Tag Archives: tolstoy

Tolstoy on Art as infection

“The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. To take the simplest example : one man laughs, and another, who hears, becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another, who hears, feels sorrow. A man is excited or irritated, and
another man, seeing him, comes to a similar state of mind. By his movements, or by the sounds of his voice, a man expresses courage and determination, or sadness and calmness, and this state of mind passes on to others. A man
suffers, expressing his sufferings by groans and spasms,  and this suffering transmits itself to other people ; a man expresses his feeling of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to certain objects, persons, or phenomena, and others are infected by the same feelings of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to the same objects, persons, and phenomena.

And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man’s expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.

If a man infects another or others, directly, immediately, by  his appearance, or by the sounds he gives vent to at the very time he experiences the feeling ; if he causes another man to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning, or to laugh
or cry when he himself is obliged to laugh or cry, or to suffer when he himself is suffering that does not amount to art.

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling,  expresses that feeling by certain external indications.”

From What is Art

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Heroes, Saints, Cowboys, and Crazies

The authors of philosophy and scripture both come across as mounting a case to prove their own sanity.  (Most all of it sounds at least a tiny bit bonkers.) Nowadays, the power of philosophy or scripture is also measured in the same way– by how successful these authors are in making this case.

Religion and politics are rooted in the belief that we should walk toward what the authors of scripture and philosophy were pointing at.   Heroes and saints are those who walk in those directions with a vigor that most everybody would find a bit nuts. (Sort of like sports champions.)

Those who claim to believe in science alone are simply those who make the odd claim that the authors of science are the only sane people, that the only saints and heroes were scientists.  This view will always appear crazy to the sane person whose heroes have always been cowboys.  (The fact that such people even exist proves that this sort of scientific nihilism is flatly incorrect.)

Joan of Arc

Two views:

“Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt.Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them. I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We KNOW that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow. Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing. It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of moral unity and utility that has been lost. And with that thought came a larger one, and the colossal figure of her Master had also crossed the theatre of my thoughts. ” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

“Now the flames they followed joan of arc
As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armour bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, “i’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.”

Well, I’m glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I’ve watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.
“and who are you? ” she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
“why, I’m fire,” he replied,
“and I love your solitude, I love your pride.”

“then fire, make your body cold,
I’m going to give you mine to hold,”
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her wedding dress.

It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?”

Leonard Cohen