Page 2 of 2 FirstFirst 12
Results 16 to 27 of 27

Thread: Ranking of Dostoevskij novels

  1. #16
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,686
    Well, War and Peace seems to me to be about fate; and also history, which is a highly related topic (for Tolstoy, they are more or less the same thing). He is anxious to be done with the Carlyle's Great Man Theory. The supposedly great men of history just aren't all that important in War and Peace. Napoleon thinks he's a military genius, but his orders aren't really even reaching his own men. The French and Russian troops are just doing what they have to do based on what's happening in their little part of the battlefield. And Kutuzov isn't really pursuing some kind of grand strategy. He's just doing what he has to do every time the French beat him, which is mostly just running away. There is this rather moving scene in which Kutuzov, who's not the most emotional man in the world and not the smartest, learns that Napoleon has (quite foolishly) withdrawn from Moscow. He turns to an icon at the back of the room and silently weeps because he FINALLY sees how he can (maybe) defeat him. The implication is that he didn't really have a plan before that, and the one he eventually adopted (the one that won the war) was handed to him by fate.

    Previously, many Europeans had thought of fate in Augustinian terms. It was like a boulder crashing down a mountainside, partly carried by the force of its own trajectory (in effect, the consequences of one's prior choices) and partly being directed by or reacting against landscape features (events, ideas, people, crises). This is still a common way to look at things. I just reviewed a book called Pachinko in the Write a Book Review forum. The writer put an East Asian spin on things, but much of it was just a rehash of Augustine's ideas about fate.

    But for Tolstoy, fate involves microscopic interactions between an interconnected humanity. It is like a universal web. When a constituent part (an individual) acts it affects others, and their actions affect others and others and others in vast radiations. Although he doesn't use the metaphor, it is like a Ouija board. You know how several people can place their fingers on Ouija board planchette and, although none is aware of it, each is interacting with or against the tiny movements of the others so that the planchette sails off on a course independent of all of them. That is how Tolstoy (at least at that time in his life) saw fate and history. It was (and remains) a challenge to the Homeric ideal that became central to western thought.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; Yesterday at 10:31 AM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  2. #17
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Location
    Germany
    Posts
    40
    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    He's just doing what he has to do every time the French beat him, which is mostly just running away.
    In the "Weltliteratur to go series" the episode on War and Peace is especially funny in German; the Russians brilliantly running away being sort of a running gag.

    Tolstoy, as you portray his view on fate, really makes a good point there. But I also think there really are some outstanding men in history like Alexander the Great with his leadership and motivational skill that with their actions sort of overshadow many of these microscopic interactions and change the political/cultural landscape on earth.
    In the last two weeks I've read the first 15 chapters of his novel "Resurrection" (and some other selected chapters) and I'm really surprised how well Tolstoy could observe and describe people in their psychological reactions, and also how satirical he writes, e.g. on the system of justice in Russia at that time, the Orthodox Church or several political movements.

  3. #18
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Eugene, OR
    Posts
    2,146
    Tolstoy's notion is that Napoleon is subject to the "Laws of History", which are determined by millions of individual decisions and personal choices. One of the (many) great things about War and Peace is that,whatever one's opinion on "Great Men's" effect on history upon sober reflection, when immersed in the novel it's impossible to deny Tolstoy's argument. His fiction supports his philosophy that skillfully.

  4. #19
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Location
    Germany
    Posts
    40
    Quote Originally Posted by Danik 2016 View Post
    Lol. It is better to watch this kind of presentation after having read the actual novel. Else one might get the idea that it is a sort of black comedy.
    Yes, of course, if you condense the plot of a Classic, with a lot of death/murder etc. going on, into 10 minutes, it's hard to present it as something else than either a black tragedy or a black comedy.
    Of course, you can get a wrong picture of the content and mood of the book - the youtuber later admitted he had "terribly massacred the religious and philosophical dimension" of the novel -, but I personally like to know something of the plot in advance.

  5. #20
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    Location
    Beyond nowhere
    Posts
    5,641
    Quote Originally Posted by Benjy View Post
    Yes, of course, if you condense the plot of a Classic, with a lot of death/murder etc. going on, into 10 minutes, it's hard to present it as something else than either a black tragedy or a black comedy.
    Of course, you can get a wrong picture of the content and mood of the book - the youtuber later admitted he had "terribly massacred the religious and philosophical dimension" of the novel -, but I personally like to know something of the plot in advance.
    I had a look at War and Peace and I laughed a lot. Specially the "aua " part of it is funny. But then I know the original story. Itīs not only that the story has been shortened. The spirit of the presentation is different. In fact it works as a kind of satire on the original . So I wouldnīt recomend it for a classroom introduction for students, for example.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  6. #21
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,686
    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Tolstoy's notion is that Napoleon is subject to the "Laws of History", which are determined by millions of individual decisions and personal choices. One of the (many) great things about War and Peace is that,whatever one's opinion on "Great Men's" effect on history upon sober reflection, when immersed in the novel it's impossible to deny Tolstoy's argument. His fiction supports his philosophy that skillfully.

    True, but of course "Laws of History" in this case are the Tolstoyan laws. They differ, for example, in comparison with the inexorable laws of Marxist materialist history or the cyclical history of Thucydides or even Toynbee. I'm a Tolstoyan where history is concerned, but I remain a little troubled about some of his theory's implications for individual responsibility. Everyone causes history, but (supposedly) "great men" like Hitler and Stalin and Mao are still responsible for their murders.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; Yesterday at 01:17 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  7. #22
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,686
    Quote Originally Posted by Benjy View Post
    In the "Weltliteratur to go series" the episode on War and Peace is especially funny in German; the Russians brilliantly running away being sort of a running gag.

    Tolstoy, as you portray his view on fate, really makes a good point there. But I also think there really are some outstanding men in history like Alexander the Great with his leadership and motivational skill that with their actions sort of overshadow many of these microscopic interactions and change the political/cultural landscape on earth.
    In the last two weeks I've read the first 15 chapters of his novel "Resurrection" (and some other selected chapters) and I'm really surprised how well Tolstoy could observe and describe people in their psychological reactions, and also how satirical he writes, e.g. on the system of justice in Russia at that time, the Orthodox Church or several political movements.

    Oh, post the link for the video, Benjy! I'd love to see it!

    It's very hard in the western historical and literary tradition (or even psychiatric, if you're a Jungian) to do without the idea of the hero. Even Alexander seems to have consciously modeled himself after Achilles. Russia always straddled that middle ground between Europe and Asia, so perhaps that had something to do with Tolstoy's radicalism, I don't really know. Rather than becoming dogmatic about one historiography or another, it is better to be aware of the various approaches and to take what one can from them. Some kind of dialectic is usually the rule.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  8. #23
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Eugene, OR
    Posts
    2,146
    Unlike Marx, Tolstoy didn't think he had discovered the laws of history. He thought they existed in the abstract. Also, I don't think he thought that Napoleon was absolved of individual responsibility -- although he shared it with the soldiers who signed up for his armies and supported his campaigns. War and Peace shows how two families (the Rostovs and Bolkonskis) were both influenced by the great events of the time, and influenced those events in their turn. Every soldier (and every citizen of Russia or France) had a personal story, personal motives, and personal ambitions -- just like Napoleon. That's what makes Tolstoy's (potential) laws of history so difficult to get at -- there is no single driving force (like economic infrastructure) that the historian can identify as causal. Tolstoy did think that the king (or general) was "history's slave".

    Here's the end of Book 9, chapter one:

    When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it?

    Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decays and so forth is equally right with the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it. Equally right or wrong is he who says that Napoleon went to Moscow because he wanted to, and perished because Alexander desired his destruction, and he who says that an undermined hill weighing a million tons fell because the last navvy struck it for the last time with his mattock. In historic events the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself.

    Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole course of history and predestined from eternity.
    We use "cause" to refer to a handle which we (puny) humans can manipulate, or the willful act of a fellow human. The murderer "causes" his victim's death by plotting the murder with malice aforethought. Nonetheless, "in an historical sense" there are infinite "causes" (i.e. conditions that were necessary and sufficient for the murder to take place). That doesn't abrogate the legal and moral responsibility of the murderer.

    The "laws of history" (by the way) don't determine what happens; they describe it. Similarly, the laws of physics don't determine the motion of the universe; they describe it. The "laws" are human inventions, the motion of history, like that of the planets, continues without regard to the laws. The notion that the laws are "discoveries" instead of "inventions" suggests a theistic world view in which the laws predated the universe.

  9. #24
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Location
    Germany
    Posts
    40
    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Oh, post the link for the video, Benjy! I'd love to see it!
    Here you are:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCYvQ7xOfC8
    Quote Originally Posted by Danik 2016 View Post
    But then I know the original story. Itīs not only that the story has been shortened. The spirit of the presentation is different. In fact it works as a kind of satire on the original . So I wouldnīt recomend it for a classroom introduction for students, for example.
    Without having read the novel I'm sure I can say you're right. This series is a about satire big time. I fear I have to tell you that, as I understand, many teachers in Germany now use these presentations in class. IF the students then read the novel afterwards, I think it's no big problem and can be helpful and motivating (unless the specific presentation is too much disrespectful). But if they don't read it anyways they get, as you say, a wrong notion of the spirit of the work.

  10. #25
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,686
    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Unlike Marx, Tolstoy didn't think he had discovered the laws of history. He thought they existed in the abstract.

    Yes, everyone thinks that about his own ideas. I mean, Tolstoy's historiography describes a recognizable reality to you and me. But if we were members of Mohammad's army at Medina we might have understood historic processes differently. 19-century historians may have wanted scientific laws akin to those of physics, but history didn't give it to them. Tolstoy brought light to history's processes. So did Nietzsche (for example), though their ideas were very different. My rather simple approach is try to learn what I can from both.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Also, I don't think he thought that Napoleon was absolved of individual responsibility -- although he shared it with the soldiers who signed up for his armies and supported his campaigns.

    I wasn't troubled so much about how Tolstoy saw Napoleon as the way some of his ideas could be (mis)used to incriminate the innocent and exonerate the guilty. A concentration camp survivor once told me that she held every adult German alive during the Holocaust responsible for it. But she wasn't being racist, she assured me-- German children and subsequent generations were innocent. I understood her reasoning to some extent (there were a lot more Germans than Gestapo) but I strongly reject such notions of collective guilt. History is more complicated and human experience more intricate than that. Another such abuse has led some to say, hey, Hitler didn't happen in a vacuum. Why focus him when the whole society was to blame? Or to take a more modern (and more personal) example, I oppose abortion. But my generation of Americans has not managed to turn it back. Am I complicit? Of course not, but one could misuse Tolstoy's ideas to argue that I was. To get a bit science fiction-ish, I can imagine some future Fundamentalist dystopia alleging such a thing. It is better to approach supposed certainties about history with a healthy degree of caution.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; Yesterday at 08:06 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  11. #26
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,686
    Quote Originally Posted by Benjy View Post
    Here you are:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCYvQ7xOfC8Without having read the novel I'm sure I can say you're right. This series is a about satire big time. I fear I have to tell you that, as I understand, many teachers in Germany now use these presentations in class. IF the students then read the novel afterwards, I think it's no big problem and can be helpful and motivating (unless the specific presentation is too much disrespectful). But if they don't read it anyways they get, as you say, a wrong notion of the spirit of the work.

    Thanks, Benjy. It's great!
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  12. #27
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    Location
    Beyond nowhere
    Posts
    5,641
    Quote Originally Posted by Benjy View Post
    Here you are:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCYvQ7xOfC8Without having read the novel I'm sure I can say you're right. This series is a about satire big time. I fear I have to tell you that, as I understand, many teachers in Germany now use these presentations in class. IF the students then read the novel afterwards, I think it's no big problem and can be helpful and motivating (unless the specific presentation is too much disrespectful). But if they don't read it anyways they get, as you say, a wrong notion of the spirit of the work.
    The series is quite extensive. Iīm very curious about the treatment he inflicted on Faust and Homo Faber.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

Page 2 of 2 FirstFirst 12

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 21
    Last Post: 01-02-2013, 05:03 AM
  2. The Novel 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Novels of All Time
    By ajabahey33 in forum General Literature
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 12-29-2011, 07:52 PM
  3. Biographies vs Novels: do novels really teach us something?
    By lokariototal in forum General Literature
    Replies: 28
    Last Post: 07-11-2010, 11:02 PM
  4. con man novels
    By ForKnowledge in forum General Literature
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 11-22-2009, 08:23 PM
  5. Defining & Ranking Greatness
    By kilted exile in forum General Chat
    Replies: 23
    Last Post: 02-02-2009, 02:24 AM

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •