Wednesday, February 21, 2007

From Page 264

Until recently I had forever been stalled on page 100 of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Every time I attempted to read the work I made it to that point and either lost hope or lost interest. Great news--I am now on page 285. Stalled, but I made it clear to page 285!

Here's an excerpt I found particularly interesting and worth sharing:

For a historian considering the achievement of a certain aim, there are heroes; for the artist treating of a man’s relation to all sides of life there cannot and should not be heroes, but there should be men.

[…]

The historian has to deal with the results of an event, the artist with the fact of the event. An historian in describing a battle says: ‘The left flank of such and such an army was advanced to attack such and such a village and drove out the enemy, but was compelled to retire; then the cavalry, which was sent to attack, overthrew…’ and so on. But these words have no meaning for the artist and do not actually touch on the event itself. Either from his own experience, or from the letters, memoirs, and accounts, the artist realizes a certain event to himself, and very often (to take the example of a battle) the deductions the historian permits himself to make as to the activity of such and such armies prove to be the very opposite of the artist’s deductions. The difference of the results arrived at is also to be explained by the sources from which the two draw their information. For the historian (to keep to the case of a battle) the chief source is found in the reports of the commanding officers and the commander-in-chief. The artist can draw nothing from such sources; they tell him nothing and explain nothing to him. More than that: the artist turns away from them as he finds inevitable falsehood in them. To say nothing of the fact that
after any battle the two sides nearly always describe it in quite contradictory ways, in every description of a battle there is a necessary lie, resulting from the need of describing in a few words the actions of thousands of men spread over several miles, and subject to most violent moral excitement under the influence of fear, shame and death.

2 comments:

Darryl said...

4 random thoughts:

Sometimes, suffering thru 'til you get traction has a big reward. I started Catch-22 three times before I was sucked into the story.

OTOH, sometimes you never quite engage completely because the tome is an overrated pile of crap.

Understanding Russian literature's difference from US novels might help. I utterly hated the first couple of 'em I had to read. Then a good teacher 'splained russian culture and history and that helped. Even after that, I still have a love-hate thing going with russian lit.

Changing media forms sometimes makes a big difference. I loved Tolkein as a kid, but hated his poems and songs until I heard them on an audiobook.

As for the love-hate thing, don't even get me started on russian names. patronymic, formal, informal, diminutive (pet) names, nicknames or colloquial shortenings (like Misha or Illya). Instead of a scorecard, I always ended up feeling like I needed a spreadsheet to keep up with the mosaic of names used in russian dialogue. I can't egin to imagine that mess superimposed on an epic that'd make Michener jealous.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Thanks for the words of encouragement, Darryl.

Russian names are awful! And I swear there are a billion in War & Peace to keep track of. At one point I tried to ignore them and yet I was even more confused.

I'm not sure I ever get sucked in to the storyline with Tolstoy, but I can't say I haven't tried! ;)