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Tolstoy Journal, August 12, 2017: “Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.”

The featured image is from Tolstoy: The Inner Drama by Hugh I’Anson Fausset. The only information in the book about it is that it is from the Maudes’ biography of Tolstoy and it is Tolstoy in 1906.

I have read up to page 297 of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi, or the middle of Chapter XXXVIII of “Yasnaya Polyana School.” I did not read from Tolstoy and Tolstaya yesterday but from the above and am up to page 88 of it. Fausset’s thesis, so far, is that Tolstoy was such a sensual man–a seer of the flesh–but that he also sought a meaning for life, a spiritual one, and that he would turn in revulsion from the flesh to an unachievable spiritual life. He could find no middle ground and projected his own struggles onto the world at large. The following is a typical, and I think wise, passage on Tolstoy’s dilemma:

p. 88: “Even in Turgenev he felt a moral indifference,a whimsical frivolity which constantly irritated. Certainly Turgenev had studied man, his own heart and the really great writers, as he advised Tolstoy to do, and had thereby evolved an art which exquisitely reflected the irony and pathos of life. But Tolstoy, who was too engrossed in his own heart to make a passive study of men or of great writers, despised, even while he envied, such detachment and literary refinement. A writer who expressed charmingly the pathos of life seemed to him to put a sort of gloss upon its tragedy, and so to administer a narcotic which would prevent men from facing the stark reality of wrong living.

“He himself could not live rightly, but at least he strove to do so and knew how intensely hard it was. And this knowledge made him sceptical of all facile moral pretensions or all merely artistic talent. It was because he suspected every one of not telling and living the truth, that he fixed them with that extraordinarily piercing and discomforting glance, which Turgenev has described.”

I am still enjoying reading “Yasnaya Polyana School,” although the last few pages about music have been slow-going because I don’t understand all the musical terms Tolstoy uses. But throughout he is showing the same emphasis on learning from experience from the children, the scholars, not trying to impose lesson plans on them. He says that the kids are interested in history only when it is artistic, that is, when it tells them a good story. He writes that from experience he has learned using the Bible is one of the best methods of teaching:

“In order to open before the pupil the new world, and without knowledge to start him in the love of knowledge, no book is needed but the Bible. I say this even for those that do not look on the Bible as a revelation. No, at least I know of no production which unites in itself in such a concise poetic form all the sides of human thought as the Bible does. All questions arising from the phenomena of nature are explained in this book; all the primitive relations of men, of the family, of government, of religion, are recognized in this book. The generalization of thought, wisdom in its simple, childlike form, for the first time subjects the pupil’s mind to its enchantment. The lyrical quality of the Psalms of David has its effect, not only on the mind of the adult pupils, but, moreover, every one from this book recognizes for the first time the full charm of epic poetry in its inimitable simplicity and force.”

He also writes that the teaching of history and geography are hopeless, at least in his experience. The scholars are not interested in other places or what happened when, unless it’s a good story. And he says it doesn’t really do the kids any good; they will be interested in history when they get older and/or when they travel.

Here is the last passage I’ll be quoting from Wilson’s Tolstoy (I think):

p. 507: “Existence at Yasnaya Polyana had by now become intolerable for the old man. What had begun, thirty and more years previously, as a brave attempt to lead the good life and to follow the commandments of Jesus had resulted in a situation almost as acrimonious, almost as full of human corruption and wickedness as the quarrels and rivalries which erupted among the followers and patrons of St. Francis of Assisi, who had tried the same experiment six centuries earlier. Tolstoy was by now emotionally exhausted. He had believed, and still believed, that property was theft. If he had not done so, it would not have been possible for both sides in the war of the wills to have tugged at the title of his literary estate with such voracious claws. He had preached peace, and he was surrounded by daily, hourly discord. He had insisted, with fervent sincerity, that the only thing in which he believed was the law of love, which is the love of God. He was the prisoner in a nettlebed of hatred. Escape was the only answer.”

Okay, now, in the midst of this Charlottesville horror, praying for peace, I turn to passages from Andrew D. Kaufman’s Understanding Tolstoy.

p. xi: “Tolstoy liked to quote the words of Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov: ‘Everything, like an ocean, everything flows and comes into contact–you touch in one place, and at the other end of the world it reverberates.'”

p. xiii: “‘Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.'”

pp. 1-2: “Like many great teachers of life–from Socrates, whom Tolstoy admired, to Gandhi, whom he influenced–Tolstoy urges us to engage the world with our complete being, and to seek out answers on our own, never settling for pat formulas or the borrowed ideas of others. For Tolstoy the road to truth begins with unceasing examination of the self, and the path to transcendence starts with a total immersion in the here-and-now.”

P. 2: “Tolstoy once wrote: ‘Man is flowing. In him there are all possibilities: he was stupid, now he is clever; he was evil, now he is good, and the other way around. In this is the greatness of man.'”

 

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