Friday, July 7, 2017

First Circle: First Impressions

There is a distinct familiarity to Sohlzenitzyn's prose in The First Circle. There is the type of dark humor that Poles are accustomed to in the cinematography of Bareja, there is a sense of surrealism that is almost Kafkaesque and finally there is that unique moral clarity that Sohlzenitzyn brings to totalitarianism on account of his literary realism rooted above all in the idea of always telling the truth.

"You consider yourself a materialist, yet you feed the people nothing but spiritual sustinence."

The material poverty attendant to communism is likely that feature of the Eastern experience beyond the grasp of Western imagination. It is not so much the aspect concerning privation as such, but the  fact that involuntary poverty strengthens the spirit which is impossible for the Western mind to comprehend. In Western culture, the forced impoverishment of society is usually connected to the breakdown of social order and corruption of individual character. 

Sohlzenitzyn describes the dark humor, sense of resignation and basic human solidarity that arose under communist poverty. He uncovers the ironic truth of communism which promises material advancement in consequence of the dissilussionment of the spirit, yet delivers a material poverty so fundamental as to confront those forced to live under communism with the most fundamental questions of the spirit usually concealed by a soothing prosperity in borgiouse society.
"It has been proven that sheep produce more whool when they are fed and cared for more regularly."      

Sohlzenitzyn contrasts an article from Pravda with Dante in what seems to amount to a sort of prelude to the New Hell of scientific socialism in contradistinction to ancient notions of the Inferno as represented in Dante's classic work. The advent of utilitarianism visibly distinguishes ancient from modern Hell.

For Dante, the First Circle was to some extent an acknowledgement of the virtue of classical humanism, an arena where the giants of human thought and action could find their just place in the Divine hierarchy. Sohlzenitzyn's protagonists, (the philosophers in Dante's First Circle), are likewise intellectuals, men of creative talent, humanists. 

Yet their placement in a more humane prison is not so much a testimony to the totalitarian acknowledgement of their virtues within a broader moral framework, but rather the result of the utilitarian principle central to capitalism and socialism (the two great modern innovations that reject classical Christian virtue).

Or is Sohlzenitzyn going further than a juxtaposition? Is he actually suggesting that the totalitarian "humane" prison is akin to the First Circle and that both serve the same principle: to keep the men of creative talent alive and sustain a rudimentary level of productivity amongst them? Is Sohlzenitzyn suggesting that the utilitarian virus runs from religion straight through to capitalism and socialism?

1 comment:

  1. Am glad you followed my suggestion so quickly. You've got the essential: <> But still slow down, read again, pay attention to WHERE and WHEN the novel enfolds? Btw, I like the thrust (and name) of your blog, for we can hardly figure out either politics or even religious affairs of the day if we ignore lit. Vladislav