The concept of the poor subject

The concept of the poor subject

"Don't look at what our man does. Look at what he strives to do”. F. M. Dostoevskij

A characteristic feature of Russian philosophy, according to some historians of Russian philosophy, is the ontologism of thought. The position of ontologism in philosophy, unlike the opposite position of gnoseologism, implies the primary consideration not of the process of thinking, but of the object of understanding. Being on the side of the ontological, we seek first and foremost to identify and answer the question: WHAT is, WHAT is the object of our knowledge, WHAT is the focus of our intellectual intuition. Adherents of the ontological model seek, first of all, to find among all that 'flows and changes' a certain fundamental point, a fixed point, like a large stone in a fast-flowing mountain river. And only after we have found and grasped this fulcrum, the instance of being, can we consider our intentional search process for this thing. Therefore, we do not begin to think about thought until we have defined what it is and what we can understand. Adherents to this method are Parmenides (idea of the identity of being and thought), Plato (search for ideas as actually existing instances) - who turned their reasoning to the search for an immovable, being-bearing basis.

Unlike ontology, epistemology seeks to understand the very course of our thought from the very beginning. Adherents of this position (and the position itself began to actively develop after I. Kant) turn their attention to the reflection of the thinking process. In this model, the possibility of identifying a reference point that has its own ontological status and becomes a 'thing in itself', incomprehensible to cognition, is questioned. The only thing left to do is to study the process of cognition itself. In this method, the Subject is extremely important, it is he who becomes the centre, his role is extremely great.

Russian philosophers are far from the position of gnoseologism. This is conditioned by the fact that the very idea of Subject and cognitive instance in the Russian mind is extremely vague and obscure. Both Russian culture, Russian history, and Russian religion do not accept the concept of the 'individual', which is a purely Western, cold and detached concept. The collectivism of the Russian people, visible even in the smallest details of written speech (for example, in the lower-case 'I' as opposed to the capital 'I' in English), has a completely different notion of the subject. And this subject is nadinindividual, common and unique to a multitude of people. It is a national spirit, which is never divided into parts and which thinks, believes, understands, listens and comprehends in a completely peculiar way.

The Russian subject is absolutely poor. It is practically non-existent, it is so large that it begins to seem too small. It is a poverty not in the classical sense of lack or need, but a poverty that surpasses wealth and emeralds, like the poverty of a monk who surpasses all treasures and accumulations with his inner essence. And the subject is so poor that he is almost absent, that his will, his intentions barely penetrate through the fog of indistinctness. It is not only that there is no orientation towards something, but that there is no initial point of origin, the initiator of this orientation.

Our poor Russian subject is, in fact, the most secret and magical thing that exists. It is a subtle being. It’s true being. It’s a hope that is not converted, but is being.

The Russian people are poor. It is a sufferer, like Job. The people carry the banner of Christ, the faithful truth, to which they fully surrender their pretence of reflection, and they carry it heroically, through the darkness of ages and threats, of pain and suffering... Without betraying authentic being.

The Russian man is too broad to be a subject. And he looks poor. But this poverty is the greatest wealth - and this breadth - that gives the world its unmistakable backbone.

And this poverty, precisely this poverty, meek, humble, undirected, sometimes confused and barely understood, is the true Russian wealth. One that is already, unknowingly, at the centre of being.

At the centre, where wealth and poverty are only verbal categories. At the centre of absolute truth. At the centre of the eternal light of good, in that corner of the soul where words are too exhausted to express the infinity and superlatives of God...

Translation by Lorenzo Maria Pacini