Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ivan Turgenev

Many months ago I came home from yet another lesson in the real essentials of music - numbers, numbers, numbers - with Tim McDaniel, to find that I had received a virtual flurry of hits on my blog from Russia. In spite of the absolute necessity of spiritual perfection for getting into Heaven, the spiritual writer must always settle for relative anonymity, complete lack of notice in his own time, and never seek to expect the fame that comes to those who deliberately write for the attention of the world, sending up the traditional sops to the thinking of the earthbound, especially in the lamentable areas of gratuitious violence, sensuality, and the acquisition of wealth and power; and in religious  writing, the simple minded sentimentality of those who know nothing of interior suffering, and imagine that babbling about spirituality makes for devotion; so this snow storm of attention, relatively speaking, both flabbergasted and delighted me.
Like any true lover of literature, I have, of course, enormous respect for the Russian story tellers and playwrights, and value my considerable experience, all other things considered, of their genius. For one thing, hugely important to a soul like myself whose childhood relationship with nature, with the visible earth, was unquestionably a religious relationship, the Russian love of landscape, of the fields that grew their food, had always been incredibly evocative. When I taught grade six geography, it was almost like reading the Bible to have explained to me how milleniums of birch leaves had created so many feet of top soil, and when a young friend gave me Gogol's "Dead Souls" to read I was not unaware of the humour of odd way of reckoning personal wealth among land owners, but I found the descriptions of the estates even more interesting, a most acute reminder of my own time among the fields and farms of Canada, that other great expanse of territory, so much of it virtually empty. So the fact that I could be read in Russia, thanks to the wizardry of Blogger and the Net, is such a return to some very happy and purposeful days of the past.
Keep in mind also that my widowed Nana's second husband was Russian by birth, orphaned in England, and that where I live in the Kootenays makes it impossible not to be cheek by jowl with the Russian accent of the Doukhobors, who have been here in quantity since the very early 1900s. They too are great lovers of what you grow cabbages in, and all the Anglos around here have learned their recipes for borsch.
I wonder if these Russian readers have hung in there, shifting over to Google Reader. In daily life, in the quite constant encounters with new acquaintances, I invariably strike fire as an artist, a listener, a man committed to the universal presence of a basic human interest in the spiritual life, but the good ship of open exchange and conversation also quite constantly hits a reef at some point after the inescapable fact - in my life - of Catholicism crops up. That most useful phrase of Thomas Aquinas - obediential potential - seems to be a factor of individual human growth very few souls can recognize, for one reason or another, and the ignominy of relating sincerely to someone who actually believes in the need for a Pope and a carefully structured, dogmatic, Church, looms with frightening inconvenience to a variety of deeply cherished personal preferences.
Russians, of course, like everybody else, have deeply cherished personal preferences. Mostly to a man, they stick to their schismatic predicament, even if it threatens to drive them crazy, or to vodka, as the statistics show it does to an alarming extent. One can, of course, with impeccable justice, lay much of the blame on the general depression of the land of the bear created by the evil genius of Josef Stalin, and the mentally clogging filth of atheistic communism. Talk about galley slaves mired in their own excrement.
But the Russians also knew their good and useful talents of great calibre, Turgenev by no means the least. For the perceptive writer, there are magnificent weapons in his arsenal.  One might consider them amongst the most effective in the unique Russian weaponry, a gifted sensitivity for dealing with a selection of the enemies of life even longer than he imagined, and perhaps more universal.
That the Czar and his minions should have put him under house arrest indicates the sickness of the anti-Western mentality in Russia he was trying to overcome, and forecasts the need of the revolution, and that Turgenev should have chronicled so well the death rattles of his society provides a wonderful index of folly in all sociological entities. His ghost rages through so many factors and elements in modern Catholicism, where leadership behaves so slavishly imitative of his tiresome government officials.
What a price we pay for illiteracy, especially in leadership.

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