On Leo Shestov’s Balance: Beyond Truth and Falsehood

Nikolai Ivanov

State University of Sankt-Petersburg

Summary

The contribution presents contemplations based on Shestov‘s thoughts on groundlessness. When thinking loses the ground under its feet, says Shestov, the horizon of »divine groundlessness« opens up. This means that if we continue to lean on the self-evidences of our reason as if they were that which truly exists, we arrive at an abyss. It appears that we are only giving, through reason, our own values to being. This is because the reasons of reason speak of themselves and their validity and say nothing about the real. In this way reason also deforms our sensuality, deceives our feeling. Within the range of reason we learn to see only what we think, and at the same time think only because we want to find our way as best as we can in the sensual world. The cult of reason is the central cult of our mythology, a mythology of knowing introduced by the biblical story about the tree of knowledge. This cult is a lie that blocks the truth. Yet the truth as Shestov and we ourselves see it as followers of his thought does not mean the revival of the myth. Because reason says nothing of the real world in which we live, true thinking can only be free, personal thinking – thinking in groundlessness, which, despite being confronted by the limited possibilities of our own nature, is at the same time a continuous »divine« creating of the impossible. Such thinking is »necessary« because it is the only thing capable of pulling us out of the routine in our lifeworld and making the impossible possible.

Povzetek

Razprava predstavlja razmišljanje ob iztočnicah Šestovove misli o breztalnosti. Ko se mišljenju izmaknejo tla pod nogami, se, kot pravi Šestov, odpre obzorje »božanske breztalnosti«. To pomeni, da če se še naprej opiramo na razvidnosti našega razuma, kot da bi bile to, kar resnično je, zaidemo v brezno. Pokaže se, da biti s svojim razumom pridajamo le svoje lastne vrednosti. Razlogi razuma namreč govorijo o sebi in o svoji veljavnosti ter molčijo o resničnem. Razum pri tem deformira tudi našo čutnost, zapeljuje naše čutenje. V območju razuma se učimo videti le to, kar mislimo, hkrati pa mislimo le zato, da bi se kar najbolje znašli v čutnem svetu. Kult razuma je središčni kult naše mitologije, mitologije spoznavanja, ki jo vpeljuje biblična zgodba o drevesu spoznanja. Ta kult je laž, ki blokira resnico. Vendar resnica, za katero gre Šestovu in tudi nam kot dedičem njegove misli, ne pomeni oživitve mita. Ker razum ne pove ničesar o resničnem svetu, v katerem živimo, je resnično mišljenje lahko le svobodno, osebno mišljenje – mišljenje v breztalnosti, ki je, ob tem da se sooča z omejenimi možnostmi naše lastne narave, hkrati nenehno »božansko« ustvarjanje nemogočega. Takšno mišljenje je »nujno« zato, ker nas je edino zmožno iztrgati iz rutine v našem življenjskem svetu in narediti nemogoče mogoče.

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“Oh that my grief were throughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up.” (Job 6:2-3). Leo Shestov took these bitter confessional words as an epigraph to the most characteristic and shrill of his works, In Job’s Balances. On the Sources of the Eternal Truths, and added to it a few more, prophetical and terrible, from Plotinus: “A great and last struggle waits human souls” (En. 1, 6, 7).
Epigraphs, like ancient oracles, “do not speak and conceal, but mark” (Heraclites 14 М), even if they speak, as in this case, for themselves. In this way, for example, speaks also another epigraph from Apotheosis of Groundlessness: Nur für Schwindelfreie, “Only for those who are not afraid of dizziness.”
It demands care, a special tact of thinking, when its ground – common sense –  slips away from under the feet; when you find yourself on the way beyond the standard norms, accessible themes and obligatory truths of mind to the horizon of  “divine groundlessness” (Shestov), where all is possible and nothing is initial and final; where the whim is higher than the law; where the obvious is more mysterious than the secret, and the wonderful penetrates the order of things more deeply than their own nature.
To rely on “commonplaces” or “self-evidences,” on any metaphysics, criticism or dogmatics, which speaks on behalf of Truth in the face of this horizon, means to step into an abyss. Beyond the cults of common sense there is nothing to amuse the judgment. The only idea which is allowable there is a shocking, inadmissible one – especially for those who try to get rid of the illusiveness of their own life by the tree of knowledge of “outward things.”
Today the apotheosis of groundlessness has a double sense. It is not only a title of one of Shestov’s works in which it is evident how he “wasted his talent on totally unserious things.”1 It is also the shortest formula of all his philosophy, an image which was assigned to it in the history of modern ideas and which apparently carries a completely definite meaning.
The establishment of such an image is quite natural. For all his life Shestov kept fidelity to the free, adogmatic spirit of the above-mentioned book and its desperate plan – “to plough up the killed and trampled-down field of modern thought,”2 and “to get rid once and for all of any sort of the beginnings and ends, which were thrusted upon us with such unclear persistence by all founders of great and not so great philosophical systems.”3
But there is another side of the image that is no less natural and evident. I mean the negative, pejorative sense which is implicated in “the deification of groundlessness” as a general characteristic of Shestov’s philosophical confession. This sense is obstinate and direct, like a stake. It does not demand substantiations and cannot be challenged. For it is ridiculous and silly “to think” in the face of the obvious: the idea beyond its reasonable ground is also beyond its own valuable reality, i.e. on the other side of possible truth and falsehood.
According to Shestov, there is, of course, no reason to fight against reason, but there is still less reason to defend reason against its own shadows. Why would one paint the devil, if the painted devil is so bad? And if the critical arguments of mind are so “good” (i.e. great and terrible enough to have no alternative), if they “do speak for themselves,” why are they so frightening in our eyes? What, in general, do they “speak” of? Under the guise of “everything,” and of its “objective truth,” they speak of nothing but of themselves and their own validity. They speak of how should everybody think and how, in practice, thinks nobody but our depersonalized “everybodyness,” i.e. vsemstvo (F. M. Dostoevsky) or das Man (M. Heidegger). But at the same time they keep absolute silence about the real, responsible contents of thinking, about how the concrete philosopher or the concrete shoemaker thinks. To judge according to these measures, true thinking means to play blindly. The stake and the cross of common sense are nothing more than a bluff of mind, a cowardice and a self-deception of reason, which thinks it is better to see nothing than to turn away from the evident, and which nevertheless sacrifices nothing with such ease as obvious things if they are beaten out from the chorus of obligatory truths and cannot teach us anything “useful.”

Shestov’s precept is simple:

If you have kept bright eyes and sensitive hearing – throw away tools and devices, forget methodology and scientific quixotics and try to trust in yourself. So what, if you will not extract obligatory judgments and if you will see the rams in rams? It may be a step forward. You will forget to look together with everybody, but you will learn to see where nobody could see, and not to speculate but to conjure, to call out alien words for totally unprecedented beauty and greatest forces.4

The horror, ancient horror of reason, which is experienced in the face of the fluctuations of the ground on which common sense relies, is of a completely mythological kind. The real thought can be only a thought of your own. And to understand this it is not necessary to read Leo Shestov or Johann Wolfgang Goethe. This idea also belongs to “everybodyness.”5
Common sense prompts (to itself) that its reasonable alternative simply cannot exist. That is why there is no question. Only what is more reasonable: to follow or to contradict requirements of mind (judgment). Only a little fool – Ivan from Russian fairy-tales – chooses for himself the road to death, and not to marriage, health and richness. Cognition is not a fairy-tale, but a vital (and always essential) reality. As soon as you realize this, you will find yourself in safety – in the center of arguments that open the general way from Reason to Truth. The instantaneousness of such a resettlement is provided by ideality, by the meta-physical character of the common sense zone. Reason is not late on its borders cut out from non-committal banalities. It at once directs to the center, to the recognition of senselessness of thinking in the face of the evidence of being, from which all the infinite prospects of knowledge take their beginnings. Only now the real (instead of the far-fetched) problem of choice comes up: at which prospect it is necessary to stop and which argument it is reasonable to accept as rational, i.e. the most weighty and reliable one. And only now also appears a quite different opportunity: to take breath, to refrain from immediate judgment, and not to glance over the nearest, but the farthest prospects, over ghostly horizons of cognition which may be open from the zone’s center. At this moment it is not necessary to strain the eyes and imagination. It is simply enough to recollect that all these attracting and seemingly inaccessible horizons have already been overcome and rejected once. On behalf of the banal truths they were just under our feet. We just crossed them, after we have stepped within the limits of the zone. And if it is so, does the infinity of our commonsensical ways to Truth appears to be too bad?
It is clear which one of these opportunities Leo Shestov realized in his work. His questions – as well as answers from the zone of self-evidences – speak for themselves:

Is it not a main task of our time to learn the art of bypassing (and even destroying) all those numerous outposts, which were built in olden time by powerful feudal lords of spirit under different pretexts and which are still considered as insuperable, even “natural” barrier to the movement of our thought by virtue of eternal conservatism of cowardly and short-sighted human nature? For what one has to finish? What for the last word? What for the world-outlook?6

In order to live, to survive, they answer. We are forced to reckon with the imperfection of our own nature, its limited potentialities and, in particular, its “cowardice and short-sightedness”, about which Shestov himself writes. Precisely, we are “forced.” We necessarily have to reckon with them, as well as, whenever possible, to struggle with them. It is important to remember that this struggle is nothing else than their own direct manifestation.

I tried to speak to the mountain, to move the sea. It didn’t move. I tried to conjure all material world: ‘Be scattered.’ It wasn’t scattered. What therefore? Nothing therefore! I know also something else. I tried to conjure an empty, obviously senseless superstition based on nothing, since only God knows about childhood where it is taken from – and all in vain.  It stands as strong as mountains, rivers and seas! So go away with your “therefore” and your human experience! However, it’s useless to lay yourself out. Besides the fact that we are not capable of it, we also do not want to break off delusion and to be released from charms of a seeming reality. Even events of recent time which were tremendous enough to wake a deadman had no effect on anybody. People wait patiently that all things fall into place again and that it is possible to begin to live just as they used to, pleasantly and carefree. How long will this beating of people still go on?7

“Events of recent time” which are spoken of here are the events of any time if one ponders over them seriously. And the business of Shestov’s philosophy is a business of any philosophy (if one keeps in mind Plato’s “secret for people”).
There is only one problem: to test the spirit for its presence on that side of things-in-themselves means to behold the end of the natural light of reason.
It is not necessary to lose one’s mind to solve its childish cunning: coming from the outside, its light is the only thing that kindles the soul inside the zone of self-evidences. “Zone’s” own light is nothing but a gloom, in which masters of metaphysical time, who has learnt when thinking is silly and ridiculous and when it is permissible, are immersed without taking notice that their reason, mastering the new fear and the new rhythmic discipline, has been switched inadmissibly off. “Fear is a faint of freedom,” Shestov liked to repeat after Kierkegaard. And if such a faint does not frighten (and, on the contrary, even inspires) us, if the lesson of school freedom is perceived by us as a lesson of the necessity of life, this changes practically nothing: insensibility to the insult does not rescue one from being insulted. Light, which is gloom’s disguise, only blinds its priests. 
In the zone covered and consecrated by mind we learn to see only what we think (anything else here is simply not present) and to think only what we do (anything else here does not occur). Such science of “vision” forces us to develop our thinking for the sake of the best arrangement in the sensual world and results in the full transformation of a person, if this science is imposed (there is no other opportunity to keep identity) on nothing less than a fundamental religion of the zone – on initial belief in available spiritual practices in senselessness of thought in the face of the obvious and its conventional transcriptions. The person begotten by science and religion of common sense is begotten for a new life – for a feat of maturity. These science and religion promise to give us all for the loss of innocence, namely a sound body and spirit, peace of mind, riches of house, greatness of name, good fortune, etc. And you can get all these on one condition – if you strictly follow the precept of judiciousness. This is not a condition, but a fairy-tale. Only that this tale’s end is not too fairy: the main hero – a knight of Truth – faces his death.
And the true story is that he kills himself: those who do not think while looking at something, will never see what they are looking at, in our special case – the philosophy of Leo Shestov.
The boldness of thinking was always considered by Shestov as more essential and more primordial than its adequacy. For him it was a sign of thought’s authenticity, “not a casual sin of man, but his great privacy.”8
“Why not? The only point is that this sign is too private and not too evident,” the common sense authorities reply. And in any case the obvious point is that to be anxious about the whole world which is avoided for the same reasons and on the same paths as your own philosophy, means to fall into an empty self-flattery. This is exactly what really must be feared, instead of alleged “suppression” of the lifeworld by speculative senses and by the “authority of keys” – a vicarial, sacred mission of philosophical truths.9 It is ridiculous to be frightened by pure ideas taken from the ore of life. They are pure in so far as they are faultless and safe. Pureness is a source of salutariness of any idea, a pledge of its sobriety and depth. It is not dangerous to be pure; it is dangerous to be false. The separation of thinking from irrational stratifications of life gives an essence to cognition – to a process the value of which for the world culture cannot be exaggerated. The search for truth is a sacred precept of human history, its major spiritual mover. This is an indisputable and even banal fact. Yet for this reason, according to Shestov, this very fact does not deserve the human reason’s trust. The philosopher answers:

As far as that goes, I again admit that the ideas an sich, which are absolutely bad to my taste, do not exist: I’m still capable now to watch with pleasure the development of the idea of progress, with factories, railways, balloons, etc. But nevertheless it seems to me a naivety to hope that all these knick-knacks (I speak about ideas) can become a subject of serious human searches. If that desperate struggle of man against the world and gods, which the legend and history narrates, is possible, it is enough to recollect, for instance, Prometheus. This is so certainly not because of truth and because of idea. A man wants to be strong, rich and free, a man wants to be a tsar in the world – just this miserable, worthless man created from ashes, which is right before your eyes as ruined as a worm by the first casual push – and if he speaks about ideas, this is only because he is disappointed about the success of his true task. He feels like a worm, he is afraid that he will once again turn into dust from which he was created, and he lies, pretending that his poverty is not frightful to him, if only the truth would be found out. Let us forgive him his lie…10

The lie, which common sense forgave, the philosopher did not forgive himself. He knew exactly what he did when he made up his mind to undertake a risky and the most unpromising and inexcusable enterprise according to sensible measures, namely to come out of a general game around judgment’s “validity,” to give up the image of the teacher of life, to stop hiding an inescapable fear of his own poverty behind the pious admiration of truth’s dignity and to expose his fear and sin. What is demanded immediately by mind is to look in the face of “groundlessness” and not to go blind, not to be horrified. What is demanded from a man is to begin to see clearly, after having understood how groundless is this requirement, how ridiculous the important look and how cynical the awe, with which we invariably perform our own compositions if we have received the assent of the common sense authorities. A man who makes up his mind to take this way (and this alone) should “be ready never to leave the labyrinth.”11 This is precisely what convinced Shestov that another, special “exit,” another, “spare” freedom does not exist. In a word, “to hell with underground!” (Dostoevsky)
As I said before, freedom of thinking was always appreciated by Shestov above its formal validity and consistency. This does not mean, however, that he simply turned the zone of self-evidences upside down or that he transformed truth from an object of logic cult into an object of mystical sacrifice. This zone is bottomless: the stream of transcriptions of the self-evident has no end and edge. In order to present it in the upturned mode it is necessary to take the plunge headfirst into it. The fall into an abyss will really seem then as an ascension to heavens. The truth contained in this general illusion is that in flight we shall not break our head: the temptation by cognition – the gravitation to truth – is strong as much as it is eternal. However, what is the truth here? Is it not too one-sided, if it is equalized with the “object” of cognition? And is it not necessary to be in order to see in it only a transcendent and anonymous Gnostic reality? To whom and to what its lesson’s possibility speaks of?
The opportunity of any lessons, any extractions from the past and the present speaks only of the existence of our thinking and life in the world, but says nothing about their contents – either about the truthfulness of our thoughts, or about the meaningfulness of our being. In other words, this opportunity keeps absolute silence about the reality of the world in which we live and reflect, a reality by which we are temporary and fully supported as casual, uninvited visitors who speak a foreign language, though we feel and behave completely as if we were at home, as if we were masters here. Yet the world paid us an unexpected visit, and so we are compelled “to stop everything” and to teach the stupid “object” our own and unique language – eternal laws of the good, the true and the beautiful, i.e. the Word of God, the Prose of things and the Poetry of cosmos. This deformation of our sensuality together with illusiveness of our practice is inevitable if we take lessons from the lifeworld time and again, but then we suddenly find out for ourselves, and try to prove to all, that the world “truly” is, as it seems, in accordance with our “foundations” and that, in its own essence, it can be reduced to the rational sum, to logic of “ideas” taken from it. We just cannot “find out” anything else, for the world seen in the zone of self-evidences is nothing but a zone turned upside down, where what is necessary is replaced by what is true, what is casual by what is false, and what is possible by what is conceivable – and the impossible by the unthinkable, the real by the rational, the unreal by fiction, the natural by the logical, the supernatural by the mystical, etc. – up to the final point in view of reason according to which the self-evident is nothing but the existing itself. When reason quarrels with mind, they only amuse one another: they will always find a common language. But what, in terms of “true knowledge,” we are talking about? Not only that we rationally attribute our own values to being, but we also still believe to have “a reasonable basis” to assert that anything else simply does not exist! It is not Shestov with his adogmatics that is “on that side of truth and falsehood,”12 but our trustful truthfulness, as well as European rhetoric. However, even this is not the point. The problem is not that the tree of knowledge is a myth (eventually, everyone should know this). The problem is that this myth corrupts life.
“For a living human being the ‘tree of knowledge’ is a threat to the dearest,”13 wrote Shestov. What is the basis of this deepest Shestov’s belief? In fact, freedom so praised by him turns to be a pure arbitrariness if it breaks with its substance – the intelligible necessity. The deformation of sensuality during cognition of the objective world should not confuse anybody. It is natural, it is a blessing, if this cognition promotes growth of rationality of our conceptions. Feelings only miss the true, necessary state of affairs, consideration of which is peculiar to human reason, as Spinoza taught. Reason is the highest instance of thought, a source of its pureness and salutariness. Under the influence of affects we all do foolish and nasty things. On the other hand, reason is innocent by its very nature: when we think, we “do not do” anything bad and dangerous. We just gently behold world around us, bearing the responsibility for the course of our subjective ideas, and not for the objective course of things. This feeling is quite ordinary and sensible. It did not even occur to us that, from the very beginning, it harbors in itself a sincere danger, that it is also a sort of thought for which it is necessary to be responsible, that “pure thoughts” are all, without exception, internal feelings rejected by us as causing trouble in the world (they are different modes of our belief, hope and love), and that cognition is a process of their realization in life and thus a creation of the lifeworld in no less degree than its restrained contemplation. To decline the responsibility for the lifeworld “objects” in our cognition means to lose human dignity. It makes a man nobody in the strict sense. It deprives him of any individuality, originality and uniqueness, and transforms him into something that perceives the world, into an one-dimensional abstract “I” not capable to rouse either love, or hatred. Simultaneously, this transcendental subject is by himself indifferent to another’s dignity: it does not matter to him at all which face, name and fate do we have and what is going on in our hearts. As if bewitched, he constantly turns his back on them and looks afar, to the horizon of Truth where there is no living soul, but only reasons and conclusions of nobody’s, autonomous, mythical Reason which promises good fortune of a general order to our life. Looking from his back, this subject still seems to be a human being – a conductor who knows the exit from the empire of lie and illusion. But if what has happened to heroes of terrible folk legends would happen also to us, if we manage, by some desperate cry from the heart, to force our conductor to respond and turn back, then we would shudder at a man, who determined the way for us and whom we so persistently and obediently followed. Instead of a face – disgrace: an egg, an emptiness, a chasm. It would be no wonder, if we take to our heels, cursing the “subject” and all his “truths” by the worst names. But what if he was waiting for it? What if he presented us with his terrible look and transformed us into himself thanks to our best intentions to offend his non-existent dignity with names of our non-being? There is nowhere (and from nobody) to run away here: the chasm itself is not dangerous, and the “ground” turns out to be a danger.
The deformation of sensuality that reaches the level at which we do not recognize ourselves anymore speaks not of the nature of reason, but of the nature of its cult. Nobody does sacrifice truth as easily as the one who “piously” serves it. And it does not matter whether this service is celebrated by the priest of mind or by the priest of reason. They are both – ourselves. And they both blindly trust their own eyes. But if the priest of mind is blind from his birth and just miserable in his attempts to pass off in contemplation, the priest of reason is blinded by himself and frightens those who do not “do” anything when they think they will never know what they do.
There is nothing more dangerous for the lifeworld than “to feel” in it like spectators, whereas, in practice, we are its creators: everything depends on us, including its “objective” creations and, in particular, the expansion of transcendental subjectivity. Deceiving feeling, reason deceives itself. Deceiving itself, it corrupts life: it makes legal in life all that is made by the soulless order-of-perceived-from-the- outside-necessity and for what nobody should and cannot bear the moral responsibility. It is too well-known what “Freedom” and what “Orders” have grown in 20th century on this lifeground poisoned by fertilizers of all ideas of Enlightenment rationalism that have lost their dissenting spirit and become “testimonies.” Only when such a ground is cultivated and proliferate, when truth that resists to the human subject becomes not only an abstract “fantasy” of philosophers, but also a quite concrete and aggressive reality of life which transforms people into real “phantasmagorias” (Shestov), it is not self-destructive, because it continues to build of itself the divine principle and, indulging its ambitions and fears, obstinately clings to itself and to such life as if it were a saving “ground.”
Does it not appear, then, that the point of reason’s honor is to cultivate its own “groundlessness” and, in self-evident threat to the truthfulness of our knowledge, to open “a basic, the most enviable privilege of divinity that is most incomprehensible to us”14 once and forever in it?
The cult of reason is a central one in a mythological cognitive practice, which amuses itself by illusion of a theoretical struggle against all myths. This struggle is illusory not because of its unsuccessfulness, but because of its senselessness: we do not serve to the truth at all by measuring the myth with its measures and thereby replacing it in our consciousness by our own fiction. The myth is replaceable only with another myth, i.e. with another wonderful legend that fascinates the imagination. Children very well know this. You will never swindle them with lessons and notations, and precisely here we should study them. It is to block the mouths of babes and sucklings to no purpose, when we describe in a pious way the “real” state of affairs which does not give opportunity to miracles – feats of Heracles or tricks of the charming Aphrodite. If our imagination is captured only by the most tedious and down-to-earth myths, myths about the myth itself, which we judge as a sin against the truth, this does not reveal the victory of Reason over the passion for creating myths, but only the scarcity of our quasi-scientific fantasy and the weakness of our everyday memory. Imagination can be captured only by the miraculous. The one who does not want to be charmed by the real world in considering the truth as a personal, animated and spiritualized reality, has no other choice but to be fooled by his own “world view”, i.e. by self-evidences, because the experience and the arguments of mind and reason prove as two and two that the truth is in opposition to the human subject and remains impersonal, inert and dead, even if we daub it the name of God.
One needs not to be Shestov, a man of “pitch-dark mind” (V. V. Rosanov), in order to make the same choice:

Jerusalem sees the last in God – that is why all the “immediate data of consciousness” do not seem to it as final truths. The Book of Revelation promises that the man will eat of the tree of life (Rev 2:7). It repeats Isaiah’s prophecy: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev 21:4). – “He will swallow up death in victory” (Isa 25:8). All this does coincide neither with our understanding, nor with the data of experience… Yet it is just here where the question of Truth’s sources takes its origin: are not reason and experience the real origins of Truth? Or else the fall of the first man in pursuit of knowledge blocked for us the source of Truth, and only redemption understood as destruction of knowledge (Luther’s version of redemption) will free us from sin and horrors of life and bring us to Truth?15

The only reason why a lie that opposes this living truth of revelation is not mythical is that it does not belong to the myth. And moreover – it is its curse. Of course, it is science that pronounces an anathema against the myth because of its “irrationality”, thereby ascertaining (not without self-satisfaction) its half-natural and half-forced “death.” Yet what is value of such a rational diagnosis, if it is presupposed by the detriment of our disciplined, sterilized sensuality and if we relate it only to the myth about Truth’s spirituality and freedom, while professing, on the same “obvious” basis, the myth about its objectivity and necessity in a selfless way and calling it “knowledge” without doubt?  
It may be that there is nobody in modern philosophy, who would attach such a great importance to the opposition of these myths, with exception of Shestov. But he was also fully aware that they oppose each other exactly as myths. In his view, they do not try to win over the blanket of “truthfulness.” They do not need it either as a blanket, or as a fig-leaf: they are clean in the face of the real, although they paint it in opposite colors. There is absolutely no need to mix them in order to see that they are essentially inseparable and complementary, i.e. in accord with each other as plot lines of one and the same miraculous story, which narrates to spite the obvious not about general “truth” and truth in general, but about man – both the true creator and the true creation. Truth is by itself beyond the realm of the myth. It is unconnected not only with the spirit and soul, but also with the body. When we add two apples to another two and thus get four, we do not deal with “truth” at all. We deal only with apples.
Surely, it can happen that we get not even this in the myth – and most certainly it proves true. This is exactly what troubles our enlightened consciousness, namely that the myth does not want to “know” anything and would reduce all the apples of the world to the one and only apple, turning it into the greatest devilish temptation, rather than to agree to count these apples “piece by piece” and “according to the rules.” The myth seems to be naïve to us, and a man who “thinks” in the face of its obligatory truths is considered an ignorant. The program of science, on the other hand, is to minimize thinking, to turn a situation, in which one has not to think but only to know what to say and to do, into a general situation of human existence. This situation bans not only childish whim, but also the very themes of mythological thinking. Even immortality of the soul – the only thing that can truly inspire man according to Dostoevsky and Shestov – does not seem to us worthy of a serious philosophical consideration in comparison with the objects of knowledge. The extent to which we have lost the art of thinking is demonstrated by the fact that even what is the most fragile, the most free and problematic in the world – the order of our own thinking – seems to be the order of inanimate things that is anonymous, natural and necessary. Meanwhile, it would be enough to think over the only mythological topic which is still not prohibited by science, the topic of the caducity of any flash, in order to admit, in total accord with the evolutionary theory, that “anything can originate from anything whatsoever, that A can be unequal to A,”16 just as I can be unequal to I. And if Logos, as it was taught by philosophers from time immemorial, rules the world, it does it by looking circumspectly at Mythos which begot it, i.e. – in the eyes of common sense – exactly at “anything whatsoever.” This begetting did not take place “once upon a time,” not some time in general – this is the way how the begetting takes place in fairy-tales. It also did not take place “once and forever,” sub specie aeternitatis – this is the way only the stupidities which nobody can correct or “gods of philosophers” (B. Pascal) with whom nobody argues are begotten. This begetting takes place each time and each time in the shortest instant of that spontaneous spiritual initiation, emotional revelation or existential shock, in which narratives cease to put us to sleep. It turns out that the preservation of the self and the feeling of reality, in putting upside-down-turned mythological horizons endlessly into the everyday world, are vitally problematic. In other words, it happens against our will, but at our own risk, that the myth begins to speak of our being and that we have to stop keeping silence, if nobody around us (and especially those who imagine themselves to be half-gods) wants to see this. In this way even reason with its victorious apocalyptic “from Myth to Logos” is out of business. This is the only human exception from divine rule: Logos cannot originate from “anything whatsoever.”
We are troubled by the reality of the impossible which is versified by the myth. Yet is it not so that, in the sober forgetfulness of it, we forget ourselves? Are we gods, for whom everything is possible and who have no need either for common sense, or for counting? Are we stones in which freedom of being coincides with freedom of rest and fall? What is the use of the total soberness of our knowledge if it totally intoxicates our thought? The guaranteed truthfulness of impersonal knowledge demonstrates not the mortality of myth, but the mortal danger of thoughtless treatment of it. It is exactly truth as a universal attribute of knowledge which is, according to Shestov, a lie that blocks the way to truth as a living substance of revelation, as a reality of free, personal, solely existent thinking.
This way has the only sense: to free the thought from the burden of non-being in the face of knowledge by reviving the gift of God, the miracle of thinking as creation of impossible. This does not require the “revival” of myth. Our consciousness is mythologized enough even without that. We made the school truth of equality of the impossible and the unthinkable into the law of thinking, which turned out to be more fundamental than Aristotle’s “dialectical law of equality” long ago. And it was long ago that we turned Aristotle himself, as well as Spinoza, into a fool (at Hegel’s court) who held the equality of the necessary and the sensible (and the knowable) to be a theoretical maxim. In other words, considering things as necessary, Aristotle did not see the natural inclination of mind, with the inevitability of which we simply have to deal, but the creative principle, which has to guide us in cognition and which supposedly was followed by the philosopher himself, who “found” in the world exactly the same as any sane fool. Teaching of this absurd maxim is in the compulsory program of all schools that deal with quasi-scientific “purification” of living thinking: in the program of primary “school of common sense” in which our soul is sterilized and depreciated under the guise of fighting against imprudence, and in the program of “high school of knowledge” in which our spirit is sterilized and depreciated under the pretence of fighting with mythmaking.
Shestov himself gave a full account of the inevitability of this two-sided sterilization which is provided by the equality of universal school maxima and the natural inclination of mind to present the world in the light of necessity. Nevertheless, he was also aware that to give in to the inevitable means is not to show “wisdom,” but stubborn idolatry. You need not think too much in order to give in to the mechanical gravitation of the school order of thinking and to demonstrate once again that its grip is deadly in the straight sense of the word – it robs our sinful souls and exhales the blessed spirit from us. Yet can we do without thinking on our own? Is not thinking “necessary” for the only reason that it is capable to lift us over the routine of being and to make the most improbable things possible? After all it is a miracle – to overcome the impossible, our own nature, not by understanding what is “peculiar” to all of us in it and in ourselves and everywhere, but what goes contrary to our natural self-satisfied capacity to see in everything what is due to see, and in every existence the emanation of impersonal entity that only hides itself behind the school mask of the “object of cognition” and remains a free, stirring and incomprehensible being, even if we know all necessity that resides in it. If the impossible is required in order to approach the living origin of revelation, the mystery of Creator in the self and in the world, then this requirement must be met without making helpless gestures, referring to the authority of the childish horror stories – to the godless and unthinkable nature of the impossible crammed in school myths about unreality. If paradise is lost forever and if our God is dead, it is only because we do not stop to dig the grave for our miraculous gift – the grave of our truths which are irreproachably absurd in their “total necessity.”
Only in overcoming the magical forces of gravitation of ground, only in cognition of the freedom of flight there is a real life and a real dignity of thinking. If we want to understand this divine vocation of man, we have no need to refer to the word of God. The main thing is not that “the apotheosis of groundlessness hides in itself the absolute ground of Old Testament revelation.”17 “The main thing is to learn to think that if people […] were sure that there is no God, this would mean nothing. And if it were possible to prove as two and two that there is no God, it would still mean nothing. Some would say that you cannot demand this from man. Of course not! Yet it is God that always demands the impossible from us.”18
Did Shestov himself meet this requirement? Was he capable to follow his philosophical way up to the very end, “to open God’s world, in which one could really live and die, for himself and for everybody?”19 However, these questions themselves are more foolish than the answers “yes” and “no” if we relate them to the general consideration of his work. Only God knows the answer (which depends on our belief or disbelief in His existence), for nobody else can know our souls. Only the souls, and not Shestov’s “texts,” will answer whether his hopeless and immortal work succeeded. Whether or not we were capable to reply to his philosophical apotheosis in the same way as he himself replied to the violent speeches of Jove and Plotinus.
Die glühende russische Erde – with this he remained in the memory of his followers (L. Zimni). It is an idle question whether the fire of the earth would outweigh the “sand of the sea.” We must finally take a stand with regard to a different thing: “how long still” – how long still it will burn? Or smoulder, namely as weighted, casual and, so to say, well-tempered bitterness in the mouth? Do we have anything what we could clearly say as an answer to the call of this name – “burning Russian land?”

1     For this estimation of Apotheosis of Groundlesness by J. Ajhenvald see B. Fondane, Rencontres avec Leon Chestov, Paris 1982, p. 66.
2     L. Shestov, Apofeoz bespočvennosti, Sankt-Peterburg 1990, p. 54.
3     Op. cit., p. 35.
4     Op.cit., p. 172-173. – Cf. L. Shestov, Načala i konci, Sobr. soč. 5, Sankt-Peterburg 1911, p. 193-197.
5 About the metaphysical sense of  vsemstvo see L. Shestov, Na vesah Iova, Paris 1975, p. 25-93.
6     L. Shestov, Apofeoz bespočvennosti, p. 35-36.
7     L. Shestov, Na vesah Iova, p. 154.
8     L. Shestov, In Job’s Balances. On the Sources of the Eternal Truths, Paris 1975, p. 235.
9     See L. Shestov, Vlast ključej (Potestas Clavium), Berlin 1923.
10     L. Shestov, Načala i konci, p. 192.
11     L. Shestov, Apofeoz bespočvennosti, p. 59.
12     Ibid., p. 178.
13      N. Baranova-Shestova, Žizn Leva Shestova, t. 2, Paris 1982, p. 193.
14     L. Shestov, Na vesah Iova, p. 213.
15     A note of Shestov from the archive of A. Lazarev; see N. Baranova-Shestova, Žizn Leva Shestova, t. 2, p. 212.
16     L. Shestov, Apofeoz bespočvennosti, p. 109.
17     The letter of the father S. Bulgakov to Shestov of the 22th of October 1938, N. Baranova-Shestova, Žizn Leva Shestova, t. 2, p. 192.
18     L. Shestov, Afini i Ierusalim, p. 269.
19     The letter of E. Husserl to Shestov of the 3rd of July 1929; see N. Baranova-Shestova, Žizn Leva Shestova, t. 2., p. 331.