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Chekhov's Russia

"Русскому человеку в высшей степени свойственен 
возвышенный образ мыслей, 
но скажите, почему в жизни он хватает так невысоко? Почему?"

"The Russian person is extremely gifted at thinking on a sublime level, 
but, tell me, why do we aim so low in real life? Why?"

Chekhov penned this words in his work "Three Sisters" in 1900.  Although over a century old, I cannot better express this very thought provoking Russian paradox today.  Russians are some of the deepest, most philosophically minded, intelligent, and compelling people I know.  Yet, stepping off a plane and taking in one's first glimpse of the mother land, one would hardly guess that that could be so.  There is such a disparity here between the world of the mind and the world of the senses.  Obviously this is not a new trend, nor a product of the Soviet era, it has been this way at least the past one hundred years.  How and why this is the case, though, remains somewhat of a mystery, seemingly ingrained the genetic make-up of the people.   

A professor once told me that the best three countries for literature are Russia, France, and Britain.  After my initial arrival in Russia (almost 10 years ago,) I remember my surprise and amazement at finding pieces of these legendary characters, Roskolnikov, Vronsky, Levin, Ivan Karamazov, Bulgakov's Pilate, etc., etc., etc., alive within my new Russian friends.  It felt like meeting little modern Dostoevskies all over the place!  I began then to wonder if it wasn't the authors that made these countries so remarkable in literature, but actually the people themselves.  Dostoevsky "simply" put the dialogue of his time into text.  It's a dialogue that continues today in the same very profound and interesting way.  What Chekhov has noticed nearly 100 years ago remains true of his people today (self-fulfilling prophecy or just life in Russia?)  The capacity for this sublime level of thought has not dwindled over time.  At the same time, the standard of living has not dramatically improved either, or at least the desire for such.  Russians are the same Russians of which Chekhov and Dostoevsky wrote so many years ago.  Chekhov's paradox continues to knock on the decrepit and deteriorating concrete door.


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