Syndic No. 21 Cover / Theme: Social Justice ∼ Social Injustice
Syndic Literary Journal

Social Injustice ~ “An Oration upon Putin’s Return of Crimea” by Basil Lvoff

The Thinker ~ Sculpture by Aguste Rodin

 

An Oration upon Putin’s Return of Crimea

By Basil Lvoff

 

“Kuda zh nam plyt’?” A Civic Elegy, or an Oration upon Putin’s Return of Crimea

I

Justice is history written by victors. Such was the appalling discovery of Andrew Marvell—a great poet, i.e. master of intuition:

Though justice against fate complain,

And plead the ancient rights in vain:

     But those do hold or break

     As men are strong or weak.

These lines, from “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” (1650), sound Machiavellian, but a close reading of Marvell, or Machiavelli for that matter, reveals bitter wisdom rather than bullyboy cynicism. Written at the time of the English Civil War, Marvell’s poem, trenchantly witty, tongue-in-cheek, and rife with double entendres raised to the third power (see Cleanth Brooks’s interpretation, for example), oscillates between the two truths, that of Charles I, the beheaded king, and Oliver Cromwell, who signed his sentence.

There hardly is an example of the new truth unhorsing the old one as extreme as that of Christianity. T.S. Eliot expressed it on behalf of the unhorsed, the Magi who witnessed Christ’s birth:

[. . .] were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

The multitude of mutually exclusive truths is a shocking revelation indeed. It renders one either a relativist (a form of despondency) or a dialectician. Marvell, who was first a Royalist but ended up supporting the newly established Commonwealth with its Lord Protector, apparently was the latter:

Nature, that hateth emptiness,

Allows of penetration less:

     And therefore must make room

      Where greater spirits come.

Yet, however profound this thought is, it also may prove treacherous, like Hegel’s famous maxim about freedom as realized necessity. Case in point is Nadezhda Mandelstam’s famous memoir that describes the inferno of Stalin’s Russia. It was all the easier to cow people, she writes, because “[p]ropaganda for historical determinism had deprived [them] of [their] will and the power to make [their] own judgments.” The opposite would be revolution, but it was the Bolshevik Revolution that plunged the Russian people in the inferno that Nadezhda Mandelstam described. Thus, the vicious circle narrows.

Such are the contradictions that compelled me to write my essay, soon after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea, when I was caught in the midst of bitter quarrels about the peninsula, decidedly opposed to the annexation yet well aware of Russia’s grain of truth in the dispute. The Crimea is a quilt of influences with millennia of history wrought by over a dozen of peoples, including the Scythians and the Sarmatians, the Greeks and the Romans, the Genoese and the Mongols, Arabs and Turks, Tatars and Russians—all with well-grounded claims against one other. Russian history from Catherine the Great, when the Crimea became Russian, to the present day is but a paragraph in this palimpsest of justices and injustices. As for my essay, it is merely an attempt to describe the wind of history as I hear it.

II

The wind of history is blowing; I am no weathercock to turn each time it wills; I struggle—but in vain. The wind is blustering; the waters beneath me obey its gusts, and I am adrift with my steadfast convictions, carried to such places in which they are no more appropriate than snow tires in an African country that has no roads.

            Convictions are a belligerent thing; they turn you into their convict, victim; they are a fiction ever in friction with all else. Yet the friction is idle, bogged down in this watery substance called life, with no real point of departure for the one seeking the things up with which he will not put.

          I have never put up with Putin, nor with my compatriots’ jingoistic frenzy, but drifting apart isn’t the same as dropping an anchor.

Encore, encore, they throng my blazing mind: “on one hand” and “on the other hand,” “although,” “but still,” “what if”—“so what….” The congress of my mind is in gridlock.

Enter THE LEFT HEMISPHERE and THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

Is nationalism bad?

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Yes.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

But you favor the West.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Yes.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

But it has by and large, at one point or another, been nationalistic.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Well, yes. But the West has also fostered humanism.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

That’s true. Though not only the West.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Certainly, and I’ll always opt for Avicenna as against Torquemada. What I’m for is

civilization.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

But civilization was nourished with blood.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Alas, but then civilization produced the culture that extolls charity and shuns bloodshed, at least by word of mouth.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

            Would that Tolstoy heard you. He’d burst out laughing.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

            Be it as it may, blood came together with the birth pangs of civilization, but now it’s

unnecessary.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

But now it’s our birth curse.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

At least we exist.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

Existence is the final argument, that of force or, as it is sometimes called, an appeal to the cudgel. Truly, our history and civilization are no more the result of a farmer’s plow than of a looter’s cudgel.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

The only difference being that the offspring of our accursed simian progenitor realized that the cudgel they brought to perfection might not spare them either.… or rather that they might be not spared—the passive voice is more accurate, for should the cudgel fall on their heads, there will be no one to blame, and they’ll be deprived of this ultimate pleasure.

Silence

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

Kuda zh nam plyt’?[1]

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Neither the mighty of the earth nor the poor in spirit like to theorize: we exist, and that’ll suffice—while the problem persists…. It’s not that we don’t have a clue—the clues are many, but the door is missing…. You may side with Gandhi or you may follow Caesar. The first’s a peacemaker, the second is a son of Mars; the first is the son of civilization and the second, its father.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

Surely, you aren’t comparing Caesar to….

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

God forbid!… At any rate, it would be easy to accept the fact that both Caesar and Gandhi were right, each in his own time. But our world isn’t a successive melody—it is a palimpsest of voices. You want to be a man of principle, but principle means “one”—only lunatics hear different voices all at once. Verily, we are all victims of pluralism…. And the more the badder! You fancy you’re one and whole, and that’s what you think you ought to be, but it ain’t necessarily so…

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

Upon my word! It’s getting boring. It looks as though the storm is quieting down, and we are still in the same quagmire.

THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Indeed, this bickering’s utterly unoriginal! It isn’t much different from an ape’s grimacing before a mirror—hence the cultural hodgepodge, hence the alliterations, etc. etc. But to conclude: the beautiful thing I find about practically any creature is its kin.

THE LEFT HEMISPHERE

No doubt the greatest philosopher of all time was the Little Prince.

[1] “Whither do we sail,” Alexander Pushkin.

 

Narration of Chapter II by Basil Lvoff

«Previous Article | Cover Page/Table of Contents | Next Article»

Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
Write Letter / Contact Publisher
© all photos/text
Return to leroychatfield.us

Current issue:
Syndic No. 22
November 2019
Previous issues: No. 21 | No. 20 | No. 19 | No. 18 | No. 17 | No. 16 | No. 15 | No. 14 | No. 13 |
No. 12 | No. 11 | No. 10 | No. 9 | No. 8 | No. 7 | No. 6 | No. 5 | No. 4 | No. 3 | No. 2 | No. 1