerned with questions that have meaning only on the condition that man is an eternal being [6] . Remember Dostoevsky: he never left this thought. And if this assumption is true, if we are right, then all the adventures of body and soul on earth are neither as significant nor as final as we think. ‘Buying and selling, getting married and giving in marriage’ are all nice, but there is more waiting for us. That more is what the thinker focuses on.

It is common to think that philosophical systems give confidence to their creators and proponents. On the contrary, certainty as a psychological fact precedes the creation of philosophical systems. A person inclined to doubt in all cases does not create systems and does not succumb to their charm. The real meaning of a systematic outlook is that it gives reason a justification for its unconscious, unreasonable certainty, its tendency to believe in simple and clear explanations of things. The sceptic, unlike such a person, needs no further explanation for his inner insecurity and anxiety….

Philosophy must begin with this: no matter how close we get to the truth, we are always infinitely far from it. This thought abolishes the very possibility of philosophical systems, all pride of mind and groundless claims like those of modern materialism. It may be asked: so why search for the elusive truth? There is only one answer to this question, and a completely mad one from the point of view of any proud mind, i. e. a religious one: because truth loves us, cares for us, and wants to be sought, and with those who honestly strive for it, it has a very special relationship, and their fate in this and the next worlds will be different, because truth is not without power in the world; because truth is God. Well, we have no other reason to love truth. Neither from ‘natural selection’, nor from the ‘struggle for existence’, nor from the ‘will of the race to continue’, does love of truth follow in any way. In order to survive and leave offspring, truth is not necessary at all; and in general, love for truth is somehow opposite to the instinct of self-preservation… I am not speaking here, of course, of scientific ‘truths’ which threaten nothing and promise nothing to their admirers; I am referring to truth, the search for which ‘is a great and dangerous love’ — the fiery words above the entrance to the building of philosophy, preserved for us by Plato.

We must note a curious fact: with the advent of science, wisdom disappears. The wise man is replaced by the scientist, whose actions can hardly be called wise or responsible. The scientist takes only one aspect of the sage’s activity — research — but completely abandons reflexion, evaluation and responsibility as alien to his speciality. Similarly, in modern times, the thinker has been replaced by the philosopher, who is primarily and exclusively concerned with matters of service, more concerned with the method of seeking truth than with Truth as such. [7] It is customary to present these substitutions as signs of ‘progress’, like the replacement of alchemists by chemists, but in fact they are signs of simplification and flattening of culture, the abandonment of integral knowledge for the sake of private special successes. The achievements of the sciences are not least ensured by the refusal to reflect on ethical questions, i. e. by the suppression of the researcher’s conscience. In the place of conscience became an unrestricted curiosity, more or less shamelessly exploited by state authorities. In essence, a union of science and the state has taken place, in which science has placed itself at the service of the authorities, and the authorities have undertaken to overlook the immorality of science — an immorality that recently, in recent centuries, caused the state authorities concern. The earthly power, always prone to unfair deals, has changed its ally, and has switched from the Church to the yesterday suspicious science, because, unlike the Church, the latter never raises its voice against violence and injustice, but ensures an incredible earthly power, unavailable to the rulers of past times. This is what should be taken into account when speaking about science and the so-called ‘scientific worldview’ that modernity is trying to instil in the masses. Things are not as cloudless as is commonly believed. The Church has always suspected science of seeking power without truth, which for the Middle Ages was the first sign of daemonism. No one, however, could foresee to what extent the Church, for all the limitations of the medieval outlook, was right. In modern times, the state has acquired a new ally, which, unlike the Church, gives power without constraining moral conditions, for mere patronage, i. e. for purely material motives… To say this is to attack the last sanctuary left to mankind — the sanctuary of irresponsible and unbiased research, which leads to nothing. But if we want to preserve freedom of thought, we should reject every unjust claim, every attempt to dominate conscience, whether it comes from secular or spiritual authority.

Wisdom is the ability to think and speak of the true being, i. e., not of what things are called, but of what they are. As such, it is opposed to everyday educatedness, which plays with the names of things without attention to their meaning. It is a deep and incurable opposition. The wisdom of the world knows the names of all things without wanting to know anything about their true meaning, and mocks the real wisdom, seeing in it only arrogance and fancy, if not madness.

It is all the easier for the mind to play with concepts, the more certain it is of the meaninglessness of the universe and the irresponsibility of judgement. Playing with words becomes more difficult once we realise that these words have weight in present and future life. Conversely, ‘mass culture’, with its conviction in the arbitrariness and relativity of values, is only possible in the condition of the irreligiousness of the masses. Democracy turns out to be inextricably linked to atheism. It is impossible not to see this connexion. Either there are first principles, first truths, by which all others are measured, or there are not. If not, there is no truth at all, or it is made dependent on (allegedly) ‘free competition’ and (allegedly) ‘free choice’. Why do I say ‘allegedly’? Because this contest and this choice are ‘free’ with the adjustment for the unleashed hands of evil and lies — and for the inability of the masses to make the right choice in the realm of moral issues. And on the opposite side, however, there is no rest. Faith in God, let me say, does not mean ‘peace’ and even less ‘bliss’, as the Protestant Hegel said, but a longing for truth, an eternal hunger for truth in a world where it is — at certain times — almost non-existent. It does not give us any peace of mind, but, among other things, it teaches us to judge soberly, to be responsible and understanding witnesses and participants of events…

They say: ‘he was wise because he knew a lot’. Not true! Knowledge does not bring one closer to wisdom. Somewhat closer to the truth would be the judgement: ‘He was wise because he thought a lot’, but even this is not quite true. Thinking alone does not lead to wisdom, and there are many questions, thinking about which exercises our thinking faculties without making us wiser. Wisdom is given only by reflecting on what is important to the soul, by a focussed soul life, in which thought is inseparable from experience and moral evaluation, above all evaluation of oneself. A wise man is in no way a moralist, because a moralist cares about others, while a wise man, as Otto Weininger said, thinks ‘about himself and for himself’, and only for this reason, deeply immersed in his soul, comes to universally important conclusions. One should be ‘selfish’ in one’s thinking. He who worries about others and has given little thought to himself will only be able to be a lofty empty talker. Wisdom is born out of favouring the inner over the outer and one’s own over others. In order to grow, it does not need to study anything, because it does not seek power, while the study of things is the first step towards power over them, and the wise man, if he dreams of power, it is only over himself.

Wisdom opposes not just science, but the system as the basis of scientific thinking. Wisdom is deep knowledge of a few things; all-encompassing wisdom happens only in fairy tales; the system, in its essence, always tends to all-encompassing and does not hesitate to be superficial. For all the usefulness of systematic thinking, it is not omnipotent, it has its own, rather narrow area. System organises things in order to use them more conveniently, in other words, the system is thinking about tools and means. Hence the technical successes of recent times. However, as soon as it comes to things that can not be tools or means, the system is speechless. All its methods are useless for judging such questions as soul life, culture, religion. The crushing failure of the science of the soul, which has undeservedly acquired the title of ‘psychology’, is a testimony to this. It should be admitted that a considerable part of mental culture should be devoted to judgements about things that do not tolerate systematic knowledge of themselves. Only on this way it is possible to achieve something meaningful in the cognition of man and in the construction of a society based on such cognition. Otherwise — the domination (already observed by us) of false schemas, the more consistent, the more distant from the truth.

What is called philosophy usually has three components: experience of the heart, wisdom, and philosophy itself. Between the experience of the heart and philosophy there is a gap that cannot be filled, so that any integral (i. e., claiming to be integral) building of philosophy turns out to be heterogeneous on closer examination. Any field of knowledge that intends to explain everything else from itself builds on shaky ground — because, first of all, the subject to be explained includes things that are foreign to it, and therefore unexplainable at all from this subject, with the help of knowledge about this subject. Neither man nor the world can be explained from themselves. There always remains something external to our explanation, which in turn needs explanation — and so on ad infinitum… When we consider a certain phenomenon, we become convinced that there is a part of another, deeper phenomenon in it — about which we, knowing only the first phenomenon, cannot judge. This is where intuition (in the case of the natural sciences) or the experience of the heart come into play. They are salutary — but, it must be frankly admitted, have very little to do with any systematic and comprehensive constructs. Intuition, soul experience are, if you will, the keys to a building; but, as keys, they are always outside the building itself, not forming a whole with it. I think even that a connexion of ideas growing solely out of itself is unsustainable. The most integral and closed structure, which does not need any external provisions for its being, is at the same time the most artificial. Any concept we have of the world (the more fruitful it is) is doomed to be disconnected, incomplete, and open, just as we ourselves are incomplete and open… For man, if I may put it this way, is open outwards — and has no foundation in himself. If we recognise this, the reason for the failure of all explanations of man, as if he were made of ‘one piece’, becomes clear. There is no wholeness in us, hence no room for the ‘whole’ interpretation of man, so seductive for the age of the search for the least number of causes. The mental movement of the last centuries strived precisely for closed and autonomous constructions: for such an image of the world that would not need (in Laplace’s expression) the ‘hypothesis of God’; for society and personality, free from values and sanctities external to them… And, I should note, this striving failed most cruelly with regard to society and personality, because it turned out that social and mental life, closed in itself, had nothing to hold on to and, in fact, had no reason to exist. Hence the longing of our days, which is not at all quenched by wealth and power…

The thinker, if he is really profound, is engaged in something that cannot be sympathised with by the ‘general public’. There are no bold generalisations, no broad constructions, but only a painstaking collection of meanings. It is the opposite of the joyride that the average person has long indulged in — a walk in which values are thrown to the right and left, liberating the walker more and more. The thinker is engaged in something quite the opposite, seeking not ease, but a burden heavy enough to be lifted, the lifting of which alone is ennobling. ‘How would further liberate man?’, asks the age; ‘How would make man lift again the burden left behind?’, this is what I ask. ‘The skill of refusing and striving’, is how morality may be briefly defined; it is the skill least developed in modern man. What does it mean to ‘act morally’? — To refrain from possible acts and to do the necessary ones, i. e., to impose one’s will constantly on one’s desires. ‘What you can do, don’t always do; what you ought to do, do always’. A worldview completely unacceptable for the age of liberation from all burdens!

’What kind of a saint are you to talk to us about conscience!’ So one may ask. But conscience is not holiness; holiness is only an unattainable star in the firmament of conscience. For the saint the proper becomes the desirable, i. e. law and will are united into one; in the ordinary man they are always at odds…

’But why’, it may be further asked, ‘all this senseless violence against human nature, which so clearly wants strength and power?’ This question already contains the answer, and the answer is wrong, for there are two natures in man. The motives of the lower order are passed off as the motives of the universal, whereas the moral law is also rooted in man, and otherwise we would not have this law itself. To deduce morality from the needs of social life, as is now customary, is at least naïve. To love one’s neighbour, from the point of view of the interests of social life, is an obvious excess. A simpler rule is sufficient for the existence of society: ‘devour the weak, submit to the strong’. The newest thought has mixed morality and the rules of behaviour in society to the point of inseparability, as if they always and everywhere represented one thing, whereas in fact they can not only diverge, but diverge extremely. This is the mistake of a refined and highly developed epoch, for which morality and law have come extremely close, which has not always been the case in history. Suffice it to recall not only the ancient world, but even the Middle Ages. Morality, more often than not, was for neighbours; social law determined the attitude to the distant, and there was often a gap between the former and the latter. Only the latest European culture has reached that refinement in which one measure is applied (at least in words) for the distant and the near. Nietzsche and his followers took this refinement as the norm.


Culture is the work of the ‘idle’, i. e. raised above worries, human mind, in which it realises its connexion with the past and which it reserves for the future. Everything is created in order to become someone’s past; culture, strange as it may seem, is the creation of a great past; this is not the case only in a country without history, where there is no ‘yesterday’ but only an eternal ‘today’, or at the end of time. Culture lasts, or it does not exist; what distinguishes it from barbarism is its duration. This continuity is what creates the ‘spirit’ of peoples or cultures.

The concept of ‘spirit’ nowadays seems hopelessly outdated. However, strange as it may seem, in the realm of the human, only the spiritual has a fertilising power. It is impossible to imagine a cultural development that would be driven solely by material achievements; it only exists alongside them, and not always. All material achievements are such that they cannot be inherited; power and wealth are the values of a single day. A time of power and abundance may be spiritually poor; it may boast of its fertility, but it will remain childless, because it will not have children in the spirit, of which Plato and the Apostle Paul speak.

The spirit, the soul life, that which is deeper than reason and ‘higher than geometry’ is the ground of all cultural development. All profound books are attempts to transform the indivisible whole of the soul life into individual words — not always successful, which is not surprising. We may even conclude that when we deal with brilliant, precise, complete constructions in literature, their source was not the inner life with its inseparability, mystery and depth. It is well observed, say, that Dostoevsky wrote all his life one single novel, and it was called ‘Dostoevsky’s Soul’; all his literary titles and fabulae are only external. With any attitude towards it, the soul is an insoluble mystery, and we can either ignore it, pretend as if it did not exist, or try to express it all, without remainder, to the end. But what the soul is, it is impossible to say. The easiest negative definition is: that which forbids us; that which does not agree; that which turns away from evil; in short, a weightless force of resistance. Such was also the ‘daemon‘ of Socrates: it pointed out what was to be avoided. The soul knows with absolute certainty what is not akin to it, but it has no positive knowledge of itself. Only some private assertions based on our inner experience are possible about the soul. For example, that the ‘Dionysical’ part of the personality, with its desire for hilarity and all kinds of fullness and, not least, for sexual aspirations, is also a manifestation of the spiritual nature of man. It is not the lust of the flesh, it is the spirit, only in its darker, unenlightened movements, in that part of it which does not speak, but only breathes and strives. Animals are deprived of the ‘Dionysian’: hilarity and fullness of life mean nothing to them, because in them the soul expresses itself, and self-expression is not peculiar to animals. Let me put it this way: inner bliss, that very fullness of life, is given by the feeling of a flow of power passing through the soul, of inner movement, of going beyond one’s own limits, in short, by the embodiment of the hidden content of the soul, i. e. the spirit — nameless, incorporeal, silent and existing, except for rare moments, only in possibility. This is an old idea, in fact: that the spirit is potential, and the meaning of life consists in its embodiment, in the transition from possibility to being…

For epic poetry, and perhaps for all profound literature (i. e., for example, for Dostoevsky’s novels, but not for Chekhov’s short stories), a conviction of the meaningfulness of existence is necessary. Only on the assumption that heroes, leaders, lovers and poets are independent figures, not shadows of shadows, that their actions are more than the swarming of gnats over water, is true literature possible; otherwise, there is no one to describe, and no reason to describe them. Either man is a cosmic phenomenon, and his love and struggle are as indubitable as the flight of the sun through the universe, or — when looking at the world as one single solid surface, a plane visible to the eye, on which random patterns flicker — both love and struggle are just convulsions of lumps of clay in the hands of an inexperienced potter… To say it all: either all living things are convulsions of the half-living, shadows of shadows, the existence of the almost nonexistent; or in all that is temporary and local there are reflexions of the Eternal. The hero and his actions, Romeo and his longing for Juliet, Juliet’s tenderness for Romeo, are of no consequence if they are the longing and tenderness of one handful of ashes for another. Literature knows this perfectly well, and therefore falls silent as soon as atheism and flatness triumphs; moves away from immortal subjects and themes; at the very best, sighs timidly about the meaninglessness of existence. You cannot reason about what you do not believe in the truth, validity, and involvement of the fundamentals of existence. Literature does not try to do so: it becomes silent. And today we are far away, at a distance of almost impossibility, from times that could depict the hero in battle and in love with the same sense of authenticity and certainty of positions; for us both battle and love are only illusions, although the latter is preferable, more pleasant than the former.

What next? Either we return to the belief in the reality of ourselves, or we lose the power to exist. No existence can hold on the recognition of its own existence as illusory — everything for it, both the sweetest and the highest, will be poisoned with deadly poison; everything and in everything will be death. We need life.

[1] Words I unconsciously stole from Nabokov. The poet in ‘The Gift’ feels pity ‘for all the trash of life which by means of a momentary alchemic distillation – the ‘royal experiment’ – is turned into something valuable and eternal’.

[2] After all, literary good manners consist in preventing the public from noticing that the author had a soul. Violation of this rule looks disrespectful to the reader and is forgiven only to poets, and even then not always, but only in times favourable for poetry, in unfavourable times poetry is a kind of public service and works on the tasks received from the state… Rozanov once insulted the critic (not the reader!), entering literature not just in flip-flops, but, to put it bluntly, naked — at least in the sense in which the soul does not wear neither a tailcoat nor a hat. The reader loved his soul; the critic was vaguely familiar with the word itself — its ideological and party prescriptions said nothing about the soul…

[3] ‘In the very rhythm of marriage a man leaves the bonds of ‘red clay’, of servitude to the ‘elements’ and returns to the ancient foundations of his being, his heavenly homeland; and something ‘fatherly’ and together ‘ancient of days’, touching ‘the hollow of his thigh’ — produces in him both a shudder, and a sweet sensation, and a fart of spiritual and mystical transformations…’ — ‘Something from grey antiquity’.

[4] Sergei Bulgakov notes in passing that Rozanov ‘freed himself from all tragedy’, i. e. there is simply no place for the tragic in his worldview. Rozanov’s inability to see history is somehow connected with this; history is the greatest arena for the tragic; in which it is easier to notice it than even in his own life, because the discrepancy between aspirations and achievements in history is simply striking… History, as far as one can judge, does not exist for Rozanov. For the sacred Race, what history can there be? Only always the same births, the joys and sorrows of sex… Just as Rozanov did not ask whether human life serves something beyond the games of sex, intercourse and birth, so the question of the meaning of the lives of entire generations, and more broadly — the human race, it — apparently — did not occupy him. Imitating Rozanov’s manner, one can say: ‘Why does a man live? — To give birth to children. — Well, what are his children for? — To give birth again. — And further?… What for?’ Further, indeed, Rozanov has no answer. If within a given individual life it is still possible (although for me, for example, it is impossible) to reconcile with such a ‘meaning’, then for generations, nations and races it is clearly insufficient grounds for being…

[5] Nietzsche.

[6] A philosophy that does not recognise this position is possible, but is doomed to be superficial and short-lived. One can think of Sartre with his ‘nothingness manifests itself in us’. One cannot help imagining a dead universe, in the middle of which a dead man sits and writes about nothingness. But why? There seems to be nothing to write about in this case.

[7] The philosopher differs from the sage in that he constantly ‘comes to conclusions’ that have no influence on his own life. The wise man, unlike the philosopher, does not come to any ‘conclusions’ and in general is not so presumptuous as to decide on final judgements about the laws of the world, but tries, as far as he can, to live in harmony with the truths revealed to him, and if he cannot find such harmony, he worries and makes efforts to achieve it. His opposite, the philosopher, makes no effort, since he knows firmly that philosophy has no power over life, but is only one of the ways of spending time on this side of Eternity.

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