Friday, July 17, 2015

The Kreutzer Sonata

Vladamir Jankélévitch refers to Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata when discussing Tolstoy's negative views on music (in his Music and the Ineffable). I was intrigued so I found a copy. Doris Lessing is surely right in describing it as a compelling read (in her introduction to the edition I got). But in light of Tolstoy's aims in writing the book, it is truly bizarre. (A real counter-point to my big summer read last year, Anna Karenina.)

What we get is a story of sexual desire, jealousy, and self-hatred, told by a man who murders his wife on the basis of some truly paranoid suspicions that she cheating on him. In the "Sequel" to the book, Tolstoy reiterates his conservative arguments on sexual morality and marriage. But it is truly perplexing to think that he could have seen this book as a good argument for his positions (not only because many of his own ideas are put into the mouth of a murderer). For all the while, as I read the narrator's bitter views on sex and marriage, I find myself thinking that for all the bluster, this guy is just unhappy and doesn't know how to deal moderately with his own sexuality.

Furthermore, as Lessing discusses, there is the problem of not really giving any even-handed consideration to the female (heterosexual) perspective. Lessing does a nice job of trying to help us imagine sexual life in the 19th century (no birth control), and Tolstoy's (and his wife's) life in particular (she makes a lot, quite to the point, about the number of children they had). But she also rightly, I think, sums up the "philosophical" aims of the work as those of a "fanatic," locked tightly into an ideological perspective that is not only unrealistic (Tolstoy responds to that charge in the Sequel) but also paradoxically oblivious to the complexity and varieties of sexual intimacy. (Lessing speculates that perhaps Tolstoy wasn't good in bed, which would explain the frustration surrounding some of the discussions of sex.) Tolstoy's dualism--sex is "animal," "man" should transcend "animal nature"--forces sex to remain "dirty" and something to be avoided. But there's a false dichotomy here, if you think we can accept our "animal nature" and yet remain "human," where acceptance means something other than trying to get as far away from the animal as possible. As Lessing points out, Tolstoy "went at it" into his seventies, and so maybe part of the problem (as with his narrator) is that he happened to have a rather strong sexual appetites. But this is the sort of thing I despise: projecting your own personal struggles onto humanity as a whole, such that we are all assumed to have the same problem, and then giving your personal plan or cure as the norm for all.

Read as a story about sexual frustration, jealousy, and madness, it's a real page-turner. But I'm not sure I would go to Tolstoy for relationship advice.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Online First: Nietzschean Patience

Forgot to mention this with my other big announcement: my article "Nietzschean Patience" is now available Online First in The Journal of Value Inquiry. There are also several other papers there on Nietzsche and virtue. (These are to be published as a special issue; my article just happened to get accepted around the same time. A nice coincidence!) Enjoy.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Coming Soon: On Patience

I am pleased to announce that my book On Patience is now under contract with Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield)!

I will turn the manuscript by early next month, and there will be a peer review process, presumably with some improvements to be made. (So my post title should perhaps be "Coming Sooner or Later, But It Is Coming...")

When I'm not working on that, I'm about ready to start sketching out some more reactions to the reading I've been doing on the philosophy of music. Stay tuned for that and for updates about the book!