|Unit 13: Age of Nationalism / Nationalism|
|Belinsky and Gogol Argue Over Russian Identity|
|From Belisnky, Vissarion. "Letter to Gogol." As reproduced in Russian Philosophy, trans. James Scanlan, ed. James Edie, James Scanlan, and Mary-Barbara Zeldin, vol. 1 (Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 1976), 312-315.|
You are only partly right in regarding my article as that of an "angered" man: that epithet is too mild and tender to express the state to which I was reduced upon reading your book. And you are entirely wrong in ascribing that state to your indeed none too complimentary references to those who respect your talent. No, there was a more important reason for it. One can endure an outraged sense of self-esteem, and I would have had sufficient presence of mind to let the matter pass in silence had that been all there was to it. But one cannot endure an outraged sense of truth and human dignity; one cannot keep silent when, under the guise of religion and the protection of the knout, falsehood and immorality are preached as truth and virtue.
Yes, I loved you with all the passion with which a man, bound to his country by ties of blood, can love his country's hope, its pride, its glory, one of its great leaders on its road to awareness, development, and progress. And you had good reason for losing your equanimity at least momentarily when you forfeited that love. I say this not because I consider my love an adequate reward for great talent, but because in this connection I represent not one man but a multitude of persons, most of whom neither you nor I have ever set eyes upon, and who in turn have never set eyes upon you. I cannot give you the faintest conception of the indignation your book has aroused in all noble hearts, and of the wild shouts of joy set up on its appearance by all your enemies--both the non-literary . . . and the literary, whose names you well know. You yourself can readily see that even the people who seem to be of one mind with your book have disowned it. Even if it had been written out of deep and sincere conviction it could not have created any other impression on the public. And you have only yourself to blame if everyone . . . took it as a cunning but all too unceremonious artifice for achieving sheerly earthly aims by celestial means.
Nor is that in any way surprising; what is surprising is that you find it so. This results, I believe, from the fact that you know Russia deeply only as an artist and not as a thinker--the role you assumed so unsuccessfully in your fantastic book. Not that you are not a thinker; but for many years you have been accustomed to look at Russia from your "beautiful faraway," and as everyone knows there is nothing easier than seeing things from a distance the way we want to see them. . . .
Therefore you have failed to observe that Russia sees her salvation not in mysticism or asceticism or pietism, but in the advances of civilization, enlightenment, and humanity. She needs not sermons (she has heard enough of them!) or prayers (she has repeated them often enough!) but the awakening in the people of a sense of their human dignity, lost in the mud and filth for so many centuries; she needs rights and laws which conform not to the teachings of the Church but to common sense and justice, and she needs the strictest possible observance of them. Instead of which she presents the ghastly spectacle of a land where men traffic in men, without even having the excuse so insidiously exploited by the American plantation owners who claim that the Negro is not a human being; . . . a land, finally, where not only are there no guarantees for individuality, honor, and property but there is not even police order, where there are only vast corporations of various official thieves and plunderers. The most vital national problems in Russia today are the abolition of serfdom and corporal punishment and the strictest possible observance of at least those laws which already exist. . . .
Such are the problems which trouble Russia in her apathetic slumber! And at such time a great writer, whose wonderfully artistic and profoundly truthful works have contributed so mightily to Russia's self-awareness by enabling her to view herself as if in a mirror, comes out with a book in which, in the name of Christ and the Church, he instructs the barbarian landowner to get still greater profits out of his peasants and rails at their "unwashed snouts"! . . . And this should not make me indignant? . . . Why, if you had made an attempt on my life I could not have hated you more than I do for those disgraceful lines. ... And after that you want people to believe that your book was sincere in intent? . . .
Proponent of the knout, apostle of ignorance, champion of obscurantism, panegyrist of Tatar ways--what are you doing? Look beneath your feet, you are standing over an abyss. . . .
Reprinted by permission of the University of Tennessee Press.
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