Thursday, April 24, 2014

Resurrection in Review

Chipster is reading Resurrection by  Leo Tolstoy.  It is not a particularly good novel because Tolstoy uses his characters as vehicles for didactic points rather than developing them of their own accord.  But although the character development is flat, the novel is carried along -- toward Siberia -- on its story line, salted with quick-sketches of human-types and social vignettes used to make psychological or sociological points.

In this latter respect, Tolstoy is also somewhat dated, reflecting in his views that late 19th century "forward looking" mind-set which -- building on 18th century rationalism -- advanced toward social scientism; of either the Darwinian or Positivist schools, although Tolstoy himself espouses the latter.

This is not to say that Tolstoy is necessarily wrong, but only to remark that Resurrection will not provoke sudden and novel insights.  The story rather falls into the category of "oft said, but ne'er so well expressed." (A. Pope.)

Nor is this to say that Tolstoy's little lectures are not gems in themselves.  I have in mind his "prequel" to the Banality of Evil, which states in two pages what the belaboring Hannah Arendt drags out -- like a long column heading for Siberia -- for an entire verbose and tedious book.

Speaking of the prisoners he sees being led to transports and of the two who died of exhaustion, the novel's protagonist, Prince Nekhlyudov asks himself who is guilty of their deaths?  The judge who signed the judgment?  The doctor who certified their health?  The inspector who was told to assemble the men? 

"No one is guilty, and yet the men have been murdered by these people who are not guilty of their death.

"All this comes," thought Nekhuludov, "from the fact that all these people -- governors, inspectors, police offices and policemen -- consider that there are circumstances when human relations are not necessary between human beings.  . . .  All these men .. . seeing a man growing weak, gasping fro breath, would have led him into the shade, would have given him water and let him rest .. But they did not do this… because they thought not of men and their duty toward them but only of the office they themselves filled and considered the obligations of that office to be above human relations.  That is the whole of the matter.

"…all those people…are for the great part kind people, cruel only because they serve.

"Perhaps these governors, inspectors, policemen are needed; but it is terrible to see men deprived of their chief human attribute: love and sympathy for one another.  … [T]hese people acknowledge as law what is not law and do not acknowledge as law at all the eternal immutable law written by God in the hearts of men.  That is why I feel so depressed when I am with these people.  I am simply afraid of them. And really they are terrible, more terrible than robbers.  A robber might, after all, feel pity, but they can feel no pity...  That is what makes them so terrible. …

"If a psychological problem were set to find means of making the men of our time  --- Christian, humane, simple, kind people -- perform the most horrible crimes without feeling guilty, only one solution could be devised: simply to go on doing what is being done now.  It is only necessary that these people …should be fully convinced that there is a kind of business, called Government service, which allows men to treat other men as things without having human brotherly relations with them; and that they should be so linked together by this Government service that the responsibility for the result of their deeds should not fall on anyone of them individually. …"  (Bk II, Ch. XL.)

In short, Billy Bud.

{Au suivre}