Lev Šestov: ‘duality’ in life and thought at the time of the rift of the socio-cultural paradigm

Tabachnikova, Olga orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2622-6713 (2019) Lev Šestov: ‘duality’ in life and thought at the time of the rift of the socio-cultural paradigm. Studi Slavistici, XVI (1). pp. 177-201. ISSN 1824-761X

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.13128/Studi_Slavis-22709


Russian-Jewish religious thinker Lev Šestov (1866-1938) is often regarded as a precursor of European existentialism. At the same time, his „philosophy of tragedy“ is also assigned to Irrationalism, and Albert Camus characterised Shestov as a „new man of the Absurd“.
Since perestrojka, Šestov's writings, within the legacy of the Russian Silver Age more generally, have come back from obscurity, and their popularity continues to rise. This is due in particular to a prophetic, supertemporal character of Shestov's thought. However, with all the tragic nature of Shestov's philosophy, focused on the border-line situations between life and death (typical for the Silver Age as a whole), one cannot help noticing a border-line of a different kind, both in Shestov's life and thought.
Thus Shestov was always torn between diverse, often incompatible spheres: his humanities studies on the one hand, and the need to be closely involved in his father's textile business, on the other; between his belonging to Russian culture, and his Jewish roots; between literary criticism, and philosophy per se. His very thought can be regarded as operating on two different levels (what Viktor Erofeev labelled as 'night-time' and 'day-time' sight of the philosopher).
In the socio-political sphere, Shestov quickly realised the incompatibility of his aspirations as a philosopher and the Bolsheviks' agenda, and emigrated. In 1920, at the dawn of his emigre life, he produced a prophetic anti-Soviet brochure "What is (Russian) Bolshevism", and yet, later on - in the 1930s, - he displayed a certain myopia, not having spotted the threat of the rising fascism in Europe.
In this paper, the above duality in Shestov's life and thought is analysed in the context of the socio-political and cultural rift of 1917. In particular, we investigate in which way Shestov's perception of the era of the revolutionary changes is predicated on this duality, and attempt to see if there is a reverse connection here. This is to say, we wish to understand what impact, if any, the shift in the socio-cultural paradigm had had on Shestov's life and thought.

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