August 5, 2008

THE DESTRUCTION OF EXISTENTIALISM WAS JUST COLLATERAL DAMAGE:

Stronger Than the Gulag (Anne Applebaum, August 5, 2008, Washington Post)

Although more than three decades have passed since the winter of 1974, when unbound, hand-typed samizdat versions of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" began circulating in what used to be the Soviet Union, the emotions they stirred remain today. Usually, readers were given only 24 hours to finish the lengthy manuscript -- the first-ever historical account of the Soviet concentration camp system -- before it had to be passed on to the next person. That meant spending an entire day and night absorbed in Solzhenitsyn's sometimes eloquent, sometimes angry prose, not an experience anyone was likely to forget.

People in that first generation of readers remember who gave them the book, who else knew about it, to whom they passed it. They remember the stories that affected them most -- tales of small children in the camps, or of informers, or of camp guards. They remember what the book felt like -- the blurry, mimeographed text; the dog-eared paper; the dim glow of the lamp switched on late at night -- and with whom they discussed it. [...]

[W]hat Solzhenitsyn produced was simply more thorough, more monumental and more detailed than anything that had preceded it. His account could not be dismissed as a single man's experience. No one who dealt with the Soviet Union, diplomatically or intellectually, could ignore it. So threatening was the book to certain branches of the European left that Jean-Paul Sartre himself described Solzhenitsyn as a "dangerous element."

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2008 7:23 AM
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