People have the wrong ideas about ideas. They think that, to live right, one needs the correct abstractions, but more often ideas get in the way. In [Chekhov’s] “The Name-Day Party” (1888), a husband given to endless political argument exasperates his wife, who goes into premature labor and loses the child. “Olya,” he sobs as the story ends, “I don’t care about property qualifications, or circuit courts or about any particular views. . . . I don’t care about anything! Why didn’t we take care of our child?” Enlightenment is not through, but away from, ideas.
Enlightenment away from ideas provides the controlling metaphor of “Lights” (1888). Some lights only darken. Chekhov realized that, like the student sensing St. Peter, we need not solve some riddle to appreciate the world’s mystery.
The surer we become that we have gotten to the bottom of things, the more likely we are to be mistaken and, either by cruelty or neglect, to cause real harm.
– from Chekhov’s enlightenment