Reading for Thursday, June 4

Well, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I will finish this by 30 June, and I don’ t think I will rush to do so, because it would be a shame to have read the first 11/12 of the book so slowly and then rush through the last 1/12.

But I’ll try not to have a massive long gap like this again . . . there’s a lot of things I couldn’t tell when I started this project – that I’d have a son, that I’d get a new role at work, and all manner of other things that go on in life – and certainly being this busy in June wasn’t one that I foresaw . . .

But anyway, back to War and Peace. This chapter wound up the Napoleon story, as he gets exiled, has a few things to say about Alexander and why he never went on to be the great leader everyone expected.

But my favourite moment is the analogy about the bees. In fact, I think I just like Tolstoy’s analogies in general. Certainly, when you’re trying to convey philosophical ideas, being able to present a good analogy is a great skill to have (I can think of a theologian or two who also do a good job at that).

Even when you’re not quite sure what Tolstoy is talking about, once he describes it with a word picture (like the bees), it all starts to make sense. It’s both sparkling writing and something thoughtful.

I think also what makes it stand out is that he wants to be understood by everyone.  He’s not deliberately writing prose that only hard-core readers who hang out in the “literature” section of their bookshop are going to understand.

Here’s to simple but profound writing!

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace E1.4 – Alexander and Bees

  1. Maybe if you do two a day, you’ll catch up to where you should be. Or maybe three . . .

    Bees and ants are always good for making analogies . . . they are so organized and focused.

  2. Yes, I guess it’s hard keeping apace with a daily War and Peace blog when there’s two little kids and a new job to keeping drawing your attention to other things. Fortunately, my two little dogs are a little (although not a lot!!) less demanding, so have been able to keep the chapters up and am already feeling a bittersweet twinge every time I pick up the book and see how little o it thee is now left to read.

    But I garee with you, Matt, about the skill of Tolstoy’s philosophical writings and his analogies and metaphors are often beautifullky written. It also helps us, I think, to become more absorbed in what he is saying, in accepting and trusting the building blocks that are slowly being assembled to make the full edifice of his arguments.

    From a distance, when I’m not actually reading War and Peace, I still ultimately find Tolstoy’s arguments about history, and about how humanity develops, to be only partly convincing – but when I am reading them here, day by day, it’s very easy to become hooked and to really see the sense in where he is going. And that, as you point out, Matt, says maybe a lot more about his skill as a writer even than about his skill as a philosopher.

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