Writing Matters

This much the outsider can make out. He looks at the harrowing of Pushkin, at Gogol’s despair, at Dostoevsky’s term in Siberia, at Tolstoy’s volcanic struggle against censorship, or at the long catalogue of the murdered and missing which makes up the record of twentieth century Russian literary achievement, and he will grasp the underlying mechanism. The Russian writer matters enormously. He matters far more than his counterpart in the bored and tolerant West. Often the whole of Russian consciousness seems to turn on his poem. In exchange, he threads his way through a cunning hell.

–George Steiner, “Under Eastern Eyes,” in his At the New Yorker

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