No Comment, Quotation — December 28, 2011, 7:26 pm

Tolstoy: The Chain of Ideas that Constitutes Art

ilja_jefimowitsch_repin_004

??? ??? ?????? ????? ????? ??????, ??? ?????????, ???? ????????? ??? ????. ??????, ??? ???? ?? ?? ???? ?????? ???????, ?? ????? ?? ????????? ? ??, ?????????? ?????????, ???? ?? ???????. ?????? ??, ??????, ??? ????? 9/10 ????? ????????? ???? ???????, ?? ??? ??????? ????????? ????? ????, ??????? ?? ?????????? ??????????? ??????????? ?????? ? ?????????????? ???????????? ? ????????? ?????????? ?? ????????? ? ??? ??????????? ????????? ?????????, ? ??????? ? ??????? ???????? ?????????, ? ? ??? ???????, ??????? ?????? ?????????? ???? ?????????.

? ???? ??????? ?????? ??? ???????? ? ? ????????? ????? ???????? ??, ??? ? ???? ???????, ?? ? ?? ?????????? ? ????? ???? ??????? qu’ils en savent plus long que moi.

And this is why such a charming egghead as Grigoriev is of so little interest to me. It’s true, if there had been no criticism at all, then Grigoriev and you, persons who understand literature, would be superfluous. Today, however, when 9/10 of all that is published is criticism, for art criticism, we need people who would show the senselessness of looking for ideas in a work of art, but who instead would continually guide readers in that endless labyrinth of linkages that makes up the stuff of art, and bring them to the laws that serve as foundation for those linkages.

And if critics can now understand, and even express in newspaper scrawl what I am trying to say, then I congratulate them and can bravely assure them that they know more about it than I do.

—Count Lev Nikolaievich Tolstoy, letter to Nikolai Strakhov, April 23, 1876.


Leo Tolstoy had some rather eccentric thoughts about art and its role in society. He rejected the art-for-art’s-sake view arising from antiquity, insisting instead upon a moral foundation for art—in his case, a morality based on an understanding of early Christianity. He was notoriously distant from the thinking of the Orthodox Church of his day, being persuaded that it had strayed far from the original thinking of Christ and his early followers.

Art, for Tolstoy, was about conveying feelings across time and cultures; good art involved the transmission of feelings that were compelling and associated with proper moral values. Of course, the reader of the Kreutzer Sonata or Anna Karenina knows that these morals are not necessarily consonant with the mores of society, for fidelity to one’s emotions plays a significant role in Tolstoy’s artistry, too.

Tolstoy was also a pronounced anti-snob. Too much refinement, too conscious an effort to play to the sentiments and understandings of a small cultural elite, ruined art. In his view, a Beethoven sonata might well be serious art, but the heroic Choral Symphony could never be, because too few listeners could appreciate it. Universality is therefore an essential aspect of Tolstoy’s vision of art. True art must strive to free itself from the conventions of any given age and place; it must needs be true in different societies and cultures. This very universality helps to clarify that something is not trivial or transitory, but enduring and thus something that merits the name art. This thought emerges briefly in a letter Tolstoy wrote to his friend Nikolai Strakhov in 1876, in the midst of a lampooning delivered to contemporary Russian art critics. One of the things that marks great art is a sense of linkage, or engagement with the past. This very engagement is evidence of universality.

My friend Harold Bloom takes this passage as a motto for his recent book of literary criticism, The Anatomy of Influence—very appropriately, for it is a work of genuine art criticism in the Tolstoyan tradition. Though fortunately for us, Bloom is far more generous in his understanding of what great art may be.


Listen to the first movement (Präludium) of Max Reger’s Cello Suite No. 3 in A Minor, opus 131c (1915) performed by Guido Schiefen:

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2014

Cassandra Among the
Creeps

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

PBS Self-Destructs

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Monkey Did It

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
"In mid-August, hundreds of displaced Christians who had fled to Erbil were moved by Kurdish authorities into the concrete shell of a half-built mall. "
Photograph by Sebastian Meyer
Article
“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Iraq has every disease there is; its mind is deranged with too many voices, its organs corrupted, its limbs only long enough to tear at its own body.”
Photograph by Benjamin Busch
Post
Flying Blind·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“President Obama’s war against the Islamic State will represent, by a rough count, the eighth time the U.S. air-power lobby has promised to crush a foe without setting boot or foot on the ground.”
Article
The Monkey Did It·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Murakami’s fiction, what presents itself as a key reveals itself simultaneously to be a keyhole.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
PBS Self-Destructs·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The present state of PBS, the result of built-in deficiencies and ideological conflicts, was almost an inevitability.”
Illustration by Thomas Allen

Estimated percentage of U.S. gasoline consumption that occurs during traffic jams:

4

In India, 1.8 million female children were estimated to have died between 1985 and 2005 as an indirect result of domestic violence against their mothers; the boys of abused mothers were not at increased risk of death.

Vanilla latte and lemon pound cake continued to be the best-selling items at the Starbucks at CIA headquarters, where baristas do not write customers’ names on their cups.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today