Okay, I guess we can discuss War and Peace…
I got to about page 8 of War and Peace. So only 0.6% of the +1200 pages.
Well, obviously I didn’t give the novel a fair chance.
Don’t care. I have no intention of revisiting it.
People always talk about battling through War and Peace in small chunks because it is such an important and blah blah blah book. If it was really important it wouldn’t have been so boring as to necessitate reading it in small chunks.
I’ve previously mentioned War and Peace in my post on books people claim to have read but haven’t. As discussed in the video, it isn’t a novel that most are going to get into or enjoy. The appeal of a book of this sort is rather narrow. That doesn’t make it a bad book, despite my comments above, but it does mean that there is a certain cachet to having read it. It is certainly the sort of “important” book literary snobs love to talk about.
In some respects, I’m glad that War and Peace is something of a publishing relic. Otherwise, we might have dozens of “very important authors” churning out 1000 page novels with 500 characters and scant regard for the plot/point.
According to Tolstoy himself, War and Peace was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle.”
And in this day and age of publishing, where word count, “readability”, and topical relevance are the lifeline of getting a novel to print, we look at books like War & Peace as something of a relic.
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4 thoughts on “War and Peace and Everything Else”
Tolstoy is great at storytelling . That there are philosophical deviations, which Bertrand Russel and Karl Popper have admired, does not mean that there is no plot. I personally lose patience with a book that is without philosophical exposition. People can move between reading a novel and then reading Rudolf Carnap separately, but why cannot a book have both plot and non-fiction combined into one? I do not mean that this is the correct opinion; but it is a personal taste that is valid.
And just because something does not have mass appeal (in the style of American popular culture and the copycat cultures) doesn’t mean it is not important to many people, nor does it lead to the proposition that its importance is only held by obscure scholars and critics. And it certainly does not lead to the idea that it is only read by a bourgeois audience seeking nothing but cultural capital. These are reductive assumptions which do not endear certain readers to your blog, because there are many kinds of people who love Tolstoy just as there are many who love classical music and Jazz. These are not as commercially successful as Nolan’s movie Interstellar, which we apparently must never criticize lest we be condemned for holding a ‘snobbishness’ that might endanger Nolan’s tremendous wealth!
Scott, you’ve actually just engaged in exactly what you’re being critical of.
You’ve made overly reductive assumptions (e.g. I used the terms “That doesn’t make it a bad book” and “In SOME respects”) to place upon me a categorisation that doesn’t actually fit nor one that is warranted.
As such, you’ve pretty much avoided my actual points in favour of defending a position I wasn’t attacking.
Now, I get it, I’ve essentially said I don’t care for Tolstoy. He made my eyes glaze over. This view is opposed to yours, so you’re somewhat offended. You do regard his books as important, and I am critical of the way we appoint importance to books (and I’m hardly alone in this regard). But that doesn’t mean you get to tell me I’m wrong for expressing that view and that my blog is not endearing as a result.
Thanks for replying. I never accused you of being wrong. The tone in my comment, which in retrospect seems a bit hasty, was intended to end on a humorous note.
Anthropologists will show us a thousand cultures in which literature was written in ways that neither I nor you would ever understand or enjoy. It’s all relative. But certain pop culture people (I am not accusing you) in various forums assume that everyone objectively finds Western pop culture entertaining and that no one could possibly learn to enjoy serious things. For this to be so, one must prove that an attraction to Western pop culture is an a priori precondition in Kant or Chomsky’s sense, antecedent to cultural experience and therefore universal. But this is not true. Today’s consumer of commercial fiction would have enjoyed 10,000 page Indian epic poems had he been born in ancient India.
Secondly, yes being critical of prestige is fine, but never assume that if one dislikes what you like it must be snobbery. I never made the generalization that your dislike of x can be attributed to stupidity, which would be arrogant. Likewise, a dislike of pop culture is not often founded upon a hatred of consumers who purchase it, but is often based upon a dislike of the artworks themselves or upon the manipulative bourgeois elite who write and promote them.
And I was not at all condemning you for not reading Tolstoy. But your review made it seem as though mostly ‘snobby’ people like Tolstoy. When Fields Medalist Akshay Venkatesh calls War and Peace his favorite book, do we suppose the Fields Medal wasn’t prestigious enough?
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Sorry if I misread your comment.
The more I’ve written about art (mainly literature) the less objective and more subjective I’ve become. Rereading some of my older posts I’ve argued for certain objective qualities to novels/books that now I’d have to admit were quantitative points used to mount a subjective argument. And as a result, I’ve actually made your point about what we appreciate with regard to older books before. Essentially, culture changes, cultural norms change, so our lens changes (e.g. older books look decidedly racist and sexist by today’s standards, as will our generation’s in the future).
My snobbery arguments are a bit more nuanced. I’ve been making it over several years now and really must consolidate it. Meanwhile, this study has a great methodology for literary merit that illustrates all books have at least some: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306026153_Different_Stories_How_Levels_of_Familiarity_With_Literary_and_Genre_Fiction_Relate_to_Mentalizing
I think it is fair to have the takeaway from the post that snobby people like Tolstoy. My general facetiousness doesn’t shy away from sticking in the boot for no particular reason. Which isn’t a particularly good way of getting to my general message of “enjoy books, all of them, not just the “worthy” ones”.