Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Conceptual Conflicts

In the second epilogue, Tolstoy spends a large amount of time examining the dichotomy between freedom and inevitability. Indeed, Tolstoy claims to have distinguished the "two fundamentals of which man's whole outlook on the universe is constructed--the incomprehensible essence of life, and the laws defining that essence" (1070). Drawing upon Tolstoy's remarks in the epilogue and the events of the novel, natural binaries start to emerge, in correspondence with the aforementioned remark: essence vs. the laws of essence, content vs. form, freedom vs. inevitability, life vs. death (although this seems slightly more tenuous), worldliness vs. other-wordliness, immanence vs. transcendence, and consciousness vs. reason. 

Moreover, the characters of the novel seem to fall neatly into these binaries. After all, Andrew dies, experiencing "an awakening" through a transcendence of the world via death (871), while Pierre finds happiness and freedom in life by learning "to see the great, eternal, and infinite in everything" (977). It seems that we could draw similar distinction between Princess Mary, who is described as "a soul burdened by the body," (1038) and Natasha, who devotes herself entirely to her family. As Alosha pointed out in her blog post earlier this week, neither side of the binary, at least as expressed in the contrasts between characters, seems to be objectively better than the other. However, if this is the case, then how do we resolve the apparent conflict between ways of life that seem so diametrically opposed? Tolstoy writes that to really understand human life we must take both freedom and inevitability into account (1071), but does this more fruitful way of looking at human life find embodiment in any of the characters of the novel?

On the topic of binaries: It's an interesting coincidence that the title of the novel itself expresses a dichotomy between two opposing concepts.

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