“Here, we may say, we are at home, and like the mariner after a long voyage in a tempestuous sea, we may now hail the sight of land.”
Although Hegel described the inception of the modern day in philosophy when people began to derive knowledge through reason, this phrase came to my mind whenever I reflect on my own personal journeys. Have you ever had a chance to step back into childhood? I do not mean just to see the old house where you grew up or to meet with an old schoolmate. I mean a complete somersault into your past life, your other life, your life as a child. I am experiencing this moment right now, and I cannot say unequivocally how I feel about it. It is a wave of conflicting emotions. I walk into my old room, and it still looks the same—same furniture, same walnut wardrobe with numerous tiny drawers, same lotus patterned curtains. I see the same books I used to study from—history of the USSR, geography, chemistry, physics, calculus. I find my tenth grade notebook recording all of the marks I received that year: mostly 5 and 4, A and B respectively, with an occasional 2 (D) in Ukrainian language. I find my drawings, my poems, my worn out pointe shos pedantically numbered from 1 to 158. Some of my plants left behind ten years ago are still thriving. I look at the hibiscus plant that grew into a tall verdant tree from a tiny bush—lush and oh so wrong for this temperate climate. How did it bear the cold winters? Probably, it adjusted to the life on another shore just like I did.
Yet, many things are different. I see a robe made in North Korea, and it strikes me as exotic. I take a photo of one of the pictures from the geography textbook depicting marked achievement of the socialist world in protecting the environment vis-à-vis its capitalist enemy. The curtains look somewhat tawdry with their gold lurex stripes. The balcony is denuded of its grape vines, which nearly crushed it last year. It used to be wonderful to sit in the jade shade of the vines reading a book and drinking tea. There is a layer of neglect and dust on everything—the hardwood floors, the desk, the books, the Czech glassware in the cupboard…
Outside my windows, the world is different. It is moving along the post-communist transition path, along post-Orange Revolution trajectory. Where is it going one cannot say. It is laden with the sense of disappointment and displaced hopes, regrets and envies. One world is long gone, and the maze of corrupted personalities and twisted ideals is taking over the new entity arising in its place. One doctrine is replacing another only to lose its validity after yet another economic crisis. I think of Alexander Hertzen, an influential 19th century Russian thinker in exile. Although known as a founder of Russian socialism, he never viewed this doctrine as a final solution to the problems of society. “This socialism will develop in all its phases until it reaches its own extremes and absurdities. Then once again a cry of denial will break from the titanic chest of the revolutionary minority and again a mortal struggle will begin, in which socialism will play the role of contemporary conservatism and will be overwhelmed in the subsequent revolution, as yet unknown to us” (From the Other Shore, 147). It is a message of redemption through recognition of contingency and rejection of belief in final solutions and absolute truths. I never fail to feel a jolt reading Herzen’s rejection of the memento mori of idealism, “From this one thing alone is clear; that one should make use of life, of the present; not in vain does Nature in all her utterances for ever beckon life onwards and whisper in every ear her vivere memento” (41). Indeed, this message holds a startling beauty and a profound value, neither of which have been attenuated more than a century later.
References: Hegel. Lectures on the Philosophy of History, trans. E.S. Haldane and F.H. Simson. 3 vols. London, 1963, vol.3, 217; Alexander Herzen (1812-1870), From the Other Shore.