Every now and then it happens. The state or the system encounters an individual who, bafflingly, maddeningly, absurdly, cannot be broken — Christopher Hitchens
Alexander Solzhenitsyn is no more. He was not an easy author to read – and the last time I read him was back in high school (or maybe college). But I remember them still.
To quote a wonderful paragraph by Hitchens:
To have fought his way into Hitler’s East Prussia as a proud Red Army soldier in the harshest war on record, to have been arrested and incarcerated for a chance indiscretion, to have served a full sentence of servitude and been released on the very day that Stalin died, and then to have developed cancer and known the whole rigor and misery of a Soviet-era isolation hospital—what could you fear after that? The bullying of Leonid Brezhnev’s KGB and the hate campaigns of the hack-ridden Soviet press must have seemed like contemptible fleabites by comparison. But it seems that Solzhenitsyn did have a worry or a dread, not that he himself would be harmed but that none of his work would ever see print. Nonetheless—and this is the point to which I call your attention—he kept on writing. The Communist Party’s goons could have torn it up or confiscated or burned it—as they did sometimes—but he continued putting it down on paper and keeping a bottom drawer filled for posterity. This is a kind of fortitude for which we do not have any facile name. The simplest way of phrasing it is to say that Solzhenitsyn lived “as if.” Barely deigning to notice the sniggering, pick-nose bullies who followed him and harassed him, he carried on “as if” he were a free citizen, “as if” he had the right to study his own country’s history, “as if” there were such a thing as human dignity.
At some level, by the time he died, Solzhenitsyn had become an anachronism. However, his life and work is testimony to the redemptive value of art, and the strength of the human spirit. In some sense, it does not matter if or not his work is reprinted and/or re-visited, its value endures. I make a somewhat similar point in a recent posting on judging the value of art by the numbers.