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Tolstoy Journal, June 8, 2017: “An endless ecstasy over Schopenhauer.”

Well, I am behind on my Tolstoy reading because I made the mistake of buying a book by the philosopher, John Gray. So last night I ended up reading more than half of Straw Dogs. I have also read The Immortalization Commission and The Silence of Animals. So, while reading, I thought how can I tie this into Tolstoy? Looked in the index and there is one reference to Tolstoy. Here it is on page 39: “A hundred years ago, Schopenhauer was vastly influential. Writers including Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad, Leo Tolstoy and Thomas Mann, were deeply affected by his philosophy. . . . If he is scarcely read today, it is because few great modern thinkers have gone so much against the spirit of their time and ours.”

So I thought I would look up some passages about Schopenhauer and Tolstoy.

First, from Tolstoy himself in his diary:

p. 172: “Having lived for close on fifty years, I am convinced that life on earth has nothing to give, and that the clever man who looks at life on earth seriously, its labours, fears, reproaches, struggles–what for? for madness sake?–such a man would shoot himself at once, and Hartmann and Schopenhauer are right. But Schopenhauer gave people to feel that there is something, which stopped him from shooting himself. What that something is is the purpose of my book. What do we live by? Religion.”

p. 223: “Did nothing all day except read Schopenhauer on art. What flippancy and what trash. Yet someone assured me that his is the prevailing theory of aesthetics. . . . ”

p. 282: “Got up in the morning with bad thoughts, wrote nothing. Read Schopenhauer. Karma for him exists only in the sense of the preparation in a former life of a person’s character for this life, and not in the sense of a struggle in this life between light and darkness. He denies this and is inconsistent.”

Here is a passage that echoes something I have thought more than once while trying to keep up with my subscriptions to various journals and magazines.

pp. 446-447: “One of the main reasons for the narrowness of the people of our intellectual world is their pursuit of the contemporary, their effort to find out about, or at least to have some idea of, what has been written recently. . . . Yet mountains of books are written in every field. . . . And this haste, this stuffing one’s head with the contemporary, trivial and confused as it is, excludes any possibility of serious, true, necessary knowledge. How obvious the mistake is, you would think. We have the results of the thoughts of the greatest thinkers who have stood out from milliards and milliards of people in the course of thousands of years, and these results of the thinking of these great people have been sifted through the sieve of time. All that is mediocre has been discarded, and only the original, the profound, the necessary is left; what is left are the Vedas, Zoroaster, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, Christ, Mohammed, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and the moderns: Rousseau, Pascal, Kant, Schopenhauer and many others. And the people who try to keep up with the contemporary don’t know any of this, but go on trying to keep up with it and stuff their heads with chaff and rubbish, which will all be sifted out and none of it will remain.”

p. 477: “I received a very bad letter from her [his wife, I think]. The same suspicions, the same malice, the same demand for love, which would be comic if it wasn’t so terrible and agonizing for me. Today in the Cycle of Reading–Schopenhauer: ‘As the attempt to force people to love evokes hatred, so . . . ‘”

p 354: “Thought about the fact that Schopenhauer’s Parerga und Paralipomena is far more powerful than his systematic exposition.”

This quote is from Volume 2 of Simmons, p. 296: “He also reread that year the favorite work, Parerga und Paralipomena, of his favorite German philosopher, Schopenhauer, and the Also sprach Zarathustra of Nietzsche, whom he considered half mad.”

This next passage is from Wilson’s, Tolstoy, p. 249: “To be in full, physical vigour and to have completed, at the age of forty-one, the greatest masterpiece in prose fiction [War and Peace] inevitably produced a generalised feeling of gloom. This feeling was reinforced by spending the summer of 1869 reading the lugubrious philosophical writings of Schopenhauer. ‘I’m certain,’ he told Fet, ‘that Schopenhauer is the most brilliant of men.'”

This also is from Wilson, p. 251: “The Arzamas experience [during which Tolstoy felt he was going mad in his fear of death] was a confrontation with the hideous and inescapable fact of death. ‘Life and death somehow merged into one another.’ He was now unable to think of anything in life without realising that all action, all feeling, all achievement, all desire would one day be swallowed up and rendered pointless by death. He need not have spent the summer reading Schopenhauer to arrive at this fairly obvious truth, but the German pessimist cannot have helped what turned out to be less an intellectual conviction than a psychological crisis.”

This is from Simmons, Volume 1, p. 328: “Hegel’s works struck him as an ’empty collection of phrases,’ but in August 1869 he wrote Fet: ‘Do you know what this summer has been for me? An endless ecstasy over Schopenhauer, and a series of mental pleasures such as I’ve never experienced before. I have bought all his works and have read and am reading them (as well as Kant’s). And assuredly no student in his course has learned and discovered so much as I have during this summer. I do not know whether I shall ever change my opinion, but as present I’m confident that Schopenhauer is the greatest genius among men.'”

This latter comment is interesting because Gray writes that Schopenhauer demolished the philosophy of Kant. Here is Gray quoting Schopenhauer: “‘I should liken Kant to a man at a ball, who all evening has been carrying on a love affair with a masked beauty in the vain hope of making a conquest, when as last she throws off her mask and reveals herself to be his wife.’ In Schopenhauer’s fable the wife masquerading as an unknown beauty was Christianity. Today it is humanism.”


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