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This chapter addresses five authors who respond to Romantic hopes in indefinite futures: John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche. In Mill’s late writing on religion, hope in eternal life constitutes a link to Romantic poetry, a motive for taking life seriously, and a wan empirical possibility. In Eliot’s novella The Lifted Veil, blind hope, or our uncertainty about other people and any future we might share with them, may be necessary for love and engagement in this life – or it may be a grievous, fatal error. Along with Dickinson, Eliot supplies a bridge to the Modernists’ largely ironic representation of hope, more or less stripped of its possible virtue. The art of Dostoevsky is also oriented toward emerging Modernism, even as he exposes the ills of modernity, ultimately affirming something akin to Christian hope. Nietzsche sketches a new hope that might rise on the grave of Christianity. Despite his well-known adage on Pandora’s jar – the hope it contains is “the worst of evils” – Nietzsche more often prophesies, in his later writings, the “highest hope” of becoming who one is.
Chapter 8 treats the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky and provides a close reading of his work Notes from Underground. While Dostoevsky was never one of Hegel’s students in Berlin, he was influenced by Hegel’s thought and fits well with the general trajectory of European thinking in the nineteenth century that the present work traces. The underground man is portrayed as suffering from the disease of reflection, which is characteristic of the modern age. He offers a criticism of the modern scientific worldview, specifically rationalism and materialism. The influence of Hegel can be seen in the fact that the underground man’s relations to others can be characterized as based on the need for recognition. The underground man plays the role of the slave with some and the master with others. The theme of self-alienation is also very much present. The underground man knows full well that he is a coward and a morally depraved person, and in his moments of transparency he admits this. He can be seen as a symbol of modern alienation.
While Manichaeism and Existentialism would seem to be two very different topics, they are intricately connected in Mailer’s work. Though as a young man Mailer maintained atheistic beliefs, his ideas shifted in the mid-1950s, and his evolving theory of existentialism became intricately tied to his developing spiritual ideology, which by the 1960s was shaping most of his writing. While he borrowed ideas from famed existential theorists like Kierkegaard and Sartre, Mailer formulated his own unique brand of existentialism, one that included the possibility of a God. The crux of existentialism in Mailer’s mind, as this chapter explains, was the ability to face down the unknown with courage, which in turn meant confronting the Manichaean idea that an imperfect God was constantly at war with the Devil.
This chapter deals with arguments against the existence of God, at least a God as is supposed by Christianity – Creator, omnipotent and omniscient, all-loving especially toward his special creation, humankind. Ruse thinks that the arguments are effective. Above all, he cannot reconcile the Christian God with the problem of evil. He sees that human free will, including the power to do great evil, can in some sensed be reconciled with the Creator. He sees also that natural evil can likewise be reconciled with the Creator. He just cannot see that the Creator, knowing it was going to happen, let it happen. The suffering of small children cannot ever be reconciled with the end, no matter how good. Davies, taking a position much influenced by the great theologians, especially Aquinas, thinks that people like Ruse have an altogether mistaken understanding of God and his nature. The Bible is far from portraying God as the friendly chap in the sky, as supposed by Ruse. And theology backs up this realization by showing that, properly understood, we can speak of God as all-powerful and all-loving.
In the four decades following the death of Tsar Nicholas I in 1855, long-repressed cultural energies broke loose across imperial Russia. The Great Reforms of Alexander II, which began in 1861 with the Emancipation of Russia’s serfs, introduced transformative changes in law, politics, society, the economy, and the army. Creative endeavor also stirred. Freedom was in the air, and artists and writers imagined it for themselves and for the nation. They developed new content and forms of expression and assumed greater control over their creative lives. By the end of the century, literature and the arts had rejected the unitary model of state-sponsored patronage and transitioned to become free professions, although funding from state and Church remained important. Simultaneously, print culture extended outward to a growing public. Part I treats the meta-theme of freedom and order by examining the how the Fools and rebellious heroes of tradition were modernized and harnessed to the topics of the day. Issues of inclusion and boundaries surfaced as lines between and among the legal estates blurred and civic participation broadened. Publics and audiences for the arts transformed, and expectations about the roles of artists and the arts changed accordingly.
Imperial Russia’s most popular historical novel was not War and Peace but a story of folkloric origins that celebrated freedom and poked fun at authority. The Legend of How a Soldier Saved Peter the Great from Death appeared in multiple versions from 1843 onward and drew upon mythologies of the Fool – in sacred accounts, the Holy Fool (Iurodivyi); in secular tales, little Ivan the Fool (Ivanushka-Durachok). The hero of Russia’s first commercialized folktale, Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird, and the Grey Wolf, tricks a tsar as the protagonist of the contemporaneous children’s classic, The Little Humpbacked Horse. The freedom of fools was attractive enough in traditional society; amidst multi-dimensional change after the Emancipation, the idea of release from traditional constraint was electrifying. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and others created a dialogue between the familiar and the new by peopling their works with recognizable characters, foremost among which was the Fool. In so doing they illuminated ideas of self-fulfillment free from oppressive and unjust authority. But the era’s authors and readers also knew that when authority seemed most in shadow, it could return in force. The tension between freedom and order reflected ambivalence toward each that endured in Russian traditions and new works.
The mirror image of the Fool who succeeds despite himself is the rebel doomed to fail. Centuries of institutionalized servitude had begotten both actual and dreamed-of rebellion, with songs, poems, and legends that immortalized the rebels and their acts. Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, and Nikolai Gogol all had explored themes of freedom and rebellion, and post-Emancipation writers took these themes into the nascent medium of popular commercial fiction in the form of the adventure novel. The novels delivered excitement while reinforcing the wisdom of generations; to wit, that Russia’s secular and religious order could not be violated with impunity. Tolstoy in Anna Karenina and Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov innovated within a traditional mythology of rebels that had long served at once to question and accentuate the oppressive authority of tsarist rulers. At the time they were writing, the conventions that had led larger-than-life heroes and heroines to fulfillment or destruction were already changing in the shared Russian imagination. The cult of doomed rebellion associated with rebels had begun to give way to a new and growing emphasis on the agency and power of ordinary people.
Showcasing the genius of Russian literature, art, music, and dance over a century of turmoil, within the dynamic cultural ecosystem that shaped it, The Firebird and the Fox explores the shared traditions, mutual influences and enduring themes that recur in these art forms. The book uses two emblematic characters from Russian culture - the firebird, symbol of the transcendent power of art in defiance of circumstance and the efforts of censors to contain creativity; and the fox, usually female and representing wit, cleverness and the agency of artists and everyone who triumphs over adversity - to explore how Russian cultural life changed between 1850 and 1950. Jeffrey Brooks reveals how high culture drew on folk and popular genres, then in turn influenced an expanding commercial culture. Richly illustrated, The Firebird and the Fox assuredly and imaginatively navigates the complex terrain of this eventful century.
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