Morson, Gary Saul. 'Living Outside of Time'. The New York Review of Books, vol. LLX, no. 1, January 19, 2023, pp. 48-50.
- For Vodolazkin, utopianism characterizes 'the modern mind', which misunderstands the relation of human life to time and history.
- Because utopian thinking places the highest value on the remote future, Bakhtin explained, the near future of the present moment 'is drained and bled of its substance.'
- What's more, the myth of inevitable progress, Vodolazkin writes in his essay 'At Lenin's Tomb', substitutes the calendar for real thinking: 'History, to the modern mind, has a goal and follows the path of progress, so that new becomes identified with better'.
- That is why some people refute ideas by saying they belong to the past, as if anything people think now must be superior to anything anyone thought before.
- We must change our understanding of time, Vodolazkin believes, and that is what his novels try to accomplish.
What is the Alternative?
- For Vodolazkin it is a contemporary version of the medieval understanding of time.
- He foresees the coming of a new Middle Ages, by which he means not a return to old social forms but a society that has changed its fundamental understanding of temporality.
- Historians in the Middle Ages explained events not through causation or as a part of a continuous unfolding narrative, but discretely and in relation to their moral significance.
- They explained the world vertically, with respect to higher meaning, rather than horizontally, as we would.
- They did so not to excuse present social evils but to endow daily life with universal significance.
Being a mosaic does not necessarily mean scattering into pieces. When those pieces are viewed from above, one sees that there is something important in each of them. They are connected not as a causal sequence, but by their relation to God and your aspiration for him.
Time as we usually understand it is an illusion; events in a different time are no different from those in a different space.
For Vodolazkin, that means they are quasi-simultaneous and may resemble two mirrors reflecting each other infinitely.
Empathy, Mercy, Justice
We can look forward to what Vodolazkin calls a new 'concentration', which will entail 'inner strengthening and social reconsolidating'.
By focusing on their unique souls, people will try, and occasionally succeed, in overcoming their focus on mere self.
In Vodolazkin's novels, the deepest moments of self-understanding occur when an empathic hero enters into the souls of others.
Looking into whole individuals as opposed to outward, at external world, of machines
In the age of concentration, as Vodolazkin foresees it, people will prize such empathy above all.
'They key conceptual pair is justice and mercy,' Vodolazkin has observed, 'where mercy is higher than justice.'
Literature will lead the way, because when readers of fiction identify with characters unlike themselves, they practice empathy.
'The experience we receive from reading books,' Vodolazkin observes, 'is also our experience.'