Anton Chekhov

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There is a vein of dull misery running through much of modern realism. It is not even tragedy, because tragedy requires that the person be suffering as a result of their actions, and that they be emotionally complex enough to understand what is happening to them, and to feel the whole of that pain.

These stories of misery have none of that, they are tales of the ignorant, of the emotionally stunted, who bumble into one stupidity after another, never realizing why or what it means. Is there a certain kind of realism in this Sure--but fundamentally, it's only half the story.

Sure, we all might feel that way sometimes, if we're depressed, and so we look at the world and say 'it sucks out there, and always will'--and part of it is that we want that to be true, too. We want it to suck, and for us to have predicted it, because that means that none of this is our fault. If things suck, it's because that's how they're meant to be, not because we happened to fuck up.

But the world just isn't that bad. Life isn't that bad, even when we feel like wallowing in it, that's not reality, that's just our own baggage, our own coping. So, for an author to take that kind of nihilism and turn it into a book just ends up feeling silly. It's empty, it's self-centered, and it's not profound. We did Nihilism already, and found better things to supplant it.

But that's what's amazing about Chekhov, because by all rights, that is what his stories should be: these little moments of sad life for these miserable little nobodies who don't know any better. And yet, they're not. They're somehow beautiful and delicate and profound. There's this undefinable Will to Joy in each one that makes it come off as sweet and sympathetic.

And his people are so strange. Each one is a true character, because none of them are just 'types', place-fillers. That's the lesson Chekhov took from Gogol: that describing a man's head as looking like a dented pumpkin feels somehow more real than just saying it was big, and not entirely round, and somewhat over-fleshy. Making someone flat and grey doesn't make them seem miserable, because misery is vivid and colorful and overwhelming--that's what makes it such a damn bother. If it were colorless and bland, it could never roll over a human mind.

Now, I'm just as willing to hate stupid people as anyone--and back in college, I was even more ready to disregard them. Yet Chekhov's stupid little people are impossible to hate, because they seem real. Like everyone, they try to put up a front, but you can see little bits, between the seams, that show you just how vulnerable and desperate they are for something, anything, which brings out that fundamental human thought: "Oh god. Me too."

And yet, not everyone sees it. I know they don't, because one girl asked my professor "Why is Chekhov such a pessimist" He was utterly confounded by the question, he couldn't understand where it came from, how anyone could come to that conclusion. I mean, here's an author showing you the beautiful soul of another human being, in the midst of whatever turmoil or failed search for meaning, and somehow doing it in the span of a few pages--and you call that pessimism

But then, Nietzsche was also misunderstood in that way, as was Machiavelli. These weren't men talking about the world as they thought it should be, but the world as they saw it, every day, all around them--and their reaction to that darkness was not to give in, or fold up, but to say 'we can fight our way through this'. Not out of it, perhaps, but definitely through it.

But then, to a certain type of idealist, even admitting that things can be bad, or will be bad, is seen as pessimistic, defeatist. I don't buy that. If I'm fighting, I want to know what I'm up against. I want to know everything about them, because that's how I'm going to win. To me, optimism isn't self-delusion, it isn't being in good spirits when things are going fine--that's too easy, anyone can do that--it's pushing on even when time are hard, even knowing they will probably still be hard tomorrow.

They will be hard tomorrow. But I'll still be here, and Chekhov will still be here, and if that's not enough for you, then you're only in it to get attention, anyways.

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