Reading for Thursday, 7 May

There have been a few surreal chapters in War and Peace and this is up there with the weirdest of them.

A strange sort of vision of pantheism (basically, where the universe equals God), grief for Karataev, a snippet of a Polish lady and Pierre’s old geography teacher . . . all rather bizarre.

But then we are brought back to reality, where we left off a couple of chapters ago, with the death of Petya – Denisov still heartbroken, and Dolohov rather ruthlessly planning to kill the lot of them. Whether he does or not, I can’t remember . . . we’ll have to see if we find out.

5 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 14.15 – Surrealism

  1. Yes, there certainly is a great deal surrealism in this chapter – writing which must surely have been pretty “out there” when Tolstoy was writing this, in the middle of the nineteenth century. And yet I think it’s incredibly fitting – it’s almost as if it is presenting to us all of Tolstoy’s theorising about history into this one, really very poetic, dreamlike sequence, where Pierre imagines God, and the world, and his past and present, and the peaceful, rounded gaze of Karataev, and the horror surrounding his death, and nature itself, all merging into one – which is, after all, exactly how Tolstoy sees the passage of the world – a massive tide in which, and by which, everything is swept up.

    I guess the fact that Tolstoy jolts us back into the scene of Petya’s burial in this same chapter is perhaps a reminder that, in all the grandeur of that great historic tide, the real world, with its day-to-day hustle and bustle, and living and dying, its banalities, its tragedies, goes on. The lens zooms out and zooms in, all in one chapter.

    Hope you’re reading these chapters to Jackson each day now, Matt!!

  2. Thanks for your very nice comments about birth on the last post, Ian.

    Hmm . . . reading to Jackson . . . well, I’ve been humming Mahler to him, so that’s a bit of a start to his cultural upbringing.

  3. Wow … humming Mahler, that’s impressive, Matt! I remember some years ago, a friend gave birth to her first child on Mahler’s birthday, so I took that as a good enough excuse to record for them the final movement of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony to mark the occasion – such beautiful, serene music that seems, to me anyway, to say so much about what life, and therefore birth, is really ultimately about. There is just so much in Mahler that seems, I think, to be wonderful music to play (or hum) to a new life … the last two movements of the 4th Symphony come to mind too. The Adagietto of the 5th. Just steer clear of the Kindertotenlieder, okay??!!

  4. Actually, you’re spot on. It’s always that last movement of the Mahler 3 that I hum. Granted, it’s tricky for one person to do so, because it has such a broad range of notes, and I don’t know if the kids appreciate it – but it always calms me down.

    I’m looking forward to the end of the year, actually, because there is going to be a performance of the Mahler 3 by the Sydney Youth Orchestra at the Sydney Town Hall, which should be good. Actually, last time I heard that piece it was at the Town Hall, performed by the Sydney Symphony. One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

  5. A concert of the Mahler 3rd is one of my greatest musical memories too – a concert here in Melbourne in the early 80s at Dallas Brooks Hall … it was probably my Road to Damascus conversion to Mahler – I had heard and enjoyed his music before but somehow, in that concert, understood it in a way that I never had until then. I’ve been to some wonderful performances of it since then – including when I went to the international Mahler Festival in Amsterdam in 1995, where all of Mahler’s works were performed in a little over two weeks by the Berlin Phil, Vienna Phil and Concertgebouw orchestras, with several of the world’s greatest Mahler conductors – and yet somehow nothing has ever quite matched the impact of that performance in the daggy Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne.

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