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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dostoevsky Disciple Brings Obsession to Life

Tomorrow marks the 78th anniversary of the death of Vasily Rozanov, one of the quintessential figures of Russian culture. And it seems especially appropriate to remember him on this day because he once wrote that death is "to, posle chego nichto ne interesno," or that after which nothing is interesting.


Rozanov is one of those great, gloomy paradoxes of Russian culture. He was a politically arch-conservative anti-Semite, who also wrote pseudonymously for some of imperial Russia's most revolutionary papers. Throughout the tempestuous years of the beginning of the century, he wrote mostly about taboo subjects such as sex and homosexuality.


Rozanov may also have been the greatest fan of Fyodor Dostoevsky who ever lived, not only because his 1891 essay "Legenda Velikogo Inkvisitora" ("The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor") marks the beginning of the thoughtful study of Dostoevsky. In 1880, Rozanov went so far as to marry the great love of Dostoevsky's life, Apollonaria Suslova, a psychotically embittered woman 14 years his senior. She, in true Dostoevskian fashion, proceeded to make the rest of Rozanov's life a living hell, refusing to grant him a divorce -- even after they had been separated for many years and he had several children with another woman.


But Rozanov will live forever in Russian culture for his three great books: "Uyedinyonnoye" ("Solitaria"), "Upavshiye List'ya" ("Fallen Leaves") and "Upavshiye List'ya, Korobka Vtoraya" ("Fallen Leaves, a Second Basket"). These eccentrically brilliant, formless collections of random thoughts, jotted down on cigarette paper and napkins, shaped the direction of Russian literature. Writers like Danil Kharms, Andrei Sinyavsky and Eduard Limonov sprang directly from these books. These three volumes epitomize the illogical, intimate and incredibly profound paths of Russian thought at its best.


"Dusha ozyabla. ... Strashno, kogda nastupayet oznob dushi," wrote Rozanov just before his death. "My soul is chilled. ... It is terrifying when the shivering of the soul begins." Elsewhere he defined books simply as "byt' vmeste," or being together. Like no other author, he achieved this intimacy in his own works.


When Rozanov died on Feb. 5, 1919, Soviet writer Maxim Gorky noted that he was brilliant, but dalyok i chuzhd narody -- he was isolated and estranged from the people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 1989 or so, Vasily Rozanov has been one of the most frequently republished pre-Soviet writers.


On Rozanov's tombstone appear these words from one of his books: "Mozhet byt', my vsyu zhizn' zhivyom, chtoby zasluzhit' mogilu," meaning perhaps we live our whole lives merely to deserve the grave. Think about it.