Between literature and religion: silver age ideas applied to modernity – poetic outlook as a type of religiosity?
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Traditionally, the role of literature in Russia has been disproportionally large, because literature there served as ‘the only podium from which the nation can speak about its pain’.1 Russian literary discourse thus absorbed almost all other discourses, including those of philosophy and religion. A merger of religious philosophy with literature came to be particularly visible during the Russian Silver Age, with its new religious search and change of cultural paradigm. Lev Shestov, a religious-philosophical thinker of the time, conventionally viewed as an irrationalist and a precursor of Sartrean existentialism, assigned a common religious experience to almost every hero of his philosophical-literary essays, including Russian classical writers and Western philosophers.2 This experience, which Shestov regarded as invariably traumatic, leads – via catharsis – to a re-evaluation of values and ultimately to faith, and results in great artistic and philosophical revelations. Despite the problematic nature of such a treatment, it can nevertheless be methodologically useful because of the perception of literary production as growing from an essentially religious root. In this paper, we suggest applying this to major Russian poets of modernity, most notably to Joseph Brodsky, to see if poetic outlook is indeed akin to religious sensibility. On the other hand, Freudian theories that deem artistic inspiration to be a sublimation of libido can be linked to the ideas of another religious-philosophical thinker of the Silver Age – Vasilii Rozanov – who placed human sexuality next to divinity. At the same time, another thinker of that epoch – Boris Vysheslavtsev – argued for the animosity of the Freudian approach to Russian cultural consciousness, and especially to categories of love, artistic creativity and religion. The aim of this paper is to study the interplay between religious and poetic outlooks through the prism of these conflicting opinions in the framework of the correlation between religion and culture in the Russian context.
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