European Diary

Soul Searching

Russians have bragged to themselves about their souls for ages, but for the past hundred years or so—roughly since Nietz­sche discovered Dostoyevsky, Henry James discovered Turgenev, and the assorted Bloomsbury folk discovered Chekhov—other European nations, Britain foremost, have been pitching in as well.  The dubious outcome of it all is that, alongside bast shoes, pinewood tar, marsh cranberries, dancing bears, and submachine guns, the Russian soul has become an internationally recognized commodity, in no way less distinctive than the cigars exported by Cuba or the wine made by the French.

The intellectual fraud that has been thereby perpetrated on the public is little short of epochal, as a clear implication of the Russians having a patent on the soul is that other European nations, Britain foremost, have but inchoate, miasmic, vaporous substances in imitation of the hallmarked original to animate their people.  Obviously, this deeply absurd, yet by now deeply ingrained, perception makes it difficult for Christians to believe in the immortality of what is at best a cheap Korean product, a Brummagem knockoff, rendering them impotent against every sort of spiritual deviation.  I realized this only recently, while boozing in London in the company of some wastrels, and it started me thinking.

The truth of the matter is that the Russian language does not have a special word meaning “soul.” ...

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