How Tolstoy Affected the Form of the Novel

a short story

Length in Tolstoy equals the desire to make more money; length in Tolstoy was the hunger to be paid more. Lev was paid by the word.

Anna Karenina and War and Peace are as long as they are principally for this reason (–is this really a reason or merely an explanation [not exactly the same]?). However, Tolstoy manages his extensiveness with brilliance–yes, extensions–stories told by way of indirection, by way of the tangents, perhaps? Is this really a question? I will keep all inserts such as this in the principal stream of the text and not make tributary streams with parentheses or brackets or any other kind of the like.

[. . .]

What is crucial in Tolstoy, a reader must see, is how he handles his indirection, his tangents that open up, yes, they widen; his asides or explications that deepen–and these are cliches in handling what Tolstoy does. No novelist uses the essay to open up, pause, or explicate or illustrate his or her narrative quite the way Tolstoy does. His 30 or 40 0r 20 page essays on European history inside War and Peace are sometimes the most glorious writing in the novel. I am not trying to take away from his descriptive or narrative powers–and I cannot add to his deficiencies in dialogue (and, mostly, this explains his bitter contempt for Shakespeare [he could also be such a pompous ass, especially as a literary critic, Coleridge, Arnold or Eliot he was not]).

[. . .]

The fact that Tolstoy uses the essay form inside his narrative is not a detraction, but an example of what Bakhtin means when he calls the novel (and we are specifically talking novels and not shorter narrative fiction) a highly plastic form that does not inherit the lithification or fossilization that the harder genres from antiquity do. The Novel and the Essay (as inherited from Montaigne) are the principal modern genres. And the sense of ‘modern’ must be understood in a broader sense of modernity. We have narrative from Tolstoy that does not employ such extensive indirection as we get in the novels mentioned above, and we see a single-minded purpose in following the force of the narrative development of plot in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych.

[. . .]

This was a fragment to start and has been edited to this abridged form. The Editors are hopeful that enough has been left for you to discern what the author intended, at least the Editors are convinced that their abridgment does not lessen the effect of the fragment. They cannot be sure that the fragment is less than the whole to what degree. 


Personality is Maskality

Person in English comes from the Latin persona, and this means mask, as in what covers the face. This should give some insight to what we mean by personality and how personality shifts, changes, transforms with context and by the presence of other players–dramatis personae. Yes, I used to say and have said before in other writings that personality is maskality.

Through the Glass Darkly

All is through the glass darkly . . . and so the New York Yankees a soccer team by my say so aside, the political state metaphysically opposes the religious at every turn. It has so since the Renaissance. The birth of the modern world was the death of the medieval ecclesiastical. America’s hostility to organized religion is not as much of an anomaly for our society as it might appear on face; the profession of the free exercise of any religion notwithstanding, America does stand as a new order of the ages, thus in direct conflict with any theocratic reactions. It does have an innate hostility to any church that has real political power; it would have to. I don’t disagree yet, but there is a way where even this democratically inclined impulse to oppose church dogmas can work as a corrosive force on liberty. Nonetheless, American democracy is set in opposition to theocractic impulses by necessity.

To avoid establishing a state religion the United States must hold all religions at least suspect, much along the logical lines of the President de facto holding all citizens as suspects and potential enemies of the Constitution when he swears to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. But then this is also why religion has been cleaved to by the most reactionary of our politicians; there is no room to wage a healthy respect for nor a deep understanding of religion in America, not with the way we read, the way we think, the way we occlude our vision of the past–tempocentrism has been our most abiding dogma, even the most liberally inclined politically are its victims; moreover, especially the politically correct, those whose narrow constraints of correctness have begun to constrict liberty.

For an honest assessment of religion we would have to learn more, read more, and more deeply than we do or can; we would have to examine more evidence than we could be willing to do with how we have taught intellectual integrity. And here in the United States, and in direct contrast to how checkered this Catholic knows the history of the Catholic Church to have been, the Church still does not receive even treatment from the American Media, nor does it receive rational treatment from the American mainstream. Flip the coin of bourgeois secular civilization and you will come up with one side or the other of an anti-ecclesiastic minting. This would not be a problem except for how it has also left us mute in face of other political fanaticisms.

We have no way of speaking to religions at all; this is why Muslims scare the hell out of us. Many Muslims are fast becoming the only ones who can talk monotheism with any certainty, and, yes, without fanaticism, regardless of how many fanatics there are pretending to be Muslims. But most liberal American women I meet who find veils on Muslim women so unsettling do so mostly because of the masks they wear themselves at work but just as often at home in the mirror. The masks inside on the selves of the Self are the veils we all wear, Muslim women are just more overt than we would ever be willing to be.

In our culture’s guiding metaphysics at present, there is no truth, and mostly because without truth, anyone can say anything, really a marketplace way of managing the idea of free speech, which is what we have instead of Free Speech being a democratic way of managing the ecclesiastic. The internet also provides instant expertise, but where anyone can be an expert, no one is, but then this only reinforces “anyone can say,” which has always been the flip-side of “who’s to say?” The latter being the rhetorical question most popular in America.

We have a long way to go or return to if we are ever going to have trenchant and intelligent discussion with Muslims because that return would be to where Muslims have not left–and I am restricting my reference to Muslims to sane, rational, intelligent, educated Muslims. Seeing as there are a billion Muslims in the world there would have to millions of what/of whom I have described. But then there are millions of the stupid, the insane, the narrow-minded, the hateful, et cetera. The world is a confusing place because either in veracity or in metaphor (which holds a special kind of validity and veracity) God has allowed Satan dominion over the world. And as a metaphor, we must be able to see what this means for the world. I guess in the traditions of the BOOK, Satan should have dominion over the world, otherwise free-will would be incidental and perhaps moot.

How is it we ever believe we can avoid hubris? Perhaps that is in itself hubris.

Vermeer and a Photographic Perspective

Remember what I have said and will say again—Vermeer was the first artist directly influenced by photography. His camera obscura was photography without the chemistry of film processing or other chemically treated plates. He used his camera to set perspective, to see how light played with the projection/representation of images. His use of the rudiments of photography helped him inordinately. It taught him how to represent light more naturally. His was a giant step in the history of painting. Bravo Mr. Vermeer.


When I was teaching freshman composition, and issues of identity were raised or brought up as topics for papers, there were no light skinned African Americans who did not discuss how their lighter skin was a source of exclusion or aversion from some darker skinned African Americans in their community, or how questions of authenticity would arise, as if the light skinned African-American had to prove some pedigree of blackness for his darker skinned neighbors.

I had very few mixed race students who did not discuss in their papers that being both “white” and “black” was a problem for both “white” and “black,” and that not being white enough or black enough always seemed to be behind any awkward interactions, or suspicions (no mater how sensitive or hyper sensitive the perception might have been) about how people acted or responded or did not respond–there was frequently a reference to how each had a problem with the perceived “otherness” of the mixed race student.

American Puritanism and Gay Marriage {a repost from five years ago}

There is nothing herein that stands opposed to Gay Marriage; if there are any questions, they are targeted at how marriage has been defined culturally, and linguistically over the millennia. An examination of the etymology of the titles given to the two heterosexuals joining in current matrimony will reveal that marriage has as its chief, if not only, subtext, breeding, that is, having children; no differently, though, than a farmer who mates his cow with a bull . . . if there was a time when this was more overt, the nearly unilaterally agrarian medieval European landscape and village life, or in antiquity, when being fruitful and multiplying had nothing by necessity to do with love but survival, then so be it. I am concerned herein for how it remains true sub-textually today, and resides in the etymologies of the words husband and wife.

The language tells us everything. Wife comes from the word for female; woman from the words for female person, which, in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, a woman was before marriage; after she was only female as in any female of any species of animal: breeder. The man she marries is her husband, the husband, a breeder not as in brood-mare, but as in the one that manages the breeding. Other alliances for power or wealth are understood, but also extensive of property rights, which until the ROMAN Empire, only a man could inherit; and after the fall of Rome, still the case in most societie. Any marriage that does not produce children can be annulled even by the Catholic Church.

Producing children is everything in the traditional mind; even when wealth and power alliances are not contingent from the marriage, children and having many of them is wealth for poor people, has always been their retirement, their social security and medicare before these institutions in America have mismanaged elder care. The orhodox religious pronouncement to be fruitful is just that; marriage also reduces the number of bastards and aligns men and women in legal responsibility for children and thus puts less financial strain on organizations managing orphanages, mostly religious institutions.

Hollywood censorship of sex and its rating sytem for movies is a part of America’s fear of sexuality. Whether hetero or homo, fear of sex is a big part of America’s fear of homosexulity which it sees as predominantly defined by sexuality. The proliferation of pornography in America is not a product of its healthy attitudes toward sex; without healthy attitudes toward hetero sex, how can we expect healthy understanding of gay or lesbian sex.

I am one that questions the necessity of any variation of marriage; gay or straight. I couldn’t oppose marriage for heterosexuals and neither can I for gay or lesbians, but I do have my critique of what we say, what we mean, what we have meant, what we have not been able to handle in the past and in the present.

I am aware what marriage gay and lesbians wish to partake in; and this only points to our greater diversity, when gays and lebians want to be and act more conservatively in society than I do. And I’m married, although outside of convention.

My queston now is, does this law, granting civil rights in terms of marriage law to gays and lesbians–does this now recognize couples who have lived together for more than seven years; are they now common-law spouses [and I do prefer the word spouse to the words husband and wife].

Here is the former post . . .

That anyone expects homosexuality to come out of the closet unchallenged by America’s collectively unconscious fear of difference is naive. I mean, heterosexuality was in the closet only some fifty odd years ago–and repressive attitudes about sex and sexuality did permeate mainstream American life, flaunted when convenient to do so from time to time (principally as a way to allow some subversive messaging about sexuality to emerge in order to control any further subversion).

The greatest fear in America of homosexuals is that they are sexual. The term gay has gone a long way in America’s acceptance of homosexuality, sidestepping the sexuality by renaming the lifestyle. I mean the word sexuality itself is what is feared, as gravely as the thing, sexuality, which we do not allow ourselves to discuss intelligently; no we do not, neither with health or with organic truth. Just look at how grotesquely we manage it in our popular culture, and you will understand how puritanical we still are. Sex and sexuality is often pushed to grotesque extremes, and I do question just how subversive they actually are when they do manifest in one or another form of our media.

Puritanism still prevails in America; even her feminists are nearly as Victorian as many of the men in Britain were that Virginia Woolf wrote so eloquently against when she wrote in defense of women’s intelligence and intellectual capacity. Coupled with a culture that prolongs adolescence and gives credibility to it in its current mentality, the resulting attitudes about sex, toward sex, with sex, are about what you would expect; there are no surprises in America. We have only logic in our sociology.

I don’t mean to put a damper on the enthusiasm of others for political causes they see necessary to support. I just don’t understand the impulse–and it is impulsive, I assume–for gay men to want to marry; that is, when marriage itself originated in our civilization, at least in a number of cultural contexts, as a compassionate measure to protect women from the call of the wild, to insure some legal protection to her role as a man’s breeder much in the way hen houses are meant to protect chickens and eggs from rain and foxes. Has all marriage been another form of legal contracting of surrogacy?

When not keeping woman in her hen house, marriage was in fact an extension of codifying men’s rights to property, animal husbandry an extension of these rights for property, marriage an extension of man’s quest to control the breeding of his animals; the science of domestication gives rise to marriage as we know it.

Don’t women become wives,as I have said I can no longer count how many times; the word wife comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘female,’ not ‘woman,’ the latter a compound of wif and man, which meant ‘female person,’ man being ‘person,’ were as in ‘were-wolf’ being what we mean by ‘man.’ Patriarchy reigned.

A woman goes from modified person before marriage to the reduced female after marriage. She contractually agrees to become breeder, to subject her personhood to the dictates of animal husbandry.

Are gay men using an institution that socially formed within the rhetorical constructs of animal husbandry to express love? I find the motive behind the move perhaps less than genuine, or most assuredly in my mind, only a residual Victorian posture in morality, ironic as it sounds. This is too much the Puritan for this purist on love.

Do gay men fear living in sin now that homosexuality has commonly been accepted as a variant life style and not a deviant one. Since it is no longer a mental illness, there is no reason for either to be denied marriage, but then marriage was a means to reduce the number of bastards in a society, or did marriage only ensure that children out of marriage were called bastards. But being a bastard today has other meanings, and it surely is an admirable one if success in America is your calling.

I don’t know exactly where Gay men fit in this managing of child bearing; all over again, the word wife in Anglo-Saxon comes from the word female, as in female cow, female horse, female pig, the sow that breeds; and the breeder is the husband as in animal husbandry, a science in America studied at the university. Are lesbians to take the title wife and wife in their marriage ceremonies? That would not only be bizarre, but frightening. Heaven forbid. Since heaven now is no longer against homosexuality, perhaps now the law should catch up. I still don’t understand gay marriage other than a puritan’s delight in living morally in society, living outside the sanctions of marriage the last way in which homosexuals presumably can live in sin?