|“Who but a stupid barbarian could burn so much beauty in his stove and destroy that which he cannot make?” |
Astrov asks Yelena in Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. “Man is endowed with reason and the power to create, so that he may increase that which has been given him, but until now he has not created, but demolished. The forests are disappearing, the rivers are running dry, the wildlife is exterminated, the climate is spoiled, and the earth becomes poorer and uglier every day. I see irony in your look; you don’t take what I am saying seriously, and—and—after all, it may very well be nonsense. But when I pass village forests that I have preserved from the ax, or hear the rustling of the young trees set out with my own hands, I feel as if I had had some small share in improving the climate, and that if mankind is happy a thousand years from now I’ll have been a little bit responsible for their happiness.”
| c. 1897 |
Russia Devil of Destruction
Anton Chekhov From Uncle Vanya.
[Astrov: When I plant a little birch tree and then see it budding into young green and swaying in the wind, my heart swells with pride and I—I must be off. Probably it’s all nonsense, anyway. Goodbye.
[Astrov and Sophia go into the house. Yelena and Voynitsky walk over to the terrace.
Yelena: You have behaved shockingly again. Really, your behavior is too petty. Voynitsky: If you could only see your face, the way you move! Oh, how tedious your life must be, absolutely tedious.
Yelena: It is tedious, yes, and boring! How well I understand your compassion! As Astrov said just now, see how you thoughtlessly destroy the forests, so that there will soon be none left. So you also destroy mankind, and soon loyalty and purity and self-sacrifice will have vanished with the woods. Why cannot you look calmly at a woman unless she is yours? Because, the doctor was right, you are all possessed by a devil of destruction; you have no mercy on the woods or the birds or on women or on one another.’ ]
From 1897 to 2022.
Reading what Astrov said, now in Australia in 2022, I give thanks for all who go on caring for the land. The Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society, the Bob Brown Foundation in Tasmania, the Lock the Gate Alliance and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, all those fighting for marine life and the people of good will supporting them with donations. We must support them every way we can.
They are having to fight against a Coalition that prefers exploitation to conservation, short-term profit for fossil fuel corporations to long-term preservation of the environment for the future. And it has threatened to legislate against charities like these with loss of the right to tax deductions for being ‘activist’ in their protests.
Now, when this President of Russia is destroying the lives of those in the democratic nation of Ukraine in his shocking, cruel unjustifiable, treacherous war. He guaranteed the sovereignty of the democratic nation of Ukraine but began this betrayal in 2014, it is time to remember the great Russians of the nineteenth century who spoke to Russia and later to us. There was Tolstoy’s War and Peace and, now, we have this excerpt from Uncle Vanya by Chekhov brought to us in Lapham’s Quarterly of Spring 2016 ‘Disaster’. Lewis Lapham takes us through history and all the warnings we ignored. See Lapham’s Quarterly, Volume XII, Number 4, – FALL, 2019 – ‘Climate’!
But ‘Down Under’ – even while we send support to Ukraine –
In Australia in 2022, with a national election due in four weeks, I am glad Lewis Lapham, a wonderful American trying to help us to think about the world we are creating, is reminding us about the fears Chekhov shared in his play about another longer-term form of destruction. We have one man standing for parliament here saying we might not even need to stick to zero emissions by 2050! And we have another man shouting how much money fossil fuel corporations will make in the EU! This Coalition will help them, with subsidies, exploit the devastation and the agony in Ukraine by selling coal and LNG to energy-hungry EU nations!