Solzhenitsyn and the Ineffable

Today, some reflections on selections Solzenitsyn’s Nobel Speech.

“Not everything assumes a name. Some things lead beyond words.  Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience. Through art we are sometimes visited – dimly, briefly – by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking.”

This is, I think, why art is so often considered ‘indefinable’; it leads beyond words, beyond the ‘finis’, the limits of which language naturally serves to impose (and helpfully so).  One might say art is, by definition, that which goes beyond its definition. It is certainly human creation, human creativity, seeing that which is new. In this sense, in the same way an economic exchange creates a value that was not there previously and thus brings wealth into the world, art is the expansion of the human consciousness, which necessarily cannot be pinned down very easily by consciousness. Art is transcendent of the now, which is why it leads the heart to God; it takes the person out of himself, to ‘out there’.  It should be no surprise to us that the encounter with God at the End is called the Beatific Vision.

Solzhenitsyn continues:

“Like that little looking glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see – not yourself – but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly.  And only the soul gives a groan…”                           

At the end of his life, St. Thomas Aquinas had a mystical experience that made him respond that all his immense philosophical work was ‘so much straw’.  I like to think that at this moment, he had moved beyond ‘philosopher’ to ‘artist’, from understanding to seeing. I think aesthetic experience, on the part of an audience, but especially on the part of the Artist, is similar to St. Thomas’ experience, like a small pulling back of the veil. When the veil is replaced, the Artist strives to incarnate, to ‘explicitize’, that more-than-language he experienced. But the result, if successful, is only ever partially ‘successful’, for it always points to more than it appears. And in this regard, the linguistic faculty of man is always frustrated, always teased, always invited to contemplate its own limits (cf. Yahweh’s speech to Job, especially the first line: Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said: Who is this that wraps up sentences in unskilful words?”). Art is a metaphysical flirt, never landing, always about to.

“There is, however, a certain particularity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender.”


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