(5 of 8)
But what is really at issue here? The word anti-Semitism is often used thoughtlessly and carelessly, and its actual meaning becomes soft and squishy. I would propose the following definition: anti-Semitism is a prejudiced and unjust attitude toward the Jewish nation as a whole. If one accepts this definition, it becomes clear that not only is there no anti-Semitism in August 1914 but it would be impossible to have anti-Semitism in any genuinely artistic work. No real artist could be prejudiced and unjust toward any entire nation without destroying the artistic integrity of his entire work. A work of art is always multidimensional, is never made up of empty abstractions.
My novel has no generalizations about the Jewish nation in it. In writing a book one cannot always ask, How will this be interpreted? You have to think, What actually happened? My duty was to describe things as they happened.
Q. Do you believe the completed Red Wheel will be published some day in the Soviet Union?
A. I have no doubt about that.
Q. You have said your writings must return to the Soviet Union before you are willing to do so.
A. Yes. I worked 53 years on The Red Wheel. Everything I have thought, discovered and worked over in my mind has gone into it. If I had to return to the Soviet Union prior to The Red Wheel, I would be sort of mute. No one would know where I stood. I would have expressed nothing. Once people read it, then we can talk. The book has to be available at every bookstore in the U.S.S.R.
But more generally, my return does not depend only on me. The Soviet authorities have never yet rescinded the charge of treason that was lodged against me. There, I am considered subject to criminal sanctions for betraying my own country.
((Natalya Solzhenitsyn interjects:)) The day before he was exiled, he was formally accused of treason. Nobody has ever changed this.
((Solzhenitsyn continues:)) And then, instead of maybe shooting me, they exiled me.
Q. You have said you are a writer in the 19th century Russian tradition. What do you mean by this?
A. It does not mean following precisely the genres and the artistic techniques of the period. Far from it. My material is entirely unusual and requires its own genres and its own technique. But it does mean maintaining the responsibility toward the reader, toward one's own country and toward oneself, which was found in Russian 19th century literature. They wrote very responsibly. They did not play games.
Q. The American novelist Henry James once described Russian novels as "huge, loose, baggy monsters." Your own Red Wheel epic will result in several thousand pages, many times larger in fact than War and Peace. Is there something about the Russian condition and Russian literature that asks for much greater length in the novel than is usual in other countries?
A. Mine is indeed very large, I admit. There is an aphorism: He who forgets his own history is condemned to repeat it. If we don't know our own history, we will simply have to endure all the same mistakes, sacrifices and absurdities all over again. This book is not designed to be read through easily, for amusement, but to understand our history. And to understand our history, I feel that my readers definitely need this book.