Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Week 11 Recap (P&V Ed. pp. 760-836)

Actually, I'm not sure if we're currently on Week 12 or Week 13. I would go check, but the computer I'm on is so old that it takes forever to go back and forth between screens. So let's say, for now, that we're in Week 12. The page target for Sunday is page 912.

Speaking of my old computer, could someone post a link to this update on the group Facebook page? (I can't do that.)

Week 11's reading focused on the fateful Battle of Borodino. This is probably the portion of the book that would most easily lend itself to modern-day action/war filmmaking, along the lines of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN or whatever. Plenty of cinematic scenes, both in wide perspective (Pierre surveying the spectacle of the battle below him), and close-up (the horrors of the army field hospital, Pierre's close-encounters with the French, etc.).

And here is the brief recap for Week 11:
763-64: Pierre watches as a crowd surrounds the procession of an icon from Borodino. General Kutuzov bows before the icon, touching the ground, demonstrating his piety. Tolstoy appears to draw a stark contrast between Kutuzov's piety and humility and Napoleon's hubris, self-indulgence, and narcissism (see below).

766: Pierre meets Kutuzov

769: Andrei, on the eve of battle, contemplates his life, and what he sees as his imminent death. "The whole of life presented itself to him as a magic lantern, into which he had long been looking through a glass and in artificial light." The "[t]hree main griefs of his life," he realizes, are "[h]is love of a woman [presumably Natasha], the death of his father, and the French invasion that had seized half of Russia." He feels certain that he will be killed in the next day's battle, "and the French will come, take me by the feet and head, and fling me into a pit, so as not to have me stink under their noses, and new conditions of life will take shape, which will become habitual for other people, and I won't know about them, and I won't be here."

771-75: Andrei is reunited with Pierre. Andrei expounds on his theory of war, his disgust with the Germans, with war, etc. This is the last time Pierre sees Andrei. "It was already dark, and Pierre could not make out what the expression on Prince Andreis' face was [as he turned to leave], whether it was angry or tender."

777-80: Napoleon is being pampered in his imperial tent, getting a rubdown and skin treatment of some sort. "The emperor . . . was finishing his toilette. Snorting and grunting, he turned now his fat back, now his hairy, fat chest under the brush with which the valet was rubbing his body. Another valet, stopping up the vial with his finger, sprayed eau de cologne over the emperor's pampered body .... [Napoleon's] face ... expressed physical pleasure: 'Allez ferme, allez toujours ....'" This image, along with the scenes of Napoleon receiving the surprise of a portrait of his son, and sitting in admiration of his son, seems intended to present the picture of Napoleon as soft and overly-pampered, no longer a fierce warrior, but self-satisfied and comfort-seeking. In contrast to Kutuzov's more spartan shows of piety, Napoleon is depicted as fattened and complacent with his success, and thus ripe for a fall.

780-85: Tolstoy offers a bizarre critique of Napoleon's battle plans, even taking issue with Napoleon's grammar: "As far as one can tell--if not from this muddled sentence ...." Tolstoy suggests that Napoleon didn't really know what he was doing at Borodino, and that he failed to put himself in a position to give necessary instructions during the course of the battle. This is one of those passages, which seem to occur more frequently as we get deeper into the book, where Tolstoy gives up any pretense of the fictional story he's created, and reverts to a historian mode, wherein he rails against received wisdom as to the historical events in the book. In these passages, Tolstoy is not so much a narrator, but instead simply a historian, or a critic of the received history or conventional historical wisdom. The next section is another of these passages, where Tolstoy again dismisses the Great Man theory of history, explains that the 'course of world events is predestined from on high ...."

(And to follow up on a point in the earlier post on Hegel and Tolstoy, the Troyat biography makes clear that Tolstoy did spend some time in school, while he was ostensibly studying law, reading, among others, Hegel. "During his second year in the Law Department Leo Tolstoy, as flighty, unstable and unconcentrated as ever, nevertheless expressed some interest in Professor Vogel's discussions on the death penalty and deigned to attend a few of Professor Meyer's lectures on the history of civil law.... Every minute he stole from the [Law] Department was spent in reading and exalting discourse: 'Gogol, Roussseau, Pushkin, Goethe's Faust, Hegel ....'" Troyat, TOLSTOY at 52. The last quotation (with the list of authors) is apparently from Tolstoy's diary at the time.)

786-87: Napoleon drinking more punch(?), bantering with others, confident of his success, explains his theory of the body: "'Notre corps est une machine a vivre, voila tout.'"

789-97: Pierre surveys "the beauty of the spectacle" of the Battle of Borodino from a hilltop. He rides up to a fateful barrow, where he is nearly killed by French fire, and grapples with a French officer.

805: Napoleon begins to get a sinking feeling as he starts receiving requests from his officers for reinforcements. He feels the impotence one feels in a dream "when a man sees a villain coming at him, and in his dream the man swings and hits the villain with terrible force, which he knows should destroy him, and he feels his arm fall strengthless and limp as a rag, and the terror of irresistible destruction takes hold of the helpless man." (I have this exact dream all the time.)

811-14: Prince Andrei is wounded by French artillery in the field. He's taken to a field hospital, where he is treated, but we know it's too late. He has one final epiphany: "Compassion, love for our brothers, for those who love us, love for those who hate us, love for our enemies -- yes, that love which God preached on earth, which Princess Marya taught me, and which I didn't understand; that's why I was sorry about life, that's what was still left for me, if I was to live. But now it's too late. I know it!" And that is the final word from Andrei. In the end, his cynicism is overcome by his final epiphany as to compassion, love for one's fellow man, etc. In the same field hospital, Anatole Kuragin wails in pain as he is shown his amputated "leg in a boot caked with blood!" (The exclamation mark is Tolstoy's.)

816: A strange fast forward to Napoleon in exile on St. Helena, reminiscing about the Battle of Borodino, and how it all went wrong for him.

821-23: Another discourse on the philosophy of history from Tolstoy, this time suggesting that historian's methodology is flawed because they look for specific causes and effects: "The first method of history consists in taking an arbitrary series of continuous events and examining it separately from others, whereas there is not and cannot be a beginning to any event, but one event always continuously follows another. The second method consists in examining the actions of one person, a king, a commander, as the sum of individual wills, whereas the sum of individual wills is never expressed in the activity of one historical person." Tolstoy suggests that history requires an operation from calculus: "Only by admitting an infinitesimal unit for observation -- a differential of history, that is, the uniform strivings of people -- and attaining to the art of integrating them (taking the sums of these infinitesimal quantities) can we hope to comprehend the laws of history."

830: After holding a war council, Kutuzov reluctantly orders a retreat, which will surrender Moscow to the French.

836: At the end of this week's reading, Helene is scheming to leave Pierre for one of two attractive suitors. To do this, she turns to the Catholic church, which she hopes will help her obtain a divorce from Pierre.
Again, page target for Sunday is 912. We are in the home stretch. Only a couple days left to vote for our next book. Right now, DON QUIXOTE is in the lead and looks like a possible winner.

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