25 August 2014 — Vera Graziadei
With wars raging in Ukraine and Gaza, the world continues its descent into lower levels of Dante’s Inferno, all with the help of insatiable global empire and it’s war-mongering leaders and associates, aided by masses of Unconmitted Souls, who will do nothing for either good or evil, as long their consumerist desires, created by the empire’s nightmarish dream-making machine, are satisfied and their wealth and power or aspirations to them are preserved.
Will this descent continue until human kind eliminates itself? Can it be stopped and even reversed? Who are the Committed Souls, who will save the mankind? Or, using more modern language, what values and beliefs, what psychological and philosophical dispositions, people should have to be ‘soulful’ and what sort of commitment is required from these people, in order to counteract global forces that are ruling humankind in a most repugnant way imaginable?
These are the questions I’ve been asking myself ever since the Ukrainian war started, when I was shaken out of my comfortable existence by the abject horrors of war and, unable to remain silent and thus complicit with crimes, chose to voice my resistance.
Immediate answers I found within myself and by observing others, who rise up against war crimes – it’s those who’ve suffered themselves or have compassion to feel the suffering of others, that are most likely to have conscience needed to become the “Committed Souls”. Wealth, power, education,
Capitalism in its current form, which demands of people to be independent rational economic agents, concerned with self-interest, self-promotion and self-development, hinders emergence of feelings, which do not have ‘self-‘ as the prefix, such as compassion. People with an open heart, who feel genuine love and are able to give it to others, feel fulfilled without most of pseudo-necessary or pseudo-miraculous products that capitalism is shoving down our throats. Feeling requires space and time and in our fast-paced work-obsessed western culture, it’s very difficult to find either. Anything or anyone not related to one’s own immediate interests and goals is often neglected and ignored. Hence, the first questions that many people will ask you in the financial capital of London is ‘Where do you live?’ and ‘What do you do?’ – the answers will determine whether it’s worth to continue interacting further. In success-obsessed culture, all eyes are on the ‘winners’, ‘loosers’ are often left in the periphery of our attention. Thus, the ‘haves’ of capitalist culture are free to continue ‘winning’ even if it means that ‘have-nots’ would loose even further. And if the ‘have-nots’ dare to rise up against it – they might even start loosing their lives, as the wars will be waged against them.
I’m a pacifist, who also accepts that some kind of fight is necessary to counteract hidden global forces of economic and political power that are bringing this green planet into ruin, but the only weapons that I’m prepared to use in this fight are words and peaceful actions, and only if they grow out of I couldn’t possibly pretend that I myself will come up with words, which will be able to inspire myself and others, as there are far too many great thinkers, feelers and activists of the world, who have done it already. My aim is to turn to those wise words during these dark times, let them flow through my mind and body, and hope that it will shine light on my path pf becoming a ‘Committed Soul’. I’m writing it here on my blog, as I hope that I’ll encounter other people, who are on this path already, irrespective of whether they are ahead of me or behind me, so that
On our recent short visit to glorious St.Petersburg, the mere thought of rich interiors of Royal Palaces, intricately decorated Faberge eggs and unnecessarily opulent Louis XVI chairs . St. Petersburg has a lot of history and culture, unrelated to power and wealth, and its this side of still-bright-in-the-late-evening city that we wanted to explore. The greatest gift that St.Petersburg has to offer the world is it’s incredibly rich literary heritage – Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anna Ahmatova, Yesenin, Nabokov, Tsvetaeva, Gumilev, Nekrasov, Turgenev – all lived and created under dramatically majestic ever-changing skies of the northern capital of culture. Incidentally, most of my favourite writers and poets are included in the previous sentence – St.Petersburg is my spiritual and artistic home. My previous visits here were always related to my acting – my late mentor, director Alexander Markov, with whom I did numerous workshops and produced one play, lived here until his death last September. On this visit, only his widow, my voice teacher Valentina Beletskaya, was there to greet us.
My last memory of St.Petersburg prior to this visit is driving in a boot of a jeep with my friend Cicely, also a pupil of Alexander’s, who introduced me to him and Valentina. It was dusk after Alexander’s funeral in St.Seraphim Sorovsky’s Cemetery and his godson was driving us and five other people from a theatre cafe, where memorial dinner was held, back to the centre.
Terrible tightness in my chest still didnt have a chance to be relieved in proper sobs – I kept my composure throughout the service with very controlled flow of tears in key moments. Now that I wasn’t in bright light in a large crowd of people, but in a near dark small space in a more intimate company, I Iet my tears flow a bit more, as I turned my face towards St.Petersburg, peering at it through a boot door window. A city, who itself has gone through a lot of pain and suffering turned its face towards me and showed its own signs of grieving for another great man it lost – lamp posts at dusk started resembling crosses on graves and rain drops were flowing down the window as the city wept with me. Us, rather, as I remember Cicely was crying again too.
Coming back to the city, knowing that I will not hear Alexander’s soothing wise words again, not see his light blue compassionate eyes and not sit down to have a post-rehearsal cup of tea with him and Valentina in a small cosy kitchen in their flat off Nevsky Prospect, while talking theatre and philosophy, filled me with great sadness. After a year of grieving for him, then for my country, then for all the innocent lives lost during the Ukrainian war, for all the friends I’ve lost either because of political disagreements, indifference or other reasons, I was slightly afraid to go back to the city, which was so intimately connected to a figure, the loss of which has started off My Year of Losses. There was a chance that all the wounds would open up again at a time when they need to remain closed to facilitate healing – this created a subtle anxiety, which was intesified by low-hanging grey skies. I felt slightly disorientated by these worries – I was aware that all the changes in the external world are calling for a grand re-evaluation on the inside, but not quite sure in which direction this change should take place.
When my husband Robin suggested we do a walk through the places of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and then a tour of constructivist architecture, I appreciated it as a good alternative to the usual visits to The Hermitage and other ‘imperialist’ tourist spots that Petersburg has to offer, but also as a chance to do something that has more personal meaning. It was through Dostoevsky that I was closely connected to Alexander, as the last project we did together was filming of a play based on Dostoevsky’s novel Nameless Nobody, which I first performed seven years ago and at the closing performance of which I met my husband Robin.
We met our guide Vladimir on the chaotic Haymarket Square (Sennaya ploshad), which was heavily bombed during the seige of Leningrad and now is surrounded by Stalinist empire buildings from 1945-1955. The only structure that remains standing from the times of Dostoevsky is one Pavillion in Napoleon empire style, which used to be a police station since early 19th century and in which Fyodor Michailovich spent two days under arrest after he published Emperor’s quotes without permission. There’s even a curious information about what he did during those two days in 1878 – he devoured Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. (Incidentally it was the book, which Robin’s great grandfather read before he was inspired to co-found Italian Communist Party.)
But this was almost twenty years later after Dostoevsky’s ten years in labour camp and Siberian exile as a political prisoner, which preceeded his second round of his literary career. Having had the first one abruptly interrupted by his arrest for affiliation with revolutionary Petrashevsky circle, Dostoevsky has been condemned to death by a firing squad, but pardoned on the day of an execution as he was about to meet his end. During his time at the labour camp, he was not allowed to write and read anything except the New Testament, while living amongst murderers, thieves, psychotics and child-killers.
He left for Siberia as a young revolutionary with a promising literary talent and came back to Petersburg in 1859 as a mature man with strong social and political views and deep Christian faith, which made him into a writer with not only social and political, but also philosophical and religious missions. The Petersburg he came back to was also changed – the abolition of serfdom in 1861 has created a charged political climate with some people accepting the new social structure and small group of anti-Tsarists, who were disappointed with what they saw as a half-hearted attempt at social and democratic change – liberated peasants were heavily burdened by redemption payments, which effectively kept them enslaved. Hard-headed realism, rejection of Tsarist order and humane liberalism of previous generation and demand that society be constructed anew on rational and scientific foundations are features that distinguished this latter group of nihilists with their apparent lack of beliefs and rejection of past traditions.
At first, Dostoevsky was tolerant with this new intellectual radical movement, while he concentrated on writing The House of the Dead, in which he outlined the suffering in harsh conditions he endured in Siberia, as well as writing for his brother’s magazine Time. The journal attempted a more moderate approach to reconciliation between struggling classes, based on a belief that Russian peasants embody in them essence of Russian national characteristics and religion. According to Dostoevsky, Intellectual and upper classes have lost these, as a result of western influence, but they should regain their ‘Russian soul’ through getting back to the Russian soil and absorbing the peasant spirit.
Eventually this spiritual approach ran counter to nihilist ideas, Dostoevsky rejected beliefs that human nature has no spiritual dimension and that man’s behaviour is determined only by self-interest and reason, and that morality could be reduced to the utilitarian principle of ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’
In my beloved Notes from the Underground, which is connected to Crime and Punishment philosophically and is effectively a prelude to the great novel, Fyodor Michailovich challenges nihilist belief in the rationality of men, as well as self-interest and utility as determining factors of behaviour. The main character’s perverse irrational rebellious behaviour, which disregards law, reason and self-interest for the sake of pursuing personal freedom, is clearly a predecessor to Raskolnikov. The second stop was in a place where the novel Crime and Punishment begins: “At the beginning of July, during an extremely hot spell, towards evening, a young man left the closet he rented from tenants in S-y Lane, walked out to the street, and slowly, as if indecisevely, headed for the K-n Bridge.