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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Existential Paradigm of Artistic Consciousness: Russian Literature of the XIX Century as a Carrier of Ideas of Religious Existentialism

Mysovskikh Lev Olegovich

ORCID: 0000-0003-0731-1998

Postgraduate Student, Philological Faculty, Department of Russian and Foreign Literature, Ural Federal University named after the First President of Russia B. N. Yeltsin

620083, Russia, Sverdlovsk region, Yekaterinburg, Lenin str., 51, office 336

Other publications by this author










Abstract: Based on the theoretical developments of the scientific philological school of the Ural Federal University (UrFU), the article analyzes the category of "artistic consciousness" and identifies an existential paradigm within this category. Special attention is paid to tracing the history of the study of the category "artistic consciousness" by UrFU scientists from the Soviet period to our time. The author of the article explores the origins of existentialism using the examples of writers and philosophers of the XIX century. As existential writers and philosophers of the XIX century, S. Kierkegaard, A. Schopenhauer, F. Nietzsche are represented among Western European thinkers and M. Lermontov, F. Tyutchev, F. Dostoevsky, L. Tolstoy, A. Chekhov are among Russian writers. The author of the article comes to the conclusion that the Russian literature of the XIX century is the bearer of unique ideas of religious existentialism. The author assumes the existence of an existential type of artistic consciousness, considered as a type of artistic and aesthetic interaction of a person with the world, expressed in artistic creativity, and suggests that in the twentieth century the existential consciousness of a free person who found himself in a world where "God died" fell into an enchanted circle of absurdity. The opposite approach, considering human freedom as a gift from God, suggests using it in the name of creative improvement. Such a path leads to harmony with God, elevating the human creator to the role of a co-author of Divine creativity.


existentialism, artistic literature, theory of literature, russian literature, foreign literature, philosophy, religion, determinism, absurd, free will


The origins of existentialism as one of the philosophical and literary paradigms that became widespread in the twentieth century, in our opinion, should be sought in the XIX century. The most significant figures of the XIX century, who can be considered as the forerunners of existentialism, are S. Kierkegaard, M. Lermontov, F. Tyutchev, A. Schopenhauer, F. Dostoevsky, L. Tolstoy, A. Chekhov, F. Nietzsche. As can be seen from this enumeration, in Russia existentialism had all the prerequisites for further development. However, as V. Zamanskaya claims, «in post-revolutionary Russia, existential tendencies were suppressed by politicization, ideologization of consciousness» [5, p. 144].

The application of the concept of existential consciousness in the field of literary studies seems to us quite peculiar, since existentialism is traditionally considered a field of philosophical research. In addition, the very definition of existential consciousness in relation to literary studies presents a certain complexity. This is what says in his study A. Koshechko: «None of the humanities (philosophy, psychology, literary studies, linguistics, sociology) positions the concept of «existential consciousness» as a term of its subject area and does not give it a clear definition» [10, p. 5]. The result of which may be certain difficulties in specifying the subject of the study.

Zamanskaya in the book «Existential tradition in Russian literature of the XX century. Dialogues on the borders of Centuries» assigns a separate paragraph entitled «Let's agree on a system of concepts» to define the categories of type of artistic consciousness and existential consciousness [4, pp. 15–37]. Zamanskaya considers existential consciousness as a meta-category that can be in dialogical relations with other types of consciousness. However, where the boundary between the existential type of consciousness and other types of consciousness lies remains not completely defined.

The most interesting in this topic seems to us to be the study of the influence of the type of consciousness of the artist on his work. In particular, I would like to understand what is the peculiarity of writers who are counted among the owners of the existential type of artistic consciousness, how specific is the problematics of their works. In other words, it is important to come to certain conclusions about the uniqueness of the creative results generated by existential consciousness.

The study of fiction through the prism of artistic consciousness and its existential type seems to us quite promising, since such a study can allow us to take a fresh look at the originality of creativity of both individual writers and at the genesis and ways of development of literature in a certain period. Zamanskaya believes that «the formula of the artistic consciousness of the century is most precisely revealed in fiction» [4, p. 7], and from the point of view of Jean Paul Sartre's theories, fiction is the most appropriate way to convey ideas and ideals of a person, therefore, it is fiction that can be considered the most suitable for the artistic expression of existential ideas. In addition, modern research also shows that fiction is «an ideal means for both the writer and the reader to realize their own freedom and each other's freedom» [11, p. 35].

Existential Paradigm of Artistic Consciousness: theoretical substantiation of concepts

The history of the study of the category «artistic consciousness» can be traced back to Soviet times. So, L. Zaks in the book entitled «Artistic Consciousness» considers this category in the light of Marxist theories. The scientist gives the following definition of the concept under study: «artistic consciousness is a socio-culturally conditioned ideal substrate (base) and mechanism (method) of artistic and imaginative exploration of the world, a system of ideal structures that generate, program and regulate artistic (creative and perceptual) activity and its products» [3, p. 7].

In relation to fiction, Zaks defines artistic consciousness through the metaphorical phrase «writer's mechanism», taken from Yuri Trifonov, who, in turn, attributes it to Yuri Olesha. By the «writer's mechanism» Trifonov or Olesha mean something common, inherent in every writer, that is, the «writer's mechanism» is monotonous. Thus, the definition of Zaks is as follows: «the writer's mechanism» is artistic consciousness. This consciousness represents the immediate–immediate, internal and specific - foundation of art as a system of human activity for the development, transmission and assimilation of artistic information» [3, p. 6].

In the framework of the study of artistic consciousness in Russian prose of the 1830s – 1850s, E. Sozina expresses the opinion that the aspects of artistic consciousness noted by Zaks «can, if desired, be distinguished both in artistic consciousness and in general cultural, philosophical, etc.» [14, p. 6]. In turn, Sozina interprets artistic consciousness «as an integral «ideal continuum» (Zaks) or a «living form» of culture that ensures its existence and development. It can also be represented as a phenomenal-phenomenological unity of the personologically defined activity of the creator subject and the intentions of a certain collective community, usually referred to as literature, culture, epoch» [14, p. 8]. At the same time, it is important to pay attention to the fact that Sozina notes the fact that artistic consciousness «denotes a certain spiritual, or mental, dominant of artistry proper» [14, p. 9].

An attempt to cover the concept of «artistic consciousness» in a generalized form is made by M. Novoselova in her article «On the concept of artistic consciousness in art». The author comes to the conclusion that it is possible to «recognize the fact of the existence of artistic consciousness as a phenomenon that arises and exists in society as a socio-cultural system» [13]. At the same time, Novoselova emphasizes that artistic consciousness is inscribed in the socio-cultural system. The purpose of the existence of artistic consciousness, the researcher sees the provision of artistic activity in which artistic consciousness is «its internal, functional organ».

Professor of the Ural Federal University (UrFU) O. Zyryanov in the article «Evolution of forms of artistic consciousness in Russian literature: specifics of national development, regional peculiarities» writes about the research work carried out by a group of UrFU scientists to solve the problem, which «consisted in transferring the category of artistic consciousness from the abstract field of theoretical aesthetics to the plane of historical and practical poetics, giving it explanatory power in the analysis and interpretation of individual artistic worlds» [8, p. 310]. As a result of the work done, scientists have come to realize that «intertextuality in an artistic text is not only a sign of «secondary» (for example, a follower text in comparison with the original precedent text), but also as a form of creative self-determination of the artist's personality» [8, p. 313].

In terms of studying existential consciousness, Zamanskaya's book «The Existential Tradition in Russian Literature of the XX century is of interest. Dialogues on the borders of centuries», where the author tries to create a unified system for the study of this concept. In addition to trying to define the phenomenon of existential consciousness, Zamanskaya also seeks to find out how a certain type of consciousness (as a component of the literary process) correlates with the artistic thinking of the creator. Arguing about the type of artistic consciousness and highlighting its advantages, the researcher argues that this category «combines conceptual and formal-logical parameters in the structure of artistic thinking, which makes it possible to perceive and analytically reconstruct and recreate the wholeness of being as an ontological category» [4, p. 17]. The existential consciousness of a person determines his interaction with the surrounding world, forming a kind of model of human behavior.

The fact that Zamanskaya distinguishes between the terms «existential» and «existentialist» deserves attention. The latter researcher applies to philosophers and writers, since the twenties of the twentieth century, who themselves declared their belonging to the philosophy of existentialism.

Thus, we can try to build a kind of model applicable to the field of literary studies, with the help of which it is possible to determine what «existential consciousness» is:

1. We accept a work of fiction as existential, where the author focuses on the problem of human existence, his actions in borderline states and their experience, as well as exclusive ways for this author to resolve existential situations;

2. Differentiation of the terms «existential» and «existentialist». The second term refers to existentialism - the direction of philosophy of the twentieth century, which asserts that the existence of a person precedes his essence. In existence, the subject and the object are connected together. Based on this, there is an understanding of reality. The first term has to do with existential consciousness, in which one can trace the writer's existential attitude to the world, that is, the writer's value-worldview position; it can also be called his existential worldview. With this approach, there is a differentiation of existential writers, who can be considered within the existential paradigm of artistic consciousness, and existentialist writers - representatives of the existentialist philosophical school;

3. Taking into account the individual characteristics of writers in relation to their existential worldview, which is specific for each author, because existence is unique. As a result, the researcher faces a difficult task: it is necessary to identify a certain set of distinctive features of the existential type of artistic consciousness in order to systematize phenomena related to the object of research, but it must be taken into account that the formal presence of signs of existential consciousness does not mean that the creative concepts of various artists can be reduced to standardized uniformity.

Thus, existential consciousness is understood as a set of ideological concepts reflected in works of fiction, where the authors focus on the problem of human existence, his actions in borderline states and their experience, as well as exclusive ways for this author to resolve existential situations; an individual's sense of his being in reality and a sense of reality in himself, depicted in works of fiction.

The writer's existential consciousness manifests itself in two mutually influencing realities: in the writer's everyday behavior and in his work, realized in accordance with the type of his artistic thinking and arising, passing through the accumulated daily personal experience of the writer, transforming into his existential position expressed in a literary work, where the reader discovers «the external and internal conflict of human existence, the antinomies of being: loneliness and communication, to have and to be, the desire to live and the inevitability of death, meaning and absurdity, freedom and «escape from freedom», despair and faith, life and creativity» [10, p. 44].

Russian Literature of the XIX Century as a Carrier of Ideas of Religious Existentialism

The founder of existentialism is considered to be the Danish philosopher, theologian, writer Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), who introduced the category «existence». Kierkegaard regards Hegel's interpretation of faith as a great misunderstanding of faith and the justification of the absolute spirit. On the other hand, it may be a more subtle religious statement: the presence of a transcendent God is not associated with individual decisions or objectively harms them. In short, loneliness can indicate the special essence of human life and, consequently, that it is meaningless.

A. Girinsky comes to the conclusion that Kierkegaard «overcomes all generally significant, morally imperative contents in himself. An illustration of this is the story of Abraham. Abraham decides to sacrifice his son to God, and in the ethical dimension, in the understanding of the morally universal, this act is murder, but for a truly religious consciousness this action is a manifestation of true faith» [2, pp. 29–30].

The Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov is often compared to Kierkegaard. Thus, B. Kotelnikov, analyzing the phenomenon of libertinage, asserts that «the erotic imagination of both Pechorin and Johannes moves in the same way and feeds on the same details of the female appearance» [9, p. 39]. Both characters complete relationships with the objects of their attention according to an identical libertarian scheme: having experienced erotic and aesthetic pleasure, they completely break off any contacts with girls after their feelings are conquered.

Comparing Lermontov with Kierkegaard, researchers often do this through the prism of the religious trend of existentialism. V. Zenkovsky, who believes that a person is able to find himself and realize himself as a person only in God, argues that Lermontov's romantic personalism is «the poetry of earthly existence, the same hymn to «existence», passing into philosophical existentialism» [6, pp. 40–41]. According to Zenkovsky, the aesthetic experiences that Lermontov aspired to only limit the freedom of the spirit, because a person cannot be free by himself, as, for example, an animal is free in its movements. A person can gain freedom only with God, since «we do not belong to ourselves at all, but to God, that is why there is the deepest untruth in stopping the spirit on itself» [6, p. 41].

Paying attention to the prayerful moods and images of religious worship in Lermontov's poetry, O. Zyryanov points to the opposition of the motives of withering to eternal peace and joy. The most important thing here, according to the scientist, is that it is «not just two communicating, albeit polar worlds, but precisely the process of «transformation» of one world into another, the elimination of existential drama, the sacralization of the natural principle, its erection into a cult» [7, p. 111]. Harmony and peace of a person have a direct connection with his existence. In the poem «I go out alone on the road...», a dream in oblivion, seemingly incompatible with being, actually recreates the ideal of human existence in Lermontov's existential consciousness.

Fyodor Tyutchev in his poems «saw through the chaos of being, the cosmos, the human soul» [5, p. 145], acting as a harbinger of the «existence» of Jean Paul Sartre. But Tyutchev, like Lermontov, is like Kierkegaard in that he does not renounce God, preserving faith in his existential consciousness. In the poem «The Last Cataclysm» Tyutchev draws an existential situation of a fatal moment for the world, but he believes that in the «last hour of nature», the face of God will be depicted in the waters of the flood. In the poem «The executing god took everything from me» Tyutchev is sure that God left him only his soul so that he could pray to God. It is here that the fundamental boundary that separates Tyutchev from Sartre's existentialism passes.

Such a boundary can be overcome by Arthur Schopenhauer, who puts the «I» of man at the head of tragic existence. Schopenhauer lays the foundation of his literary creation with a philosophical understanding of the tragedy of being in combination with aesthetic feelings. Schopenhauer's philosophical works contain plots that are quite suitable for fiction. Schopenhauer's revolt against the source of the tragedy of being, which seems absurd to him, can be considered as a kind of bridge laid by the existential consciousness of the philosopher of the XIX century, to the existential philosophy of the XX century. Thus, it can be argued that the existential consciousness of Arthur Schopenhauer marked the beginning of the development of existential values of the coming century.

Among the representatives of Russian literature of the XIX century, the manifestation of existential consciousness in Fyodor Dostoevsky deserves special attention. Jean-Paul Sartre considered Dostoevsky's conceptual aphorism "if there is no God, then everything is allowed" to be the essence of existentialism. Dostoevsky's novels are permeated with existential issues, in particular, he «tries to solve the existential-psychological problem of the nature of criminal human behavior» [12, p. 58]. For representatives of Western European existentialism, starting with Friedrich Nietzsche, who proclaimed that «God is dead», a person becomes free with the death of God, and the truth, therefore, is subjective. Thus, the value sense of human existence is lost. For Dostoevsky, the truth cannot belong to a specific person, so the rebellions and searches of Dostoevsky's characters «end as they approach the pole of the Absolute, to God» [10, p. 202]. Thus, Dostoevsky's heroes always have hope, because God is a kind of beacon, the light of which is able to bring out of the most terrible darkness, help to understand any seemingly unsolvable situation and make the right decision.

According to Dostoevsky, the main question that a person needs to answer in order to find his place in the world and thereby make his main existential choice designed to determine human existence is the question of God. Without such a choice, existence is impossible. But a person is free to make this choice. And is responsible for its consequences. It is these provisions about freedom of choice and responsibility for its consequences that will enter the existential philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre in the twentieth century.

The existential experience of Leo Tolstoy, like Dostoevsky, is appreciated not only by the Russian, but also by the world culture of the XIX–XX centuries. In the story «The Death of Ivan Ilyich» Tolstoy gives man freedom from God. Contrasting life and death, Tolstoy explores the depths of the human soul, which the author puts in a borderline state. Like Schopenhauer, Tolstoy's existential consciousness is in search of the cause of human suffering and comes to understand the absurdity of existence. Unlike Dostoevsky's works, Tolstoy does not have that luminous beacon in the ending that is able to fill human existence with meaning. Ivan Ilyich finds himself in a hopeless impasse. Tolstoy also reveals the theme of death in the novel «War and Peace» and in the story «Three Deaths». However, it is in the story «The Death of Ivan Ilyich» that Tolstoy's existential consciousness personifies death, creating a deep existential situation in which the protagonist conducts conversations with death.

In the works of Anton Chekhov, grace leaves a person who now exists in a world abandoned by God. Nevertheless, Chekhov's characters retain in their soul a spark of hope for a return to God and salvation from the darkness of existence surrounding them. Thus, the origins of the unhappiness, hopelessness and absurdity of existence in Chekhov's works are more existential than social. Abramova believes that «the echoes of existentialism in the writer's work are the result of his existential consciousness, which is expressed in certain forms and which has presented meanings that go beyond a certain culture» [1, p. 48].

Søren Kierkegaard developed the doctrine of the three stages of human life: aesthetic, ethical and religious, which can be correlated with the work of Chekhov, who showed the borderline states of human existence that threaten him with spiritual collapse. Like Kierkegaard, Chekhov's existential consciousness deduces a specific person who is able to bear the burden of responsibility for his choice, which is decisive for further existence.

The global revision of values, which Friedrich Nietzsche conducted in his philosophical teaching, had a significant impact on human being, his culture and consciousness, making a tangible contribution to his existentialization. Nietzsche made man free from God, destroyed any boundaries of morality, thereby throwing a lonely person into an endless existence where he has no support and no opportunity to find any foundation. This is a person who has an existential type of consciousness in the understanding of the existential philosophy of the twentieth century. That is, a person who has stepped over all limits, is free to choose the ways of his existence and independently bears full responsibility for him. This existential person has no one to rely on but himself.

The main difference between Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, who also sought to explore and show the deepest levels of human consciousness and subconsciousness, the most secret corners of his soul, which prepared the ground for the development of the image of human existence, is that Nietzsche deprives a person of faith, «kills God», who left hope to Dostoevsky's characters even in the most terrible moments of their existence.

Thus, Kierkegaard's attempt at revaluation of values at the beginning of the XIX century was completed by the end of the century by Friedrich Nietzsche. And if it was possible to deduce a transcendent God from Kierkegaard's teaching, separated from individual human decisions, for which he, therefore, must bear independent responsibility, then Nietzsche completely erases all boundaries of morality, abolishing God from human existence.


The study of the existential type of artistic consciousness of writers puts the researcher in front of the need not just to consider artistic creativity from the outside, but also to be involved in the dialogic process. Dialogicity implies the researcher's appeal not only to the creative heritage, but also to biographical data, which should contribute to increasing the reliability of the conclusions drawn.

Borderline states, tragic moments of existence, cultural and socio-political situation - all this has a direct impact on the formation and creative destiny of the writer. Thus, existential consciousness is formed in certain conditions of human existence. Consequently, its study cannot be complete without taking into account these conditions. The very life of an existential writer is a kind of existential manuscript, calling the researcher to dialogue. The dialogicity of many works of existential writers of the XIX century is the property thanks to which it is possible to regain the unity of man with God lost by the beginning of the twentieth century, the ontological embodiment of which is possible through the text of a work of art.

The study of the creativity of existential writers of the XIX century gives us the opportunity to suggest the existence of an existential type of artistic consciousness as a special kind of artistic and aesthetic attitude of a person to the world, which can manifest itself in the development of creative abilities and productive work in the field of artistic creativity, as well as in the perception of the phenomena of being through the prism of aesthetic categories. Comprehending his own existence in the world and the existence of the world in himself, the existential writer develops a special artistic and aesthetic attitude to this world, which is inevitably expressed in the results of his artistic creativity. Penetrating into the essence of phenomena, the existential consciousness of the writer gives them artistic and aesthetic characteristics that are valuable for the writer, which naturally affects works of fiction, because according to the theory of feeling, it is the human spirit that endows objects with aesthetic value, spiritualizing them by introducing feelings and thoughts experienced by a person. Awareness of the tragedy of being, loneliness and the absurdity of life naturally causes a person to seek ways to overcome them in order to find harmony with the world, which can be achieved through creative activity, perceived as a Divine gift.

In the XIX century, existential consciousness in literature went from Kierkegaard's «Knight of Faith» to Nietzsche's «Antichrist». The existential consciousness of the twentieth century with its ideas about the tragedy of being has its origins in the XIX century, which is obviously traced in the work of existential writers of the XIX century. To date, the issue of human freedom of choice remains debatable. Is freedom possible only when «God is dead», or is freedom of choice granted to man by God? The existential consciousness of a free person of the twentieth century, who found himself in a world where «God died», often found himself in a dead end of the absurd, a way out of which could not be found. If freedom is a gift from God, then it should be considered as an opportunity for a person's self-realization and the development of his creative abilities. Free choice in this case cannot cause fear in a person. The divine gift of creative freedom to man does not just elevate man above other beings, but leads him to unity with God, makes him equal to God in terms of the possibility of creativity: God the Creator and man the creator finds a point of contact. However, the freedom to create requires the highest responsibility from a person, because, playing the role of the creator, a person also acts as a co-author, a conductor of Divine creativity. In this case, it is possible to break the vicious circle of absurdity in which existential consciousness found itself in a world without God.

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