Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tolstoy - Confession

I am still making my way through Tolstoy's 'Confession'. It is a marvelously written essay, although I have to say that having read through it once, I don't think I understand the conclusions he reached. So I am re-reading the end of it again.

The first 3/4 of the work describe his disenchantment with religion, his descent first into epicurianism, then into writing and teaching, and business affairs. The crux of the work is the buildup to his existential crisis and his search for the meaning of life and his purpose, first in the rational world, and then concluding that he would not find the answers in the rational world, embracing the irrational world of faith...

Tosltoy's biggest struggle is looking for a reason to live:

These are the direct replies that human wisdom gives when it replies to life’s question.

“The life of the body is an evil and a lie. Therefore the destruction of the life of the body is a blessing, and we should desire it,” says Socrates.

“Life is that which should not be — an evil; and the passage into Nothingness is the only good in life,” says Schopenhauer.

“All that is in the world — folly and wisdom and riches and poverty and mirth and grief — is vanity and emptiness. Man dies and nothing is left of him. And that is stupid,” says Solomon.

“To life in the consciousness of the inevitability of suffering, of becoming enfeebled, of old age and of death, is impossible — we must free ourselves from life, from all possible life,” says Buddha.

And what these strong minds said has been said and thought and felt by millions upon millions of people like them. And I have thought it and felt it.

So my wandering among the sciences, far from freeing me from my despair, only strengthened it. One kind of knowledge did not reply to life’s question, the other kind replied directly confirming my despair, indicating not that the result at which I had arrived was the fruit of error or of a diseased state of my mind, but on the contrary that I had thought correctly, and that my thoughts coincided with the conclusions of the most powerful of human minds.

It is no good deceiving oneself. It is all — vanity! Happy is he who has not been born: death is better than life, and one must free oneself from life.
Reason leads him to believe that the only reasonable thing to do is to end his life and first attributed his inability to kill himself to weakness and hypocracy. But as he thought more about it, he was troubled by the fact that millions of people, simple, uneducated, managed to find a reason to live. Tolstoy felt that perhaps there was something there which he needed to explore and understand...


Blogger Miri said...


and yet I can never get behind those ideas. I can understand them, and yet the more I think and see, the more I feel that there has to be something in the every-day living; that not only is there something in the "folly and wisdom and riches and poverty and mirth and grief " but that perhaps that is all that there really is.

December 13, 2007 6:48 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Miri, actually the point you are making is exactly the question that Tolstoy was seeking the answer to, namely, why is it that people, especially the simpler people, seem to enjoy life and not draw the same conclusions as the famous philosophers.

(Not to imply that you are simple)

This is addressed in the conclusion of his essay, but I am having a hard time understanding how he gets to his conclusions.

December 13, 2007 7:31 PM  

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