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Oblomovism

It could hardly be called a movement. It could hardly be called a philosophy. (Indeed, it doesn't even rate an entry in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Oblomovism is more a way of life.

Oblomovism was a slang term that originated in pre-Soviet Russia. It was based on a character in a novel written by Ivan Goncharov. The novel was succinctly named "Oblomov". It is primarily about a Russian nobleman who cannot seem to find the ambition to accomplish anything.

Not that Oblomov lacks dreams. He dreams great things. He dares to love the beautiful and vivacious Olga. He plans the expansion of his estates and beneficent deeds for his dependents. Yet life since birth has been a pleasant ride in the country, and he cannot seem to rise above his self-indulgence to reach out and seize the possibilities of his day.

Ivan Goncharov (born in 1812 in Simbirsk) knew his subject well. He saw all around him the effects on a whole class of people of unearned wealth. Nobles without ambition slowly allowed their estates to decay and their country to drift towards class warfare. Although they could see that their efforts could be to their own advantage, they would not stir themselves from their creature comforts to act. This endemic lassitude came to be called Oblomovism. Though many struggled against it, it proved a significant force in Russian society and culture. Some even partly blamed it for the advent of the 1917 revolution.

Goncharov's book also had influence outside of Russia. Since its publication in 1859 observers have noted the effects of unqualified support of any particular class, whether it be nobility or the welfare poor - the tendency to become unproductive and a burden to the rest of society.

The book has also had deep meaning on a personal level for its readers. James Michener even included a reference to it in his coming of age novel, The Fires of Spring. In it, the major character, while attending college, devours the book in a single all-night read. It is a mere throw-away line in the book, but anyone who has read "Oblomov" understands the contrast between the vigor of the young American student and the sleepy ponderousness of the aristocrat Oblomov.

Goncharov himself had to struggle to overcome his own lethargy to complete this work. It took him more than ten years to write. "Oblomov" is in the grand tradition of the great Russian novel. It is truly a sprawling work that plays out over 500 pages.

Oblomovism itself is a phenomena that perhaps bears further investigation. Yet any serious attempt must begin with "Oblomov".

W.J. Rayment


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