Living without lie. Solženicyn
The new man, Homo Sovieticus, was the primary objective of the regime in the USSR, the stake in a gamble that went beyond all other political goals, all plans for economic transformation. An objective wholly determined by ideology, the world’s new Master.
The story of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is symbolizes the struggle that has always been waged between every self-aware human “I”, conscious of its own irreducible personal identity and as a people, and “anonymous evil” which seeks to empty it of its freedom and responsibility. This is the central message which comes from the Gulag Archipelago, a book centered on memory, conceived and written as a gigantic, choral testimony to the destiny of a whole people.
So let the reader who expects this book to be a political exposé slam its covers shut right now.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various stages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.
Socrates taught us: Know thyself!
Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t.
A statement that Solzhenitsyn makes in grievous personal terms, remembering that he himself passed from a primitive revolutionary enthusiasm through a series of disappointments and destructions (“Where does this wolfish strain in our people come from?”), to arrive at the discovery of the real which heralds a possibility of revival: “If my life had taken a different turn, wouldn’t I have become rotten too? It is a fearful question, if we are willing to answer honestly”.
“Living without a lie” which Solzhenitsyn discovered for himself in the prison camp, and which he threw down as a challenge to his people (in a work which saw the light in 1973, the day after his arrest, when the KGB discovered the typescript of the Gulag Archipelago), was not an ethical proclamation but the irrepressible human need to be oneself, to live like men, “finally accepting our congenital position”, bound up with the dimension and the infinite desire of the human heart, which reveal themselves unmistakably when man suffers the supreme negation:
“In general, you seek to understand and report to whoever is in charge above you that you are strong only to the degree in which you do not take everything from men. But a man from whom you have taken everything is no longer in your power, he is free again.”
The exhibition presents previously unpublished photographs, audiovisuals and manuscripts kindly made available by the Solzhenitsyn Foundation. It is organized as two main sections: the first is historical and biographical, retracing Solzhenitsyn’s personal history and that of the Russian people. The second draws on his great novels (from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to Matryona’s House to The First Circle and Cancer Ward).
Curated by the Fondazione Russia Cristiana.
With the collaboration of the Solzhenitsyn Foundation in Moscow.