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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Nobel Lecture by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1970) - A Write up by Esther Austin

Following is a write up on Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Lecture by Esther Austin of III year PSEng.


In the acceptance speech that Solzhenitsyn made when he won the Nobel Prize in 1970, he talks about Art, about what it should be and what it is at the hands of people who use it as propaganda.

What or who is more important, Art or the artists? He says we think we have the power to create Art but Art has the power to recreate us if only we let it do so. And through the power of Art, artists should recreate society. Unfortunately, it is the other way: social and political ideologies force artists to use Art for propaganda to influence the common people and force them to accept such propaganda as artistic truth. In other words, artistic truth is subverted in such situations where Art is not free. We can understand the depth of his concern for Art only when we realize that he is a Russian artist fighting against Communist control of Art and artists.

How do we understand Art? There are two ways of looking at it:

  1. Here, the artist sees himself as a co-creator of harmonies with God. God is the prime Creator who has given the artist the grace and the ability to create harmonies to uplift the spirit of Man towards God. So, the artist is the link between God and Man. Such a concept of Art as a pure expression of joy was present in the early days of human civilization when artists created harmonies through different artistic mediums like painting, music and literature just as God created the harmony of the universe.

  1. Here, the artist sees himself as the supreme creator of an independent spiritual world through Art. He thinks he can change the world through his artistic ideas but, of course, he cannot because he does not have the superhuman power need to create a stable spiritual system. When he fails he blames it on the corrupt ways of society instead of blaming his pride. He does not realize that he does not have power over the mystical or magical component of Art to heal, to correct and to sustain.

The best way to understand Art is to know that it has an inner beauty of conviction. It is a beauty that makes people change their ways and become better human beings. When Dostoevsky said, “Beauty will save the world,” he was talking of this inner beauty of Art and artistic harmony that has the power to make us give up our disharmonious ways and become harmonious as human beings and as a society. This cannot happen with anything else like a political speech, a philosophical system or a social program because all these are made by man whereas Art is inspired by God.

A work of Art stand the test of time only when it is pure; it will not last if it is a vehicle of social propaganda however much it may pretend to express the trinity of Art value: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. “Beauty will save the world” becomes a prophecy when a beautiful work of Art contains Truth and Goodness in it.

In that case, can Literature as a form of Art help the modern world? (Literature is a recent form of Art available in the Modern world ever since writing became a form of expression and a medium of communication.) Solzhenitsyn says he is speaking on behalf of all the writers and particularly Russian writers who have been suppressed. ‘A whole national literature is there, buried without a coffin, without even underwear, naked, with a number tagged to its toe. Not for a moment did Russian Literature cease, yet from outside it seemed a wasteland.’

So, he is speaking on behalf of all those Russian writers who have been suppressed by Communism. What is his responsibility towards them?

Vladimir Solovyov says artists have an obligation to God, ‘But even chained, we must complete that circle which the gods have preordained’.

Artists are the messengers of God. Their conviction to speak from their soul came from their sufferings in prison camps ‘a world in which, while flowing tears rolled down the cheeks of some, others danced to the carefree tunes of a musical.’ The indomitable spirit of man in the face of oppression had to be glorified in the writings of Russians who survived persecution. They were also writing on behalf of the dead.

Though the writing he is talking about is only Russian Literature, it goes beyond the boundary of language and nation. It is the common expression of all writers who write from the heart, as the spokesmen of God. Such writing transcends all barriers of language and culture. It is from the essence of Man.

Though the Modern world is global and the media makes world news available all over the world, people have not come together as one community. ‘On one side, hundreds of mute Christians give up their lives for their belief in God. On the other side of the world, a madman roars across the ocean to FREE US from religion with a blow of steel at the Pontiff.’ We don’t share the same set of values. What seem right to some people is wrong to another set. ‘Given six, four, or even two scales of values, there cannot be one world or one single humanity’.

Who will coordinate these scales of values and how? It is art and literature because ‘literature, together with language protects a nation’s soul’. Fortunately, ‘ingrained in Russian literature is the notion that a writer can do much among his own people – and he must’.

But it has not been easy: the governments suppress freedom of expression, the people are so materialistic that they do not want to protest against it, and the writers themselves cater to the people in power because they do not have the courage to fight for their convictions. If writes become timid what will be the position of the world at large?

Fortunately, there is ‘a keen sense of world literature’, not only in the old sense of literary writings of the world but also in the new sense of world readership. Any book from any part of the world is available in any other part of the world, thanks to the rise of information technology. His own books that were not published in his own country were translated and published and read all over the world. His life was protected only because writers from all over the world had taken notice of his writing and appreciated the quality of his work, and he was recommended for the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize was not only for his writings but also an honour to the writers’ organizations that supported him against the policies of his own country to suppress him.

So, what can literature do against the onslaught of violence? Violence cannot succeed for long because it is based on lies. Writers of the world must have the courage to speak the truth because ‘One word of Truth outweighs the World’.

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