Tag Archive | Tolstoy

“Play it again, Sam…”

SONY DSC“As for my wife, I’d never seen her looking as she did that evening (…) her radiant eyes, her serenity, the gravity of her expression as she played (…) I saw all this but I didn’t attach any particular significance to it, beyond supposing that she had experienced the same feelings as I had”. That’s what Pozdnyshev, in The Kreutzer Sonata, thinks when he sees the concert his wife and the violinist, Trukhachevsky, perform. After Pozdnyshev feels, following Nietzsche, the intoxication of music, he thinks his wife’s radiance is due to the same experience. However, the facts are others.

As Pozdnyshev explains, Trukhachevsky “searched the strings with careful fingers and provided a response to the piano. And so it began…” . The Kreutzer Sonata is a dialogue between the violin and the piano; the last unfinished sentence becomes suggestive. It is supposed that what begins is the concert but as the sentence remains open, it calls for ambiguity. What begins together with music is the performance of adultery or sexual act, as far as the open sentence outlines that what follows cannot be said. Rhythm here becomes the key point.  Following Langer, an american philosopher of music, it can be said that the essence of a composition is its movement, and movement is expressed through rhythm. It is the “regular recurrence of events” , an endless preparation from one event to the next. Rhythmical events configure a whole unity of significance with a beginning and a consummation of the fact. It can be said of both the adultery as a relationship, articulated by a chain of events which ends with the sexual intercourse, or of the sexual act, from the beginning until the consummation of it with its respective rhythms.

One of the first things Pozdnyshev remembers about the concert is “how they looked at one another”. That is usually the first contact between lovers. Following Eguchi, the rhythm of the Sonata follows as “restlessness and agitation result (…) from constant eight notes, rhythmic dissonance, dynamic contrast, and ascending passages” . It is not a quiet melody but an exciting one; even silent moments serve to reinforce the passion tone, as Eguchi notes, “Beethoven’s rhetorical pauses create moments of powerful silence, or relative silence, at moments of great emotional intensity”. The silent of the music is that of the lovers, which, in fact, are a speechless language. Therefore, music is the embodied excitement of the lovers, and Mrs Pozdnyshev reveals herself to her husband, as he explains, “everything was against her, particularly that damned music”. The day after the concert, while Pozdnyshev is away from home, the images of the concert begin to invade his mind, and he, for first time thinks “about the two of them making love together”, as he explains, “it was only then that I began to remember the way they had looked that evening when, after they’d finished the Kreutzer Sonata, they played some passionate little encore (…) some piece that was so voluptuous it was obscene (…) Surely it must have been obvious that everything took place between them that evening?”

Soul and Body in the Adulteress

1-anna-karenina-ludmila-kalmaeva“For this violation of natural law, she must die”, that’s the statement of Edwina Cruise in her article Women, sexuality, and the family in Tolstoy. Is Anna Karenina a fact of laws? I don’t think so. It could be dangerous to pack such a great topic as is Anna Karenina in itself in these kind of reductive judgements. The whole article gave me an impression of judgement which fails in its attempt to approach Tolstoy from a feminist perspective. I’d say such a perspective is too poor to cover a writer who is always trying to go beyond materialism. It’s just at the end of the article where there’s a reference to Anna’s spiritual struggle, which I guess is the main point of the novel. Who cares about society or ideologies reading hundreds of pages about illusion, hope, remorse and desperation? The story of Anna Karenina is emblematic for itself, it needs nothing else than Anna herself, it’s a defence of individuality and conscience. The evolution of Anna from the very beginning to the end shows in accurate detail every step which leads her to kill herself. It’s a human work of art.

Anna is so well constructed as a character that in fact the novel it’s not just a matter of soul, it’s also concerned with the body and the affects. Anna is a woman clearly with soul and conscience but also with an unsatisfied sensuality and frustrated emotions. She doesn’t fulfil all her personal spheres: her husband isn’t aware of her sexual desire, she’s a mother of just one child which limits her emotional fulfilment. Moreover, boredom is an easy consequence of such a panorama if a woman is supposed to spent all her energies within the domestic realm.

These characteristics are also found in other literary adulteress such as Madame Bovary or the female character in The Kreutzer Sonata. But Anna Karenina especially represents a woman as a whole human being with spiritual, emotional and physical realities being interconnected with each other. Anna mustn’t die because she has been a bad wife and mother, she dies because of her personal dilemma, her individuality finds no place as a whole. Her death isn’t a punishment, is a consequence of the negation of herself as a whole woman.

Crossing borders in Tolstoy’s writings

tolstoyAndrew Wachtel explains in his article History and autobiography in Tolstoy how literary genres are merged to achieved the goal which Tolstoy sought: truth. The technique employed by the Russian writer is highly interesting, he melts autobiographical and fictional elements in a work which results neither biographical not fictional. The difference between fictional and non-fictional isn’t a problem for Tolstoy who was concerned just with truth and the display of the universal. Watchel gives a wonderful example, the relation between Anna Karenina and A Confession. The latter was written after the former and seems, according to Watchel, an ending for the great novel. The idea of marriage in A Confession is linked to the character of Levin in Anna Karenina. In fact it’s difficult to differ from the thoughts of the writer and his works, and I want to point out here such difficulty regarding The Kreutzer Sonata and What is Art?. The final moral claims in Tolstoy’s essay reminds the plot of the novel, moreover, The Kreutzer Sonata seems to be a graphical example of the essay. According to Tolstoy, the perversion of art by the upper-class leads to a perversion of the habits, and that’s what we see in The Kreutzer Sonata, music taken as an excuse for adultery.

There’s another point in these relations between Tolstoy’s thoughts and fictions, that’s “honesty”. In fact, Tolstoy in his essay affirms that the main cause for such a perversion is the artificiality of the “artist”. Tolstoy remains faithful to this idea as he gives expression to his believes, he’s honest, he’s a true artist. Therefore, the close proximity between real life and fiction seems to be justified in Tolstoy’s theory of art.

Embodied Feelings

kreutzer_sonataAmbiguity is one of the most current terms in literary aesthetics. It plays with our perceptions and it’s said to be settled in a blurred border between the conscious and the unconscious; it says without saying and knows at the same time it doesn’t. It’s part of the real world as well as inhabits in the fantastic. In brief, it’s the paradox of “to be and not to be”. The ambiguous likes to go from our dreams to our daily life and makes us grow in the uncertainty. Uncertainty is, I guess, the favourite concept of Todorov talking about the Uncanny which differs from the Marvellous precisely because of this characteristic. Freud refers to the Uncanny as being familiar and not at the same time which is no more than another ambiguity, and this feeling begins in the thresholds of our mind. Like Scnitzler does in A Dream Story where Florin is startled by doubts of perception, or fears or maybe desires, who knows.

Ambiguity is also the language of  sensuality where to want and not have filled pages of adultery. Ambiguity serves the speechless language where embodied metaphors, images or melodies become read by those who are playing the game. Feelings take form in both The Awakening and The Kreutzer Sonata by means of rhythm. What conscious can’t afford is exposed by aesthetic experiences which, like  dreams, translate darkness into light.

Part of the knowledge about the self finds no expression in words, that’s what art is, Tolstoy would say, the communication of what can’t be said, the universal history of feelings.