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Tolstoy Journal, April 6, 2017: “She had too keen a desire to live herself.”

I think I have mentioned Wittgenstein before in this blog but wanted to show another of my travel books. Tolstoy and Wittgenstein were alike in some ways. Gorky said God and Tolstoy were like two bears in a cage, and someone remarked when Wittgenstein was coming for a visit, that God was coming to town. Uncompromising searching men. I’m not sure how I feel about Wittgenstein: I admire his genius, his search for God and truth, his “mystical” side, but I deplore, for the most part and as much as I understand it, analytic philosophy which he started; or I deplore when philosophy becomes only that and not the love of wisdom. I deplore philosophy becoming a branch of linguistics.

I feel the same way about Tolstoy. I admire his work greatly and him to up to a point. But I don’t understand his having to always start from a blank slate and his reductionistic streak. The arrogance that led him to say I have found true Christianity. At last!

But I tell you what, when I read Anna Karenina I say to myself, this just blows away just about anything else you could read. Somewhere Hemingway says something similar about reading Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil: you read it and shake your head when you think of contemporary literature.

Tonight I read up to page 132 of Volume VII of the Works, or up to Chapter XXX of Part One. These pages describe Levin returning home and his happiness in so doing, in getting back to the country, to his ancestral home, and the familiar servants and his dog, and, strange to say, his dreams of a happy family life.

“For him, love for a woman could not exist outside of marriage; but he imagined the family relationship first, and only afterwards the woman who would be the center of the family. His ideas about marriage were therefore essentially different from those held by the majority of his friends, for whom it was only one of innumerable social affairs; for Levin it was the most important act of his life, whereon all his happiness depended, and now he must renounce it!”

But he takes a cup of tea, sits down in his chair with a book. ” . . . then he felt, strangely enough, that he had not renounced his day-dreams, and that he could not live without them. Were it Kitty or another, still it would be.”

Levin’s calmness once he gets home, his feeling that the closer he gets to home, the more he is himself again, contrasts with the pages after this that focus on Anna as she prepares to leave Moscow. She tells Dolly that she knows why Kitty has not come over this night, because she, Anna, ruined it for her the night before by captivating Vronsky. Tolstoy shows you how agitated she is while Dolly, thankful for her helping reconcile her and Stepan, makes light of it.

Anna gets on the train and feels better, tries to read an English novel but can hardly do so because of her agitation and because she wants to live the life of every character she reads about.

“Anna read, and understood what she read; but it was not pleasant to her to read, in other words to enter into the lives of other people. She had too keen a desire to live herself. If she read how the heroine of her story took care of the sick, she would have liked to go with noiseless steps into the sick-room. If she read how a member of Parliament made a speech, she would have liked to make that speech. If she read how Lady Mary rose after the hounds, and made sport of her sister-in-law, and astonished every one by her audacity, she would have liked to do the same. But she could do nothing; and with her little hands she clutched the paper-cutter, and forced herself to read calmly.”

That “she could do nothing” struck me as the key to her. She feels helpless in her life, or at least lets herself feel so. When she can no longer read, she puts her book down but succumbs to a hallucinatory state after thinking about Vronsky.

“It was terrible to her to yield to these hallucinations; but something kept attracting her to them and she could by her own will either yield to them or withdraw from them.” She does so for a moment but then gives in again. This reminded me of the Bower of Bliss in Spenser. But Tolstoy is clear that she has the willpower to keep herself in her right mind. The train stops and she wants to get out to get some fresh air and I peeped ahead and see Vronsky in the snowstorm.

Last night I read some pages of Allan Bloom’s introduction to his translation of Emile. He is very good and reading him makes me want to read The Closing of the American Mind again.

Here are some passages I underlined:

p. vii “He [Rousseau] is a precise and careful writer. He speaks of a real world of which we all have experience, no matter what our language. He, above all writers, thought he spoke to all men.”

Well that reminded me of Tolstoy, right off the bat, especially the “real world” part.

vii-viii “He [the translator] is a messenger, not a plenipotentiary, and proves his fidelity to his great masters by reproducing what seems in them to the contemporary eye wrong, outrageous, or incomprehensible, for therein may lie what is most important for us. He resists the temptation to make the book attractive of relevant, for its relevance may lie in its appearing irrelevant to current thought. If books are to be liberating, they must seem implausible in the half-light of our plausibilities which we no longer know how to question. An old book must appear to be old-fashioned, and a translator cannot lessen the effort required of the reader; he can only make it possible for the reader to make that effort.”


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