Friday, October 21, 2011

A Glancing Blow

More than a Glancing Blow: Hail that Bashed Dents in Spouse's Car two days ago
I've just hit the War part of War and Peace. The first war part, that is. (The parts I skipped the first time around. Though I hasten to add that the first time I read Moby Dick, I did read every word of the whale bits, those endless 'cetology' sections. Though only once and never again.)

I thought it would be an endurance contest, these hundred pages before the family dramas of the next peace part return. Surprise, surprise, to quote our Southern philosopher, Gomer Pyle: Tolstoy is as lavish with psychological insight in the war bits as he is in the rest of the novel.

You must know the feeling.  You're humming along with exuberance about something or other you've done or achieved or are planning to do when a stray look from a stranger, a casual comment from a friend, and whap! you realize what an idiot you were to think that x,y or z had any point at all. I hit this all the time. I suppose it's over-awareness of what other people are thinking--might be thinking--and therefore a character defect to overcome, but I'm not exactly sure how you do that. Put on another layer of skin? Not as easy, sigh, as slipping on a sweater or adding a few extra pounds of body insulation, aka fat. (Speaking of cetology.)

It doesn't even have to be a glance that sets this in motion. It can also be simple silence. Sad to admit that one is that aware of other people, perhaps, but there it is.

So what relief to find it in Tolstoy, too: Prince Andrei as courier is exultantly bearing news about a very minor Russian victory (more a survival than a victory.) In the moments it takes him to enter the office of the Minister of War he is reporting to and wait for the man to look up from the documents on his desk, Andrei's spirits falter, then sink altogether as he interprets the Minister's silence, initial expression, and, finally, few comments. His news, Prince Andrei realizes? or mindreads? is hardly of interest to the Minister; the victory must scarcely be worth being called a victory; the battle which had seemed of keenest excitement and importance was after all simply--one more in a long series of easily-forgotten skirmishes.

"When Prince Andrei left the palace, he felt that all the interest and happiness afforded him by the victory had now left him and been given over into the indifferent hands of the minister of war. . . . His whole way of thinking changed instantly. . . . "

In the space of a few moments, with little or nothing actually said by the other person.

Ah, yes.

No comments:

Post a Comment