Reading for Thursday, 22 January

And in this chapter we see Pierre facing the decision to stay or leave Moscow.  This chapter has some incredible writing from Tolstoy, as he conjures up more images of the impending invasion.  On the one hand, it’s a bit funny how we’ve been reading about the posters, designed to give false hope – and the beautiful tongue-in-cheek dialogue between Pierre and his cousin.  “Hey, look, it’s not dangerous here!  The poster said so!”

But, war brings to the surface not just ridiculous impulses of man – darker ones emerge as well.  Interspersed with the humour is the rather disturbing image of the two men being beaten, purely because they are French.  It reminds us that racial profiling is hardly a new invention . . .

In fact, this constant whirl of details, ridiculous and dark, is what makes this so amazing.  In most war films, the focus is on the dark and dangerous elements (the guns, cannons and demolished buildings).  Actually, the Bondarchuk film feel into that trap a little bit.  But when you read the book, the completely surreal nature of war emerges.  It reminds me a little bit of the film Underground by Emir Kusturica, which was made in 1995.  That film told the story of Yugoslavia from World War II through the Cold War and into the Serb-Croat war of the early 90s, and all done as if it was a massive black comedy.  Surreal sat side by side with horror in that movie, and at the time I thought it was quite innovative.

But it looks as if Tolstoy got in a lot earlier.

And the action continues as Pierre trots off to join the army.  At which stage, I now have to offer an apology, because I’m off to Byron Bay for the long weekend, so I won’t be able to post until I get back.

Sorry everybody!  I will be back soon, Ihope.

2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.18 – Stay or Go?

  1. That’s a good observation Matt – the surreal and the horror sitting side by side. The scene in this chapter where the Frenchmen are being flogged is certainly horrific, and I think it’s yet another way in which Tolstoy shows us the dreadful inhumanity of war – when all is said and done, these beatings are really only symbolic of what the whole war is about.

    But, against these horrendous, senseless beatings, we see Pierre’s almost feverish commitment to self-sacrifice. He doesn’t know what for or why, he just wants to sacrifice himself. I think this is all part of Tolstoy’s mounting picture of war as a totally irrational, senseless thing – a thing in which, for both good reasons and bad, people get whipped up and end up behaving in ways that neither they nor anyone else could really explain. I get the feeling in chapters such as this that Tolstoy I showing us that the real monster is not Bonaparte, but war itself.

    Have a smashing time in Byron Bay Matt. See you when you’re back!

  2. Always enjoy a good flogging – as long as it ain’t me getting it.
    Seriously though . . . that was horrific! And I guess Pierre felt uncomfortable due to his French name? Good time to be calling himself ‘Peter’ again.
    Hope you had a good long weekend.

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