Monday, October 8, 2012

Showing Little Interest in Life

    It has been said that life is a series of one challenge after another.  There may be periods when the challenges are not as frequent, but they exist nonetheless. Some people are able to deal with these challenges as though they were not very important and there are those who reach a point in their lives when these challenges overwhelm them so much that they give up.

   Some people believe that no matter how difficult today is; tomorrow will be a better day.  This sense of optimism is what inspires them to keep going.  You will often hear such people use pietistic phrases like, “it is always darkest before the dawn” or “every cloud has a silver lining” as a way of reassuring themselves that everything will be alright and, perhaps, even offer some sort of encouragement to others.

   However, there are those who say, “The light at the end of the tunnel is not freedom, but the headlight of an oncoming train”.  Such people would normally ignore the pious platitudes of an eternal optimist. I would consider myself to be a rather pessimistic person. I am rather fond of Woody Allen’s phrase, “I believe the glass is half full; however, it is full of poison.”  I realize that I am not alone in regard to being a pessimist, but I also realize it is not easy to be around such pessimism for long periods of time.

   This issue of pessimism was dealt with satirically by Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov (1812-1891) in his most famous novel, Oblomov. which first appeared in 1859 and for which its author was highly praised by such notable authors as Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) and Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). 

   Goncharov portrayed his famous character sympathetically, although Oblomov became the personification of the idle nobility or more widely, the national psyche IIya Ilyich Oblomov spends his time in bed, comfortably in his dressing gown of Persian cloth - "a real oriental dressing-gown, without the slightest hint of Europe" and argues wearily with his morose, drinking manservant, Zakhar, who thinks that fleas, lice, and other vermin are a natural part of life.

   Incapable of occupying himself with practical matters, Oblomov is cheated by his financial adviser and his country estate slides into ruin. Shtoltz, his friend, half-German by birth, is a completely different character.  He is a determined, learned, and successful businessman. Oblomov's great love is Olga, but he puts off marrying her too many times and finally loses her to his more pragmatic friend. Eventually Oblomov marries Agafia Pshenitsina, a widow. They have a son, and when Oblomov dies, Shtoltz adopts him. Oblomov is a daydreamer, he has great visions, but he has lost his ability for doing things.  Shtoltz calls him a poet. "The trouble is that no redeeming fires have ever burnt in my life," he confesses to Shtolts. "My life began by flickering out."

   In the novel Oblomov is trying to get out of the bed, but within nearly the two hundred pages he barely manages to move from his bed to a chair. From this figure derives the Russian term oblomovshchina, meaning backwardness or inertia. In modern Western literature, Oblomov is said to have inspired Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot.1

   This novel was not written as a comedy, but gives the reader insight into the mindset of some members of the 19th century Russian aristocracy by creating a character who exhibits the combined traits of many people at that time. As a superfluous man, Oblomov is part of a gallery of great Russian fictional creations, which includes Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Mikhail Lermontov's Pechorin, and Ivan Turgenev's Rudin.2

   As someone who has a strongly pessimistic nature, I can empathize with Oblomov. There are many people who believe that laziness is an acceptable option and others who see no point in accomplishing anything.  I find virtue in educating others and make it a point to not pass my pessimism on to others.  

    It is possible to show little interest in life from time to time, but I would not recommend it as a steady diet.  There are some who will read this who might find my pessimistic outlook to be rather surprising since this is not part of their experience of knowing me, but it is true.  If you are an optimist you realize that everything that will be fine over time.  If you are a pessimist, I encourage you to keep going because the alternative is not healthy for you or those around you.

                                                            End Notes

    1) “Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov (1812-1891)” (accessed 10/8/12)

    2) “Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov Biography” (accessed 10/8/12)

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