Does Great Literature Need God?

Unlike his friend Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian playwright and author Anton Chekhov was an atheist. Joseph Epstein reflects on what this meant for his work:

Reading along in Old Truths and New Clichés, a recently published collection of the essays and lectures of Isaac Bashevis Singer, I came across Singer’s extraordinary notion that talented people “cannot be atheists for the simple reason that by their very nature they must wrangle with the higher powers. They may revile God, but they cannot deny God.” Elsewhere in the book, Singer notes that “God is a writer and we are both the characters and the readers,” and that “the fear of death is nothing but the fear of having to close God’s book.” He adds that, if God is an artist, “he is not a modernist.” Singer is joined by Tolstoy in the belief that no true artist can be an atheist.

Epstein acknowledges Chekhov’s artistic genius, but observes that many of his stories “do not so much end as fade away,” and wonders if this tendency might reflect the truth of Singer’s observation:

Although he could chronicle obsessions, depict love and cruelty, strike the lyrical note in his descriptions of nature, and much else, Chekhov chose not to render judgment of his characters. . . . Brilliance of portrayal, detail, scene are all provided without anything resembling a satisfactory or minimally satisfying ending. The plane soars but never lands.

The very godliness that is missing from Chekhov’s writing lends to fiction an aura of mystery, a weight, a variousness and richness unavailable without it. Without the possibility of a higher power, determining fate, dispensing an ultimate justice, characters in novels and stories tend to go flat, their destinies robbed of interest. Perhaps even vastly talented people, as Isaac Bashevis Singer had it, cannot be atheists.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Literature, Religion


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy