On Oblomov; In Praise of Idleness

oblomov

Amazed by not only his incredibly diversified and compact adventurous life but also his profound scrutiny of art and its vivid links with society, I wonder if Nikolai Dobrolyubov knew his life would be as short! This famous Russian social activist and journalist with his huge passion for art criticism was only 25 years old when tuberculosis killed him, however he did succeed to leave many influential articles among which “What is Oblomovism?” is an unforgettable one. Ilya Ilyich Oblomov is the main character of Ivan Goncharov’s famous novel (Oblomov – 1859); a Russian gentleman whose apathy towards people and life, and his consequent utter inertness, left him nothing more pleasurable than lolling on his couch. Dobrolyubov uncovers Oblomov’s less colorful brothers in some of the great works of others including Pushkin, Rudin, Beltov and Turgenev. He then by bolding their resemblances concludes that

            “all the heroes in the finest Russian stories and novels suffer from their failure to see any purpose in life and their inability to find a descent occupation for themselves. As a consequence, they find all occupations tedious and repugnant.”

Outspoken as he is, Dobrolyubov continues to generalise this devastating lassitude and aims at the strong distinctive feature of his country that’s been kept in the dark corner of national ignorance; He asks “Where is the one who in the native language of the Russian soul could pronounce for us the mighty word Forward?” and then sadly admits that there is a part of Oblomov in every one of us.


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120 years after, another Russian artist , Nikita Mikhalkov, makes his own poetic version of the novel in a film with the same title (Oblomov- 1980). The initial scene, in contrast to its origin, depicts the young Oblomov as he wakes up, blossoming a beautiful smile, sunlight dancing in his hair, flying between the rooms, longing for peace in his mom’s lap. Afterwards, every now and again, the film delivers different scenes of Oblomov’s childhood, but the way he calls his mother and looking everywhere for her is almost identical. Here we see the same Oblomov; unable to make a decision, so self-centered to understand love and so indolent to change. Even his long-lasting friendship with an inventive hard worker like Andrey Stoltz, or his passionate love affair with a desirable elegant Russian sweetheart like Olga, who is also in love with Stoltz – a love triangle as painful as the one in François Truffaut’s classic Jules and Jim (1962)- can’t alter his destiny. But there is one thing that Mikhalkov wonderfully reminds us with his dreamlike scenes and the musical magic of Casta Diva from Norma’s opera – where she sings “scatter on the earth the peace, Thou make reign in the sky” – that Oblomov is the lost innocency, the forgotten purity and the spotless soul. We, he implies, may not able to pronounce Forward as an Oblomov but moving forward without him certainly isn’t worth much!

In the last scene, when Oblomov has died as silently as he lived, his young boy runs among the green hills and fields, joyfully calling out for his mom. Now his voice is the only sound that comes from love.

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