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History of Communism in Europe

Volume 1, 2010

Politics of Memory in Post-communist Europe

Dr. Brendan Purcell
Pages 35-47
DOI: 10.7761/HCE.1.35

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Overcoming Personal, Political and Historical Amnesia through Literary-Aesthetic Anamnesis

Very few writers have had such an impact on their culture as Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Soviet society in the ‘60s and ‘70s Recently published documents from the KGB archives show the problem he posed to the Soviet leadership—not because he was the only one to point out the massive falsehood and injustice of Soviet society but primarily due to the scathing power of his artistic diagnosis. Many of Solzhenitsyn’s writings in fictional, autobiographical, and publicistic genres can helpfully be understood in terms of Plato’s struggle in the Athens of his day for a “remembering” or anamnesis of what it is to be a human being, a human society, and the cosmos as transparent for divinity. That struggle, even though Plato doesn’t use the word “amnesia”, was against the refusal to remember. The Austrian writer Heimito von Doderer called that refusal the Apperzeptionsverweigerung or refusal to perceive (in his case, regarding National Socialism). Here we’ll explore Solzhenitsyn’s work in terms of his struggle to remember over against the ideological “refusal to perceive” in the three fundamental dimensions of personal, social and historical existence. Solzhenitsyn expands Mikhail Bakhtin’s understanding of “polyphonic” characterization as a key technique for articulating his diagnosis of Soviet totalitarianism. The discussion will instantiate what can be seen as his understanding of personal amnesia and anamnesis in Cancer Ward, his exploration of social amnesia and anamnesis in In the First Circle, and his treatment of historical amnesia and anamnesis in The Red Wheel and The Gulag Archipelago.