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The “common task”: defeating death, and resurrecting “all the dead, from all generations”

March 26, 2013

Nikolai Fedorov (1828-1903) advocated that everyone work toward the abolition of death and the physical resurrection of all past generations. This would require space travel.

That much I knew, but there is plenty more to be learned from Sarah J. Young’s ninth lecture on Russian thought. For example, “one of Fedorov’s disciples was the father of Russian rocket science Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), who spent three years studying in the Rumyantsev museum where Fedorov worked, and who later propounded a theory of cosmism that had much in common with Fedorov’s, as it involved space colonization as a route to human perfection and immortality.” Also, late in his life, Dostoevskii wrote to a follower of Fedorov’s, asking if literal resurrection of the dead was what “your thinker” had in mind (it was). And there’s a charming story about how the well-read Fedorov, working as a librarian, would give patrons the books they asked for and “all sorts of other materials he thought they would find useful.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2013 3:16 pm

    Oh man, Fedorov/Fyodorov! As I said here, “I have an unreasonable fondness for these unaffiliated crackpots, burrowing away at their obsessive analyses of Life, God, and Meaning, glaring with half-seeing eyes at the world around them and scribbling, scribbling, scribbling.” But he was definitely a crackpot, and I was bemused and slightly annoyed by Young’s attempts to paint him as something else: “I said in my last lecture that initially his ideas appear far more eccentric than Solov’ev’s, but I would suggest that is only the case at first glance. […] You may well now be thinking ‘in what way is that less eccentric or obscure than visions in the British Library?’ but I would argue that it is so, because it is practical project and not some sort of mystical vision.” Practical?? If Fedorov was “practical,” so is the guy on the corner who claims he can use Mind Power to destroy things. And as for one of his disciples being Tsiolkovsky, alas, scientists are as susceptible to crackpottery as anyone else (see: Newton). I can understand not wanting to point and laugh, and of course it’s important to document his influence on Russian literature and culture, but trying to make a respectable thinker of him is (in my opinion) a bridge to far.

  2. March 28, 2013 11:13 am

    Thanks for the link to your excellent 2007 post! On the whole I agree with you. I think Young is using “practical” in a very narrow sense and only in comparison to Solov’ev: Fedorov had a plan that required people to do things. And maybe even that is just to push students to get past the laughing phase and try to look at Fedorov’s thought on its own terms (even if it’s eccentric). Last year Young had a less reverent-sounding post on Fedorov and “intergalactic zombie agriculture.”

  3. March 29, 2013 9:34 am

    And maybe even that is just to push students to get past the laughing phase and try to look at Fedorov’s thought on its own terms (even if it’s eccentric).

    Yes, I’m sure that’s right, and it’s a noble aim; I guess I’m just allergic to any attempt to make the unreasonable/unscientific appear reasonable, something that’s all too prevalent in our irrational age. (Where’s the Enlightenment when you need it?) I don’t mind irrational writers at all — let them believe what they need to believe in order to write — but the rest of us need to keep our heads on our shoulders.

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