Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Diving Deeper 11 - War and Peace 7

Rosemary Edmonds, the translator of my edition of War and Peace writes a wonderful introduction to this epic story.  We learn many interesting facts, for example, that his wife was his amanuensis during the writing of the novel, and that he re-wrote sections of the manuscript seven times.  It would appear that the Countess, his wife, spent considerable time making what they then called a "fair copy" of the manuscript for the publisher.  Also this magnum opus - "il lungo studio e il grande amore" as he called it - took five years in the making.

The Countess even reported that her husband Leo Tolstoy (Liovna) used to often cry during his writing of this work, and one isn't surprised as it is such a passionate work.  Let's listen now to some sentences from the pen of Rosemary Edmonds:
Tolstoy's subject is humanity - people moving in the strange delirium of war and war's chaos...  In the way Tolstoy has of walking through all his books, in War and Peace he may be identified with the two heroes, Pierre and Prince Andrei, in their passionate, unremitting strivings towards "the infinite, the eternal and the absolute." (He even anticipates his own maturer views when Pierre comes to the conclusion that "to live with the sole object of avoiding doing evil so as not to repent is not enough.  I used to do that - I lived for myself and I spoilt my life.  And only now, when I am living for others - or, at least trying to - only now do I realize all the happiness life holds.")
                                                                             (War and Peace, Introduction, no page given.)


I have already stated that, like Dostoyevsky, that Tolstoy is an existentialist through and through - a Christian existentialist.  He is interested in humanity in all its gamut of experiences from happiness to suffering; from the light to the dark and the myriad of colours in between.  He wants to paint life as it really is.  Authenticity would be something high on Tolstoy's list of values though he would not use that (for him) anachronistic term.  He would also, I believe, be interested in psychotherapy had he been born fifty years later.  Here, I will quote a most appropriate sentence from Tolstoy: "The one thing necessary, in life as in art, is to tell the truth."  Indeed, his whole life was bound up with this mission to tell the truth about all things, both outward and inward.  He saw this search for truthfulness, both outward and inward, as being the basis of reality

Mysticism or Realism

The Reiki Tree: rooted in the mystic traditions of ancient Japan
I disagree with the brilliant translator, Rosemary Edmonds, that Leo Tolstoy was not a mystic.  I believe he was.  I also believe that being a mystic does not rule out necessarily being a realist to my  understanding.  I suppose it depends on what one means by the real in the end.  Anyway, I shan't delay here on this metaphysical point (See Mysticism Examined: Philosophical Inquiries Into Mysticism by Richard H. Jones, State University of New York, 1983)

I am reminded here of a quotation from the Victorian writer Rev. Frederick Langbridge
English poet and religious writer (1849 - 1923):"Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw the stars."  What puts that famous quotation in my mind this night is the following quotation from Tolstoy, encapsulating the same sentiment entirely: "In the gutter I see the image of the sky."  With such a philosophy, one can understand that it is never events themselves, however important and far-reaching, which interests Tolstoy but rather the effect of the event on the individual and the latter's contribution to the event.   In short, he is interested in psychology - even in the psychology of religion - in what makes the human person tick.  In my book his realism always leads to an interest in transcendence and hence his is a mysticism with its roots in reality.

He is interested in what motivates heroes, what inspires them.  What is the human soul at base?  What is it seeking?  What is the meaning of life. For him the soul is on the quest for the Kingdom of God, which really the peasants understood more truly and authentically than the rich.

I thoroughly agree with Rosemary Edmonds that Tolstoy was preoccupied with the ethical domain of living.  However, his ethical vision is always associated with, indeed secondary to, his artistic or aesthetic vision (indeed the two are inextricably linked when one comes to think about it!  That's worth exploring for another blog entry!)  Here's a quotation from Tolstoy on the artistic vision of the novelist:
My aim as an artist is not to resolve a question irrefutably but to compel one to love life in all its manifestations, and these are inexhaustible.  If I were told that I could write a novel in which I could indisputably establish as true my point of view on all social questions, I would not dedicate two hours to such a work; but if I were told that what I wrote would be read twenty years from now by those who are children today, and that they would read and laugh over it and fall in love with the life in it, then I would dedicate all my existence to it. 

War and Peace is a hymn to life in all its beauty and pain, in all its happiness and fret, in all its vicissitudes.  It is Tolstoy's masterpiece of the human soul in search of authenticity.  For a nineteenth century Russian, very close to his serfs, and much read in philosophy, literature in Russian and French, and in theology, his search for authenticity was essentially religious, or spiritual.  For him, "To love life is to love God" is a philosophy that he places in the mouth (of babes) of Prince Andrei's fifteen year old son at the end o the novel.

No comments: