Chekhov: Against Ideology, In Favor of Bathing

This, in the New Criterion, is an excellent read: Chekhov comes off as one of the noble pagans, a stoic who can see to the edge of this world; who refuses to be dazzled by false lights even if he can’t see by the true.  He knows that he needs a gospel, a “big idea,” but sees that every ideology, every scheme of social meliorism, every political system, has feet of clay.  He somehow missed the one that didn’t…

People like this live with a hollow in their chests, a craving for purpose, and they refuse to buy any of the false purposes on offer.  Chekhov, by the account of this article, recognized as good all the subordinate Book-of-Proverbs type goods in life: punctuality, cleanliness, orderliness, honesty, hard and wise work for one’s family, fidelity, decency.  He knew them not to be ultimate, but he instinctively flinched away from the boho worldview that disdained them.   He is precisely in the position of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. He has a crisp view of the good of what might be called Old Testament bourgeois life, contra the decadence and faddish politics (which, here, are nineteenth century versions of pagan cults).  But he is not in covenant with God, and he feels that craving for covenant, that craving for context and cleansing and love and rescue-into-the-larger-reality that comes with knowing Him.

Well, according to the article, anyway.  I will bow to Chekhov’s own love of honesty and cop to never having read him.  May have to rectify that.

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