Friday, November 21, 2014

The Death of Prince Andrew Bolkónski.

It is no secret that Prince Andrew Bolkónski is my favorite character in the novel and so his death definitely saddens me but I am very happy and impressed by the way Tolstoy depicts the event as Andrew in my opinion is given the most dignified sendoff so far in the novel, and he is well deserving of one. As true as ever to Andrew's nature, he dies contemplating the meaning of life and death and putting things in perspective for himself. To be honest, that is what I admire the most about him. Andrew is surrounded by those who love him and these people bond over their love and grief for him. The fact that Natasha is a source of comfort for Princess Mary and little Nicholas I find very heartwarming and as a positive reflection on Natasha's character, showing her to be genuine and caring. Princess Mary finds Natasha a "comrade in grief" and begins to "cry on her shoulder" when they first see each other. There is a beautiful but sorrowful moment when little Nicholas stays strong when he sees his father but after he leaves the room " leaning against her (Natasha) he began to cry." Through Prince Andrew's death, Princess Mary and Natasha get to see the "consciousness of the simple and solemn mystery of death." As Prince Andrew is in the dividing line between life and death for the final time,  he sees "death as an awakening" and the unknown is "lifted from his spiritual vision." Prince Andrew as a man always seeking truth and answers to life's hardest questions I feel can now rest with all the answers.  Prince Andrew gets to understand the mysteries of life as his life is ending and realizes that love removes the "dreadful barrier" between life and death. He is rewarded by Tolstoy for his virtues.

As a parting note, Prince Andrew Bolkónski's character has been an enjoyable one for me to follow and watch grow and has been a learning experience as I see traits portrayed by Tolstoy in him that I greatly admire and find amiable. The genuine, honest and responsible thinker plays a great part in the novel as being the one to bring calamity to the plot when all the other characters are in mayhem. Prince Andrew's practicality and rationale is not something to be disliked, it does not make him bland and boring, it is Tolstoy portraying a human being who seeks self-betterment and luckily for him always finds it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Save the "Shallow" Women of War and Peace 2k14

Yet another woman has been killed off in War and Peace!!! And yes, it was Helene, who no one liked, but still! We've now seen both Lise and Helene get killed because of their inabilities to be good wives. While Lise's death was framed as the product of childbirth and Helene's as sickness and then drugs, we have to look beyond that to Tolstoy's purpose to really understand these characters and their ends. Lise had to die in order for Andrew to move on and have his story arch with Natasha, a girl deemed more worth at the time because of her innocent and energetic nature. What was Tolstoy saying by comparing these two women but putting priority on Natasha? She wasn't actually that much smarter than Lise. The thing that made her a better fit for Andrew was her ability to engage him, which Lise couldn't do no matter how hard she tried, and she did try. So, unsurprisingly, Tolstoy is sending the message that a "good" wife should be able to keep her husband entertained, while there is no mention of this going the both ways. Helene, on the other hand, did not have to die in order for Pierre to pursue whoever he's going to pursue from here on out (probably Natasha). She'd already divorced him and left him a free man. Instead, Tolstoy seems to be punishing her for pursuing her own interests instead of wanting to stay with her childish and unloving husband. Not only that, but her punishment is death, which just makes me mad! These two characters in particular are women who are framed as disposable and whose fates are driven by Tolstoy's sexism. And yes, all of this can be dismissed with the simple explanation of "he was writing War and Peace in then 1860s" but still, I think it is important to be critical of texts using contemporary lenses in order to see the story from all angles. No text is without its flaws, especially older ones, and War and Peace is no exception.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Talking to the Artists of the War and Peace Project

I don't know about the rest of the class but getting to hear from the creators of the War and Peace Project was one of the highlights of the tutorial.  I know we all had already looked at the pieces, and Kelly explained where most of them came from but it was just fascinating to hear how these were created and why the project was started.

I found it really interesting that they had so many rules.  Each piece had to be done in one sitting and once they left the studio they couldn't change it again.  I've done a little art and I would find that terrible.  I feel like sometimes you need perspective and space from your work to decide what you want to do or get new inspiration, but I think rather than causing these artists pressure, this constraint really allowed them to put all their effort into it once, and than move on. This struct me as a really unique way of doing art.  This along with the rule that no one got to pick which page they wanted to do I feel like would be hard to stick too (especially because all the artists had read the novel and probably have emotional attachments to certain parts).  I loved the fact that they shared materials even across the country and that no one could work alone.  I think although all these rules made the work harder and sometimes probably delayed the project it really made it a collaboration.

The pieces themselves are amazing.  But I really just thought it was so cool to hear about the whole process behind it.  What did you guys think?

Is it Love?

Why is Tolstoy so cynical about love?

Love in War and Peace so far has been an enigma- it is inexplicable, unachievable, or unreciprocated. Is this theme of unrequited love based on his own disillusionment? Tolstoy married his wife for the same reasons that Prince Andrew married Lise, and Pierre married Helene- sexual attraction. Clearly this was never foundation enough for a marriage, and he reinforces this throughout the novel. 

However, admittedly, Tolstoy and his wife were very happy while the novel was still being written. Why then is the novel riddled with the theme of love governed by passion that doesn't come to anything? Was it perhaps a foreshadowing of the future of love for him? Towards the end of his life Tolstoy and his wife were very unhappy— Perhaps his writing in War and Peace was an unconscious foreshadowing of this.

All characters seem to be governed by passion and not logic. Pierre and Helene got married spontaneously, in a daze of passion. Natasha’s love for Anatole cost her the person whom she was truly in love with- Prince Andrew. These instances seem to repeatedly reinforce the stereotype of young love and rushed decisions. Perhaps this is why War and Peace has so often been called a novel for the young- it encapsulates adolescent passion like no other.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Napoleon's Cold and Butterfly Effect

Tolstoy mentions in chapter 27 that if Napoleon didn't have a cold, he could have made better decisions and so could have won the Russian Campaign. Well, while Tolstoy (and readers) doesn't necessarily think Napoleon's cold costed him his campaign, this line of logic is amusing because it has some grounds. At least in terms of weather forecasting.
Butterfly effect is first coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1981 which basically says a seemingly insignificant event such as a flap of a butterfly's wings can influence the details of a hurricane's path. in this case, the flapping of the butterfly's wings would be Napoleon's cold and the hurricane would be Napoleon losing the war. 

I don't have problem with Tolstoy scorning Napoleon's cold for bringing his demise just like a butterfly's flapping can alter the hurricane's path because I myself don't really believe in the claim either. But I do think Tolstoy is too assertive when he says the soldiers are fighting on their own accord and rulers are nothing but pawns to fate. Even if the soldiers are fighting out of free will, they are fighting for something which corresponds to Napoleon's and Alexander's wish. And who has instilled in these soldiers to act toward that certain goal? Tolstoy calls them figureheads, but they hold some power that allows them to lead history in one direction rather than another. Of course, Napoleon's decision arises from the need to secure his rule over the territories he conquered; so he decides to invade Russia. In this way Tolstoy correctly says people, not only the rulers, contribute to history as mediums of fate even when they make decisions based on their free will-- because the decisions made with free will are reactions to the situation.
 However, Tolstoy neglects that such reactionary decisions are at the same time catalysis of new events, and people are actually building history instead of fulfilling fate by making their own contributions. Since not all people can contribute to history in a significant way, there needs be a central force that directs history. The rulers are tasked with giving directions by the merit of their position (no matter how ineligibly or unfairly they acquired it). In this way Tolstoy's claim that the rulers don't do anything is untrue, because they have more power to direct people to set off a new course of history.