Nikolai Chernyshevsky was a friend of Tolstoy’s. Tolstoy thought Chernyshevsky was hot-tempered and intelligent. An extraordinary compliment when you think about it. And, of course, even when you don’t.
Chernyshevsky wrote about his friend Tolstoy. He wrote: “…Tolstoy’s attention is mostly aimed at how certain feelings and thoughts develop from others; he likes to observe how a feeling, coming directly from a certain situation or impression, obeying the influence of memories and the power of combinations, presented by the imagination, is transformed into other feelings, then how it returns to the original source and then again travels on, while changing throughout this chain of memories. Like a thought, born from a first experience, leads to other thoughts, getting carried away, further and further, mixing daydreams with real sensations, visions of the future with reflections of the present…”
Viktor Shklovsky, writing about Tolstoy: “Tolstoy spoke about linkages, a labyrinth of linkages – words don’t stand on their own, they exist within the context of a phrase; a word juxtaposed to another word isn’t an arbitrary word, it shifts the meaning into another dimension. It’s a labyrinth of linkages that has a purpose.”
Tolstoy describes the process of writing: this becomes that and becoming is a perpetual state; in this dimension of space-time-consciousness it is always now and we remember something called the past…if you ask a good writer why something happened, why for example, she loves him, instead of the other guy, you will cause a state of paradox in which on the one hand the writer will be paralyzed by the possibility of, as Tolstoy phrased it, selecting one possibility from the million possible combinations…and on the other, they will tell you well, she loves him because of the girl with the beautiful almost green eyes and their scintillating streaks of intelligent hazel…and because it was a Tuesday…and the café was open…and it was raining…and in Poland, in the winter, it is often very cold…and he will say that once again the land fares ill full of some plague and it is exactly as predicted; it has all unfolded exactly as they said with the slow erosions of everything we believed we believed in.
Tolstoy is a philosopher. He is also a scientist and he had a theory about labyrinthine linkages and he conducted a serious of experiments and among them are Anna Karenina and War & Peace. These are Grand Unified Theories of Everything.
They are applicable to contemporary politics but they are not only ignored, the very idea of their applicability is denied; ghettoized…exiled from the ideal city state…
At the end of War & Peace Tolstoy lays out a post-Thuycidian, or neo-Thuycidian idea. History is the mass movement of people and from the surging tide an avatar rises who people mistakenly believe to be a leader of people and a director of events when in truth, the hand of god, present and yet invisible, moves all things; for when you connect the links that are the labyrinth you find that where we draw a border, where we make the point of demarcation between this and that, between them and us, between this is how it happened and this is not how it happened, the edges blur; breakdowns form new constellations and new linkages in an endless labyrinth that has neither beginning nor end and people, and ideas, and ideas that are people, are sub-atomic particles that are here and there, then and now; potentia… always becoming yet always repeating.
Anna, poor Saint Anna. She is always catching the train. And so, when someone says, I have a plan; listen to me, I have a plan for making peace, here, there, between them and us, a plan to make everyone safe, to build a wall, to bring back jobs, I think of poor Anna, I even think of poor Saint Anna and I would laugh, were it not so awful, watching so many people march off the cliff.
“…Moscow, about the back of your head…”
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy was pushing the old world into its future. Or to put it another way the new world used Tolstoy to drag itself into the present. It happens like this: Levin is at the theater with Kitty. He asks her what she is thinking. She says she is thinking about Moscow, about the back of his head.
Tolstoy had freed himself from orthodoxy. He was asking his readers to join him in the present. In the present, the perpetual now that has no future and no past that can be touched except with sadness and awful joy, is always vanishing. Things that had always been described as separate were then smashed together in the great particle collision machine of Tolstoy’s mind. Moscow and the back of Levin’s head form a continent. A dream. A novel. Everything is connected. Nothing is alone.
Originally printed in, The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover. (2012, 8th House of Montreal)