Professor Ryszard Przybylski’s essays attract a loyal readership, mainly because they offer entirely non-academic standards of thought and expression. His immense erudition – though treated haphazardly, according to the “oh yes, I just happen to have remembered” principle – is accompanied here by a truly schoolboy-style linguistic verve, and serious thought appears in a huge range of very different forms. A Ton of Evil and a Touch of Good is nominally a collection of four biblical meditations, but in fact it also includes a short scenario (a daring summary of The Book of Esther) and some memoirs (passages devoted to his grandfather or to the traditions of his native Volhynia), while a satirical vision of the first days of the Creation appears alongside an improvised political pamphlet and some in-depth analyses of numerous paintings and drawings that, according to Przybylski, supplement the biblical tradition in a competent way, or at least in a manner worth examining. On top of this there are lots of excellent ideas and amazing comments, so typical of this author.
Naturally, the hero of the book is God, as much the Old Testament potentate and autocrat as today’s powerless “preternatural unreality” – both these sides of His “personality” make Him into a negative hero who gets picked to shreds. On the other hand Jesus comes across as a positive hero (treated here as one of the Prophets rather than as the Son), although Przybylski has some reservations about his teaching too, and sees a lot of gaps in it. He treats both Divine Beings quite ruthlessly, as in the essays he quotes by Vasili Rozanov, who was also plainly dissatisfied with them.
The book has an unconventional structure; from an approving presentation of some metaphysical longings we gradually progress towards total disbelief and even some mockery of those who do believe, especially those who try to justify their belief. In any case, Przybylski reserves just as much sarcasm for the achievements of the exact sciences as for the tenets of theology. The only enclave for Man from Earth, who “understands nothing but concrete facts”, (and Przybylski thinks of himself as one) is the humanities (which allow one to get to the heart of the matter intuitively) and also humanitarianism, a good deed, giving another person help if God is being sparing with it (for whom otherwise the Tree of Knowledge was the tree of his identity; if identity was then consumed, so to speak, we can hardly be surprised by its dispersal, all the more since in a way omnipresence is the result of this – some of Przybylski’s thoughts can be developed endlessly, which is a pleasure). The one regret is that, overwhelmed by the “ton of evil”, Przybylski has only roughly addressed the issue of good – perhaps that will be the theme of his next book?
- Adam Wiedemann