The Icon and the Hand

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“Shalamov’s Kolyma is a graceless place. If a Byzantine worldview proposed a complex
construction of mirrors, reflecting the man on his way to salvation, then the concentration camp is on the contrary a place without those personal mirrors, which, in the everyday life of a human being, supports him in the construction of his identity. The convict perceives himself only from his own inside, either by the sense of wounds and frost, or by seeing
those parts of the body, which are always visible to their own eye. What do I actually see of myself from my own eyeholes except my headless body? First of all, I see my hands, the only part of the body, which can be seen by a human being, having them, and from every point of view. Because of his years in the camp – in Shalamov’s case almost twenty – there is the view of crippling hands, which reveal for the convict his own deterioration. Intimate descriptions of suffering, diseases and degenerating hands constitute a distinct feature of Shalamov’s prose, which can be interpreted as a mnemotechnical attempt of the author to once again live inside the convict’s body…”
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