Friday, September 17, 2010

The Great Oblomov

"All his anxiety resolved itself into a sigh and dissolved into apathy and drowsiness."
- From Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

Each morning we sit down with a pot of a tea and leisurely go through the morning newspapers. (We get three delivered to our door every day). We enjoy this easing into the day. Life doesn’t start before 9 AM around here.

In any event, we were cheered by the appearance of Ilya Ilyich Oblomov in today’s Wall Street Journal. Oblomov is one of the great lazy men in literature, a satirical creation of the novelist Ivan Goncharov in 1859.

Here is the bit the Journal reproduces, in the Notables & Quotables section:

“He was a man of about thirty-two or -three, of medium height and pleasant appearance, with dark grey eyes, but with a total absence of any definite idea, any concentration, in his features… Oblomov never wore a tie or a waistcoat at home because he liked to feel unhampered and free. He wore long, soft, wide slippers; when he put his feet on the floor as he got out of bed, he invariably stepped into them without looking. Lying down was not for Oblomov a necessity, as it is for a sick man or for a man who is sleepy; or a matter of chance, as it is for a man who is tired; or a pleasure, as it is for a lazy man; it was his normal condition.”

We pulled out our old copy of Goncharov’s story and perusing it inspired this post…

Oblomov is a character that most of society would have a hard time warming up to. He is supremely lazy, rarely leaving his flat or even his bedroom. And yet, somehow, we are inspired by his staunch refusal to bend to what others think he should do.

He is a semi-absurd fellow in this respect, a man not roused by things that society finds so important. Instead he spends a great deal of time lying in bed and shirking work. He finds work especially tedious, asking famously, “but when am I to live?”

Oblomov stumbles around, never putting the pieces together of just how absurd life is and thus missing his absurd awakening, so to speak. “During his early years,” Goncharov writes of his fictional anti-hero, “He was stirred to excitement like other people, hoped and rejoiced at trifles, and suffered from trifles, too. But that was a long time ago…”

His sublime indifference is practically comical. We loved the description about how “he found it irksome to remain dressed all day” to which we sympathize. (We have the luxury of working at home and hardly every wear shoes and often wear nothing more than shorts and a t-shirt.)

Oblomov grows weary, too, of “evening parties” and instead invites his good bachelor friends where he can “take off his tie, unbutton his waistcoat, and even lie down and have an hour’s sleep.”

Oblomov is a day-dreamer, loafer, rebel and master of lassitude. For us, too, he’s a satirical example of one who finds his own way to cope with the futility of it all. The story is funny and sad, but ultimately, very human - with the absurd elements sprinkled in as well.

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