Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.”

“A man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy.”

“It’s a universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

“Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.”

“You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power–he’s free again.”

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”

“When you’re cold, don’t expect sympathy from someone who’s warm.”

“The meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering but in the development of the soul.”

“My wish for you… is that your skeptic-eclectic brain be flooded with the light of truth.”

“You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

“The sole substitute for an experience we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature.”

“To stand up for truth is nothing. For truth, you must sit in jail.”

“Education doesn’t make you smarter.”

“Someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free.”

“Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade and can be confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. ”

“Not everything has a name. Some things lead us into a realm beyond words…By means of art were are sometimes sent – dimly, briefly – revelations unattainable by reason.”

“The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. “One word of truth outweighs the world.”

“One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: “Beauty will save the world”. What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes – but whom has it saved?

There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender. It is possible to compose an outwardly smooth and elegant political speech, a headstrong article, a social program, or a philosophical system on the basis of both a mistake and a lie. What is hidden, what distorted, will not immediately become obvious.

Then a contradictory speech, article, program, a differently constructed philosophy rallies in opposition – and all just as elegant and smooth, and once again it works. Which is why such things are both trusted and mistrusted.

In vain to reiterate what does not reach the heart.

But a work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force – they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.

So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through – then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar to that very same place, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?

In that case Dostoevsky’s remark, “Beauty will save the world”, was not a careless phrase but a prophecy? After all he was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination.

And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today?”

“The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.”

“A great disaster had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

“A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.”

“It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

“A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”

“Our envy of others devours us most of all.”

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties, but through every human heart”

“Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.”

“This it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.”

“If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being? ”

“You should rejoice that you’re in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.”

“There is no point asserting and reasserting what the heart cannot believe.”

“Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice. ”

“Freedom! To fill people’s mailboxes, eyes, ears and brains with commercial rubbish against their will, television programs that are impossible to watch with a sense of coherence. Freedom! To force information on people, taking no account of their right not to accept it or their right of peace of mind. Freedom! To spit in the eyes and souls of passersby with advertisements.”

“The salvation of mankind lies only in making everything the concern of all”

“We didn’t love freedom enough. ”

“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes… we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn”

“Oh, how hard it is to part with power! This one has to understand.”

“Literature cannot develop between the categories “permitted”—”not permitted”—”this you can and that you can’t.” Literature that is not the air of its contemporary society, that dares not warn in time against threatening moral and social dangers, such literature does not deserve the name of literature; it is only a facade. Such literature loses the confidence of its own people, and its published works are used as waste paper instead of being read.”

“…you are strong only as long as you don’t deprive people of everything. For a person you’ve taken everything from is no longer in your power. He’s free all over again.”

The Universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it. Each of us is a center of the Universe, and that Universe is shattered when they hiss at you: “You are under arrest.”

Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somer­sault from one state into another.

That’s all there is to it! You are arrested!

And you’ll find nothing better to respond with than a lamblike
bleat: “Me? What for?”

“Live not by lies!”

“If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible what was the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men had forgotten God; that is why all this has happened.’ ”

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage . . . . Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elite, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.”

“Violence can only be concealed by a Lie, & the Lie can only be maintained by violence. … Any man, who has once proclaimed Violence as his Method, is inevitably forced to take the lie as his Principle”

“…it’s only on a black day that you begin to have friends.”

“Yes, you live with your feet in the mud and there’s no time to be thinking about how you got in or how you’re going to get out.”

“Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?”

“Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you – you do not even suspect that the day has already dawned outside.”

“It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that “past” which “ought not to be stirred up.”

Look around you – there are people around you. Maybe you will remember one of them all your life and later eat your heart out because you didn’t make use of the opportunity to ask him questions. And the less you talk, the more you’ll hear.”

“A genius doesn’t adjust his treatment of a theme to a tyrant’s taste”

“What is an optimist? The man who says, “It’s worse everywhere else. We’re better off than the rest of the world. We’ve been lucky.” He is happy with things as they are and he doesn’t torment himself.

What is a pessimist? The man who says, “Things are fine everywhere but here. Everyone else is better off than we are. We’re the only ones who’ve had a bad break.” He torments himself continually.”

“Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.”

“I leaf through the ancient philosophers and find my newest discoveries there.”

“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century.”

“The solemn pledge to abstain from telling the truth was called socialist realism.”

“If a person can build a fence around himself, he is bound to do it.”

“It makes me happier, more secure, to think that I do not have to plan and manage everything for myself, that I am only a sword made sharp to smite the unclean forces, an enchanted sword to cleave and disperse them.

Grant, O Lord, that I may not break as I strike! Let me not fall from Thy hand!”

“Prayers are like those appeals of ours. Either they don’t get through or they’re returned with ‘rejected’ scrawled across ’em.”

“A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high range of human possibilities.”

“Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eyewash.”

“Like a bicycle, like a wheel that, once rolling, is stable only so long as it keeps moving but falls when its momentum stops, so the game between a man and woman, once begun, can exist only so long as it progresses. If the forward movement today is no more than it was yesterday, the game is over.”

“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God: That’s why this all happened.”

“… What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusionary – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn for happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.”

“You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power– he’s free again.”

“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.”

“Then came the time for the evening visit to the toilet, for which, in all likelihood, you had waited, all atremble, all day. How relieved, how eased, the whole world suddenly became! How the great questions all simplified themselves at the same instant—did you feel it?”

“Beat a dog once and you only have to show him the whip.”

“There is a law in the Archipelago that those who have been treated the most harshly and who have withstood the most bravely, who are the most honest, the most courageous, the most unbending, never again come out into the world. They are never again shown to the world because they will tell tales that the human mind can barely accept. Some of your returned POW’s told you that they were tortured. This means that those who have remained were tortured ever more, but did not yield an inch. These are your best people. These are your foremost heroes, who, in a solitary combat, have stood the test. And today, unfortunately, they cannot take courage from our applause. They can’t hear it from their solitary cells where they may either die or remain for thirty years like Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who was seized in 1945 in the Soviet Union. He has been imprisoned for thirty years and they will not give him up.”

“It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine administrative power and, in fact, it has been drastically weakened in all Western countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

“Just as King Midas turned everything to gold, Stalin turned everything to mediocrity.”

“…skepticism can never provide firm ground under a man’s feet. And perhaps, after all, we need firm ground.”

“If state, party and social policy will not be based on morality, then mankind has no future to speak of.”

“What’s worse than cancer? Leprosy.”

“The earlier, the more fun. Why put it off? It’s the atomic age!”

“Work is what horses die of”

“The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society.”

“Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”

“Freedom or prison–what’s the difference? A man must develop unwavering will power subject only to his reason.”

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