Friday, December 24, 2004


Way back in August, my girlfriend did gift me with birthday Chekhov.
The House with the Mezzanine was one of the stories in the book.

Some quotes:
"Belokurov began a long diatribe about pesimism, the sickness of the age, complete with heavy sighs. He talked forcefully, as if I was arguing with him. Even endless miles of bleak, empty, scorched steppe ar less depressing than a person who just sits and talkes for ever and ever. 'But thep roblem isn't pessmism or optimism,' I said finally, witrh irritation; 'but that ninety-nine percent of people don't have brains.'"

"'In my opinion, medical centres, schools, libraries, and first-aid kits can only prolong enslavement in the current conditions. The poor are bound by a huge chain, and you aren't breaking that chain, just adding new links... They constantly worry about their hungry, sick children, they are constantly scared of death and disease, they constantly have to take mediction, they fade early, they grow old early, and they die amidst dirt and stench. Their children repeat the whole cycle when they grow up, and so it goes for hundreds of years, with millions of people living worse than animals in a permanent state of fear - and all for the sake of earning a living. Surely the most awful thing about their position is that they never have time to think about their souls, or even remember that they are human beings... You turn up to help them with hospitals and schools, but that's not going to help them, it's only going to enslave them more, because when you bring into their lives new standards, you increase their number of needs, and that's quite apart from the fact they have to pay the zemstvo (council) for the ointment and books, forcing them to work even harder."
Lida, argues that we 'must do something' to help the poor: i.e. that what we're doing now is at least something and therefore good enough.
The main character, an artist, says - If I may paraphrase - that treating the poverty of the poor with hospitals and schools does not address their labours, that we must all take on some of this work, for if everyone who was capable laboured for 'two or three hours a day' there would be no oppressed poor. His argument's core is that 19th century Russian society must free the poor to allow spiritual and intellectual fulfillment. (By spirit, I am not sure it is meant in a Christian way. It seems more 'artistic', in keeping with the character and his ideals.)

Free the poor from the chains of the world around them, that force them into numbing, destructive labour (now no longer exclusively physical) and only help them to alleviate the pains and pressures of that life rather than actually transform that life. Then you can ask them to think, feel, and be human - perhaps?


Blogger Atum said...

Unfortunately, while Chekhov and chums may have been at least able to do some manual labour to eliminate the poverty of those stuck to do it all day every day for next to no pay, we don't have any means to do anything similar in the current economic climate. Nobody has the sustained buying power of the mass populace other than the mass populace themselves; and to sustain their consumption they work, and for the most part think the idea of not living the way they do offensive.

1:56 PM  

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