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The Limits of Discourse: Solov'ev's Language of Syzygy and the Project of Thinking Total-Unity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2017

Edith W. Clowes*
Affiliation:
The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Purdue University

Extract

In his work as both philosopher and poet, Vladimir Solov'ev is motivated by seemingly contradictory desires: to apprehend in the world a higher, mystical "total–unity" that lends coherence and meaning to our lives, and to assert the validity of otherness, of the varieties of individual experience in this world. Throughout Solov'ev struggles with the possibilities inherent in available intellectual discourses–scientific, poetic, philosophical, and religious–to arrive at that combination of conceptualization and sensory experience that he called "thinking" total-unity. His historical revaluation of erotic love, The Meaning of Love (Smysl liubvi, 1892-1894), is a pivotal work in this quest. In addition to its well–known arguments in defense of erotic love, this essay focuses on the problem of discourse and its role in articulating and conceptualizing the mystical or revealed knowledge that eludes sense and reason.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. 1996

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References

I would like to thank George L. Kline and Judith Deutsch Kornblatt for their comments on earlier drafts of this work.

1. Sobranie sochinenii V. S. Solov'eva, 12 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1901; reprint Brussels, 1966), 7: 45. Citations from Solov'ev's philosophical works are taken from this edition.

2. Kornblatt, Judith, “The Transfiguration of Plato in the Erotic Philosophy of Vladimir Solov'ev,” Religion and Literature 24, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 4344 Google Scholar. Kornblatt discusses Solov'ev's critique of Plato's theory of love and shows how the Russian philosopher transformed his mentor into a “fallen prophet” (48).

3. Derrida, Jacques, “The White Mythology,” The Margins of Philosophy, trans. Bass, A. (Chicago, 1986), 269.Google Scholar

4. Moller, Peter Ulf, Postlude to the Kreutzer Sonata: Tolstoj and the Debate on Sexual Morality in Russian Literature in the 1890s, trans. Kendal, J. (Copenhagen, 1988), 285.Google Scholar

5. In “Transfiguration” Kornblatt remarks that an important aspect of Plato's writerly persona upon which Solov'ev modeled himself was the dual roles of poet and philosopher. See “Transfiguration,” 35–50. However, Solov'ev considered his own poetry to be of decidedly secondary importance to his philosophical writing. See Z. G. Mints, “Vladimir Solov'ev—Poet,” introduction to Solov'ev, Vladimir, Stikhotvoreniia i shutochnye p'esy, Poeta, Biblioteka (Leningrad, 1974), 2223.Google Scholar

6. See, for example, Pasternak's reference to The Meaning of Love in Doctor Zhivago (New York, 1981), 39. For a reading of Pasternak's response to Solov'ev's essay, see Jerome Spencer, “Soaked in The Meaning of Love and The Kreutzer Sonata: The Nature of Love in Doctor Zhivago,” Doctor Zhivago: A Critical Companion (Evanston, 1995), 76–88. For a discussion of Solov'ev's reception among western feminist theologians, see Brenda Meehan, “A Feminist Reading of the Russian Sophiological Tradition” (paper, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Washington, D.C., October 1995).

7. For an absorbing discussion of the similarities between Solov'ev's view of love (and, particularly, gender) and that expressed in the Jewish Kabbalah, see Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, “Solov'ev's Androgynous Sophia and the Jewish Kabbalah,” Slavic Review 50, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 487–96.

8. I place an emphasis on this passage that is quite different from the literal distaste for procreation and desire to control the womb that Eric Naiman stresses in “Historectomies: On the Metaphysics of Reproduction in a Utopian Age,” in Costlow, J. T., Sandler, S., and Vowles, J., eds., Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture (Stanford, 1993), 255–76Google Scholar. This passage and the essay in general make the claim that spiritual life and mystical insight draw on the same erotic energy as childbearing does. Childbearing is a function of outwardly directed erotic drive, while spiritual union draws on internalized, transfigured erotic energy. While childbearing is certainly not accorded high priority here, neither is it overtly discredited as, for example, it is in The Kreutzer Sonata.

9. For an enlightening discussion of Solov'ev as a Russian Orthodox precursor to Bakhtin, see Emerson, Caryl, “Russian Orthodoxy and the Early Bakhtin,” Religion and Literature 22, nos. 2–3 (f990): 109–32Google Scholar. For a consideration of Solov'ev's and Nietzsche's impact on Viacheslav Ivanov, see Clowes, Edith W., The Revolution of Moral Consciousness: Nietzsche in Russian Literature, 1890–1914 (DeKalb, 1988), 134–41Google Scholar.

10. Webster's Dictionary (Springfield, 1919).

11. See, for example, Foerster, Werner, Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts, trans. Wilson, R. McL., 2 vols. (Oxford, 1972–74), 1: 105, 111, 116, 123–24, 139, 152–53Google Scholar. Syzygy is indeed a consistent theme in the patristic documentation of gnosticism. It refers to the notion of coupling between so-called aeons, or worlds, to bring forth emanations from themselves. A pair of aeons is sometimes called a syzygy.

12. For influential theorizations concerning the interaction of gender consciousness and genre, see Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Signs 1 (1976): 875–93. See also Derrida, Jacques, “The Law of Genre,” Acts of Literature, ed. Attridge, D. (London, 1992), 221–52.Google Scholar

13. This point is suggested but not fully pursued in Laura Engelstein, The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia (Ithaca, 1994), 314–18.

14. Mints, “Vladimir Solov'ev—Poet,” 22–23.

15. Poems cited are from Vladimir Solov'ev, Stikhotvoreniia i shutochnye p'esy.

16. Kornblatt, “Transfiguration,” 48. Kornblatt laments that Blok and other symbolists put Sophia back in heaven, taking away her earthly aspect. Indeed younger symbolists may have considered Solov'ev's worldview to be more unearthly than it really was because they generally read his poetry and preferred it to his philosophical writings.

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