“The individual who has lived through a great historical upheaval has not only been dispossessed of his beliefs. He has found himself face to face with a reality that goes far beyond him and everyone else. He has discovered that one cannot be satisfied with substitutes for truth, and that one cannot at will believe in anything or nothing at all. He has seen that in the relations between man and the world something exists that cannot be changed. At the same time, he has sensed the reality of a Power which nobody can control. Finally, he has found himself personally in question, and he knows that, under any circumstances whatsoever, there is only one thing that matters: the relation between individual conscience and the world. This is some thing that cannot be counterfeited.”
Excerpted from Nicola Chiaromonte’s The Paradox of American History: Stendhal, Tolstoy, Pasternak, and Others (1970), based on Chiaromonte’s Christian Gauss Lectures at Princeton in 1966.