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Online Great Books Podcast

Feb 6, 2020

This week, Scott and Karl dive into The Gulag Archipelago by Russian writer and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Published in 1973, the title refers to a series of disconnected prisons in the Soviet Union that, nevertheless, all shared the same culture.

The manuscript had to be hidden, originally published by the underground Samizdat press which reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This work of literature, and countless others like it, were essential in ultimately undoing the Soviet Union. 

Solzhenitsyn has his own theory on the vast importance of literature. He believes this beauty will save the world. How does that work? 

Scott says, “Beauty transcends language, it transcends rationality— it’s such a visceral thing that everyone can recognize. We might have trouble recognizing truth, we might have trouble recognizing goodness, those things might be hidden from us, but you just can’t hide the beautiful. The lowest among us and the most poisonous among us can see it a mile away. It’s probably the most powerful of those three lights."

This novel also works as a powerful warning. What can happen when the dignity of the individual doesn't matter? What measures could be taken if thoughts can be crimes?

Tune in to hear reflections on the nature of art, ethics, and a literary investigation Solzhenitsyn came to look upon as his inescapable moral duty.