War and Peace and Anna Karenina

Just a link holding post. Mentioned several times that I consider Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” a great piece of work, being about life, the universe, (God) and everything and yet have failed to get very far through his other famous tome.

Hat tip @RoseDiel for sharing this 2005 review of reading War and Peace by Laura Miller in Salon. Despite the obvious historical and fictional narratives, it’s clearly also about life, the universe and everything.

Me previously on Psybertron (2016):

Anna Karenina is one of those great works, like Tolstoy’s other magnum opus, that I must have started, even read up to a handful of chapters, half-a-dozen times. Already familiar with his “unhappy families” and even Vronsky at the horse race – but always too distracted to read on through the patronymics, familials and informals to actually get the point of greatness. And of course I must have seen two or three film and TV dramatisations over the years, not to mention the meme of recalling Anna everytime I’ve set foot on a snowy windswept railway platform, typically for some reason at Slependen, Oslo, in my memories. Meme upon meme.

I’ve just finished reading the Penguin Classics Pevear & Volokhonsky translation, whose cover blurb includes:

“[T]he vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.”

We probably all know Tolstoy as a “devout Christian” and of course I’m an atheist, rationalist, humanist, so it would be easy to be prejudiced against Levin’s (ie Tolstoy’s) enlightenment. But it’s an enlightenment I feel I share.

I know in fact.

The word may translate as God, but it is God as in “the good” – no superhuman, supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent, causal agent here. Church too, but not as organised religion or ritualised superstition, simply as socially shared knowledge of the good. And knowing that it is good in the collective action of individuals and not in any disembodied rational conception of scientists and philosophers. Beyond words. Rationality is our most powerful tool, but love is greater, being neither thing nor tool.

Good philosophers know this. Good people enact it. “The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ” anyone? Jeez – even good humanists know this.

There’s a lot of agriculture and “what about the workers?” in Karenina. Oh, and – spoiler alert – sadly, Anna doesn’t make it through her paranoia. Too great for me to do it justice in any actual review or selection of quotes.

Simply, a great book.

So, on to “War and Peace“? Maybe after some writing.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.