Sunday, 2 February 2014

Discovery of "The argumentative old git"

Himadri, aka Argumentative old git, an Indian growing up in Britain. In his 50s. A classic literature lover, especially Russian literature, or at least, heavily influenced by it.

1/ A beautiful passage Himadri wrote about Tolstoy:
"In our modern times, we tend not to believe in the concept of transcendence: if the material word is the only world there is, then there can be nothing to transcend to, and all feelings, all emotions, are either merely “feelbad” or “feelgood”: “feelgood” is what we should all strive for, as this, after all, is the sole purpose of living; and “feelbad” is what you take anti-depressants to ward off. This is perhaps why I come away from so many modern novels with the sense that I have witnessed merely small, insignificant people experiencing small, insignificant feelings. But with Tolstoy, I feel I am in a much bigger world. No other writer, I think, has depicted the physical surfaces of our lives so meticulously; but Tolstoy depicts also a sense of transcendence, even though we can but vaguely know what those regions may be that we are transcending to. He depicts that sense sublime of something that is more deeply interfused – something that refuses to be pinned down, but which we cannot ignore without diminishing ourselves. It is in that sense of joy we feel even as we grieve, even as we feel pain – even as we are disturbed. It is certainly what Levin feels when he unexpectedly catches sight of Kitty in the carriage."

The article analyses how "Anna Karenina" is much more than a juxtaposition of stories about an unhappy family (Anna- Vronsky) and a happy family (Kitty- Levin). "I find it hard to believe that a writer who could create a work of such endless complexity would splice the two stories together simply to depict something so banal as a contrast between happiness and unhappiness, light and shade. The ties binding these stories together must be stronger than merely this."
Himadri also mentions a 3rd family in the novel, which, structurally, holds together the 2 strands- Anna is Stiva Oblonsky's sister and Kitty is Dolly's, and raises the question on whether this family may be considered happy or unhappy.

"Yes, I am reading this very slowly indeed, but I am gasping in wonder and in astonishment in just about every page. Tolstoy, despite his reputation for didacticism, does not judge: Tolstoy once said that fiction is most effective when the author is not seen to take sides. This may seem strange coming from an author renowned for his didacticism, but he lives up to his principle: here, instead of judging, he explores. He questions incessantly the extent to which these characters are responsible for what they do, for being who they are. As he enters the mind of each of his characters, it appears that they cannot act otherwise: and yet, each is morally responsible for their own actions, and this remains, right to the end of the novel and beyond, a terrible unsolved paradox. Each of these characters is trapped within their own selves: they cannot even begin to understand their own complex psyches, and, to their terror, appear to rush headlong towards a doom they can vaguely sense, but cannot avoid. The sense of the tragic is intense: never has the terror in our everyday lives been expressed with such disconcerting power."
"My own taste in literature has been moulded by Tolstoy more than by anyone else: I discovered his two great novels as a teenager, and have been reading and re-reading them ever since. And, looking over my personal likes and dislikes, it seems clear to me that I, wittingly or unwittingly, measure all fiction by the yardstick provided by Tolstoy. This naturally has problems: the further any fiction is from Tolstoy’s aesthetics, the less I find myself able to enter into its spirit; and yet, if any author’s aesthetic values do come close to Tolstoy’s, that author almost inevitably falls short."

4/ A response to all the people who think literature should not be taught at school:

5/ On the silliness of "identifying with the characters" as a criterion of literary merit:

6/ On Emily Bronte, "Wuthering heights" and Romanticism:

7/ In praise of Charles Dickens, in defence of sentimentality, melodrama and caricatures:

"Gustave Flaubert is known, with reason, as a misanthropic old cynic. And yet, he could be oddly moving."
"Flaubert’s writings present us with a depiction of the utter nothingness at the heart of it all. There is, after all, no-one quite so cynical as a disappointed Romantic: even such inveterate pessimists as Conrad or Beckett were but novices in comparison to Flaubert.
And yet, against all that, there is that extraordinary beauty of his writing. Flaubert’s pessimism isn’t accompanied with an indifferent shrug of the shoulder, but with a profound sadness that things should be so."

9/ Response to an (idiotic) attack on book snobs:
(Guess I don't need to tell you I'm a book snob myself?)

The ones linked above may or may not be some of his best entries, they just happen to deal with some writers I love (such as Tolstoy) and something I care about. There are many, many, other great, insightful and thought-provoking posts.
I've just discovered the blog recently, and love it, not only because he and I share some passions and views in common, but also because a) he reminds me of the ecstasy of reading "Anna Karenina" and of discovering Tolstoy and of my wish to read more of Tolstoy's works, b) he reminds me that Russian literature is 1 of the greatest in the world, with so many great, acclaimed, influential authors I haven't read (which is a pity), c) he makes me reconsider an idea developed recently of a kind of writing I like, some sort of standard, because there are various types of good writings and I myself have liked some writers who have different styles and temperaments and at the same time I realise that I have made the same mistake as a group of people I can't stand. So, yeah... 

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