Chekhov: and other essays

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University of Michigan Press, 1966 - Biography & Autobiography - 205 pages
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ANTON TCHEKHOV creation from the void

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About the author (1966)

Lev Shestov belongs in the stream of the religious existentialists and was deeply interested in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (see also Vol. 2) and Soren Kierkegaard; he knew and was close to Nikolai Berdyaev and in touch with Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger (see also Vol. 5), and Martin Buber. In his own strong voice, however, deeply reliant not on the God of the conventional churches but on the Old Testament as he interpreted it, he denounced conventional metaphysics and the domination of a rigidly structured worldview in which we are governed by necessity. He believed that we have fettered ourselves with crutches and limits and made ourselves puny; we must seek a new God---with God "all things are possible." His most important early "existential" work, an attack on traditional metaphysics, was The Apotheosis of Groundlessness (1905, entitled in English translation All Things Are Possible), to which D. H. Lawrence (see Vol. 1) provided the introduction. The novelist wrote:""Everything is possible,' this is his really central cry. It is not nihilism. It is only a shaking free of the human psyche from old bonds. The positive central idea is that the human psyche, or soul, really believes in it-self. . . . No ideal on earth is anything more than an obstruction, in the end, to the creative issue of the spontaneous soul." In a brilliant introduction to Athens and Jerusalem (1938), Bernard Martin says, "Shestov suggests . . . that modern man can perhaps reach the God of the Bible only by first passing through the experience of his own nothingness, and by coming to feel, as Nietzsche did, that God is not. . . . "Sometimes [says Shestov] this is the sign of the end and of death. Sometimes of the beginning and of life. As soon as man feels that God is not, he suddenly comprehends the frightful horror and the wild folly of human temporal existence . . . [and] awakens. . . . Was it not so with Nietzsche, Spinoza, Pascal, Luther, Augustine, even with St. Paul?"' The son of Jewish parents, Shestov studied at Kiev and the University of Moscow. He received the title candidate of laws from the University of Kiev, but was denied the doctor of law title because his dissertation on the Russian working class was judged "revolutionary" by the Committee of Censors in Moscow. Working for awhile in his father's textile firm, he began writing for avant-garde periodicals in Kiev. In 1898 his first book appeared: Shakespeare and His Critic Brandes, in which he attacked the positivism and skeptical rationalism of the famous Danish critic and essayist in the name of a vague moral idealism. Shestov spent a number of years abroad---in Switzerland or Germany---before World War I. In 1918--19 he taught Greek philosophy at the People's University of Kiev, but, dissatisfied with the Bolshevik regime, he settled in Paris in 1920, where he taught at the Sorbonne and moved in a circle of Russian emigres, including Berdyaev. He became increasingly interested in religion and the work of the great religious philosophers. Shestov was deeply concerned philosophically with Russian literature---particularly Fyodor Dostoevsky (see Vol. 2) and Anton Chekhov (see Vol. 2)---and wrote many essays on the subject.

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