All Things are Possible
ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE
BY S. S. KOTELIANSKY
WITH A FOREWORD BY
D. H. LAWRENCE
LONDON: MARTIN SECKER
Leo Shestov is one of the living Russians. He is about fifty years old.He was born at Kiev, and studied at the university there. His firstbook appeared in 1898, since which year he has gradually gained anassured position as one of the best critics and essayists in Russia. Alist of his works is as follows:—
1898. Shakespeare and his Critic, Brandes.
1900. Good in the Teaching of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: Philosophy andPreaching.
1903. Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: The Philosophy of Tragedy.
1905. The Apotheosis of Groundlessness (here translated under the title"All Things are Possible").
1908. Beginnings and Ends.
1912. Great Vigils.
In his paragraph on The Russian Spirit, Shestov gives us the real clueto Russian literature. European culture is a rootless thing in theRussians. With us, it is our very blood and bones, the very nerve androot of our psyche. We think in a certain fashion, we feel in a certainfashion, because our whole substance is of this fashion. Our speech andfeeling are organically inevitable to us.
With the Russians it is different. They have only been inoculated withthe virus of European culture and ethic. The virus works in them like adisease. And the inflammation and irritation comes forth as literature.The bubbling and fizzing is almost chemical, not organic. It is anorganism seething as it accepts and masters the strange virus. Whatthe Russian is struggling with, crying out against, is not life itself:it is only European culture which has been introduced, into his psyche,and which hurts him. The tragedy is not so much a real soul tragedy,as a surgical one. Russian art, Russian literature after all does notstand on the same footing as European or Greek or Egyptian art. It isnot spontaneous utterance. It is not the flowering of a race. It is asurgical outcry, horrifying, or marvellous, lacerating at first; butwhen we get used to it, not really so profound, not really ultimate, alittle extraneous.
What is valuable, is the evidence against European culture, impliedin the novelists, here at last expressed. Since Peter the Great Russiahas been accepting Europe, and seething Europe down in a curiousprocess of katabolism. Russia has been expressing nothing inherentlyRussian. Russia's modern Christianity even was not Russian. Hergenuine Christianity, Byzantine and Asiatic, is incomprehensible tous. So with her true philosophy. What she has actually uttered is herown unwilling, fantastic reproduction of European truths. What shehas really to utter the coming centuries will hear. For Russia willcertainly inherit the future. What I we already call the greatness ofRussia is only her pre-natal struggling.
It seems as if she had at last absorbed and overcome the virus ofold Europe. Soon her new, healthy body will begin to act in its ownreality, imitative no more, protesting no more, crying no more, butfull and sound and lusty in itself. Real Russia is born. She willlaugh at us before long. Meanwhile she goes through the last stages ofreaction against us, kicking away from the old womb of Europe.
In Shestov one of the last kicks is given. True, he seems to be onlyreactionary and destructive. But he can find a little amusement at lastin tweaking the European nose, so he is fairly free. European idealismis anathema. But more than this, it is a little comical. We feel thenew independence in his new, half-amused indifference.
He is only tweaking the nose of European idealism. He is preachingnothing: so he protests time and again. He absolutely refutes anyimputation of a central idea He is so afraid lest it should turn out tobe another hateful hedge-stake of an ideal.
"Everything is possible"—this is his really central cry. It is notnihilism. It is only a shaking free of the human psyche from old bonds.The positive central idea is that the human psyche, or soul, reallybelieves in itself, and in nothing else.
Dress this up in a little comely language, and we have a real newideal, that will last us for a new, long epoch. The human soul itselfis the source and well-head of creative activity. In the unconscioushuman soul the creative prompting issues first into the universe.Open the consciousness to this prompting, away with all your oldsluice-gates, locks, dams, channels. No ideal on earth is anythingmore than an obstruction, in the end, to the creative issue of thespontaneous soul. Away with all ideals. Let each individual actspontaneously from, the forever-incalculable prompting of the creativewell-head within him. There is no universal law. Each being is, at hispurest, a law unto himself, single, unique, a Godhead, a fountain fromthe unknown.
This is the ideal which Shestov refuses positively to state, becausehe is afraid it may prove in the end a trap to catch his own freespirit. So it may. But it is none the less a real, living ideal for themoment, the very salvation. When it becomes ancient, and like the oldlion who lay in his cave and whined, devours all its servants, then itcan be despatched. Meanwhile it is a really liberating word.
Shestov's style is puzzling at first. Having found the "ands" and"buts" and "becauses" and "therefores" hampered him, he clips them alloff deliberately and even spitefully, so that his thought is like a manwith no buttons on his clothes, ludicrously hitching along all undone.One must be amused, not irritated. Where the armholes were a bit tight,Shestov cuts a slit. It is baffling, but really rather piquant.The real conjunction, the real unification lies in the reader's ownamusement, not in the author's unbroken logic.
D. H. LAWRENCE.
Zu fragmentarish ist Welt und Leben.
The obscure streets of life do not offer the conveniences of thecentral thoroughfares: no electric light, no gas, not even a kerosenelamp-bracket. There are no pavements: the traveller has to fumble hisway in the dark. If he needs a light, he must wait for a thunderbolt,or else, primitive-wise, knock a spark out of a stone. In a glimpsewill appear unfamiliar outlines; and then, what he has taken in hemust try to remember, no matter whether the impression was right orfalse. For he will not easily get another light, except he run his headagainst a wall, and see sparks that way. What can a wretched pedestriangather under such circumstances? How can we expect a clear account fromhim whose curiosity (let us suppose his curiosity so strong) led him togrope his way among the outskirts of life? Why should we try to comparehis records with those of the travellers through brilliant streets?
The law of sequence in natural phenomena seems so plausible, soobvious, that one is tempted to look for its origin, not in therealities of actual life, but in the promptings of the human mind. Thislaw of sequence is the most mysterious of all the natural laws. Why somuch order? Why not chaos and disorderliness? Really, if the hypothesisof sequence had not offered such blatant advantages to the humanintelligence, man would never have thought of raising it to the rank ofeternal and irrefutable truth. But he saw his opportunity. Thanks tothe grand hypothesis, man is forewarned and forearmed. Thanks to thismaster-key, the future is at his mercy. He knows, in order that he mayforeknow: savoir pour prévoir. Here, is man, by virtue of one supremeassumption, dictator henceforward of all nature. The philosophershave ever bowed the knee to success. So down they went before thenewly-invented law of natural sequence, they hailed it with the titleof eternal truth. But even this seemed insufficient. L'appétit vienten mangeant. Like the old woman in the fairy-tale about the goldenfish, they had it in their minds that the fish should do theirerrands. But some few people at last could not stand this impudence.Some very few began to object....
The comfortable settled man says to himself: "How could, one livewithout being sure of the morrow; how could one sleep without a roofover one's head?" But misfortune turns him out of house and home.He must perforce sleep under a hedge. He cannot rest, he is full ofterrors. There may be wild beasts, fellow-tramps. But in the long runhe gets used to it. He will trust himself to chance, live like a tramp,and sleep his sleep in a ditch.
A writer, particularly a young and inexperienced writer, feels himselfunder an obligation to give his reader the fullest answers to allpossible questions. Conscience will not let him shut his eyes totormenting problems, and so he begins to speak of "first and ultimatethings." As he cannot say anything profitable on such subjects—for itis not the business of the young to be profoundly philosophical—hegrows excited, he shouts himself to hoarseness. In the end he issilent from exhaustion. And then, if his words have had any successwith the public, he is astonished to find that he has become a prophet.Whereupon, if he be an average sort of person, he is filled with aninsatiable desire to preserve his influence till the end of his days.But if he be more sensitive or gifted than usual, he begins to despisethe crowd for its vulgar credulity, and himself for having posed in thestupid and disgraceful character of a clown of lofty ideas.
How painful it is to read Plato's account of the last conversations ofSocrates! The days, even the hours of the old man are numbered, andyet he talks, talks, talks.... Crito comes to him in the early morningand tells him that the sacred ships will shortly return to Athens. Andat once Socrates is ready to talk, to argue.... It is possible, ofcourse, that Plato is not altogether to be trusted. It is said thatSocrates observed, of the dialogues already written down by Plato."How much that youth has belied me!" But then from all sources we haveit, that Socrates spent the month following his verdict in incessantconversations with his pupils and friends. That is what it is to be abeloved master, and to have disciples. You can't even die quietly....The best death is really the one which is considered the worst: to diealone, in a foreign land, in a poor-house, or, as they say, like a dogunder a hedge. Then at least one may spend one's last moments honestly,without dissembling or ostentation, preparing oneself for the dreadful,or wonderful, event. Pascal, as his sister tells us, also talked agreat deal before his death, and de Musset cried like a baby. PerhapsSocrates and Pascal talked so much, for fear they should start crying.It is a false shame!
The fact that some ideas, or some series of ideas, are materiallyunprofitable to mankind cannot serve as a justification for theirrejection. Once an idea is there, the gates must be opened to it. Forif you close the gates, the thought will force a way in, or, like thefly in the fable, will sneak through unawares. Ideas have no regard forour laws of honour or morality. Take for example realism in literature.At its appearance it aroused universal indignation. Why need we knowthe dirt of life? And honestly, there is no need. Realism could giveno straightforward justification for itself. But, as it had to comethrough, it was ready with a lie; it compared itself to pathology,called itself useful, beneficial, and so obtained a place. We can allsee now that realism is not beneficial, but harmful, very harmful,and that it has nothing in common with pathology. Nevertheless, it isno longer easy to drive it from its place. The prohibition evaded,there is now the justus titulus possessions.
Count Tolstoy preached inaction. It seems he had no need. We "inact"remarkably. Idleness, just that idleness Tolstoy dreamed of, a free,conscious idling that despises labour, this is one of the chiefcharacteristics of our time. Of course I speak of the higher, culturedclasses, the aristocracy of spirit—"We write books, paint pictures,compose symphonies"—But is that labour? It is only the amusement ofidleness. SO that Tolstoy is much more to the point when, forgettinghis preaching of inaction, he bids us trudge eight hours a day at thetail of the plough. In