Solzhenitsyn and American Culture
The Russian Soul in the West
392 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 1 b&w illustration
- Published: July 2023
- ISBN: 9780268108267
- Published: October 2020
- ISBN: 9780268108250
- Published: October 2020
- ISBN: 9780268108274
These essays will interest readers familiar with the work of Nobel Prize–winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and are a great starting point for those eager for an introduction to the great Russian’s work.
When people think of Russia today, they tend to gravitate toward images of Soviet domination or, more recently, Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. The reality, however, is that, despite Russia’s political failures, its rich history of culture, religion, and philosophical reflection—even during the darkest days of the Gulag—have been a deposit of wisdom for American artists, religious thinkers, and political philosophers probing what it means to be human in America. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stands out as the key figure in this conversation, as both a Russian literary giant and an exile from Russia living in America for two decades. This anthology reconsiders Solzhenitsyn’s work from a variety of perspectives—his faith, his politics, and the influences and context of his literature—to provide a prophetic vision for our current national confusion over universal ideals.
In Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson have collected essays from the foremost scholars and thinkers of comparative studies who have been tracking what Americans have borrowed and learned from Solzhenitsyn and his fellow Russians. The book offers a consideration of what we have in common—the truth, goodness, and beauty America has drawn from Russian culture and from masters such as Solzhenitsyn—and will suggest to readers what we can still learn and what we must preserve. The last section expands the book's theme and reach by examining the impact of other notable Russian authors, including Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Gogol.
Contributors: David P. Deavel, Jessica Hooten Wilson, Nathan Nielson, Eugene Vodolazkin, David Walsh, Matthew Lee Miller, Ralph C. Wood, Gary Saul Morson, Edward E. Ericson, Jr., Micah Mattix, Joseph Pearce, James F. Pontuso, Daniel J. Mahoney, William Jason Wallace, Lee Trepanier, Peter Leithart, Dale Peterson, Julianna Leachman, Walter G. Moss, and Jacob Howland.
Foreword by John Wilson Acknowledgments Introduction: Missing the Deep Roots and Rich Soul by David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson
Part 1. Solzhenitsyn and Russian Culture 1. The Universal Russian Soul by Nathan Nielson 2. The New Middle Ages by Eugene Vodolazkin 3. The Age of Concentration by Eugene Vodolazkin 4. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Solzhenitsyn by David P. Deavel
Part 2. Solzhenitsyn and Orthodoxy 5. Art and History in Solzhenitsyn’s The Red Wheel by David Walsh 6. The YMCA Press, Russian Orthodoxy, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn by Matthew Lee Miller 7. The Distinctively Orthodox Character of Solzhenitsyn’s Literary Imagination by Ralph C. Wood 8. How Fiction Defeats Lies: A Faithful Reading of Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle by Jessica Hooten Wilson
Part 3. Solzhenitsyn and the Writers 9. Solzhenitsyn’s Cathedrals by Gary Saul Morson 10. The Literature of Dissent in the Soviet Union by Edward E. Ericson Jr. 11. The Example of Prussian Nights by Micah Mattix 12. Kindred Spirits: Solzhenitsyn’s Western Literary Confréres by Joseph Pearce
Part 4. Solzhenitsyn and the Politicians 13. Inferno Dialogues: Why Americans Should Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle by James F. Pontuso 14. Judging Communism and All Its Works: Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago Reconsidered by Daniel J. Mahoney 15. The Rage of Freedom: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1983 Templeton Prize Address by William Jason Wallace 16. What Americans Today Can Learn from the Russian Past: Lessons from Turgenev and Dostoevsky for American Hillbillies by Lee Trepanier
Part 5. Beyond Solzhenitsyn: Russian Writers and American Readers 17. City of Expiations: Ivan Karamazov and Orthodox Political Theology by Peter Leithart 18. Russia and the Mission of African American Literature by Dale E. Peterson 19. The Price of Restoration: Flannery O’Connor and the Nineteenth-Century Russian Realists by Julianna Leachman 20. Wisdom from Russia in the Thinking of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton by Walter G. Moss 21. Totalitarian Physics and Moral Threshing by Jacob Howland
“Solzhenitsyn and American Culture is a superb and coherent collection of essays.” —Lee Congdon, author of The Young Lukács
"Readers will be reminded of his courageous witness, but they will also discern more clearly Solzhenitsyn’s integral relation to Russian literary culture and to writers from the West with whom he bore deep affinities. Solzhenitsyn remains a prophetic intelligence for our time." —Paul J. Contino, co-editor of Bakhtin and Religion
"In reading Solzhenitsyn and American Culture, the mind is enlightened and honed, the will steeled, and our capacity for admiration exercised and nourished. Thanks to the editors and contributors to this volume, they continue to be Solzhenitsyn’s gifts to his American readers." —Paul Seaton, St. Mary's Seminary and University
"Solzhenitsyn and American Culture will deepen Solzhenitsyn's writings in America, which is sorely needed in our country that has ceased to see the purpose and is increasingly willingly to live by lies. We need the wisdom of Solzhenitsyn's reflections on tyranny, so that we can ascend with him to the true heights of man's greatness, which is only found, as he knew, in our Lord." —Richard M. Reinsch II, founding editor of Law and Liberty
"The editors have cast their net wide, so that it will be useful both to those who have read little of Solzhenitsyn (yet are looking for points of entry and orientation before plunging in) and for longtime students of his work—not only scholars (though there is plenty here for them to chew on), but also those blessed souls who read widely on their own dime." —First Things
“[W]ith the end of the Cold War, many journalists, academics, and intellectuals concluded that Solzhenitsyn was no longer relevant. This collection of essays strongly corrects this notion by shedding valuable light on the ‘oft-neglected merits of Solzhenitsyn’s work.’ Most importantly, it aims to consider the continuing relevance of Solzhenitsyn to American culture and politics.” —VoeglinView
“The contributors to this volume embrace Solzhenitsyn’s claim about art’s power to communicate ‘the experiences of [an] entire nation to another nation.’ Not only do they showcase ways in which Russian literature has already instructed Americans . . . but they encourage a new generation of American readers to turn to Russian writers for penetration and inspiration. Foremost among these writers, of course, is Solzhenitsyn.” —Law and Liberty
"Solzhenitsyn and American Culture could serve as an introduction to the writer’s literary work, as a kind of traveler’s guide read before vacation. Or it could be a valuable addition to the nightstand of anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of Solzhenitsyn. The book’s ultimate significance, however, is spiritual. In following Solzhenitsyn’s intellectual footsteps, in taking up his preoccupations with ideology, art, morality, and meaning, the book makes Solzhenitsyn himself into a passageway through which we glimpse the universal. " —Washington Examiner
“Solzhenitsyn and the American Culture should serve as a reminder to those of us in the West that civilization is fragile, that democracy and liberty are forever under attack, that visions of earthly utopias are mirages of danger . . .” —New York Journal of Books
"A new essay collection, 'Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West,' illuminates how the vaunted Russian writer's warnings about secularism and progressivism are as prescient and insightful as ever." —The Federalist
"The book amply demonstrates why Solzhenitsyn remains important to the American conversation in the twenty-first century." —Perspectives on Political Science
"The lesson that students should draw from the study of Solzhenitsyn’s works, and his great soul, is to resist the temptation of thinking that the demonic forces of famine, imprisonment, and mass murder in Russia could never happen in America or in the West." —Religion and Liberty
"The 21 essays contained in Solzhenitsyn and American Culture engage many dimensions of Solzhenitsyn's project in ways that illuminate his ongoing relevance for discerning the task of how to live with virtue and integrity in the cultural setting of contemporary America." —Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
"This book can be of interest to readers who are familiar with Solzhenitsyn’s work and would like to know more about his impact on Western culture; it can also be of interest to readers who are not familiar with Solzhenitsyn and would like a reason to read him." —The Imaginative Conservative
One individual who embodied much of this breadth and contradiction of the Russian character is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Like many other intellectuals, in his early years he believed in Marxism. But after spending years in Soviet labor camps, punished for criticizing Stalin’s conduct of the war, Solzhenitsyn abandoned that ideology and became an Orthodox Christian. He was a staunch defender of Russian national and ethnic interests. But he also addressed the aspirations toward freedom and dignity of all humankind. He grew disappointed in modern attempts to minimize the legacy of Russian literature. In a 1993 speech titled “The Relentless Cult of Novelty” he said: “And in one sweeping gesture of vexation, classical Russian literature—which never disdained reality and sought the truth—is dismissed as next to worthless. Denigrating the past is deemed to be the key to progress. And so it has once again become fashionable in Russia to ridicule, debunk, and toss overboard the great Russian literature, steeped as it is in love and compassion toward all human beings, and especially toward those who suffer.” Through his own suffering, he developed a softness for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the minority. The product of culture and learning, he said, should be a refinement of feeling and forbearance toward all our fellow human beings: “It’s a universal law—intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”
The Soviet Union was marked by unprecedented violence. The national cultures and identities of the various member countries became absorbed into the expansionist worldview and political space of communist ideology. It represented a form of universalism, but lacked the staying power of the deeper things of human existence—tradition, religion, poetry, love, and the other irrational values we treasure. These humane values may have subsided in the face of political pressure, but they never died out.
A poem written by Vladimir Orlov during the Soviet era was read by generations of children and students. It captures the Russian impulse to turn love of country into love of humanity. It goes as follows: “I have come to know that on this earth I have an enormous family—the pathway, the forest, and in the field every ear of corn! The brook, the blue sky—it is all mine, by birth. This is my homeland! I love everyone in the world!” This poem shows that celebrating the particular is somehow incomplete without paying homage to the universal.
This impulse still survives in today’s Russia. Even someone like Sergey Lavrov, a seasoned diplomat trained in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, can make overtures to universalism. In 2016 he urged the formation of a “partnership of civilizations” to combat the forces of terrorism and articulated the basis for such partnership: “We believe that universal human solidarity must have a moral basis resting on traditional values which are essentially common for all of the world’s leading religions.”