Monthly Archives: March 2016

84% done with War and Peace


In the first battle Nicholas falls off his horse and runs for cover. The next battle Andrei is wounded but not fatally. Later Andrei is wounded mortally (though not immediately). Soon after Pierre is faced with death but relieved. Now Petya is killed. Just as Tolstoy sets each scene by opening the lens to take in what is further and further away, death has moved closer and closer to us.

84% done with War and Peace


Though we don’t realize it right away, Tolstoy shifts the POV ever so slightly away from Petya to watching Petya. He’s killed mid-paragraph but we don’t get the exact moment or bullet, we can only watch. Dolokhov says of Petya “done for” twice, the first time with a frown, the second as if he takes pleasure in saying it, but is he glad Petya is dead? We can’t know this, he might proud of Petya’s death.

84% done with War and Peace


This is the first time in the entire novel where the (translated) phrase “from all sides” does not follow a description of something oppressive happening to the character experiencing something. This time it’s Petya’s music he can hear “from all sides”, something beautiful, but a talent he’ll never achieve. And so this beauty is mingled with the phrase that always means something bad. It’s a portent.

84% done with War and Peace


I feel like we now live in a society of Dolokhov’s, where his cunning and cold adherence to doing “whatever it takes” with no nonsense (morality included) is seen as a virtue. We see this most in business. A CEO will lay off a 1000 people to improve profits and please stockholders. Is he wrong to do so? The law says he isn’t: it’s “his” company. But is he right? We value Dolokhov’s, even depend on them.

84% done with War and Peace


Act like you belong somewhere and you’ll probably get away with anything. Dolokhov is many things, but he’s no coward. In fact he’s one of the most remarkable people in the novel because of how difficult he is to pin down. He’s confident, he’s calculating, he’s cold, he’s direct: and his directness is honest, in a way. He’s not fake like Berg or even Denisov who vacillates between morality and killing.

83% done with War and Peace


Dolokhov is of course right about what happens to the French prisoners that Denisov keeps sending away. They all die, and quite miserably, too. Dolokhov’s cold logic is to kill them now because it’s more ‘humane’ and less of a drain on their own supplies. Denisov, try as he might, cares too much about morality and isn’t the rascal Dolokhov is. But in war Dolokhov is probably more effective, unfortunately.

83% done with War and Peace


If there’s one thing Tolstoy fails completely and totally at it’s taking the romance out of war. His comradeship, his beautiful descriptions of the battle, even with all the time he spends talking about how disorganized, random, and petty the Army is, I’d be lying if i didn’t feel at least a small pang of youthful Petya-ness to go take part in the war.

83% done with War and Peace


Petya trying so hard to make a good impression, to get people to like him by giving away everything, and he is a charming young man, but we know how naive he is, too. And I guess if I think hard enough that were I his age I would have acted just the same, foolish as it seems to be almost 30 years later. And the he’s also so eager to find the action of the war, and that’s the tragedy nations still prey on.

78% done with The World of Yesterday


I wonder if there is anger towards Zweig about his collaboration with Strauss on the Opera? Strauss was, after all, working with the Nazis, and though his justifications are perfectly valid, it’s still complicated. Zweig, though 2 degrees removed could have walked away from the project, but he explains himself quite well as why he didn’t . Too bad art has to suffer like this.

82% done with War and Peace


“Petya realized for a moment that this Tikhon had killed a man, [and] he felt uneasy.” This is the shame about Petya, he’s bright and observant but too eager to please and that will kill him. Such wasted life. And yet someone like Tikhon can kill and kill and never be badly hurt. But we do get quite the cross section of Russia out here in the forest as they raid the French.

82% done with War and Peace


Tikhon Shcherbaty is a fun character. He’s good natured, but can drive his ax right into a mans head, then carve a spoon with the same ax. And he has no real beef with the French, it’s just a game for him – there’s no nationality, just the sport of it. And you can see how effective guerrilla warfare is when carried out by men thus skilled. That’s why Tolstoy is showing us, real war, real horror. Poor Petya.

82% done with War and Peace


I love Tolstoy’s description of the rain and the forest. You can feel it soaking you right through the page. And then little Petya comes riding out of all that to give orders to Denisov. Tolstoy plays this true to life, too as he first has Petya try to be a professional officer, but can’t because he is with his friend now. For as gloomy as the weather is, this is a warm and merry meeting, though dangerous.

82% done with War and Peace


Denisov and Dolokhov are back in the story. We’ve had a glimpse of Dolokhov earlier with his plans, but seeing Denisov with him tells us all we need to know about what Denisov has been up to and his state of mind. Dolokhov could well use a man like Denisov: impetuous and having something to prove and nothing to lose. But we feel bad for Denisov because of what we know about Dolokhov. Still though, exciting!

81% done with War and Peace


‘discipline under fire is obtainable only by movement in masses’.

‘Guerrilla war has always been successful, as history shows’. Even to this day. Yet we never learn this lesson.

I could do without his X over Y math theories, but it is nice to see him apply the scientific approach, albeit fumblingly. It’s even more amazing since he’s trying to measure the spirit of men this way.

81% done with War and Peace


Tolstoy says that no Army (before the Russians) had ever lost the final battle but still won the war. Rome lost all the time but because never lost the war, they kept throwing soldiers at you until you wore down. Also, Tolstoy talks about how the Russians didn’t fight “by the rules” (they used guerrilla tactics) so you could say this was, in a sense, a modern war. Total fight for survival, all bets are off.

81% done with War and Peace


The other generals “… could not resist their desire to cut off and break up two French corps, and by way of reporting their intention to Kutuzov they sent him a blank sheet of paper in an envelope.” As terrible as the consequences are of this, “killed and lost thousands of men”, it is one of those wonderful moments in history like when Gen McAuliffe replied to the invitation to surrender only with “NUTS!”

80% done with War and Peace


I really need to learn more about the 19th century Great Man of history thesis and why it’s no longer supported by any serious historian. I always go on about the influence men like Napoleon and Hitler have on general morale as being an indicator of their power, but I feel as if I don’t quite understand what Tolstoy is showing us is a bunk thesis. Homework for me.

80% done with War and Peace


Rarely do you get a work of art where at least one of the “heroes” is old. Yes, many of the characters of importance here are young, Tolstoy does not neglect the old and wise. Even Andrei’s father, before his illness, was a sharp (though opinionated and eccentric) man with a lot to teach still. And this is no old, wise-man trope, like we’d get in a film, but all of Tolstoy’s characters are sincere.

80% done with War and Peace


“Wait a moment, I’ll light a candle. You damned rascal, where do you always hide it?” I love these little moments when some important person admonishes some underling but then almost as quickly solves their own problem (because it was their fault). I think this is Tolstoy’s way of having a bit of fun with people in authority – a bit of wish fulfillment to dismount these people from their high-horses.

God’s Work: Read on March 29, 2016

Aside from two images which I felt were not very strong (the laughing portraits of the President’s in his dream, and the final “shaft” and “penetrate” (we get it, just trust your reader), this is a wonderfully crafted story.

Canty uses language, not as a blunt instrument, but finds words that can take on many, confused meanings. My favorite was “Yolked” from the hymn song title: I imagined eggs, reproduction, fragility, runniness, eggs in a basket. He then repeats the egg imagery by calling the congregation “hens and chicks”. Later we get the word “stalky”: Sander “hangs around the edge of the room like a curtain, a piece of furniture…”, like a stalker with shady intentions, but also like the growing yellow flowers his mother planted: unsure, unready, green. And he later mentions planting seeds (of faith) but implying sex, too.

One line that I wasn’t able to interpret was when Sander says to his mother about Clara and her father, “But the two of them… ” What does this mean? I immediately thought incest, but it’s left unresolved.

I loved this messiness of language, of confused faith in Sander who Clara turns to for genuine help but who can’t help her. He’s helpless, as is she, but at least she can have pleasure.

And in the end I felt as if he had been cast into that oblivion his faith believes in: “Still eight weeks of summer left”, and without Clara. An eternity for a 15 year old.

90% done with God’s Work

I didn’t think she’d come back, but it means she was serious. But her father pulls her out. And she’s gone forever.

All this in the warm summer, the most pleasurable time, pleasure everywhere except for him, and for what? It feels now like his sin has sent him into that oblivion of nothing they believe, 8 weeks of summer. Forever.

80% done with God’s Work

“Have you ever touched a baby’s head?” unexpected question

I like how’s she honestly asking about faith but he’s as far away from his as he can get.

The Catherine wheel, torture device, her second name, second nature. Her other nature like the tattoo or second nature to to torture? He is tortured. But so is she

She wants his guidance but he wants sex and she doesn’t want that and it’s all confused.

70% done with God’s Work

Sander, interesting name. Sand, itchy, used in an hourglass (time running out).

The laughing presidents image doesn’t work that well.

He “hangs around the edge of the room like a curtain, a piece of furniture…” then we get the word “stalky” to describe the new flowers = these are related.

Shaft, penetrate, a little much here. We get it

They’re Jehovas Witnesses

60% done with God’s Work

I like the jump of time from him telling Clara that he can’t take a walk with her on Sunday, but on Monday he can. Very next line is his mother asking what her son’s intentions are. That stands out, she knows what he’s thinking about with that girl.

” and at that exact moment he splits into two people, the one he has always been and some itchy, wayward newborn. “

20% done with God’s Work

We know right away he is young, a kid.

The flowers wag their tongues at him as if they are mocking him?

Mom, just by her clothes is a fundamentalist Christian?

Image of the forbidden pubic hair combined with his bad haircut

He’s observant (noticing the door that had been open is now closed)

He is always hungry (in more ways than one)

80% done with War and Peace


Tolstoy is taking some serious artistic liberty with Dmitry Dokhturov, but it does prove a point: shut up and do your job and all will be well. Dmitry Dokhturov, though we never get his POV, we can assume he’s never a man who worries if he will be to blame for something going wrong (like the General and later the message running officer). He does his job, does it well, and is not vain. He’s a real hero.

80% done with War and Peace


It’s important to pay attention to the framing of this chapter. We begin and end with the impersonal narration of the war and Kutuzov’s staff. In the center is Pierre who laughs at being “…put it into a shed boarded up with planks!” – quite literally he’s imprisoned by the way but also is completely free of it. He has realized what his soul wants and who is he all while surrounded by the madness of war.

80% done with War and Peace


Pierre has arrived. This is another of the great chapters of the novel. We get the rising of the sun as if dawn in brightening in Pierre’s soul, we get his laughter at the idea that any man could own another’s soul (Tolstoy implies serfdom here, too – Pierre looks like one), that sky that Andrei saw but that Pierre sees even clearer. And Tolstoy is right, we are star stuff, a part of the entire universe.

79% done with War and Peace


“Dram-da-da-dam, dam-dam…” the noise the drums make is a fitting image to show how the French, who just the day before had been friendly with Pierre and the prisoners, are now cold and disdainful of the men they hold captive.

The image of the dead man leaning against the fence posts by the church makes me think the man had tried to fond solace in the church, but the French gunned him down. Terrible.

79% done with War and Peace


Tolstoy is showing us that we will be happier when we take away all that weighs us down: money, societal rules, status, things, are all quite useless and make us unhappy. And this is not a forgotten ideal, even he film Fight Club talked about this as a virtue “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything”. But he understands who he still is and recognizes his responsibility to others

79% done with War and Peace


The opening of this (the first chapter in this section finally dealing with the main characters) uses the dog as the idea of how all men should see each other: not as breeds, but just as other men. Next we get the image of Pierre almost fully transformed from the pedigree he had been to the happy mongrel he is now. Pierre’s refusal of the soldier’s pipe shows where his heart really is now.