Sunday, January 20, 2013

A lifetime to read War and Peace


So today we pick up and read the first rich pages of Tolstoy's War and Peace.  Never before have we announced starting off a new novel here but this one, even after Anna Karenina and his collected stories, seems worthy for both the quality and depth if not pure weight!  The reading begins today but when it will be completed remains open for now.

I would like to turn briefly to the often noted mystical transformation of Tolstoy, this radical shift in genius from exuberantly lush literature to the visionary on non-violent anarchism inspiring such thinkers as Mahatma Gandhi and  Dr. Martin Luther King in the 20th century.   Though later renouncing his earlier novels as not true to reality, I am nonetheless eager to read War and Peace from both the novelist Tolstoy was and visionary he would later become at the time of the writing. 

(As an aside, we know this gesture of renunciation performed again and again by great authors and we can think back to yet another example of Jean Genet who rejects later in his life, Edmund White's biography reports, of his earlier prison writings as "infantile" whereas we, the reader, already see the precious sensitivity to the flowers, the beautiful conversion of the proper to the common (see Glas), as necessary to his later political thinking engagement against colonialism and prison abuses).

Genet, Burroughs and Ginsburg at the 1968 Democratic Convention
It's certainly the privilege of the reader to reject the rejection brought forth by the author him or herself of the oeuvre.

We turn then to the last point which concludes with the novel War and Peace itself, the massive text on the table before us, and the time we will give over to reading it.   Here we are highlighting a kind of mystical turn in our own experience of the world.

We've been speaking a lot in this blog lately of the slowing-down of time, aiming for a kind of present moment aware of the impermanent phenomenology of the world.   No, this will not be the year of the master list of great books and essays read, but rather this one novel, a life-long mission, deserving of an author who dared be both great novelist and then give it all up.

In short, I'm really in no rush to finish this novel.

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