Vasily Rozanov: The Scandalous Chaos of Coziness
"There is a constant rustling of wings in my soul."
Rozanov was always in the thick of things, extremely sensitive to the slightest change in public mood. Moreover, these responses could come at quite different levels. Rozanov could write newspaper feuilletons with one hand and philosophical essays with the other. And, surprisingly, there was no clear line between the two. Often the feuilleton ended with a philosophical generalization, while the philosophical lyricism was interrupted by almost obscene profanity. Moreover, Rozanov could simultaneously evaluate an event from opposite points of view and send his articles to publications of quite different trends: from the crude Black Hundreds to the crude Reds and from popular science to the aesthetically decadent. He was omnivorous. But for all this diversity, outward variety, and contradiction, Rozanov always remained himself; and whichever of his works we look at, we always feel that it is Rozanov who is its author.
— Dmitry Galkovsky, “The Infinite Deadlock”
Vasily Rozanov had a difficult fate. He starved to death in a monastery while the Revolution was ravaging Russia. His works were banned and forgotten in Russia for almost 70 years, until Dmitry Galkovsky single-handedly revived Rozanov scholarship.
His contemporaries looked at him with amused bewilderment. Of course, they could never abuse him as much as he abused himself. The Russian literary establishment’s treatment of Rozanov reminds one of the little bourgeois trying to make fun of Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose; the latter, of course, showed him how to properly laugh at the faults of others, and, first of all - one’s own faults.
"If anyone speaks a word of praise of me at my funeral, I will climb out of the coffin and slap him in the face."
Rozanov, aside from his unbearably existentialist musings with regards to his own person, arrived at his unique thoughts through his unique style. If a genius, a true genius, is a trailblazer, one who walks a path through an enchanted forest where no feet have ever walked before, if the author himself created this enchanted forest along with its dark dephts & hidden secrets, then Rozanov was, of course, a genius.
And maybe that is why he is permitted a very special relationship with his Creator; a different way of standing before Him.
Rozanov was, first of all, a philosopher of religion. But it is impossible to look at his work divorced from the point of view of Russian literature, of the kingdom of letters.
"The pain of life is far more powerful than interest in life. That's why religion will always defeat philosophy."
What is the essence of Rozanov’s style? If we had to condense it into one word, we would call it oxymoronic. All of his works, regardless of their length - both his monographs & his aphoristic collections like Solitaria - are atomized verbal dust, tiny fragments shaved off some incredibly dense material.
There is no dialectic in Rozanov. There is not even a logical sequence. The same position is affirmed many times and denied many times. His aura depicts all the colors of the spectrum at once, and his music runs through all the consonances. The result is unforgettable images and a very true and successful grasp of old themes, or a reinterpretation of themes that no one had ever guessed existed.
In the cosmic chaos of Rozanov’s writing, where there is a lot more chaos than cosmos, we can behold the most difficult and most mysterious of all that the so-called big questions of life represent for the philosopher: the primary gestation and union of forms, a genesis.
There is something primordial in Rozanov, something that is situated both before and beyond pure reason. We can differentiate between two different kinds of chaos. There is the chaos of “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep”; this is the chaos that is creative, and being created, a chaos that is ready to become cosmos through the Word. But there is also another chaos: the bitter chaos of death and destruction. The latter is opposed to the former and represents a kind of resistance to the Will of God.
The characteristic feature of this chaos is that it arises whenever a creature turns away from the Creator by virtue of the formal freedom bestowed upon it, but sees before it a gaping void filled with the specters of non-being and, possessed by a dark desire for death, strives into this void. Here is the unspeakable, quite irrational mystery of freedom, which can be approached dialectically, but which, in its essence, is not known by any dialectics, but is associated with this or that will, with this or that "doing" - good or evil. Here, a tragic synthesis of chaos and cosmos is born.
V. Rozanov, with all the substance of his subconscious, by which he lived and created, and beyond which he rarely went, simultaneously experienced this struggle of two chaos and two wills with both agony and joy. As a true writer, he experienced his work as musical and even believed that "eternal music in the soul is the secret of true literature” (a thought, one might add, that Nietzsche, with whom he has been compared quite a few times, would gladly agree with).
His religiosity was also “musical religiosity”, the existence and legitimacy of which Georg Simmel noted. Hence the difficulty of entering into polemics with Rozanov. Perhaps this explains why, almost always to the disadvantage of Rozanov's opponents, a polemic with him turned into profanity and hysteria, even if the opponent was such a brilliant polemicist as Vladimir Solovyov. The only difference was that Rozanov's specific literary gift made him always stronger and wittier, even during “dirty fights”. In addition, Rozanov had the amazing ability of delivering rhetorical killshots with the most innocuous of remarks.
One way or another, religion and God were everything to Rozanov. And while some great artists thought, albeit in a very diminished form, outside religion, Rozanov, as well as the Russian people, outside religion is simply nothing. This is also why Rozanov could "hereticize," "rebell” or even throw a tantrum like a child (which he always felt himself to be), could even fidget around wordlessly, like an unborn child in the womb (also something he confessed), but he never went beyond the confines of the church. This the Church has always felt and graciously tolerated her beloved child’s antics. Rozanov himself could say of himself the famous phrase: "I will hereticize, but I will not be a heretic."
"The essence of prayer consists in the acknowledgement of one's profound helplessness, profound limitations. Prayer is where 'I cannot'; where 'I can,' there is no prayer."
So what do we love about Rozanov? Why do we need a man who called for intercourse in churches during weddings and for impregnating the decrepit Russian nationhood with Jewish vitality? Rozanov was a religious radical, even a heretic, perhaps a revolutionary, a strangely intimate old man who whispers and whispers into our ears.
But for all his “uniqueness” and extravagance, what is most striking about Rozanov is his love of coziness, of the Chestertonian (only he preferred the image of onions to cheese), the parochial, the simple.
Rozanov is properly understood as a lover of small things, a worshipper at the altar of domesticity. And of course, this cannot be divorced from his complicated feelings on patriotism and nationalism.
Rozanov was a Revolutionary, but he understood that in Russia being a Revolutionary means saying your prayers & getting up early to go to work…
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