Groundlessnesses: Lev Shestov between Literature, Religion and Philosophy

Milica Kač

Symposium »Groundlessnesses: Lev Shestov between Literature, Religion and Philosophy« Ljubljana, May, 12, 2005

Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14:23)

What fascinated me most when I met Shestov’s texts, or what did I get as a real gift attending the symposium? Better to say: what could I venture to share with people I do not know, to keep the face of not becoming so very personal that I should actually be embarrassed?

What I learned at the symposium, what I cherish and consider as a real and nearly personal gift which was given to me beside all scientific and professional achievements of the symposium is the typical ever lasting and never ending focus on the same basic questions in groundlessness and uncertainty of mind. And Shestov was never tired of asking and answering them. You know that there is no final answer to such questions, you do not pretend your ambition is to solve them, but you do not turn away from them. Once you have accepted the fact that these questions can never be answered – accepted, not because of a natural necessity, but from a supernatural freedom – you are not dealing with a problem any more, you are embracing the mystery.

The fact that truth, no matter how abominable, is always above any lie, makes you restless, and the fact that the truth should always be your guide, up to the point that it really makes you lose your mind scares me, but nevertheless:

That which makes Athens so very uncompromisingly different from Jerusalem and vice versa turns out, if we take a closer look at Athens or Jerusalem, to be a too zealous or even a too arbitrary interpretation of the one or the other capital. Fearing that either Athens will be considered too irrational or Jerusalem not spiritual enough, we are prepared to say aloud only that which can be considered to have a 100 % rational support. And what about that way which is able to include the one and the other without looking too rational and without making a fool of itself?

How different is Shestov! With utmost sincerity and without any fear he discloses, lives and writes all that which was best revealed at the informal part of the symposium: in the discussion which was often very heated and challenging, during the breaks and over a glass of wine: namely the radical fragility of the very idea of logical thought. He moves among literature, philosophy and religion; not just among, he lives in literature, philosophy and religion at the same time; he is responsible to truth, but not only to truth, to good, not only to Good, to God. And logic? Let it take care of its own problems.

The main stream of argumentation, better to say argumentation itself is to Shestov only potentially interesting. His works can not be successfully grasped by analysis or various scientific and professional methods. Insistently, almost stubbornly he turns again and again to the same few chosen statements. And he lives with them and from them in most different and nearly astonishing ways. On one hand, he deals with reproaches that he is repeating himself, in a very self-confident way: “Sure, I am repeating myself, but why do I get on your nerves by doing that? I keep repeating something you do not want to hear.” On the other hand he is not afraid of admitting that it is quite possible that he will not have (stand for) the same ideas next year.”

It looks like he is more interested in the thought that stems from personal impressions and experience than from well established uniform philosophical or religious system, an existentially engaged fight against reason and its truths, which demand obedience. The groundlessness and uncertainty of mind are more a comfort than a limitation to him.

And in a nearly invisible coexistence, we glide slowly towards sincerity, we let us influence by something which is not logic, nor understanding, not a wish for impossible, not even…

and You remain silent