Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Would Chekhov Have Said About the Euro

On a blog I often look at, there was recently a discussion among the commenters about Anton Chekhov. *One commenter* wrote: ”......Chekhov said nothing directly about the euro crisis, but here’s what you do: Read Chekhov’s stories, his letters, his plays, and extrapolate from his life how we should handle the euro crisis..... “.

Thinking it might be nice for me to contribute something, I posted the following comment:
While indeed Chekhov said nothing directly about the Euro crisis because, one assumes, he was long dead before the current Euro crisis arose, there can be little doubt that had he lived today, he would have had much to say about this crisis.

Why do I say this? Well, Chekhov attended for a time a school for Greek boys in his native Russia, and he died in Germany. Hence Greece and Germany - the two countries central to the current euro crisis - would have loomed large in Chekhov's mind. He therefore would have been internationalist in his thinking and pan-European in his sensibilities, and so would have wished for a harmonious and integrated Europe whose peoples look upon themselves as Europeans rather than as Germans and Spaniards and whatnot.

Being an omnivorous and eclectic reader, Chekhov would have known that the Euro - being the first ever supra-national currency - was an experiment, and was therefore likely to fail, as most experiments do. So he would have urged that the euro be scrapped, and that the member countries go back to the currencies they had before.

Being extremely intelligent, Chekhov would have been a realist, and would have known that, because of Europe's widely differing languages and cultures and historical animosities, it will be well-nigh impossible for the member states to give up enough of their sovereign powers to form a politically federal Europe – essential for a successful common currency.


  1. I'm thinking (once I put joking aside) that he would have only described the problem.

    MOSCOW, October 27, 1888; from a letter written by A.P. Chekhov

    "… In conversation with my literary colleagues I always insist that it is not the artist’s business to solve problems that require a specialist’s knowledge. It is a bad thing if a writer tackles a subject he does not understand. We have specialists for dealing with special questions: it is their business
    to judge of the commune, of the future of capitalism, of the evils of drunkenness, of boots, of the diseases of women."

    Boots, diseases of women, the Euro...let's leave it to the specialists.

  2. Would anybody like being "one (nameless) commenter"?

  3. ”......Boots, diseases of women, the Euro...let's leave it to the specialists......”

    Interesting remark. Ours is indeed the Age of the Specialist to whose expositions on his specialty we non-specialists (who are most of us) listen in open-mouthed unquestioning awe.

    Whatever happened to the All-Rounder who knew a little about a lot? He had become largely extinct several decades ago I think.

    But, what the few remaining All-Rounders provide in any discussion on topics of specialty is common-sense and perspective. And what better All-Rounder than the writer or artist to provide this – whether the topic is as arcane as ships, sealing wax, cabbages and kings, or....the Euro.

    How would Jonathan Franzen or Ian McEwan or Margaret Atwood solve the Euro crisis? Their suggestions or solutions might well be better than those of any economist...well....excepting possibly Paul Krugman, whose expositions on the Euro I do admit to reading with open-mouthed unquestioning awe!!!

  4. ....Would anybody like being "one (nameless) commenter"?.....

    If one's name was actually One Commenter, one probably wouldn't mind. If not, well.....

    Anyway, since your name isn't actually One Commenter (or I'm assuming it isn't) I've now hyperlinked my quote of your comment to the original on Andreas's blog, so that you needn't remain anonymous to the tens of thousands of my readers world-wide who click-on here daily.

  5. First, thanks for the hyperlink.

    I don't think the All-Rounder is extinct. (By the way, "all-rounder" is a new expression for me.)

    Speaking of McEwan, I just ordered "Sweet Tooth" from Amazon. I'll let you know if it sheds any light on the Euro.

    Also, I have tickets to hear Seamus Heaney read tomorrow night. A poet! A poet will have the answers!

    As William Carlos Williams (one of the two illustrious Williams brothers, you will recall) wrote in Asphodel, That Greeny Flower:

    It is difficult
    to get the news from poems
    yet men die miserably every day
    for lack
    of what is found there.

  6. ..."all-rounder" is a new expression for me...

    It's a term used in cricket, for a player who bats as well as he bowls, and so is not a specialist batter or specialist bowler. Cricket teams like to have at least one all- rounder.

    I remember reading some months ago a piece in "Intelligent Life" about why there are so few Generalists (or All-Rounders) in our current societies.

    Speaking of McEwan, I recently read "On Chesil Beach", that I thought superb. Have you read it?

    I love those words by Williams. So true.

  7. You two are too sophisticated and funny for me.

    As it happens, I have been studying the causes of the euro crisis for well-nigh four months now, with access to the highest places.

    But I am herewith deciding that I will transfer my curiosity to the diseases of women, for there my endeavors may have a higher yield.

  8. "....I will transfer my curiosity to the diseases of women, for there my endeavors may have a higher yield...."

    One of the two presidential candidates spoke in last night's debate of having "...binders full of women..."

    Could these binders contain anything about the diseases of women, that would satisfy public curiosity?

    If yes, one can but hope that the candidate will soon release this information in the interests of transparency, and not to say electoral success.

  9. Christopher, I will read "On Chesil Beach" for sure! And, forget "all-rounders," I'm going to say something like, "He bats as well as he bowls!"

    Andreas, sorry, we need you on boots. How is your access to the lowest places?

    1. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to examine my word choice. Come to think of it, the places I have recently had access to (with respect to the euro crisis) are not, of course, "the highest", although this gets theological.

      On flip side, my access to the "lowest places" may also prove inadequate if I do pursue opportunities in the "diseases-of-women" field.

      This leaves me feeling very inadequate indeed. With authority can I now speak to either subject?

  10. ...I will read "On Chesil Beach" for sure!...

    You won't regret this. Rather sad and beautifully written, it will haunt you long after you've read the last page.

    Set in 1962, and therefore long before the Euro was even a gleam in anyone's eye, you may nonetheless see the fate of "On Chesil Beach"s two main characters mirrored in the fate of the Euro.

  11. Christopher,

    I loved the last chapter. I loved Florence's cruelty that was "merely the second violin answering the first, a rhetorical parry...." That strikes me as awfully true.

    Also, it is so apt that money has to take the place of other subjects that people don't know how to talk about.

    Good novel. Very good last chapter. Thanks.

  12. And, "rather sad," you think? It's horribly sad.

    Something very funny to read (for a change!), if you haven't already, is Richard Russo's "Straight Man."

  13. Since today I have Promises to Keep, my thoughts on what you said will have to wait until later today or tomorrow.

  14. Although it's 1962, Edward tells Florence she carries on as if it's 1862. The irony is that if Edward and Florence had been born 100 years earlier, and had married in 1862, their marriage would almost certainly have survived.

    While Florence would have been considered in 1962 (not to speak of today) to have something wrong with her, she would have been thought normal in 1862. Then, a woman liking sex was thought a strumpet, a nymphomaniac, and worse.

    The normal respectable woman of 1862 - inculcated from girlhood with the belief that marriage and everything that went with it was a patriotic duty - heroically lay back, closed her eyes and thought of England in order to make bearable those brief moments during which her husband exercised his conjugal rights.

    Florence, if born 100 years earlier, would surely have steeled herself to do the same

    Despite being repelled by sex, Florence was progressive enough to suggest an open marriage. Edward, by rejecting this out-of-hand, showed how old-fashioned he was.

    However, people being what they are, open marriages seldom work. So, Florence's and Edward's marriage was doomed from the start. Better, then, to end it on the wedding night, rather than much later.

    What was the genesis of Florence's dread of sex? Was it to do with her father? Think of those out-of-town journeys he took her on when she was a child - just the two of them – when they stayed at the grandest hotels.

    When Florence, lying on the honeymoon bed, hears the sound of of Edward undressing, she flashes back to when she was twelve years old, and lying on a bunk, listening to her father undressing, and trying to blot out the sound by closing her eyes and thinking of tunes she liked. Did anything else happen?

    For me, the sadness of “On Chesil Beach” is not so much the collapse of the marriage after only a few hours, but that Edward and Florence couldn't have remained dear and lifelong friends. Had they been born twenty or thirty years later, they may have. 1962 was, however, a foreign country; they did things differently there.