Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Seldom did art work so much like nature.

As an aspiring artist and well-read human being I have decided to dedicate my 2012 year to Tolstoy. By December 31, 2012 I will have read War and Peace, Anna Karenia, and—hopefully—The Death of Ivan Ilyich (I don’t want to get too overzealous and set myself up for failure and/or disappointment). I will have blogged my way through them all, and I will learn as much about Tolstoy as possible.

Prior to December 26, 2011 I knew nothing of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy other than the colloquial pertaining to War and Peace and Anna Karenia—two novels I assumed were over rated and over loaded with the heavy melancholy of 19th century Russia. As of today, January 4, 2012 I know little more; however, my admiration for him is multiplying at viral rate.

Before the reading begins, I thought it best to give myself a rudimentary introduction to Tolstoy. I started with a google search and ended with Wikipedia (I’m a millennium after all).

To my delight, Tolstoy is loved by my authorial lovers: James Joyce; Virginia Woolf; Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Gustave Flaubert; and Marcel Proust. I fantasize about all of us gathering with Mr. Tolstoy (I don’t know him well enough, yet, to call him Leo). The room is being illuminated by oil lamps while crackling, burning wood adds a shadowed effect to the walls and hearth, cigarettes are puffing clouds of indulgence through the air, open bottles of Beaune’s finest are carelessly lounging on all flat surfaces, and each guest takes a turn reading a selection of work with frequent interruptions of witty commentary and sarcastic jokes. Fyodor eventually is overloaded with aggression from all of Flaubert’s radical, honest, and violently simple state-of-the union proclamations. Mr. Tolstoy defends Fyodor’s aggression and they pirate the conversation with weapons of lived experiences from the front lines of battle. Fyodor digresses toward the melancholy of exile. Virginia decrees that all women live in exile as she coyly gives me a wink; I add that all women are in exile because we are only seen as whores and mothers—whores with golden hearts and mothers with tainted hysteria. Proust then reminds all of us to take a step back and consider the landscape.

What I’ve learned of Tolstoy & His Work

  • After traveling to Paris and witnessing a public execution he wrote, “The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens... Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere.”

  • Tolstoy is known for his “complicated and paradoxical persona and for his extreme moralistic and ascetic views, which he adopted after a moral crisis and spiritual awakening in the 1870s, after which he also became noted as a moral thinker and social reformer.”

  • War and Peace is generally thought to be one of the greatest novels ever written, remarkable for its dramatic breadth of unity.”

  • “His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him in later life to become a fervent Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist. His ideas on nonviolent resistance were to have a profound impact on such pivotal twentieth-century figures as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

  • Of Tolstoy’s work, Thomas Mann, twentieth-century German novelist, wrote: Seldom did art work so much like nature.

Today is the beginning. I have purchased my copy of War and Peace, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. It is paperback; heavy. The cover is Tiffany blue with serif fonts and ornamental scrolls. Part one, Volume one, is 99 pages long with 25 sections. The anticipation to sitting down and reading is consuming.

2012 will forever be known as my year with Tolstoy. I will be courting him for the next 361 days. We'll have date nights; dinner nights; Saturday afternoon tea, and we might even end our relationship with a viewing of the 1956 feature film War and Peace.

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