Monday, August 14, 2017

Macao, Marfino & Catholicism in Crisis

"Believe what the heart tells you,
For Heaven offers no pledge."
-Dostoyevski's interpretation of Schiller, Brothers Karamazov - The Grand Inquisitor

Du mußt glauben, du mußt wagen,
Denn die Götter leihn kein Pfand,
Nur ein Wunder kann dich tragen
In das schöne Wunder land.
- Schiller, Sehnsucht

Friday, August 11, 2017

On the Tides of Anger & Anxiety in Krasiński's Letters to Delfina Potocka

There is an understandable tendency to focus on all of the marginal themes strewn throughout Krasiński's Letters because to do otherwise is to risk being smothered by their primary subject: the poet's suffering love for Delfina. Nevertheless, we would be remiss to ignore this matter for too long.

To call Krasiński's love a suffering love is correct, but only to a point. Despite being lauded as the greatest work of Polish romantic literature, the Letters are in fact letters. They are not chapters of a well conceived plot, separated by narrative logic, they are rather expressions of longing separated in time. Yet to read this three volume correspondence, numbering into several thousand pages, in intervals of even one letter per day would be a trying task. Reading them one after the other, however, risks falling into the illusion that the poet is a ridiculous romantic, utterly out of his mind, consumed by a toxic passion that blunts his reason.

The poet is indeed a romantic, but not ridiculous, and while even he himself admits at one point that he is incapable, despite all attempts, of reading Hegel or the history of Rus peoples on account of his suffering love, he is far from unreasonable insanity. If anything, Krasiński masterfully argues that it is the world which is insane, the world of conventions and norms which actually stifles reason, while only love sets reason free and onto the Divine path. The problem, as Krasiński sees it, is that women are not yet liberated in their own sense of themselves.

This recurrent theme concerning the status of women in society is suspect insofar as one wonders to what extent Krasiński has actually imagined an entire philosophy of gender relations to absolve himself from the alternative: laying the blame squarely on Delfina Potocka, on her weak and vain character. Is Krasiński's constant exposition on the role of women in society a psychological foil? Does he thereby delude himself in order to push away the insufferable thought that Delfina's behavior towards him is the result of her infidelity? 

No doubt Krasiński finds it easier to bear such unrequited love if he explains it as part of a grand historical movement in the dialectical clash of man and woman.
What makes it particularly difficult to reject Krasiński's prophecy regarding the war of the sexes and his subsequent excuses on behalf of Delfina, explaining away her infidelity as indicative of the general slavery of women under the mask of practicality , is the fact that in retrospect Krasiński's prophecy has come true. Not only has the war of the sexes been waged, not only have men suffered just vengeance, but Polish women - as Krasiński prophesied - have become that exemplary image of Divine truth and saved Christian love from the abyss of the role reversal brought on by the war of the sexes in which western women adopted all the vices of their male oppressors and thus became worse.

Delfina, in Krasiński's view, is trapped in that worst form of female submission: the slavery of social propriety and deference to custom. It must be noted here that the customs Krasiński is in rebellion against are themselves unholy, namely the tendency amongst aristocratic families to arrange marriages. As an orthodox Catholic and a romantic, Krasiński cannot conceive of the marriage sacrament as disposed of the true love that romance contains. Just as he rebels against his father, so he expects Delfina to rebel against her mother and husband.

This rebelliousness is only ostensibly at odds with Krasiński's orthodox Catholic and conservative tendencies. It is an apparent contradiction in the eyes of Westerners who have never really understood the essence of Christianity. Here it may help to use a political analogy: more often than once, Krasiński was compelled to defend the Polish people against the charge of revolutionary dogmatism. His was an age of revolution, an age when the dominance of the old order in Europe was constantly at odds with the tumultuous spirit of the times. Westerners, ignorant (as they have always been) of Polish affairs, thus interpreted revolutionary movements in Poland as no different from those which layed waste to France. Krasiński wrote to disabuse Westerners of such notions, going so far as to accuse the Tsar of being "the Robespierre of Russia" while defending Polish insurgents as patriots seeking to restore the old order, not topple it.

For Krasiński recognized the essential weakness of Catholic and monarchical culture in Europe as a fraudulent illusion. The nobility were faithless, nihilist, materialist and were in fact at the forefront of the revolutions tearing Europe apart - the partitions of Poland testified to it in Krasiński's mind. Krasiński recognized the ethical difficulties posed by this paradoxical state of affairs wherein the cross and the crown signified the abyss and the ascent of the Devil. He struggled with these ethical dilemmas throughout his life. In a sane world, a man serves God, family and country. In the insanity of mid-nineteenth century Europe Krasiński found no simple path towards virtue.

He wanted to serve his country, but his country was gone and his father demanded a realism that put Krasiński at odds with his peers, who dreamt of a Free Poland. Krasiński's father was correct to demand that his son not take part in the doomed insurgencies as he was likewise correct in his prudent service to the Tsar as a means of preserving the Kingdom of Poland. But the younger Krasiński was not interested in either prudence or wild eyed fanaticism. Unwilling to bear the burden of such a disjointed existence he took the one honorable path: he left Poland in favor of the life of an exile poet committed to romantic truth in its purest form.

Likewise Krasiński seems to expect the same determination from his beloved Delfina, that she rebel against the trappings of dry conventions of lady-like behavior which, sapped of Christian spirit, were nothing but the chains of worldly opinion posing as virtue. Krasiński's anger eventually erupts in his Letters after over one year of anguished suffering during which time he believed with all his heart that Delfina suffered their separation with equal pain. Coming finally to see that she was a willing prisoner in the world of safe banalities and conventions, Krasiński's suffering gives way to anger - and to his accusation that women lack the romantic thrust of manly determination and thus remain slaves to manly ego.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Anton's Reminiscence: Memory & Truth in the work of Sohlzenitzyn

It is worthwhile to pause briefly on the brief chapter featuring Anton Janukov's reminiscence of his youth alongside Agniya by the St. Nikita orthodox church in Moscow. This brief scene tells us something very important about Sohlzenitzyn's vision of the proper relation of mankind to history; namely that history is not synonymous with truth, but that it is truth which must guide us in coming to terms with history.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Irony & Totalitarianism in Solhzenitzyn's First Circle

I have grown dull to the irony of the communist dissident. That such is the case does not therefore reduce Solhzenitzyn as a writer, but let us take seriously for a moment the right of a mature reader to react this way when pondering the psychological portrait of Joseph Stalin which Sohlzenitzyn paints in his First Circle.

Sohlzenitzyn & The Mystery of Soviet Suffering

"It is possible to build the Empire State Building, to drill the Prussian army, to stack the hierarchy of the state higher than the throne of the Creator. It is, however, not possible to overcome the odd spiritual superiority of certain people. There are privates who are feared by their company commanders, common workers who terrify their masters, plaintiffs who instill fear in their accusers."
- On Bobynin

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Return to Solaris

Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion. 
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
- Dylan Thomas

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mathematics & Totalitarianism in Sohlzenitzyn's First Circle

"Topology! The stratosphere of human thought! Maybe it will be useful in the 24th century, but nowadays...?"
-Nierżyn, In The First Circle, 10

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Meaning of the Second Coming in Krasiński's Undivine Comedy

"There is no value in being human. Nor in being an angel. After only a few years of life, even the Archangel was struck by boredom in his heart and yearned for powers ever greater. One must be God or nothing at all."
- Sir Henry

"The great man who sent me promises you your lives if you will join him and acknowledge the spirit of the times!"
"We do! We do!"
- Citizen Godfather and the Nobility

"Galilaee vicisti!" - The dying words of Caesar Julian (361-363 AD)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Prophecy of the Third Act of the Undivine Comedy

"Atheism is an old formula. I expected something new from you."
- Henry to Pankracy, the revolutionary

"This is the dance of a Free People. Men and women dance around a guillotine and sing."
- The Neophyte revolutionary

"What an ugly corpse."
- The Neophyte revolutionary, on the death of the worker
The Undivine Comedy, Act III

The Poet as Mystic Prophet

"When I close my eyes, I see more than with my eyes open."
- Orcio
The Undivine Comedy, Act II