Michail Lermontow: Ein Held unserer Zeit | © Markus Scheumann

Currently I actually am busy contemplating other literature, not a novel. I keep track of today’s debates on identity and participation – excitedly and sometimes a bit stressed out. Who is permitted – at least from the perspective of some protagonists – to participate in these discourses and when, on the basis of personal impact within the framework of what we call identity and in what way? What is my own stance when it comes to these debates? How can I participate? On stage and off stage?  

However, a few weeks ago, I enthusiastically read Michail Lermontow’s novel Ein Held unserer Zeit (A Hero of Our Time). In it, he nails down the arrogance of privilege. The author and his work were subject to strict criticism at the time, which prompted Lermontow to point out that the author and the protagonist were certainly two separate beings as far as their moral integrity is concerned. It was a response, and I don’t remember where I read it, I found disappointing albeit necessary, especially since it was presented as a defense. This was not because I secretly hoped that Lermontow, through his main character, wanted to be the quasi key witness in his own right, but because the necessity of such an explanation actually attacks the piece of art as such. Just like criticism that is presented in this manner does, by dedicating itself electively to biographic heroization or dwarfing. In our day and age, we need (anti-) heroes that are autonomous from the lives of their authors. We need art as an antithesis where other rules apply than those that govern our everyday lives.

Lermontow’s protagonist, Petschorin, barely escapes death in a duel. A few months after the publication of his novel, Lermontow himself did not survive such a situation. So what should one thing have to do with the other…?       

Markus Scheumann, Vienna, 30 March 2021
Acting Der Untergang des Hauses Usher