Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Lucid Sorrow and Political Foresight: Simon Frank on Pushkin, and the Challenges of Ontology for Literature

Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Lucid Sorrow and Political Foresight: Simon Frank on Pushkin, and the Challenges of Ontology for Literature

Article excerpt

So abounding in its living variety is the wondrous spiritual reality that in this world bore the name of Alexander Pushkin.

--Simon Frank, "Lucid Sorrow" (1)

Poetry and Philosophy: The Preamble

Written less than a year before his death in London, these concluding lines of Simon Frank's last essay on Pushkin (1949) are also his conclusive testament to the existence of spiritual reality. In blatant disregard of Plato, nearly all big philosophers who believe in such existence sought and found their ideal poets. It is impossible, for example, to imagine Schopenhauer without Hesiod, or Heidegger without Holderlin. Our time "after theory" inaugurates the renewed, rather affectionate, one might say, tug of war between philosophy and poetry. Terry Eagleton's declaration in 2003 that the God of poetry was not a structuralist, or a post-structuralist, or a deconstructionalist, or a member of any other institutionalized subspecies begotten by critical theory, fell on fertile soil. (2) Since Mark Edmundson's strongly issued challenge to philosophy in 1995--denying it the right to offer denotative categorical explanations of poetry--the ontological realization that literature merely is began to gain in strength. (3) In literary studies, the continuing popularity of philosophers of being, such as Nietzsche and Heidegger, invites us to think in earnest about the role of ontology in the study of poetry and literature. Consider Simon Critchley's book on Wallace Stevens (2005), which celebrates the "mere thereness" of poetic things. (4) In the same year Alain Badiou made an equally powerful ontological claim warning fellow philosophers against dissolving the power of language by means of imposing on poetic thought the function of the "thought of thought" and therefore depriving it of the singular mystery of its being of being, its being unnameable. (5) Finally, Stanley Cavell announced in 2006 that the future of philosophical thought, or philosophy "the day after tomorrow," would be in its passionate utterance, in its momentary lyricism caught in the life of the ordinary. (6)

In Pushkin studies as well, especially after the poet's bicentennial in 1999, we may observe a slow but steady, philosophically-informed interest in his spirituality and involvement with Being. It would be an exaggeration to say that we are experiencing something like a philosophical Pushkin boom, yet the examples of excellent scholarship on Pushkin's creative philosophy and historical wisdom, important subspecies of ontology, are already too numerous for parenthetical mention. (7) However, a more systematic philosophical examination of Pushkin may be in order. By the very sweep and depth of their representation of Pushkin's lyric, critical, dramatic, epic, fictional, belletristic, political, domestic, cosmopolitan, and other identities, the two fundamental collections that have come out in the past few years (edited by David Bethea [2005] and Andrew Kahn [2007]) imply that we are already investigating the core of Pushkin's Being. (8) The Pushkin Review makes its own significant contribution to the philosophical investigation of Pushkin. In 2000, David Powelstock argued for the revival of our interest in Pushkin's "thinking in styles" due to his existence in the world that is a series of concentric spheres (body/mind/imagination). (9) Lina Steiner has written an investigation of Pushkin's trial by the individually posited task of Bildung. (10) Finally, Alyssa Dinega Gillespie has provided us with a thorough study of Pushkin's most philosophical poetic cycle of the 1830s, the so-called Stone Island Cycle. (11) Dinega Gillespie also issued a cautionary word against overemphasizing or simplifying either Pushkin's humanism or his Christianity. She rightly sees products of such readings in the evaluations of Pushkin offered by "leading figures in the Russian Orthodox Church" and adds Simon Frank to the list of treasonable clerics. (12)

This essay will offer the first systematic discussion of Pushkin against a single philosophical system with a necessary contextualization and correction of the above view taking the example of Frank. …

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