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Finally, a Success at Reading a Russian Novel

It is always a bit of a triumph when I survive a Russian novel, in this case a historical novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "August 1914". A worthy book.

I'd like to do something I haven't done before on this blog: show what I've been doing most of my adult life when I read a book. What good is a book if the words go into one eyeball and out the other? In order for the book to have any effect on your life, you must retain the best parts of it -- its juicy but condensed nuggets of goodness. And then you can digest and assimilate these nuggets into your own organism.

To mix metaphors, let's look for the book's classic quotes, its pemmican of wisdom, and turn them into building blocks for our own mental skyscrapers in the future. 

Just a few years ago now, baby kaBLOOnie and his siblings being programmed and brainwashed by their schoolteacher father.
p. 107/622:  He had not expected to find much to hearten him at Second Army Headquarters...
Vorotyntsev was still depressed whenever experience confirmed the invariable rule that every headquarters was staffed by people who were selfish, rank-conscious, hidebound...
They regarded the army as a convenient, highly polished, and well-carpeted staircase, upon whose steps medals and badges of rank were handed out. It never occurred to them that this staircase involved obligations rather than rewards...

For the staircase was so arranged as to encourage the ascent of slow-witted men who did what they were told, rather than those with brains and independence of mind. Provided you stuck to the letter of regulations, orders, and directives, you could make as many blunders as you liked; you could be defeated, you could retreat, be routed, run away--no one would ever blame you and you would not be called upon to investigate the cause of your failure. But woe unto you if you once diverged the letter, if you ever thought for yourself or acted on your own initiative; then you would not even be forgiven your successes, and if you failed, you would be eaten alive.
Well, I'll bet this quote registers with anyone who has worked in a large organization, including, perhaps, even the modern USA military. (Of course, as the exceptional nation, perhaps these diseases of headquarters only afflict other countries.) 

The odd thing is that people of different political opinions might experience the same frustrations in a centralized bureaucracy, on a personal level. But only some of them will still believe in a top-down approach to society; that is, they won't apply what they experience on a personal level to an abstract or general level.
p.111/622:  Stimulated by the ride through the warm, dark, still countryside, Vorotyntsev soon experienced the wonderful sense of buoyancy familiar to every officer...when the flimsy threads which bind one to a settled existence are snapped clean, when one's body is fighting fit, one's hands are free, one feels the satisfying tug of a weapon at one's side, and one's mind is wholly concentrated on the task at hand. He had been created for moments like this; he lived for them.

Yes, indeed. But one needn't be a horse-mounted warrior to experience this. A fast moving sportsman can, as well. Such as a bicycle racer, sea kayaker, or sailor. Maybe even an ATVer. On the other hand, a hiker probably can't relate to this quote because they are too much like the slow moving grunts in the infantry. I have written about this mood when I bicycled with the Yuma club in the winter.

p.125/622:  People talked a great deal about loving the peasants; in the Kharitonov family the talk had been of nothing else: what was there to live for if not the good of the peasants? Yet somehow they never actually saw the peasants, one was not even allowed to go to the nearby market without permission from one's parents and afterward one had to wash one's hands and change one's shirt. There was no way of coming into contact with the peasants, no common ground on which to talk with them, because one would be embarrassed and not know what to say.

Well, well, that sort of sounds like a certain poseur in modern politics. 

p193/622:  There had been a time when as a young man he had hotly contested everything, but after his long years of service, frustration had tightened the skin around his cheekbones, and he had learned to be silent--when to shut his mouth, and when to keep it shut.
This is redolent of what I was posting about recently, in the flaws of conversation.

p. 306/622:  Behind the low wall at the back of the yard was an empty lot; beyond it a two-story house with a mansad roof was blazing. One by one the tiles on the dormer window exploded with little pops. At first thick black smoke poured out of the dormer, than all at once several broad, steady tongues of flame broke through.

No one ran to put out the fire.

Crackling, the smoke and flames consumed the abandoned wealth, the now useless products of German ingenuity and German labor, and the fiery voices hissed and groaned. All was now lost, they said: chaos and hatred were come, and the old life was gone forever.
page 460/622:  Instead, he was thinking how hard it was for the Tsar to choose the right advisers. Evil, selfish men were more self-assertive than the good and loyal ones; it was always they who tried hardest to show off their false loyalty and their pretended abilities to the Tsar; yet how was he, a mere man,to acquire the godlike insight needed to see into the dark corners of other men's souls? Thus it was he who became the victim of his mistaken choices, and his self-seeking appointees were gnawing like worms at the strong tree trunk that was Russia.


XXXXX said…
The wonderful little skyscraper you and your sibs built as kids parallels the mind and most other structures (like governments) over time just beautifully, doesn't it? Your father knew it needed a strong base to start or it could never rise very far. As the tower rises, it is harder and harder until virtually impossible to alter any of the blocks in the base. As the tower rises, one no longer even thinks about the base and any error in its formation is impossible to alter. What will be will be.
It needs to thin out as it grows taller. It needs to be able to sway and let the air flow through as it tries to balance itself on its base. This is the test of character. Can one be flexible as time goes by, learn to adjust,go with the flow at times and/or learn to lean into what is current, or will one be fixed and immovable at the very time that one needs to bend?
Even so, the tower can only grow so far and then it's time to just be. To enjoy what has been accomplished and revel in its beauty for, to continue to strive and then strive even more, will surely cause the structure to fall for towers, like countries, are built on a base of a certain size, shape, and architecture and the growth of either is limited.
Time to let the blocks fall down, learn from its errors, and build a new base and start again.
Great and fully-developed analogy, George. But say, do you think that is why Ayn Rand chose the architects of skyscrapers for "The Fountainhead?" I never figured you for a Rand groupie. (grin)
Ed said…

I must say that you wrote a great comment this time. So many times I either do not understand what you have written or disagree with what I think you have said.
XXXXX said…
HA! You make me laugh. No, I am not a Rand groupie. But I do think there are interesting parallels in our world. Every metaphor is an example and we know how abundant they are.
You could be right about Rand's choice there. I never thought of that.