May 5, 2007

But what am I doing?

Filed under: Self reproach — duncan @ 1:13 pm

But what am I doing?
What am I thinking?

Here I am writing about Andrei Bely – holding forth on Andrei Bely – and I’ve only ever read one book by him! One book, out of his life’s work, and not even in the language of its composition. Still worse: what do I know of the culture and tradition of early twentieth century Russia? I could at least have re-read Petersburg with care and thoughtfulness before descanting on it. But I merely flicked through it! Casually! Hastily! Oh such laxness!

But then my defence: care has no limits. I think I will do justice to Petersburg and Bely; I plan to write with authority and rigour. But what would this mean? Months spent tracking down Bely’s corpus; months spent reading it. Months spent on his influences, his ideas, his biography. And then his language! Learn Russian; for this it is essential to move to Russia. Get a job there, make a life there, perhaps raise a family. Already one is seventy years old, staring out over the steppes, pen in hand, laptop on knee – one’s researches are almost complete, the judicious phrase is approaching the tip of one’s tongue. But then one is dead, and buried, and forgotten, like poor Andrei Bely and us all.

Crippling obligations. Impossible demands. No: carelessness and injustice must be chosen. For we aspire to truth! But we aspire to action! We act in ignorance, or, awaiting knowledge, fail to act.

Certain things are being evaded. Certain things are being approached. Tacking away from honesty, in order to take it by surprise. Or at least…

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