W&P Week 52: Epilogue / Two / 12 (Done)

For 01/04/2021, to END!

Epilogue, Part 1

Chapter 12

Everyone loves it that Pierre is back, the servants, the kids, the guests, the old ladies, etc. — and especially Andrei’s son Nikolenka, now 15, who adores Pierre. Because Natasha reminded him, the ever-forgetful, he also has brought presents for everyone. The only exception is the Countess, who is in a permanent state of indifference, and occasional anger at her maid Belova or others when she is not feeling well. The members of her family understand this–she is living without any goal or point to it, but they understand that “we must all become like her” (1253).

Chapter 13

The Countess’ presence thus makes for a boring, stiff, and meaningless conversation all the way through the end of tea time, except for the kids that are having a good time with the nannies and governesses in the adjacent room, excited about having a nanny knit two stockings at the same time.

Chapter 14

Eventually, the kids go to bed and the men eventually retire into Nikolai’s study to talk politics, with Nikolenka listening in from the sidelines. They talk about the news Pierre brings back from Petersburg about the government going after secret societies and mysticism (eventually, this will lead to the Decembrist uprising in 1825). Pierre allows for the possibility that these societies can do good, but Nikolai is for the suppression by the government. Nikolenka, who in his excitement to overhear all this has broken Nikolai’s pens and ceiling wax as he’s been listening, asks Pierre whether his father would have agreed with him; Pierre says he thinks so.

Chapter 15

Over dinner, everyone is talking about 1812 instead of current politics, and that’s more fun. As everyone retires, Nikolai and Marya talk about her new journal, in which she takes notes about the children’s development. He approves, to her relief, but although he observes that Natasha is ridiculously both ruling over Pierre and hanging on his lips and repeating his every word–he doesn’t realize that it’s the same dynamic for him and Marya (1263). He tells Marya that his business is going well and that he will leave the children “in an excellent position” (1264). She is glad but she wishes he would spend less time in the material and more in the spiritual realm, to which she always lifts him up–the chapter ends with him kneeling in evening prayer in front of the icon. [Very Goethian–das ewig Weibliche zieht uns hinauf]

Chapter 16

At the same time, Natasha and Pierre in their bedroom also have their couple talk, a “conservation… contrary to all the laws of logic…. the surest sign that they fully understood one another” (1265). He tells her about the people who asked him for advice in Petersburg, and she wonders what Platon would have made of his life now. Pierre thinks that he would have approved of their family life. Natasha makes a stray remark that shows she is always jealous of a specific woman when Pierre is away–but who would it be? He says he didn’t see her and wouldn’t have recognized her if he had. (1267)

Meanwhile, Nikolenka is wide awake after a nightmare and calms himself back down by thinking of Pierre and his father, and of what he could do something that would make them proud.

(Essay Pretending to be) Epilogue, Part 2

Chapter 1

Ancient historiography attributed events to divine participation; modern historiography pretends to have gotten away from this in theory, but the focus on Great Men and the nations guided by them is still as teleological as ever, and that is a flaw. The brief example is the entire history of France from Louis XIV to Napoloen’s death in 2 pages, as a way to show that historians ask the wrong questions. They do not ask what the power or force is that moves the people, specifically, in the form of…

Chapter 2

… moving nations. Biographical history of great men cannot account for that. And the more recent “universal history” which recognizes forces other than great men in grand sweeping historical narratives, still focuses on the aggregate power of multiple forces linked to political leaders. A third type of historiography, written by cultural historians or historians of mentality, emphasizes the impact of writers, philosophers, “and ladies” (!, 1276, thinking of Mme de StaĆ«l?) etc. . All run into contradictions and cannot answer the real question about the history of the masses–why things happen . Given that the narrator speculates that “Undoubtedly some connection exists between all who live contemporaneously” (1276) I wonder whether the Marxist lens would have satisfied him despite its teleological approach?

Chapter 3

The narrator reflects on this quandary some more through metaphor (different explanations for why a locomotive is moving by people who do not know; different types of historiography as paper money vs. base metal coins, but neither gets at the true value). No historian has come up with a good explanation of the power that moves people.

Chapter 4

The problem is that “power” (or “force”) are being left undefined. How does one person exert it over another, in a legal / political social contract sense. He suggests three options: 1. The will of the people is unconditionally transferred to a ruler–who is then always the RIGHT ruler and others will have to be fought off. 2. The will of the people is transferred to a ruler based on definite and known conditions. 3. It it transferred conditionally but the conditions are unclear or unknown. But historians that think this way have to admit, ultimately, that the transfers are basically “accident, dependent on cunning, on mistakes, on craft, or on the weakness” of a particular ruler (1282), and that generalizations about “freedom, equality, enlightenment, progress, civilization, and culture” as the goals that humans pursue do not really get at why people do things and how the masses shift allegiance; it certainly doesn’t explain revolutions.

Chapter 5

Another comparison: behavior of herds of cattle, to show that ultimately the idea of social-contract based power of the people is based on circular definitions, and that “power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand” (1285); it is neither about divine will nor about the power of individual rulers, but is basically “the relation… between the expression of someone’s will and the execution of that will by others” (1286) and that relationship is by no means clear or easy–because…

Chapter 6

… most of the time, commands by someone “in power” are actually not followed and go unexecuted, so that chains of events cannot really be constructed based on the “will” of rulers. Only in hindsight, historians superimpose some sort of causal chain. (Finally, a Russian campaign example, although quite general, 1288.) Even when it comes to the army, where a pyramid (he says “cone”)-shaped hierarchy seems to make it a prime example of the principle of “command by one with lots of power, execution by many with little power as individuals,” the power of commanding the army has limited impact.

Chapter 7

Another set of comparisons: when a log is hauled by many men, the man who ordered the work done may have thought about this most, but the bulk of the work is done by the ones who are just pushing. This misleads historians into thinking mostly about the man who ordered the work, making them unable to imagine acts that have not been ordered and engaging in flawed hindsight causality arguments–they are like people on a ship can’t really tell they are moving, rather than the water that hit its bow.

The narrator sums up: “the more [a] person expresses opinions, predictions, and justifications of the collective action that is performed, the less is his participation in that action” (1292), but it’s that participation, by ALL the people involved in that action, that causes the movement of nations. A further kind of cause (the order of a commander to engage in this action, etc.) really cannot be determined, and the arguments about cause in historical processes are circular and not useful.

Chapter 8

We should instead think about “laws of history” the way we think of laws of nature, like gravity–but we resist this because we think of individuals having free will. This leads to a lengthy discussion about the paradox of free will–we see a “general law of necessity” and at the same time “feel ourselves to be free” (1293), a feeling anchored in our consciousness that is beyond reason. This is important in historiography because we have to decide: “How should the past life of nations and of humanity be regarded–as the result of the free, or as the result of the constrained, activity of man?” (1295). How can these two be reconciled? (They can’t.)

Chapter 9

A longer disputation about the problem of free will vs. necessity follows. [Does he really think he can resolve this?] Our perception of how free or how predetermined historical acts are depends on how we see three things: (1) How much environmental/spatial context we see for the person whose “freedom to act” we are evaluating (2) How close or distant in time he/she is to us, and (3) how much we know about the various factors that contribute to the historical action that this person is implicated in. The principle is this: We see more inevitability when (1) we can see the event’s significance within the “external world,” (2) are distant from the event in time, and (3) know lots about the possible causes, whereas “when we do not at all understand the cause of an action… we ascribe a greater amount of freedom to it” (1300).

Chapter 10

But we should really understand that there is never complete freedom of will, because reason tells us that we are always bound by space, time, and causality (1,2, and 3), while there is also never any complete lack of freedom–because without free will (or the sense of free will? Is that the SAME?) we would cease to be conscious human beings. In other words, reason tells us there is NO free will and consciousness/self-awareness tells us everything is free will, and we have to figure out the balance. For historiography, this ultimately means that free will is the “unknown remainder” once we have figured out how the “laws of inevitability” account for most of the events (1305).

Chapter 11

Historiography needs to change accordingly, by reducing that unknown remainder to the smallest possible quantity by explaining as much of the events on the basis of laws of necessity without recourse to the free will argument and then, like the natural sciences, focus on the laws “common to all the inseparable the inseparable interconnected infinitesimal elements of freewill” (1306)

Chapter 12

This means a historiographical paradigm shift (basically to sociology and statistics / quantitative history, although he does not say it that way) to get away from free will as cause and from the old historiography, even as this means a struggle. The analogy is the Copernican world view: even though you cannot feel the movement of the earth around the sun, we have to admit that it is the natural law, otherwise we “arrive at absurdity” and the same happens if we insist on history being motivated by free will.

Appendix: Some Words About War and Peace (1868)

Published in 1868 in Russian Archive

  1. Regarding genre, Tolstoy says that it W & P “is not a novel, even less is it an epic poem, and still less an historical chronicle,” but instead constitutes a new genre experiment in the Russian tradition (Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky), which excels when it breaks with the European tradition (1309).
  2. When it comes to his analysis of the time period, he is aware of the criticism that he doesn’t say enough about “the horrors of serfdom” and violence against women and children, but he defends this because he sees those stories of past violence as exceptional, and basically says that people then were more similar to modern Russians than different from them.
  3. Regarding the use of so much French dialogue, and the inconsistency of sometimes having French speakers speak French, sometimes Russian, he simply thinks that the readers who criticize this are wrong (elaborate but somewhat confusing comparison with viewers of a portrait who mistake shadows as blotches on the person’s face). How is this even a defense? The introduction does a better job explaining how Tolstoy is using French, including having Natasha almost never speak French, and the steady increase in certain chapters until the Napoleon-in-Moscow chapters as the peak of French use–see xiii-xv).
  4. He defends the fictional-but-similar-to-real names in terms of verisimilitude and adds a disclaimer that he did not wish to describe real persons. But the introduction points out that the Bolkonskys ARE based on Tolstoy’s relatives, the Volkonskys, especially Marya, whose life resembles Tolstoy’s mom, and that Nikolai Rostov is “loosely modelled on Tolstoy’s own father” (xviii). He admits that two people are based on “two particularly characteristic and charmiing people of the real society of that time” ( Denisov = Denis Davydov; Marya Dimitrievna Akhrosimova = Nastasya Dmitrievna Ofrosimova, cf. xviii) although he now thinks that was a mistake.
  5. He also defends the “divergence” between historical events as he describes them and historians did. As an artist, “treating of man’s relation to all sides of life there cannot and should not be heroes, but there should be men” (1312) and his focus was on “facts” more than on causes, and on staying away from the “inevitability of falsehood in military description” made in hindsight (1313). But he also points out that he has “invented nothing” (1314) when it comes to historical figures.
  6. He then addresses his hobby horse, the critique of the “great men” historiography regarding Napoleon especially. The cause of the Russian campaign, and the Napoleonic Wars in general “cannot be the will of one man” (1315). We need to step back and ask why “millions people begin to kill one another” and to what extent this has to do not with the freedom to act but with “sempiternal law” of history (1315; i.e. summarizing the end of the epilogue YET AGAIN). Here, he makes the distinction between an act of free will, which can be committed by him if the act “relates to me alone” (1316–REALLY?) and an act that relates to others and cannot be as free. The history of the Russian campaign is, ultimately “an illustration of the law of predetermination which in my opinon guides history, and of that psychological law which compels a man who commits actions under the greatest compulsion to supply in his imagination a whole series of retrospective reflections to prove his freedom to himself” (1317).