Tolstoy: Essential Read For This Era

Leo Tolstoy, a name synonymous with the greatness of Russian literature or literature for that argument. Leo Tolstoy is one of the world’s famous and admired writers till date, I do think he is one of the greatest novelists who ever lived. Tolstoy’s philosophy(“Tolstovstvo”) inspired great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and much more. Not only great leaders, his writing is the main reason that we talk about Russian Literature in such high prestige these days.Tolstoy was a layman’s writer, he used daily life mundane events and characters to forensics issues such as war, religion, feminism, cruelty, and many other topics. He was convinced that philosophical principles could only be understood in their concrete expression in history.

There is kind of strange physiological delight in reading Tolstoy’s work. It is like whole other world with characthers that transcends the fictional boundary. His words are simple but strangely magical that generate the world which is full of stimulas and fells. The candourness of his thoughts take us into the parallel world, which is quite similar to this world but, you view it more fully and with more clarity. Marcel Proust considered Tolstoy to be the almighty lord of his works, controlling all their actions and thoughts. If so it is a generous lord, who is great because he gives freedom to his heroes, and they, on entering our memory, become more alive than the living.

Sometimes it seems that Tolstoy was born to overturn the rules of literature and to laugh at its pretensions to be a textbook of life. The fundamental aim of Tolstoy’s nature was a search for truth, for the meaning of life, for the ultimate aims of art, for family happiness, for God.This was his main inspiration for writing, He did not regard himself as a professional writer. He was more of a man fighting his own contradicting thoughts. His mind and body raged with such unchecked passions that it was not possible to make ends meet.He hated “progress” and the age of progress and he hailed freedom for women in a world of stern social convention.

If you think that you should read Leo Tolstoy’s work only because he is classic writer or he is famous, it is really not that….Lets face it, we live in a society, where individualism is just a word, you are not entitled to have an opinion. It is considered rude to be opinionated. The unjust laws have sold the concept of “Free Speech” but they have caged our thougths. We are born as Tabula Rasa(blank canvas) and painted by tainted hands to be caged in our thoughts. Leo Tolstoy is escapism from this cage. Leo Tolstoy is Skepticism, Hedonidism, Orignality, Fearless thoughts, Individualism which in my opinion we all have lost in this centuary in the facade of perfect society and free speech. He is prickly face, the unkemp beard and the childlike search for a magical figure in the forest that held the key to universal happiness. Tolstoy work shows you what real goodness, simplicity and truth means.

So read Tolstoy and let him be the lamp to take your mind out of dark caged thoughts and to the light of the free thinking so that you can use minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs.

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The Devils/Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky had worked for several years on a novel to be called “The Life of a Great Sinner.” Mistakenly translated in the past as “The Possessed,” the title refers to the infestation of foreign political and philosophical ideas that swept Russia in the second half of the 19th century.”The Possessed” is among the best, yet complex books ever written by Dostoevsky. It has a deep political embedding of Russian, merging it with pure realism, exposing nihilism, portraying existentialism, plus dark atrocities.”These demons, then, are ideas, that legion of -isms that came to Russia from the West: idealism, rationalism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism, positivism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and, underlying them all, atheism.” -Dostoevsky, taking as his starting point the political chaos around him at the time, constructs an elaborate morality tale in which the people of a provincial town turn against one another because they are convinced of the infallibility of their ideas.

“What I am writing now is a tendentious thing.” Dostoyevsky wrote to a friend in connection with his first outline for The Devils. “I feel like saying everything as passionately as possible. (Let the nihilists and the Westerners scream that I am reactionary!) To hell with them. I shall say everything to the last word.” As Dostoyevsky predicted, “The Devils”, or”The Possessed”, was indeed denounced by radical critics as the work of a reactionary renegade. But radicals aside, it enjoyed great success both for its literary power and for its explicit and provocative politics; and for its story of Russian terrorists plotting violence and destruction, only to murder one of their own numbers.(Stavrogin’s Confession from the Prologue of book).

The main beauty of this novel is its central theme revolved and capture around the problems in Russia in 19 century in most crystal way possible, the dispute between the older men of the ’40s and the younger men of the ’60s. Both of these groups are stereotypes, though salient types of the time. Men of the ’40s were superfluous men, aristocratic, highly educated Russians who desired change in their homeland, though were unable to influence change directly. They tended to live outside of Russia, particularly in Germany or France and pursued literary pursuits.Men of the ’60s, on the other hand, had tired of their elders’ talking and desired direct revolutionary action for political change.Fyodor pulled a miracle in narration in this work, Narrator is an observer of the action in the novel as well as a participant in much of the action. Strangely, though, the author shifts from the direct point of view of the narrator to a more omniscient, impersonal observer from time to time to describe the action, which the narrator does not directly observe. Presumably, our narrator found out about these episodes from some other source later. The novel itself is a retelling of the events of the town from the narrator’s point of view. He often inserts his own opinion of who is to blame for certain events and lets on that he knows what will happen in the future, often with significant foreshadow.

The novel is set in a small town of Skvoreshniki, and is narrated by Govorov; who is both a respected member of the society plus a journalist, and follows to tell the story as it is written from the Biography of Stepan Trofimovitch, who is an ardent thinker, poet, and philosopher. From his narration, we are introduced to the relationship between Stephan and Varvara Petrovna, and it leads us to the development of Nikolay stravrogin Vsyevolodovitch, who is the central character in the book, and who further is home schooled by Stepan until he reaches the age of joining the army.

As it is with Dostoevsky novels, the Possessed seeks to explore existentialism; the human condition as to why we live, and the ideals that guide us. It further brings out the concept of redemption that perturbs the human conscience after committing an evil deed. The author analyses the self, and whether we have a prime idea for our existence.The analogy of demons in the novel Possessed/ the Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky is used to show how certain ideas influence individuals and led them to alienation of the spirit from the body like Hegel states in his philosophy of freedom, God, and the State.Like the actions of Nikolay will show us that sometimes a particular way of thinking can ruin us: it can make us nihilists with no cause in life; therefore we commit actions beyond us.Whereas the demons also symbolise freedom as you will see from the character, Pyotr or Peter.Every character in the novel is possessed by demons/idea, and the author through Stepan Trofimovitch reads the Bible where Christ casts out demons from a possessed man and throws them into the pigs, which run down the cliff and drown in the sea. This analogy is used to show that in the end, when the possessed man’s idea comes to fruition, it eventually leads to his demise, for nearly all the characters in the novel die one way or the other driven by a madden idea about their existence. This brings out the theme of existentialism in the novel.

The idea/demons affect all the characters in the novel, leading to many deaths. It seems that the characters in Possessed suffer, as they try to unravel why it is they are alive. This is sonorous to us human beings, as we try every day to discover why we alive, and not just end it all and commit suicide. Fyodor Dostoevsky has captured the essence of existentialism in this deep political book, which is a pleasure to read and ponder on.

Spoiler Alert: The end is Short But Tragic.

The Great Wall of China and Other Short Stories

If you have read all the major works of Kafka, you should totally consider reading:’The Great Wall of China and Other Stories’ by Franz Kafka.Only a small number of Kafka’s stories were published during his lifetime, and these are published in Penguin as Metamorphosis and Other Stories. He asked his friend, Max Brod, to see that all the writings he left should be destroyed.Kafka left his work, both published and unpublished, to his a friend and literary executor Max Brod with explicit instructions that it should be destroyed on Kafka’s death; Kafka wrote: “Dearest Max, my last request:” Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and other’s), sketches, and so on, is to be burned unread”.Brod ignored this request and published the novels and collected works between 1925 and 1935, beginning with the three unfinished novels, The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926) and Amerika (1927).

Other lesser known and incomplete shorter works appeared posthumously in a more
sporadic fashion and a representative selection of them are collected in this book.This book contains the major short works left by Kafka, and it presents them for the first time in the order of their composition. The sequence and dating of the works are particularly important, because of the very close links between his life and his writing. So it may be useful to mention here some of the relevant myths considered about Kafka without even considering circumstances:

  • Kafka was the archetypal genius neglected in his lifetime
  • Kafka was lonely.
  • Kafka was stuck in a dead-end job, struggling to find time to write.
  • Kafka was tormented by the fear of sex.Kafka was unbending honest about himself to the women in his life –too honest.
  • Kafka had a terrible, domineering father who had no understanding of his son’s needs.
  • Kafka’s style is mysterious and opaque.
  • Kafka takes us into bizarre worlds.

Although of course, these cannot by themselves supply an interpretation of the stories. Kafka’s work is full of autobiographical material, but equally, it is more than just a kind of veiled autobiography. He did indeed say that some of his pieces were “really no more than jottings or doodling of an entirely private nature”, but his chief aim in turning his life into literature was to go beyond the merely personal, to bring out the fundamental – mythical – patterns of human existence, and so to ‘raise the world into the pure, the true, the immutable’ (diary of 25 September 1917).Every story in this volume is allegorical, disturbing and possessing a dream-like clarity, these writings are quintessential Kafka.

For Example :This book begins with’The Village Schoolmaster’, It stands out as one of Kafka’s funniest stories, a hilarious exercise in futility which characteristically ends in dismal failure for all involved.The story doesn’t concern the giant mole itself – which is said to be “a couple of yards” long, but whose existence has never been confirmed. Instead, it focuses on an academic quarrel which arises over the quality of reporting on the alleged mole. The narrator, however, has never seen the mole. He merely heard about the “little treatise” that the village schoolmaster wrote about the sighting. (In fact, it is not even clear whether the schoolmaster personally saw the mole, or only documented accounts of it from the villagers. In surprisingly postmodern fashion, there is no objective basis whatsoever to the story: the whole thing seems to be based on hearsay.

This book contain the stories like The Great Wall of China, Blumfeld, An Elderly Bachelor, Investigations of a Dog and his great sequences of aphorisms, with fables and parables on subjects ranging from the legend of Prometheus to the Tower of Babel, The Knock at Manor Gate and many others and all of them will give you taste of Kafka’s wits and dream-like reality.This volume also contains , “The Collected Aphorisms” in which 109 of the aphorism like

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

and 108 others collected in one chapter.You will certainly enjoy this read if you have read major Kafka’s work already.

Kafka-The Magician Of The Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka is undoubtedly one of the most impactful authors of the 20th century. Kafka’s place in the literary pantheon has been assured till date, most pleasingly expressed by George Steiner’s suggestion that he is the only author to whom it may be said that he made his own a letter of the alphabet – K. His writings were so unique that his style got a special tag which is known as “Kafkaesque”.The term ‘Kafkaesque’ as a style is seen by many as a synonym for “Surreal”. His stories are strikingly strange, which symbolise and signify absurdity of life. He delves deep into the psychological layers of the character and characterises the bizarre side of one’s imagination & thinking. He enjoyed playing with metaphors and his expression was metaphorical in articulation. Though his points were simple and straight but it was complex and critical to deciphering.

Sometimes we’re embarrassed or simply we don’t know how to explain it, but the feeling that you’re about to fall asleep isn’t so much marked by a sense of ‘drifting’, as it is in the abstract thought process.When you are lying there, sometimes you out of nowhere become aware of a bizarre cognition involuntarily, a sort-of pre-sleep dream. For many of us, it will come as a comfort, a reassurance that sleep’s soft embrace is imminent. But for Franz Kafka, it was an inspiration to write.In his diaries, he wrote:” “…again it was the power of my dreams, shining forth into wakefulness even before I fall asleep, which did not let me sleep.” Kafka’s insomnia was the main reason of hypnagogic hallucination, a vivid visual hallucination experienced just before the sleep onset.

He said of the experience, “.. how easily everything can be said as if a great fire had been prepared for all these things in which the strangest thoughts emerge and again disappear.”Of his own role in the process, he remarked, “all I possess are certain powers which, at a depth almost inaccessible at normal conditions, shape themselves into
literature.”Feeling more creative and inspired in the middle of the night than in the morning is something I’m sure many can relate to.”Kafka himself affirmed that writing in a sleep-deprived state provides access to otherwise inaccessible thoughts.”

Kafka is best known for his short story novel ‘The Metamorphosis'(German: Die
Verwandlung), which is regarded as the one of the best work in all literary fiction.It was published in 1915 in the small german magazine.Sleep and lack thereof is, of course, a central theme in Kafka’s best-known work, ‘The Metamorphosis’, and plays on protagonist Gregor’s mind. It seems there was a strong dose of autobiography at play.It told the story of Gregor Samsa, a salesman who wakes up one morning to find that he has turned into an enormous bug.The main theme or idea behind writing about an insect was that he imagined his body moving around in the world while his true writing self-remained behind in the form of a beautiful beetle, which was in regard to the time when he held on his idealism with regard to the writing process.

Though this image changed drastically when he published,’The Judgement'(The most autobiographical story ever in my opinion) Kafka wrote in his diary that when writing flowed smoothly, that is the true way to write, with “A complete opening out of the body and soul” in his words.But when Kafka read the story later, he was disappointed.As
if, he thought he had let out the story in a perfect form but later he realised that it was covered with “filth and slime”.

He said writing, when it springs from within, is like giving birth, and the child is covered in mucus. The insect, Kafka’s metaphor for his writing self-removed from the everyday world, was no longer a beautiful thing, but a repulsive and filthy one. This is exactly the image he gave us in ‘The Metamorphosis’.

Franz Kafka imagined strange fictional space in which his characters attempt to make sense of a frightening world. Kafka’s writing style seems straightforward, but it depicts and describes the multitude philosophy and irrationality of life.It’s not easy to decipher or understand Kafka’s stories in single read sometimes, it needs to be re -read to decipher the deeper meaning hidden in a wonderful choice of metaphors and combinations of ironic statements.This is why you should totally add Franz Kafka’s works to your read list.