Serhiy Krymsky was a great performer, says Taras Liutyi

Today our guest on Encounters is Taras Liutyi, the Ukrainian philosopher, writer, and professor in the Faculty of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. We will be talking about the philosophy of Serhiy Krymsky, an anthology of whose works was compiled by Professor Liutyi.

“A Jew from the Donbas, whose youth did not perish in the catastrophe of the Holocaust. Serhiy Krymsky was nine years old when the Second World War began. And at the age of 15, he saw its conclusion” (from the philosopher Kostiantyn Sihov’s writings about Serhiy Krymsky). 

Iryna Slavinska: How important were Serhiy Krymsky’s identity and Jewish background to him as a philosopher and a scholar?

Taras Liutyi: He never made a big secret of this, but neither did he flaunt such things. This was not a subject of discussion or interest. However, when I was preparing this four-volume publication, which came out last year [2019—Ed.), I had a chance to read an interview with Serhiy Krymsky, which was conducted by Tetiana Chaika, a former associate of the Institute of Philosophy. She touched on this very question.

Krymsky came from Bakhmut. It is interesting to read that Krymsky recounts that both of his parents were of Jewish descent. Serhiy Krymsky’s mother was distantly related to the Austrian writer Joseph Roth—small world. When the Second World War began on the territory of Ukraine, Serhiy and his mother were supposed to be evacuated. Later, Krymsky said that he never returned to Bakhmut after the evacuation; he went to Kyiv. At a rather mature age, he returned to Bakhmut and visited the salt mines. It was in these mines that the Nazis tortured and killed Jews. These were such strong emotions that he could never visit his native city again.

Iryna Slavinska: To what extent was Krymsky the philosopher engaged in the theme of identity and encounters with similar experiences in human destiny?

Taras Liutyi: Krymsky considered himself a Ukrainian philosopher. He was bilingual. He recounted that when he was a child, Russian was spoken at home and Ukrainian with children on the street. So much for the question of the “Russian-speaking Donbas.” In the 1930s, you could still hear the Ukrainian language spoken outside.

Krymsky developed as a philosopher under the Soviet system, and his debut book was written in Ukrainian. Philosophy was quite controlled ideologically, and this entailed certain linguistic limitations. I decided to leave these texts untouched and not translate anything.

This is a precedent for future research. In order to study philosophy, it was necessary to perform a certain ritual: for example, cite the classics of Marxism-Leninism.

This question about identity is not just about how we form ourselves; the environment and social reality also influence us.

How we are forced to coexist in this reality, the extent to which self-censorship influences us, how much identity we have—all these are important issues that are worthy of mention.

You could not be labelled as a Ukrainian philosopher because you were instantly a “bourgeois nationalist”—at the very least. If you insisted on your Jewish identity, you were manifesting a “resurgence of cosmopolitanism.”

Krymsky said that he first encountered such anti-Semitism at university. He saw a bust of Lenin and on it was written the word liudstvo [humanity] Someone had knocked out the letter “l,” leaving iudstvo [a distorted version of the word “Jewry”]. This may be a strange example, but it is quite revealing.

Iryna Slavinska: A four-volume edition of Serhiy Krymsky’s works has been published. What is the title, where was it published?

Taras Liutyi: This is an interesting initiative, and I am its executor. I became acquainted with Serhiy Krymsky when I was still doing my master’s at Mohylianka [Kyiv-Mohyla Academy], and Krymsky was teaching his author’s course. This was Krymsky’s unique philosophy. We would name a topic that interested us, and he would lecture.

The “Krymsky Captured in Text” and “Krymsky the Lecturer” are two different phenomena. This is a great performer, this is a demonstration of how one can think when an idea is unfolding in the process of how you are covering a topic, broaching a problem. This is truly a mono- and mini-performance.

Krymsky was a member of the oral defense committee for my dissertation, which was also interesting. That’s why I understood the kind of philosophy I was dealing with.

Krymsky could spark interest even in a person who never had any connection to philosophy. We published a very limited print run: 100 copies of the four-volume edition. They are for libraries; they are not in bookstores. The structure itself is interesting. The first volume can be read by people who may not even want to delve into the history of Krymsky’s formation as a scholar, as a philosopher. These are lectures that we managed to transcribe from YouTube, as well as article, interviews, and his contributions to the newspaper Den.

The next three volumes are in fact a recreation of the paths on the way to the formation of Krymsky’s philosophy. I am talking about problems of rationality, problems of culture, and, finally, the idea of Sophia (a term used in Christian philosophy to characterize the world as a consequence of the interpenetration of the transcendent and the immanent, the Divine and the animal—Ed.) That was the title of his last book:  Under the Signature of Sophia.

Iryna Slavinska: What did Krymsky understand by the term “Sophia” in the given context? What did he write about?

Taras Liutyi: Krymsky had a variety of approaches to this phenomenon, and most often, he explained it through the prism of the phenomenon of culture, particularly Ukrainian culture.

For example, he explained the difference between Russian culture and Ukrainian culture. Russian culture is the culture of the Third Rome; about the attitude to power. In Russia, power possessed a sacred character, independently of who the Father Tsar was; one had to have a worshipful attitude to it and to suffer.

It is a completely different case in Ukraine. In our country, power changes quite regularly, and if we are not satisfied, then there are a lot of us out on the Maidan.

In other words, a unique archetype of the divine wisdom of Sophia prevails in Ukrainian culture, which in fact became embodied in the culture in a whole array of symbols. We can say that the world is represented by a symbol, like a book, for example.

Krymsky says that philosophy as a method of retransmitting the concept of Sophia relates to the idea of directing a person toward the problem of the lack of human qualities. To be a human means constantly manifesting certain qualities that make us human.

I like a subject that strongly emphasizes this position of Krymsky’s. He tells the story about how Socrates was traveling with his students, and a hetaira [courtesan] approached them. The hetaira says to Socrates: “There are so many young people next to you, but all I have to do is give a look and they will all run from you to me.”

Remaining cool and collected, Socrates said: “Well, clearly, because you appeal to the bottom, while I appeal to the summit.”This path to the summit is more difficult. One must apply efforts all the time, just as in order to be a human, one must constantly apply some effort—not talk about good, but do good.

This program is created with the support of the Canadian philanthropic fund Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

Originally appeared in Ukrainian (Hromadske Radio podcast) here.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.
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