Herois de novel·la representants del nostre temps

Herois, homes sobrers, miserables i intel·lectuals. Dostoievski, Crim i càstig

Peterburg en la dècada de 1860: l’home nou al carrer

The 1860s are a watershed in Russian history. The decisive event is Alexander’s II’s edict of February 19, 1861, freeing the serfs. Politically and culturally, however, the 1860s can be said to have begun a few years earlier, at the start of Alexander’s reign, when after the disaster of the Crimean War it became universally clear that Russia would have to go through radical changes. Alexander’s early years were marked by a significant liberalization of culture, a new openness in public discussion, and a great ferment of expectation and hope, building up to February 19. But the emancipation decree produced bitter fruits. It was observed very quickly that the peasants remained shackled to their lords, received even less land than they had been allotted before, incurred a whole new network of obligations to their village communes, and in effect found themselves free in name only. But beyond these and other substantive flaws in the emancipation decree, a pervasive sense of disappointment filled the air. So many Russians had hoped fervently that emancipation would usher in an age of brotherhood and social regeneration and make Russia a beacon for the modern world, a modified but basically unchanged caste society was what they got instead. The hopes were unrealistic —it is easy to see this a century afterward. But the bitterness that followed the failure of these hopes was decisive in shaping Russian culture and politics for the next fifty years. The 1860s are notable for the emergence of a new generation and a new style of intellectuals: the raznochintsy, “men of various origins and classes”, the administrative term for all Russians who did not belong to the nobility or gentry. This term is more or less equivalent to the French pre-revolutionary Third Estate; it is a measure of Russia’s backwardness that the members of this estate—which, of course, included the vast majority of Russians—did not appear as historical actors until this point. When the raznochintsy do appear—sons of army sergeants, of tailors, of village priests, of copyists clerks—they burst on the scene with agressive stridency. They take pride in their plain-spoken vulgarity, their lack of social graces, their contempt for everything genteel. The most memoral portrait of the “new man” of the 1860s is Bazarov, the young medical student.

In Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, Bazarov pours scornful invective on all poetry, art and morality, on all existing beliefs and institutions; he spends his time and energy studying mathematics and dissecting frogs. It is in his honor that Turgenev coins the word “nihilism”. In fact, Bazarov’s negativity, and that of the 1860s generation, is limited and selective: “the new men” tend, for instance, to adopt an uncritically “positive” attitude toward supposedly scientific and rational modes of thought and life. Nevertheless, the plebeian intellectuals of the 1860s make a traumatic break with the cultivated liberal humanism that characterized the gentry intellectuals of the 1840s. Their break may be more in behavior than in beliefs: the “men of the sixties” are determined to undertake decisive action, and glad to bring on themselves and their society and embarrassment, heartache and trouble that action may entail.

Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. The experience of modernity, Verso, London-New York, 1983 (1982), pp. 212-214

Darrera actualització de dimecres, 10 de febrer de 2010 00:37