Shestov's Poetical Philosophy

David B. Polet, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Lev Shestov's importance as a philosopher, from the Western perspective, is often overshadowed by such renown thinkers as Solov'ev and Berdjaev. Perhaps Western neglect of Shestov stems from his unique type of philosophy, namely apophatic philosophy. His philosophy, often perceived as a negation of rationality and its uses, actually undercuts the constructive, positive types of philosophy. Despite its negative orientation, Shestov's works have left a strong imprint upon Russian culture. Iosif Brodskij, in his collection of essays Less Than One, acknowledges that he was indebted to Lev Shestov for helping to form his poetical vision.

Instead of approaching Shestov as an anti-rationalistic philosopher, I will approach Shestov from the perspective of literary criticism and his contribution to literature, both as a critic and as a writer. Looking at Shestov from this angle, a more positive and creative view of the poet, or philosopher as writer, emerges.

In looking at Shestov's literary analyses, we will specifically address his understanding of language and the importance of language in the creative process. Language will be seen as an approximation of a revelatory experience, an experience which is likened to the inspirational experience of poets. In this regard, we will turn to Pushkin and how Shestov evaluates his poetical genius. In Pushkin, Shestov sees someone who does not limit himself to moderating experience, but embraces even the dangers of inspiration. Pushkin ultimately serves as a model for how literature is to be done, and how he (Shestov) similarly creates his literary texts of philosophy from the original experience of faith. By focusing on Shestov as a literary critic, we begin to see how his philosophy should be seen not as Christian hyperfideism, but as a literary interpretation of revelation and its creative impulse through the believer. Hence, the way in which he writes should be seen not as philosophy proper, but as a literary manifestation of his philosophical orientation.

To this end, I propose to contrast Shestov to Solov'ev regarding the work of Pushkin. What will be shown is that Shestov's embracing of Pushkin's genius not only differentiates his attitude toward the role of philosophy from that which is done by Solov'ev and others, but also indicates the way in which philosophy can be seen as a literary genre in and of itself.