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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 21, Issue 3, 2011

Poland in the Context of Russia’s Way to Europe

Jerzy Niesiobędzki, Lesław Kawalec
Pages 65-84

Russian Classics
Russia on Its Way to Europe

The editorial note recommending the book by Vladimir Kantor Russkaya Klasika Ili Bytiye Rassiyi communicates that the author (philosopher, novelist and historian) believes that only this culture is fully valuable whose most representative artists’ work turns into classics, thus gaining the status of high culture. It indicates the extent to which the great names of Russian literature write with an awareness that in order to make it into the classics canon of European literature, too, one needs to reckon with the previous work of Dante, Goethe, Schiller, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Hegel, Marx, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and a number of other prominent representatives of the culture of the West. This is not to say that Pushkin, Goncharov, Tolstoy, Gogol or Dostoyevsky were imitators. By reproducing patterns or themes developed by the literature of the West, they set those in realities fundamentally different from the social realities of the West, often in a polemic vein. Kantor stresses that the great artistic ambitions or the Russian classics are accompanied by great social duties because they lived and created their art in a country that had been lagging behind for centuries. It did catch up at times, but it was successful only as of Czar Peter I, not without periodic regressive collapses, though. The sense of social obligations, characteristic of Russian writers, intellectuals, or intelligentsia, and to be more precise, the implementation of these obligations, enabled Kantor to prove that the progress of literature—the great classics in particular—was linked in Russia with civilizational progress, and that in terms of the weight of these links, Russia was very different in civilizational progress from Europe, which lay ahead civilization-wise.