Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Dead at 89

A few brief quotations from The Gulag Archipelago, not intended to be representative of his work, but merely ones that struck me and that I recorded as I moved through the massive three-volume reminiscence of the camps:

On members of the engineering profession, mine.  This is not the planet I inhabit!

An engineer?  I had grown up among engineers, and I could remember the engineers of the twenties very well indeed: their open shining intellects, their free and gentle humor, their agility and breadth of thought, the ease with which they shifted from one engineering field to another, and, for that matter, from technology to social concerns and art. Then, too, they personified good manners and delicacy of taste; well-bred speech that flowed evenly and was free of uncultured words;  one of them might play a musical instrument, another dabble in painting; and their faces always bore a spiritual imprint.

The Gulag Archipelago vol. I

A bit of sardonic humor:

But then, only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings.  Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.

The Gulag Archipelago vol. III

Homespun philosophy of the Gulag:

All the problems which tease and torment men who have been free we solve with a single click of the tongue…”Things have been worse!”

The Gulag Archipelago vol. III

Has a geographer taken up this challenge?

Yes, and in the twenties the Archipelago was one thing, whereas in the fifties it was quite a different thing.  How would one indicate its march through time?  How many maps would be required?…But we hope to see such a map yet.

The Gulag Archipelago vol II?

That old rub between theory and practice:  A piece of really black humor:

As for the theory of escape – it is very simple.  You do it any way you can. If you get away, that shows you know your theory.  If you’re caught – you haven’t yet mastered it.

The Gulag Archipelago vol. III

The meaning of it all:

And how can you bring it home to them? By an inspiration? By a vision? A dream? Brothers! People! Why has life been given you? In the deep, deaf stillness of midnight, the doors of the death cells are being swung open–and great-souled people are being dragged out to be shot. On all the railroads of the country this very minute, right now, people who have just been fed salt herrings are licking their dry lips with bitter tongues. They dream of the happiness of stretching out one’s legs and of the relief one feels after going to the toilet. In Orotukan the earth thaws only in summer and only to the depth of three feet—and only then can they bury the bones of those who died during the winter. And you have the right to arrange your own life under the blue sky and the hot sun, to get a drink of water, to stretch, to travel wherever you like without a convoy. So what’s this about unwiped feet? And what’s this about a mother-in-law? What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory—property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life—don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart—and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how your are imprinted in their memory!

But the convoy guards stroke the black handles of the pistols in their pockets. And we sit there, three in a row, sober fellows, quiet friends.

The Gulag Archipelago, vol. I

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One Response to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Dead at 89

  1. Graeme says:

    he was a wonderful writer. and didn’t spare criticism for anyone.

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