Beauty Will Save the World

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Featured in Mountain Record 24.2, Winter 2006


Like that bewildered savage who has picked up a strange object… perhaps something thrown up by the sea, perhaps disinterred from the sands or dropped from the heavens…an object intricate in its convolutions, which shines first with a dull glow and then with a bright shaft of light…who keeps turning it over and over in his hands in an effort to find some way of putting it to use, seeking some humble function for it, which is within his limited grasp, never conceiving of a higher purpose…

So we, too, holding art in our hands vaingloriously considering ourselves to be its master, undertake brazenly to give it direction, to renovate it, reform it, to issue manifestoes about it, to sell it for money. We use it to play up to those who possess power. We employ it at times for amusement—even in music-hall songs and night clubs—and also at times, grabbing hold of it however we can, for transient and limited political and social needs. But art is not desecrated by our carryings-on. It does not lose sight of its own origins because of them. And each time and in each mode of use it sheds on us a portion of its secret inner light.

 

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But can we embrace all that light? Who is there so bold as to proclaim that he has defined art? That he has enumerated all its facets? Yet perhaps in ages past someone did comprehend and define it for us, but we grew impatient: we listened in passing and paid no heed and discarded it immediately in our eternal haste to replace even the very best with something else just because it is new! And then later on, when what is old is restated, we forgot that we heard it before.