Thursday, 5 November 2015

Fyodor Dostoyevsky “My Paradox” (Extract)

Again a tussle with Europe (oh, it’s not a war yet: they say that we – Russia, that is – are still a long way from war). Again the endless Eastern Question is in the news; and again in Europe they are looking mistrustfully at Russia. . . . Yet why we should go running to seek Europe’s trust? Did Europe ever trust the Russians? Can she ever trust us and stop seeing us as her enemy? Oh, of course this view will change someday; someday Europe will better be able to make us out and realize what we are like; and it is certainly worth discussing this someday; but meanwhile a somewhat irrelevant question or side issue has occured to me and I have recently been busy to solve it. No one may agree with me, yet I think that I am right – in part, maybe, but right.

I said that Europe doesn’t like Russians. No one, I think, will dispute the fact that they don’t like us. They accuse us, among other things, of being terrible liberals: we Russians, almost to a man, are seen as not only liberals but revolutionaries; we are supposedly always inclined, almost lovingly, to join forces with the destructive elements of Europe rather than the conserving ones. Many Europeans look at us mockingly and haughtily for this – they are hateful: they cannot understand why we should be the ones to take the negative side in someone’s else’s affair; they positively deny us the right of being negative as Europeans on the grounds that they do not recognize us as a part of “civilization”. They see us rather as barbarians, reeling around Europe gloating that we have found something somewhere to destroy purely for the sake of destruction, for the mere pleasure of watching it fall to pieces, just as if we were a horde of savages, a band of Huns, ready to fall upon ancient Rome and destroy its ancient shrines without the least notion of the value of the things we are demolishing. […] But Europeans do not trust appearances: “Grattez le russe et vous verrez le tartare”, they say (scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tatar). That may be true, but this is what occured to me: do the majority of Russians, in their dealings with Europe, join the extreme left because they are Tatars and have the savage’s love of destruction, or are they, perhaps, moved by other reasons? That is the question, and you’ll agree that it is a rather interesting one. The time of our tussles with Europe is coming to an end; the role of the window cut through to Europe is over, and something else is beginning, or ought to begin at least, and everyone who has the least capacity to think now realizes this. In short, we are more and more beginning to feel that we ought to be ready for something, for some new and far more original encounter than we had hitherto. Whether this encounter will be over the Eastern Question or over something else no one can tell! And so it is that all such questions, analyses, and even surmises and paradoxes can be of interest simply through the fact that they can teach us something. And isn’t it a curious thing that it is precisely those Russians who are most given to considering themselves European, and whom we call “Westernizers”, who exult and take pride in this apellation and who still taunt the other half of the Russians with the names “kvasnik” and “zipunnik?” [cf.: vatnik. – Sergey Armeyskov]. Is it not curious, I say, that these very people are the quickest to join the extreme left – those who deny civilization and who would destroy it – and that this surprises absolutely no one in Russia, and that the question has never even been posed? Now isn’t it that truly a curious thing?

[…] This is what I think: does not this fact (i.e., the fact that even our most ardent Westernizers side with the extreme left – those who in essence reject Europe) reveal the protesting Russian soul which always, from the very time of Peter the Great, found many, all too many, aspects of European culture hateful and always alien? That is what I think. Oh, of course this protest was almost always an unconscious one; but what truly matters here is that the Russian isntinct has not died: the Russian soul, albeit unconsciously, has protested precisely in the name of its Russianness, in the name of its downtrodden and Russian principle. People will say, of course, that if this really were so there would be no cause for rejoicing: “the one who rejects, be he Hun, barbarian, or Tatar, has rejected not in the name of something higher but because he himself was so lowly that even over two centuries he could not manage to make out the lofty heights of Europe.”

People will certainly say that. I agree that this is a legitimate question, but I do not intend to answer it; I will only say, without providing any substantiation, that I utterly and totally reject this Tatar hypothesis. Oh, of course, who now among all us Russians, especially when this is all in the past (because this period certainly has ended) – who among all us Russians can argue against the things that Peter did, against the window he cut through to Europe? Who can rise up against him with visions of the ancient Muscovy of the tsars? This is not the point at all, and this is not why I began my discussion; the point is that, no matter how many fine and useful things we saw through Peter’s window, there still were so many bad and harmful things there that always troubled the Russian instinct. That instinct never ceased to protest (although it lost its way so badly that in most cases it did not realize what it was doing), and it protested not because of its Tatar essence but, perhaps, precisely because it had preserved something within itself that was higher and better than anything it saw through the window. . . (Well, of course it didn’t protest against everything: we received a great many fine things from Europe and we don’t want to be ungrateful; still, our instinct was right in protesting against at least half of the things.)

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