LEV SHESTOV \ Speculation and Revelation

Translator's Preface
by Bernard Martin

     The essays of the distinguished philosopher Lev Shestov (1866-1938) that are included in the present volume were written during the last years of his life, between 1925 and 1938. They appeared originally in various Russian-language journals in Paris, where the author settled with his family in 1921 after exiling himself from his native Russia.[1] It was not, however, until 1964, more than a quarter of a century after Shestov's death, that they were collected in book form by his daughters, Madame Natalie Baranoff and the late Madame Tatiana Rageot, and published by the YMCA Press of Paris under the title Umozrenie i Otkrovenie (Speculation and Revelation).

     This title, I believe, was well chosen, although its aptness may not be immediately evident. While the individual essays and reviews here presented are each clearly of significant philosophical, literary or historical value, as a group they seem, at first glance, to constitute a miscellany of disparate and quite unrelated writings. And, indeed, they are not directly connected with one another - understandably so, for they were composed over a considerable period of time as occasional pieces and were not planned by their author as a cohesive collection. Nevertheless, upon perusing them, the attentive reader will discover that, despite their obvious disparity, almost all of them are animated to a greater or lesser degree by the singular conviction that was the center of Shestov's mature philosophy.

     This conviction finds its fullest expression in Shestov's chef-d'oeuvre, the book entitled Athens and Jerusalem, on which he worked during the period when the essays of the present volume were written and which he completed in 1937, a year before his death. In a few words Shestov's crucial conviction may be formulated as follows: Despite all the attempts that have been made in the history of western thought to harmonize them, there is an eternal irreconcilability between speculative philosophy, i.e., the philosohia perennis represented by the long tradition extending from Socrates to Hegel, which seeks to arrive at rationally demonstrable, necessary truths, and the revelation of the Bible, whose chief proclamation is the reality of an omnipotent God, a God for whom, in Kierkegaard's words, "all things are possible." According to Shestov, the truths of speculative philosophy impose rigorous limitations on man's freedom, subjecting him to countless "impossibilities" and "necessities," while faith in the biblical God, a faith which requires the most extreme and intensive spiritual struggle on the part of man, restores to him his primordial freedom and liberates him from the fearful constraints of these truths. Nikolai Berdyaev succinctly formulates the heart of the Shestovian religious philosophy when he asserts in the brief article placed as an introduction to the present collection by its compilers that Shestov was "a man with an idée fixe" who "sought God and the liberation of man from the power of necessity." That search is clearly reflected in the majority of the items included in Speculation and Revelation and lends to the volume the degree of thematic unity it possesses.

     It is essential, I think, for the reader of this volume to bear in mind that Shestov was, indeed, a passionate God-seeker and an ardent champion of biblical revelation, as well as of the existentialist mode of philosophizing, to which he was led mainly by the Bible, over against speculative or rationalist philosophy. For his personal religious quest and his unique philosophical orientation, it seems to me, color considerably his interpretation of the thought of the personalities who are the subject of most of its component essays. In general, Shestov does not treat their thinking in objective, detached fashion. Nor is it his purpose to present the kind of balanced and comprehensive summation and critique of their ideas that might be expected from a purely academic historian of philosophy or (in the case of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky) of literature. It would perhaps not be much of an exaggeration to say that in expounding the thought of the figures with whom he deals in the present volume Shestov concentrates on those aspects of it that he finds of greatest relevance to his personal religious and philosophical concerns and that he can utilize to set these off most effectively. This is true, I believe, both in the case of the nineteenth-century philosophers and writers discussed here - Solovyov, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky - and that of his own contemporaries whom he treats at some length: Mikhail Gershenzon, Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Edmund Husserl.

     In saying this I do not at all mean to suggest that Shestov willfully distorted the thought of these figures. On the contrary, a great many of his comments are very much on the mark, and some disclose brilliant insightfulness. It does appear to me, however, that a number of the essays here presented are, in certain respects, quite selective and frequently tell us as much, if not more, about Shestov than about their subjects. Nor is this by any means regrettable, for Shestov's thought, which challenges so many preconceived notions and calls into question so many universally accepted verities, is always highly provocative.

     Some readers will perhaps find de trop and rather irksome the numerous and sometimes repetitious references to and quotations from Kierkegaard that appear in the essays of the present volume. A partial explanation for this phenomenon is undoubtedly to be found in the fact that Shestov discovered Kierkegaard only late in his career, a decade or so before his death. He was introduced to the works of the great Danish thinker, surprisingly enough, by none other than Edmund Husserl. Upon reading Kierkegaard Shestov was astonished at the remarkable affinity between many of his central ideas and those at which he himself had long since arrived independently, on the basis of his own thought and experience. Throughout the last years of his life, when he was composing these essays, Shestov cherished an enormous, though not altogether uncritical, enthusiasm for Kierkegaard and apparently could not restrain himself from quoting him repeatedly.

     To avoid some of the excessive discussion of Kierkegaard, I have eliminated from my translation of Umozrenie i Otkrovenie the brief article entitled "Hegel or Job" that appears in the original Russian version. I have done so without compunction, for almost all of it is incorporated verbatim in the far longer essay "Kierkegaard as a Religious Philosopher," which is included here. I have also taken the liberty of omitting the three pages of the unfinished article on N.F. Federov, which strikes me as too fragmentary and sketchy to provide anything approximating an adequate notion of its subject, as well as the last essay, on Pushkin, which is contained in the Russian original. This essay, composed in 1899, belongs to a stage of Shestov's intellectual development that is quite different from that at which he had arrived when the other essays of this volume were written, and one is rather puzzled by the decision of the compilers to include it here.[2]

     Since Professor George L. Kline of Bryn Mawr College has published an excellent translation of Shestov's essay "In Memory of a Great Philosopher: Edmund Husserl," it seemed superfluous to retranslate it. I have incorporated Professor Kline's translation in the present work, and I express my gratitude to him and to the editors of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, in whose pages it first appeared (June, 1962, Volume 22, number 4), for permission to reprint it here.

     Speculation and Revelation, while not achieving the concentrated power and passion of Athens and Jerusalem, which Shestov himself regarded as his most significant book, is nevertheless, in my judgment, a work of great importance. It is indispensable for anyone wishing to attain an understanding of the full scope of the thought of one of the most remarkable religious philosophers of the twentieth century.

Bernard Martin

Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio

[1] For an account of Shestov's life and thought, see the introduction to my translation of his work, Athens and Jerusalem (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1966).

[2] The essay on Pushkin is available in a French translation: Leon Chestov, L'homme pris au piège (Paris, Union générale d'éditions, 1966), pp. 16-28.

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