Few things are more life-affirming than being a martyr. What better way to feel alive than by pain, rejection, slander, a trip to the stake? Well, it’s Current Year. We’re not burning at the stake those religious dissidents who wax unorthodox. No, we’re modern people. We don’t burn in a literal way. We take things a step further. We burn in a modern way: off with your Facebook! Hand over your YouTube account. 3 strikes too many. You won’t be needing that. Don’t worry. We won’t kill you. We’ll kill the idea of you.
“The point isn’t the problem that I’m suffering from, the point is I‘m suffering!” so cries the martyr. To cry about the devil and point to your crying rather than the devil – definition of a martyr.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn never cast his suffering as the main character. And neither did Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. Nor in Elie Wiesel do we find the author centerstage. But are these examples too outrageous? Are Solzhenitsyn and Frankl and Wiesel too titanic for us laypeople? Is there nothing we can learn from them? — Ah, but they spout such exaggerations, too many false statistics…they didn’t have enough sources… (If a kid comes running to you in the middle of the street, bawling his eyes out, says daddy is inside beating mommy, how many goddamn sources do you need before you believe him? Pull out your statistics! I need fact checks! How can I be sure mommy isn’t exaggerating? Everyone knows that seeing is believing…)
I can’t figure this out. Literary types, like Solzhenitsyn and Wiesel, whose lives overflowed with suffering, never bookended their work with the cry of the martyr, never wanted us to think, “oh, see how that one person suffered! Woe to this author in particular.” They had every reason to tell us that. They suffered. Badly. They suffered for a long, long time. They met the devil. And they cried about the devil. And they told us about their crying, and about the devil. And the devils of the others and the crying of naked, starved, lonesome people. Many people. Millions. Naked millions of people. Starved and lonesome millions of people.
Thanks to Solzhenitsyn et all, by reading we can suffer and starve with those millions. Suffer and starve with those millions – I see no martyrdom in that.