Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Diving Deeper 12 - War and Peace 8

Tolstoy and the Unconscious

The unconscious is as old as humankind itself, though its official acknowledgement and popularization lay with the founding father of all psychotherapy (in the form of psychoanalysis), namely one Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).  It goes without saying that all creative artists used their dreamworld, to a greater or lesser extent, by way of inspiration in their works of art, no matter what genre their work was in. They may not have explicitly called it by the term "unconscious."  They would have used a plethora of other words like unintentional, automatic, mechanical, instinctive, involuntary, reflex, or intuitive.  What drives the great Empires to war against one another?  What drives humans to hate other humans?  In short, what drives humankind to evil in all its multifarious forms.  It is obviously the unconscious whose drives and instincts have us in their grip.  It is these unconscious urges that drives humankind to war.

Fatalism versus Free Will

Tolstoy's attitude to history is the exact opposite of Thomas Carlyle's (1795 – 1881) hero-worship. For Carlyle, chaotic events demanded that those whom  he called 'heroes' take control over the competing forces erupting within society. While not denying the importance of economic and practical explanations for events, he saw these forces as 'spiritual' – the hopes and aspirations of people that took the form of ideas, and were often ossified into ideologies ("formulas" or "isms", as he called them). In Carlyle's view, only dynamic individuals could master events and direct these spiritual energies effectively: as soon as ideological 'formulas' replaced heroic human action, society became dehumanised.  (Note that by "spiritual" Carlyle means something more akin to an energy, as he was a committed atheist who had been reared a Calvinist.  Even though he had turned from his Calvinist faith, he still retained many of its forbidding characteristics.

Tolstoy sees the unconscious urges of mankind as the only agents of history, and applies to events the law of necessity that he observes operating in the lives of individuals.  In other words, what we see here in Tolstoy is a philosophical fatalism.  Things are ordained to be as they are.  One can hear his characters echo this philosophy throughout this epic novel.  Almost like Luther each of them seems to be saying "I can do no other" - "Ich kann nicht anders."

All of nature is working towards an eventual triumph of truth, and that truth is the driving force of necessity, against which it is stupid for humankind to resist or oppose.  To this extent, then, the second part of the Epilogue of War and Peace is entirely devoted to the problem of freewill versus this driving force of necessity.  I will discuss this in a later post. 

Tsar Alexander I of Russia
Tolstoy shows us the futility of war as presented by the three warring Emperors - Emperor Napoléon of France, Emperor Francis II of Austria and Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Against this backdrop, he paints the lives of his five great families.  Tolstoy is arguing that before the beauty and truth of Russia that whole might of the Napoleonic Great Army crumbled away to nothing.  The spirit of simplicity, goodness and truth, which lies at the heart of the Russian nation, Tolstoy argues, overcame the brutal power of Napoleon.  This brutal power of conquest and oppression ignored simplicity, and because it ignored simplicity, it was essentially rooted in evil.  This would seem to be what War and Peace is all about.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, General Kutuzov, according to Prince Andrei, "knows that there is something stronger and more important than his own will - the inevitable march of events, and he has the brains to see them and grasp their significance, and seeing that significance can abstain from meddling, from following his personal desires and aiming at something else."

And yet, there is someone even nobler and purer than Kutuzov, and that is Karatayev who is only an ordinary foot-soldier, but he is one who knows his place in the scheme of things: "qui accepte sa place dans la vie et dans la mort," and is the very incarnation of wisdom according to Pierre: "His life, as he looked at it, held no meaning as a separate entity.  It had meaning only as part of a whole of which he was at all times conscious." 

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