Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago followed shortly afterward in my early twenties. As profound as these works are, it was Solzhenitsyn's speech A World Split Apart delivered at Harvard University on June 8, 1978 that has left an inexplicably deep mark on my mind and soul.
Reading A World Split Apart was a moving experience for me. The speech solidified and gave form to all of the weak inklings, vague suspicions, and slight notions that had been floating around in my mind for years. In other words, Solzhenitsyn was able to clearly state what I, at the time, could only faintly sense but not articulate. His Harvard speech provided the foundation I sought. I was finally on firm ground, and I could begin building up my own thinking secure in the knowledge that it had a sound footing.
I have included an extract from A World Split Apart below. The ideas expressed in this passage have become the basis of my own worldview and the thematic foundation of my writing. The themes Solzhenitsyn raises inevitably found their way into my novel, permeate much of the writing on this blog, and continue to drive my interests today.
Forty years have passed since Solzhenitsyn delivered the speech. The Iron Curtain has fallen, but the problems Solzhenitsyn points out have not disappeared. On the contrary, they have intensified.
At present, I am drawn to writers and thinkers who, whether directly or indirectly, recognize and acknowledge what Solzhenitsyn expressed below; I view writers and thinkers who do not address the fundamental issues Solzhenitsyn raised in this speech as either ignorant or corrupted.
Despite popular belief to the contrary, there is no middle ground here.
The world is saturated with issues and problems - the one Solzhenitsyn raises in the excerpt below stand above them all.
It is the problem - all others pale in comparison.
I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.
To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging everything on earth -- imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible -- The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.
It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times. Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: We shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward.