Solzhenitsyn and Truth

“In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! ” Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Soviet dissident, espoused this philosophy to the Swedish Academy. He spoke of the power of art in combating the tyranny and lies of a corrupt government, and as a medium for evaluating society. He was at various times, a soldier in the Soviet army, a political prisoner of the Soviet state, a celebrity for his literary works, and an exile from all of Russia.

His fiery philippic against Stalin landed him in prison for eight years; his account of prison life made him immensely popular during the de-Stalinization years of the early 1960’s, and he was deported for his most famous work, The Gulag Archipelago. He has become a symbol of the higher power of artists and writers who have the courage to fight the status quo. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was born to Cossack intellectuals in 1918, but was raised entirely by his mother, his father having died before he was born.

He went on to major in mathematics at the University of Rostov-na-Donuand and he learned literature from correspondence courses at the Moscow State University. He fought in WWII, and became a captain of artillery, but was arrested in 1945 for writing a letter criticizing Josef Stalin’s totalitarian government. He spent eight years in a variety of labour and prison camps and three more years in enforced exile. After his release, he settled in central Russia where he wrote and taught mathematics.

During the early 1960’s, when government checks on culture were loosened, Solzhenitsyn became encouraged to write One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a first-hand account of life as a Soviet political prisoner whose simple, direct language made it an instant hit; Solzhenitsyn was catapulted to instant celebrity status. The work stirred many other Soviet writers to produce works describing their own situations of political imprisonment.

Solzhenitsyn soon fell from the state’s grace, however, and was exiled when he attempted to published the first volume of a definitive literary-historical work on the Soviet incarceration system: The Gulag Archipelago. He moved to the USA, where he finished the other two volumes of his masterwork, and returned to Russia in 1996. In 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but was not able to attend the ceremony because of his fear that he wouldn’t be allowed back into the USSR when he returned (cultural restraints were being reinstated after Nikita Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964).

This event may be considered to be his most famous moment, for his acceptance speech was delivered four years after he received the award, after he was exiled from the Soviet Union. His lecture was of course, intended for the Swedish Academy and the other attendees of the Nobel Prize ceremony, at least in a specific sense. But his speech then, and the speech which was delivered in 1970 by Karl Ragnar Gierow in Solzhenitsyn’s absence, were also meant as shouts to the whole world, that would strike a blow for truth against the lies and violence of a corrupt and tyrannical state.

Solzhenitsyn, in the speech delivered in his absence and the lecture he gave upon his eventual acceptance of the award, attempted to get his message to the world via an avenue which would not normally be available to him as a political prisoner or an exile. He spoke of his deepest beliefs, of the infinite power of veracity over fallacies, and managed to get this one word of truth out from a regime from whence came only state-sanctioned lies.

He stated that violence was pure, at its roots, but had to be shrouded with lies to be sustained. In a political allegory, this could be seen as saying that the Russian revolution was, at first a good thing with admirable goals and a grand focus; which was then corrupted into the form he knew for most of his life; the initial violence of the state founded on bloodshed was twisted into the cultural repression that put Solzhenitsyn into prison. He also wrote about the use of art and literature as a medium for criticism of government.

He maintained that the common man’s only obligation was not to partake of the lies, and to be aware of a greater truth. However, he felt that artists and writers had a duty to find the flaws in a society and assist in their correction. He criticized those who said they could do nothing to change society, and those who lived lives of decadence and inaction. Overall, he affirmed the need for a global view in all men, with a focus on the present, as most people have, but with a constant awareness of the rest of the world, a view which many men lack.

Solzhenitsyn’s diatribe against lies utilises his own righteous anger against the Soviet imprisonment system, his desperate need to spread his message to the rest of the world, and his assuredness of his definite plan to vanquish deception with art and truth, to carry his message. For the piece, and the nature of his situation, they are both appropriate and effective. He makes a successful and clear definition of art and its powers, and carried a cry for the light and truth of intellectualism around the world.

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