“There is a vast space between ‘God’ and ‘Godless'”

  ”Notes of Chekhov” (hereinafter referred to as “Notes”) is Chekhov’s book and also Mr. Jia Zhifang’s book. This is not only because Mr. Jia is the translator of “Notes”, but also because of the connection between the book and the translator’s emotion and life. In the third year after the 1953 translation was first published by the Cultural Work Society, Jia Zhifang was imprisoned for the “Hu Feng Incident”. More than 20 years later, the wrongful case was rehabilitated. He happened to see this translation from the library. “It was like meeting a long-lost relative on the street. Tears of an old man welled up in my eyes.” The original intention of Jia Zhifang to translate this book was based on his love for the Russian writer and the inspiration he gave him on the road of life. Strength, as Jia Zhifang put it, made him “live like a person” (“New Edition Inscription”).
  ”Notes” includes fragmentary records of Chekhov’s observation, reading and thinking in his daily life from 1892 to the year of his death, some of which became the basis for the plot and characters of his later works. The other part is his diary from 1896 to 1904. In the 1980s, the new edition of “Notes” added the “Addendum” translated by Jiang Liyang. The book also appends texts written by Chekhov and his wife Olga Keibir (also translated as Olga Knibir) about Chekhov’s deathbed, and his brother’s book “Chekhov and His Holiness”. Themes in his work”. “The Chronicle of Chekhov” was written by Jia Zhifang in the early 1950s, and there are traces of the ideological trend of that period; and “My Three Friends” is about the publication and reprint of this translation. For researchers of Chekhov and Russian literature, the “Notes” is naturally an important material. For ordinary readers, it is not only a way to understand the writer’s thought and art, but it is also a book of wisdom and wisdom worth reading. A collection of humorous miscellaneous essays.
  Chekhov had his unique pursuit of life and art, and his ideals and ideological principles, but as many contemporaries and later commentators said, he was a humble person by nature. After writing such works as “The Prairie” and “Named Days,” in his letter to Tchaikovsky, he listed himself at number ninety-eight on a list headed by Tolstoy. Thomas Mann said that, until the end of his life, he never assumed the air of a literary giant, let alone that of a philosophical or Tolstoy prophet; The lack of evaluation of my husband, in my opinion, is inseparable from his extreme calm, critical and skeptical attitude towards himself, his dissatisfaction with his work, and, to put it simply, his humility.” . Ilya Ehrenburg also has a similar comment, saying that Chekhov constantly corrects his shortcomings, but “he does not have to fight with pride”, “he escapes glory” (“Rereading Chekhov”, translated by Tong Daoming). In 1900, four years before his death, in a conversation with Bunin, he somewhat sadly predicted that his work would be read for another seven years. He has written almost nothing devoted to literary issues, nor has he written about his own creations. The “Chekhov Essays” (translated by Ru Long) we see now mainly includes the letters he wrote to his relatives and friends, as well as the speech fragments recalled by his contemporaries. Such details are recorded in “Notes”. At a gathering at a friend’s house, someone suddenly raised a glass to salute him with a solemn expression: “In our era when our ideals have become bleak… You broadcast wisdom, an immortal career. Hearing these compliments, Chekhov’s reaction at the time was: “I think I was covered with something, but now I have been removed and a pistol is aimed at.”
  Chekhov died in Badenweiler, Germany, in July 1904. Fifteen years his junior, Thomas Mann, who had just started literary writing, recalls thinking too hard and couldn’t remember what the news of the writer’s death had left on him. Although German newspapers carried the news, and many people wrote about Chekhov, they “hardly shocked me” and were absolutely unaware of the great loss suffered by Russian and world literature. This feeling of Thomas Mann is representative. Chekhov is not the kind of writer who can cause shocking effects. He never wrote epic masterpieces, and he did not show the “heroic” tenacity in writing like Tolstoy and Balzac. But as Thomas Mann put it, although his oeuvre was a renunciation of epic monuments, “it undiminishedly encompassed the boundless vastness of Russia, grasping its original face and revolution from time immemorial. The abnormal state without joy under previous social conditions”—for his value, his “capable of accommodating all the rich and colorful life in his limited space to achieve epic majesty”, people are gradually realizing (“On Chekhov”, translated by Ji Kun). Indeed, for many writers and readers, meeting Chekhov may not necessarily be love at first sight, but once they meet and continue to communicate, his simple, temperate, humorous, melancholy, and vaguely imagined words about the future are likely to be Unforgettable.
  Jia Zhifang said that Chekhov made him “live like a person”, and the “person” in “like a person” has no prepositions and suffixes, it is a person in daily life, an ordinary person. In the character map of Chekhov’s works, there are basically some “little people”, which are “middle people” in a strange contemporary concept. We can’t find heroes fighting the storm from it. In fact, it can be said that there are no typical bad guys and villains. He portrayed various figures of the middle and lower classes of Russian society at the end of the nineteenth century: landlords, merchants, rural teachers, doctors, farmers, college students, painters, actors, petty officials, prostitutes… Among them, intellectuals played an important role and also devoted themselves to writers Lots of complex emotions. Most of the intellectuals he writes are people who have moral ideals and a sense of solemnity, who tirelessly imagine and pursue worthy life goals, and who consider themselves responsible for mankind. But at the same time, they are weak, lacking in action, living in the smog of utopian dreams and unable to accomplish anything great. There is such an article in “Notes”: “Although Ivan can talk about a set of love philosophy, he can’t fall in love” – ​​Mr. Jia Zhifang added a good note, pointing out the pun here: “The name of Chekhov’s brother is Ivan Van. Ivan generally refers to ordinary people in Russia, and here is the saying of ‘Russian Ivan’.”
  It is naturally difficult for such a character to arouse the enthusiasm of the readers, and Chekhov would not have such plans – from “Notes” Yes, he questioned the view of human history as a continuum of battles, of struggle as the main thing in life. So, what is the value of these “gray” characters? What is their significance as artistic images? Perhaps one could answer in the words of Nabokov, who was Chekhov’s fellow countryman:
  . . . Chekhov implied that the country that produced this particular type of character was lucky. They miss their moment, they shun action, they stay up all night to design an ideal world they can’t build; and yet there is a man who is so full of passion, intense self-restraint, purity of heart, and sublime morality, they have survived, maybe somewhere in today’s grim and dirty Russia, they still exist, and the mere fact that something good is going to happen to the whole world—because, the reason why the wonderful laws of nature Brilliant, perhaps because the weakest survive. (“On Chekhov”, translated by Xue Hongshi)
  Chekhov writes strictly to real life; he strives to expand the frontier of life, but never writes about things he is unfamiliar with and has not deeply understood. He said that the “Notes” said that Hamlet should not rush about the ghosts in his dreams, “the ghosts that break into life itself are more terrible.” His works – novels, plays, and this “Notes” have given us a lot of inspiration and moved us, and his sharp observations and comments have driven our thinking. Of course, we will also have doubts, negotiate with him, and even have disputes secretly. For example: understanding of human nature (“evil – this is a burden that people are born with”; love and friendship are not reliable, and hatred “brings people together more easily”); more demanding of women’s character; right The idealized imagination of the development of natural science and technology to promote human progress… But what we did not expect is that this writer, who is eager to pursue an ideal life and a high spiritual realm, constantly exposes hypocrisy, vulgarity, fraud, and violence, alive and dead. Afterwards, he would be accused of indifference, inclination, and thoughtlessness, so that more than fifty years after his death, Ehrenburg would use a lot of space to defend him in “Rereading Chekhov”.

  One of the reasons for this situation is that Chekhov rarely expressed his political opinions in his works. In the political factions and ideological disputes in Russia at that time, he never clearly stated his factional position and ideological affiliation. On the other hand, it is the way he looks at life and people. He had this response to the accusation: “I’m not a liberal, not a conservative, not a progressive, not a monk, not a cold…I hate all forms of hypocrisy and violence”; “Of course, my The effort to balance the positive and the negative in the novel is dubious. But you know, I’m not balancing conservatism and liberalism, that doesn’t matter to me, I’m focusing on what’s fake and real in the characters.”
  The word “balance” can also be replaced by distribution and adjustment, which can be understood as carefully handling the relationship of opposites. Berdyaev said in “Russian Thought” that there are polar opposites in the Russian spiritual structure, and everything is evaluated according to orthodoxy and heresy; Russians are not skeptics and do not know much about relative things. Chekhov also had a deep understanding of this characteristic, and he was wary and resistant to this extremeness. “Notes” wrote: “Between ‘God’ and ‘Godless’, there is a vast space. … Russians know one of these two extremes, but they have no interest in the middle. .” Chekhov’s “balance” between “god” and “no god”, love and hate, concept and action, truth and beauty, sharp revelation and considerate sympathy… is not fundamentally a guide. Unprincipled moderation, indifference, but respect for the complexity and diversity of things, and ultimately strive for the value and dignity of existence for common sense, for the weak, and for ordinary people.
  In the “questionable” effort to balance the positive and negative relationship, the social responsibility of the artist and the freedom of artistic creation are among the important items; Chekhov’s approach also provides an excellent way to discuss this unsolved problem later. “Case”. The word “case” comes from the Irish poet Heaney, who wrote “The Interesting Case of Nero, Chekhov’s Cognac and a Knocker” (The Interesting Case of Nero, Chekhov’s Cognac and a Knocker. Translated by Wu Qiancheng, In “Heaney’s Poems”, Ma Yongbo translated it as “Nero, Chekhov’s Brandy and Visitors”). This involves an important event in Chekhov’s life: his trip to Sakhalin in 1890 at the age of thirty. During this period, Chekhov had established his social status as an artist, and his decision to travel long distances to visit the “Island of Sin” where various criminals were imprisoned surprised his friends in Moscow. Chekhov believed that as a doctor who helps people relieve pain, he has the right to occupy a certain position in the world, but when many people are not free, suffering and tortured, to engage in rhetorical writing and artistic practice is not good for life. Offensive, blasphemous? He needed proof, and he decided to enter the “island of sin”, live with prisoners, and write a testimonial-like report. When he was about to leave, a friend gave him a bottle of premium brandy, which he cherished during the six weeks of travel. The amber-colored mellow wine was opened and sipped on the night of arrival on Sakhalin Island. Heaney sees this as a symbolic moment: brandy is not only a gift from a friend, it is also the art of Chekhov—he doesn’t flinch from the suffering around him, he has the reassurance that he responds, and he gains the dignity of being an artist. Inner Peace.
  Here is the tension between art and reality, and life, singing and suffering, that serious, sincere artists often face. As Heaney said, no matter how much poetry and art are responsible for, there is always a free and unfettered element, a quality of joy and escape. Therefore, it is not easy for the artist to make a choice, what Chekhov called “balance”, and this kind of adjustment and balance cannot be done once and for all. Chekhov’s trip to Sakhalin Island was intervened by his own actions to go deep into the realm of suffering, and also by writing “witness”, the Polish poet Z. Herbert wrote a poem titled “A Knocker”: “My imagination / is a plank / my only instrument / is a stick”), in the face of real suffering and life, to Attempts to slow down and dissolve the tension between poetry, art and reality.
  The first time I read Chekhov’s works was in 1954, when I started high school, I read his “Baby” from “Literature and Art Study”, and also saw his standard beard from the cover of this magazine , portrait with pince-nez glasses. At the time, I didn’t think “Baby” was so good, and I thought he was an old man in his 60s or 70s. It was later found out that he was only forty-four years old when he died. At such an age, we are still considered young writers. Originally thought that only artists would be short-lived (Mozart, Schubert, Van Gogh…), the question has always been, how could such mature, wise, temperate and beautiful words come from the writings of people in their thirties. Chekhov is undoubtedly one of those writers who put truth and justice first. However, his artistic practice also raises the question: Is it possible to achieve a balance between the tension between singing and life within art and text? And is pure beauty itself, which does not convey a message of redemption, also the power of “redemption” that increases the goodness of the world? The answer should be yes. In fact, both Chekhov and Heaney regarded the conflict between art, singing and real politics as an encounter in a specific historical situation; Chekhov also clearly regarded his “redemption” as a personal choice . They do not intend to generalize these, to distort the practice of their own ideas into a norm, leaving everyone else in the “moral shadow.”