Russian Thinkers

berlin-russian-thinkersBy Isaiah Berlin.

This collection of essay and lectures was a revelation. Absolutely brilliant. I am inspired to read more Turgenev, Herzen and Belinsky. I identified with all three writers, who, while they respected the goals of socialism found themselves wavering in terms of achieving this through violent insurrection. Herzen particularly was very interesting as he didn’t see socialism as an end in itself – the goal for him was to live well and creatively, which is what he saw socialism as engendering. It is a paradox that by making everyone equal then people are happier, generally, and therefore uniqueness and individuality can be fostered as people don’t have to struggle as much. I agree to an extent – however sometimes struggle can bring about uniqueness and positive outcomes, so I don’t think there is one norm. Herzen also had a hatred of abstractions and generalisations which again I identified with.

Berlins analysis is very readable it kept me hooked all the way through. The book did take a while longer to read but I was reading it carefully as a work of non-fiction rather than as a novel so this was to be expected.

Belinsky also piqued my interest – he can be seen as the father of modern criticism. He wasn’t able to separate a writer from the writer’s life. Obviously a laudable aim when you frame this as part of Belinsky’s overpowering search for honesty and truth. However when you look at this in a modern context we now see every writer and personality has a persona either real or imagined that cannot be separated from their work and is possibly more important than the creative activity they are known for. In this respect he has a lot to answer for – but I doubt he could have imagined the extremes his passionate honesty would have led to.

There was so much food for thought in this book and it discusses issues that are of great interest at the moment. Fabulous.

Soundtrack: Built to Spill – Car.

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