Return from the Other Shore

“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.



  • Robin: V, another post that I will come back and read again. Thank you! July 16, 2005 at 9:57am Reply

  • cora-lu: Beautifully written! And you certainly brought up memories here too, from my childhood in Romania. I am grateful that I got to live that, so I can enjoy more the little luxuries of life (perfume – one of them 🙂 Thank you, V, for your excellent blog! July 16, 2005 at 11:10am Reply

  • Victoria: R, I am glad that you liked it! The trip was definitely exciting in more ways than I can enumerate. It certainly provoked me to reflect on some issues I have always wondered about. xoxo July 16, 2005 at 10:11am Reply

  • Victoria: Nice to see you here! Thank you for your sweet words. I treasure those memories, because, for one thing, I had a wonderful childhood. Moreover, as you say, one appreciates certain things in life even more. July 16, 2005 at 11:19am Reply

  • mireille: “until it reaches its own extremes and absurdities” … you have a strange and lovely mind, V. Reminding us the dialectic was once a song of redemption … I love it also that you remind that it was always, should always be questioned. xoxo July 16, 2005 at 11:31am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, darling M. I fear the power of ideals, which if remained unquestioned have a potential to undermine the very principles they were supposed to uphold. You also made me think of a related point, Benjamin’s injunction against thinking history to be objective. History is a history of victors, if unquestioned, it is liable to produce a distorted discourse. July 16, 2005 at 7:19pm Reply

  • Marina: What a wonderful post and how it made me miss home, you write beautifully, Victoria! July 17, 2005 at 11:38pm Reply

  • LaureAnne: V, I will come back to this when I have the time and presence of mind to take it in the way it should be read. You continue to impress me.(And I was mightily impressed before you started this blog!) July 18, 2005 at 5:41am Reply

  • Victoria: Marina, thank you! Knowing that my writing elicits positive emotions is the best aspect of keeping this website.

    L, I am flattered, to say the least! I would also say the same thing in regards to your site Laurelines, featuring your amazing artwork. Your art is beyond impressive! xoxo July 18, 2005 at 8:51am Reply

  • mreenymo: You have it all going on, my love: beauty, intelligence, and a clear, distinct ‘voice’ in your writing.

    I missed you, but am heartened by the fact that your were able to re-visit some of these treasured places.

    Welcome back, Victoria!

    Hugs and love! July 18, 2005 at 6:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are making me blush, darling R!

    I am glad to be back, even though I really enjoyed my trip. There are so many pleasant memories associated with it, and I will certainly be influenced by them for a long time.

    xoxo July 18, 2005 at 10:46pm Reply

  • Campaspe: I remember Mr. Herzen from your prior essay. What an incredibly prophetic quote. I had waited to comment on this post, because it makes me a bit melancholy. My childhood home is gone and my grandmother’s house has been rented, so I can only return in my memories. But I am so glad you had this trip and could share it so evocatively. July 20, 2005 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: I feel that this is the last trip I might be able to make there. I myself felt very melancholy writing it, which I started doing in Kiev, on my first day of arrival. I have always found that looking back into the past has an ability to smother me under some suffocating veil of nostalgia. I was worried about returning, because as you might know, what you remember is never the same way once you see it again. It is like Orpheus turning around and seeing Eurydice disappear without a trace. Yet, it felt good being back. It was a return into the past that managed to turn into a great exploration of the present. July 20, 2005 at 1:09pm Reply

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