This is my last day of watching Russian TV, and I think it’s a good thing because the pre-Olympic coverage has started and it is driving me nuts. I often have to stop watching and check my calendar because all of the news segments sound like they were taped back in 1980.
The commentators insist that there is some world-wide conspiracy that prevents Russian athletes from getting every medal at the Olympics. The judges hate Russians and act unfairly towards them, the Russian athletes are sabotaged by mysterious forces, the other teams steal their strategies, and so on. If a Russian athlete has been caught using forbidden substances, this means that the evil foreign agents doctored their food and beverages. No explanation is offered as to why everybody supposedly hates and sabotages the Russian athletes, but not the Chinese, the British, or the Americans.
In his great novel The First Circle, Solzhenitsyn ridiculed the way in which Stalin’s media reported on the sporting events. “Whenever our team loses,” the novel’s protagonist Innokenti Volodin says, “it’s reported as an unexpected and suspicious loss. Another team’s win is always discussed as having shocked the public. Only our teams deserve to win, while everybody else’s wins are deemed incomprehensible.”
The Russian athletes will get 100,000 euro for the gold, 60,000 for the silver, and 40,000 for the bronze during the 2012 Olympic Games. Other than this, nothing much has changed in the 63 years since the events described in Solzhenitsyn’s novel.
Reader el asks me to write about my approach to artists who do horrible things in RL. As we have all probably noticed, I’m very self- righteous, moralizing, and judgmental. This is why I don’t find it hard to stop consuming an artist’s work if I discover that s/he did things I consider horrible. It isn’t really something I do on purpose. I simply lose all interest in any artistic production coming from somebody who does things I find disgusting.
Mind you, I’m talking specifically about things one does, not what one says. To give an example, one of my favorite writers, Juan Goytisolo, writes very violent texts where he performs acts of verbal aggression against women and children. But as long as it’s part of his art and not of his life, I don’t have a problem with it. I even sought out a famous literary critic who knows Goytisolo well in person and questioned him about the artist’s life.
“Don’t be fooled by his texts,” the scholar told me. “In real life, he is as inoffensive as a butterfly.”
I don’t practice moral relativism, so I apply the same criteria to artists who lived centuries ago. I don’t find the belief that “society was different and we can’t apply today’s moral criteria to what happened in the past” acceptable. Take Cervantes, for example. In the midst of an anti-Muslim frenzy, he wrote about the plight of the Spanish Muslims with so much compassion that you can’t fail to admire him. We also have to keep in mind that, among all of the contemporary writers and thinkers who foamed at the mouth insulting the Muslims, Cervantes was one person who’d actually suffered at the hands of Muslims. He lost an arm in battle, was enslaved. Yet he managed to preserve the lucidity and the compassion that allowed him to see that the Muslims who were being expelled from Spain were not to blame for his personal suffering.
This just goes to show that, in any epoch, you have jerks and you have good, normal people. So if you rape, abuse, torture, then you can stick your art deep into your anal cavity. I have no use for it. There is more beautiful art in the world that one can admire in 100 lifetimes, so why should I waste my time on the work of somebody I find disgusting?
A great writer is somebody who can take a completely ordinary, unremarkable character and make her memorable. Anthony Trollope is just such a writer. I recently finished his novel The Small House at Allington and I can say that it made me realize that there is a lot more to Trollope than I ever knew.
Lily Dale, the novel’s female protagonist, is a vapid, boring creature with nothing that can be even remotely interesting about her. She tries to fill the void she has in place of a personality by adopting the persona of what “the perfect woman” is supposed to be like according to the trashy novels she reads. She convinces herself that she is in love with the first passerby and starts persecuting him with her exalted monologues of how she will serve his every whim and lay her life at his feet.
Understandably, the poor guy soon runs away.
This makes Lily very happy since she can now play the role of a victim and lord it over people around her. She becomes the perfect family tyrant who generates the feelings of intense guilt in family members (for the most part, her weak and miserable mother) and exploit those feelings to feel good about herself.
Mind you, this is not the reading of the novel that you will find anywhere. In every review of the book that I have read, Lily Dale is the embodiment of true unwavering love instead of a hysterical, mean-spirited damsel with no substance to her whatsoever. That’s the beauty of good literature: it speaks differently to each of us.