One Word of Truth . . .
Today I read an amazing quote by Solzhenitsyn that inspired me to write the following short essay.
As an English major I often feel the need to defend my choice of major and explain the value of its study,(sometime even to myself). Although the immediate purpose and use of art and literature production may not be as readily obvious as scientific advancement, the power and importance of literature and art is immense, and that power has been recognized and utilized by dictators throughout time. In Nazi Germany, for instance, Hitler ruthlessly suppressed art and literature. With book burnings (which included books by Freud, Marx, and other original thinkers) and the confiscation of "degenerate art" (art that was not a naturalistic portrayal of a powerful Germany) Hitler destroyed anything that encouraged people to "think outside of the box." He recognized the power of art and kept a strangle hold on its production and distribution.
Culture and Values (a humanities textbook) states, "One great lesson that can be learned from the rise of modern totalitarianism is the vigor with which the total state repressed all cultural alternatives to its vision of reality. The suppression of free speech, independent social groups or churches or civic organizations was total in the Soviet Union, Germany, and Italy. The vigorous antifascist novelist Ignazio Silone once wrote that what the state feared more than anything else was one person scrawling 'No' on a wall in the public square" (Cunningham 567).
This truth is further emphasized in the life of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian author who won the Nobel Prize for literature with his bold and stark descriptions of the Soviet prison system during the reign of Stalin (his writing also earned him 10 years in prison, forced manual labor, and exile, among other things). In his acceptance speech he shared this inspiring declaration:
"We will be told: What can literature do against the pitiless onslaught of naked violence? Let us not forget that violence does not and connot flourish by itself; it is inevitably intertwined with LYING. Between them there is the closest, the most profound and natural bond: nothing screens violence except lies, and the only way lies can hold out is by violence. Whoever has once announced violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose lying as his PRINCIPLE. At birth, violence behaves openly and even proudly. But as soon as it becomes stronger and firmly established, it senses the thinning of the air around it and cannot go on without befogging itself in lies, coating itself with lying's sugary oratory. It does not always or necessarily go straight for the gullet; usually it demands of its victims only allegiance to the lie, only complicity to the lie.
"The simple act of an ordinary courageous man is not to take part, not to support lies! Let that come into the world and even rein over it, but not through me. Writers and artists can do more: they can VANQUISH LIES! In the struggle against lies, art has always won and always will. Conspicuously, incontestably for everyone. Lies can stand up against much in the world, but not against art.
"Once lies have been dispelled, the repulsive nakedness of violence will be exposed--and hollow violence will collapse.
"That, my friends, is why I think we can help the world in its red-hot hour: not by the nay-saying of having no armaments, not by abandoning oneself to the carefree life, but by going into battle!"
. . .
"ONE WORD OF TRUTH OUTWEIGHS THE WORLD" (Western Literature in a World Context p. 1971-2).