I think it was Heine who observed that the world is cracked and this split goes through the heart of the poet. In other words, it is the poets of this world who see its painful divisions in all its tragic dimensions. Or rather not see, but feel.
That’s how tragic poets of Greece saw it as well. On whose side are we supposed to be? Whimsical and self-righteous side of Antigone who prefers to listen to her own drummer, embrace death, give up on her fiancé, on her life, only to do right by her brother, the enemy of the city, the modern day terrorist. Or on the side of Creon, who insists on the unalienable rights of the polis and the father, and demands the obedience to the authority higher than the personal sense of duty or honor. What will happen with the state, if its citizens start supporting its enemies, and would be willing to die for this support? Greeks saw tragedy there, and in many other cases generated by their newly created city-state. Ultimately, doing right by oneself or by others – runs into a tragic choice. And so is doing right by the present or by the future, by one group of people or by another.
For various reasons, either through studying great Russians, or growing up in a rather harsh place, or hearing all the tragic stories about my ancestors, I share this tragic sense of the world. So every time, I encounter something that demands “simplistic solutions”, particularly about such complex situations as, say, Stalin’s legacy or Israel place in the world, I balk at the cavalier attitude with which simplicity is being offered for the answer.
Virginia Wolfe, in her “Russian point of view,” commented on Russian fiction and western inability to grasp its complexity:
“These stories are inconclusive, we say, and proceed to frame a criticism based upon the assumption that stories ought to conclude in a way that we recognize. In so doing, we raise the question of our own fitness as readers. Where the tune is familiar and the end emphatic — lovers united, villains discomfited, intrigues exposed — as it is in most Victorian fiction, we can scarcely go wrong, but where the tune is unfamiliar and the end a note of interrogation or merely the information that they went on talking, as it is in Chekhov, we need a very daring and alert sense of literature to make us hear the tune, and in particular those last notes which complete the harmony.”
In other words, Russians offer an inconclusive conclusion, a secret harmony that does not fit into an already familiar pattern. I am sure that Greeks did the same.
Should we dismiss Antigone’s concerns as silly? Her brother, after all, is an enemy not just of her city, but of her family. He died as he was fighting another brother, who was defending the city. So this double traitor lies rotting in the field. Why did he come to invade his own city to begin withs? Who asked him? Let him rot.
But he is here now. And he is dead and helpless. What’s the point to debate his past, whether he should’ve or shouldn’t have invaded. His corpse demands a responds, and Antigone does respond, no matter how guilty he is.
Same applies to Creon. Of course, he is right to dismiss this treacherous SOB and challenge Antigone whose demands seem irrational. But his son, who is in love with Antigone, begs him. Tradition begs him. That’s the situation, and he makes his choice.
What Sophocles wants us to know is that it is a damn difficult, if not impossible to choose between the two. Both are right. Both choices require tears and misery.
But he would surely consider himself a failure, had his audience concluded smugly: Antigone is a spoiled brat; she should have left the treacherous murderous thug rot there. Or Creon is a limited tyrant; he should have listened to his own son.
In other words, it is the easiest thing in the world to say, that 1. Russian revolution was an exercise in thuggery and treachery. Or 2. Russian Revolution liberated the country and gave hope to the rest of the world. But I would say, that Russian Revolution, as the French one, was of God. And it was awe-inspiring and tragic, and therefore liberating and cruel and treacherous.
Or let’s take Israel. Of course, it came into being as the result of illegal grabbing of Palestinian land. But it also came to being as the result of the most shameless action of the European world, that nonchalantly delivered its Jews to German crematoriums, or to the knives and bullets of Poles, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians. And now millions of Israelis are already born on this land, as were millions of Americans, Australians and many others whose ancestors wiped out locals with the cruelty rarely practices by Israelis. It is a tragic situation, and people can and should argue this way or that, but what I despise is the smugness with which people sitting in the comfort of their rooms pontificate on the illegal seizure of the land and the genocidal regime that should self-destruct.
If the tragic sense of the world is not your cup of tea, just ignore my posts. There are plenty of clear-minded, articulate bloggers, who already know everything. You would never go wrong with them.
Posted By: Vladimir Golstein