My latest, a review of Foldenyi's collection of essays Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts Into Tears, for the Washington Examiner magazine:
This is, essentially, a book about outcasts and the exiled. It argues on behalf of experiences that struggle to be articulated in a society bent on eliminating any emotions that could “endanger its optimism.” Foldenyi echoes other contemporary cultural critics, most notably the German Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han, in arguing that we suffer from an excess of positivity that severs us from the full range of human experience. In trying to save ourselves from any pain or negativity, we also miss out on the meaning they allow us to access. For instance, the desacralization of the human body, its reduction “to material, to its bones, muscles, guts, flesh, blood, skin,” prevents us from experiencing our bodies spiritually. We might tell ourselves that this reduction is a sort of freedom — that unlike the superstitious people of the past, we are liberated to use our bodies as we see fit, whether for pleasure or for health. But, Foldenyi warns, the cost of this freedom is meaningless, fragmented nihilism.
The strongest essay in the collection shares the blistering title of the book. It is a work of intellectual speculation: Guessing that Fyodor Dostoyevsky, while exiled in Siberia, must have read G.W.F. Hegel’s lectures on history, in which Hegel pronounced that Siberia (as well as Africa) lay outside of historical significance, Foldenyi imaginatively recreates Dostoyevsky’s reaction. Already in physical exile, Dostoyevsky might have felt intellectually exiled by Hegel’s words. He might have felt compelled to rage against the “secularized concept of history” popularized by Hegel and other leading thinkers of the 19th century, which “suggests suffering — here, in this earthly existence — might be eliminated.” In what Foldenyi sees as Hegel’s delusional rush to systematize history into something we can understand, some of the most vital human experiences, including terror, love, redemption, and divine wisdom, must be passed over in silence. Hegel, Foldenyi writes, “obeys one of the fundamental laws of modern civilization: to eliminate suffering from life, accomplishing this even at the price of the most appalling suffering. Hegel does not try to comprehend the Africa ... within his own soul.”
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