“While imprisoned in the shed Pierre had learned not with his intellect but with his whole being, by life itself, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfaction of simple human needs, and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from superfluity. And now during these last three weeks of the march he had learned still another new, consolatory truth—that nothing in this world is terrible. He had learned that as there is no condition in which man can be happy and entirely free, so there is no condition in which he need be unhappy and lack freedom. He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that those limits are very near together; that the person in a bed of roses with one crumpled petal suffered as keenly as he now, sleeping on the bare damp earth with one side growing chilled while the other was warming; and that when he had put on tight dancing shoes he had suffered just as he did now when he walked with bare feet that were covered with sores—his footgear having long since fallen to pieces. He discovered that when he had married his wife—of his own free will as it had seemed to him—he had been no more free than now when they locked him up at night in a stable. Of all that he himself subsequently termed his sufferings, but which at the time he scarcely felt, the worst was the state of his bare, raw, and scab-covered feet. (The horseflesh was appetizing and nourishing, the saltpeter flavor of the gunpowder they used instead of salt was even pleasant; there was no great cold, it was always warm walking in the daytime, and at night there were the campfires; the lice that devoured him warmed his body.) The one thing that was at first hard to bear was his feet. After the second day’s march Pierre, having examined his feet by the campfire, thought it would be impossible to walk on them; but when everybody got up he went along, limping, and, when he had warmed up, walked without feeling the pain, though at night his feet were more terrible to look at than before. However, he did not look at them now, but thought of other things. Only now did Pierre realize the full strength of life in man and the saving power he has of transferring his attention from one thing to another, which is like the safety valve of a boiler that allows superfluous steam to blow off when the pressure exceeds a certain limit.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
Category: Lit & Crit
“A man in motion always devises an aim for that motion. To be able to go a thousand miles he must imagine that something good awaits him at the end of those thousand miles. One must have the prospect of a promised land to have the strength to move . . . and for a man going a thousand miles it is absolutely necessary to set aside his final goal and to say to himself: ‘Today I shall get to a place twenty-five miles off where I shall rest and spend the night,’ and during the first day’s journey that resting place eclipses his ultimate goal and attracts all his hopes and desires.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“An apple should not be plucked while it is green. It will fall of itself when ripe, but if picked unripe the apple is spoiled, the tree is harmed, and your teeth are set on edge.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“A superfluity of the comforts of life destroys all joy in satisfying one’s needs.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Man’s mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man’s soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: ‘This is the cause!’ In historical events (where the actions of men are the subject of observation) the first and most primitive approximation to present itself was the will of the gods and, after that, the will of those who stood in the most prominent position—the heroes of history. But we need only penetrate to the essence of any historic event—which lies in the activity of the general mass of men who take part in it—to be convinced that the will of the historic hero does not control the actions of the mass but is itself continually controlled. It may seem to be a matter of indifference whether we understand the meaning of historical events this way or that.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Is it possible that the truth of life has been revealed to me only to show me that I have spent my life in falsity?” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Where there’s law there’s injustice.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“It is natural for us who were not living in those days to imagine that when half Russia had been conquered and the inhabitants were fleeing to distant provinces, and one levy after another was being raised for the defense of the fatherland, all Russians from the greatest to the least were solely engaged in sacrificing themselves, saving their fatherland, or weeping over its downfall. The tales and descriptions of that time without exception speak only of the self-sacrifice, patriotic devotion, despair, grief, and the heroism of the Russians. But it was not really so. It appears so to us because we see only the general historic interest of that time and do not see all the personal human interests that people had. Yet in reality those personal interests of the moment so much transcend the general interests that they always prevent the public interest from being felt or even noticed. Most of the people at that time paid no attention to the general progress of events but were guided only by their private interests, and they were the very people whose activities at that period were most useful. Those who tried to understand the general course of events and to take part in it by self-sacrifice and heroism were the most useless members of society, they saw everything upside down, and all they did for the common good turned out to be useless and foolish.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Though tattered, hungry, worn out, and reduced to a third of their original number, the French entered Moscow in good marching order. It was a weary and famished, but still a fighting and menacing army. But it remained an army only until its soldiers had dispersed into their different lodgings. As soon as the men of the various regiments began to disperse among the wealthy and deserted houses, the army was lost forever and there came into being something nondescript, neither citizens nor soldiers but what are known as marauders. When five weeks later these same men left Moscow, they no longer formed an army. They were a mob of marauders, each carrying a quantity of articles which seemed to him valuable or useful. The aim of each man when he left Moscow was no longer, as it had been, to conquer, but merely to keep what he had acquired. Like a monkey which puts its paw into the narrow neck of a jug, and having seized a handful of nuts will not open its fist for fear of losing what it holds, and therefore perishes, the French when they left Moscow had inevitably to perish because they carried their loot with them, yet to abandon what they had stolen was as impossible for them as it is for the monkey to open its paw and let go of its nuts. Ten minutes after each regiment had entered a Moscow district, not a soldier or officer was left. Men in military uniforms and Hessian boots could be seen through the windows, laughing and walking through the rooms. In cellars and storerooms similar men were busy among the provisions, and in the yards unlocking or breaking open coach house and stable doors, lighting fires in kitchens and kneading and baking bread with rolled-up sleeves, and cooking; or frightening, amusing, or caressing women and children. There were many such men both in the shops and houses—but there was no army.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“In quiet and untroubled times it seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding on with a boat hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to. But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer possible. The ship moves independently with its own enormous motion, the boat hook no longer reaches the moving vessel, and suddenly the administrator, instead of appearing a ruler and a source of power, becomes an insignificant, useless, feeble man.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“One need only admit that public tranquillity is in danger and any action finds a justification. All the horrors of the reign of terror were based only on solicitude for public tranquillity.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“The spoken word is silver but the unspoken is golden. Man can be master of nothing while he fears death, but he who does not fear it possesses all. If there were no suffering, man would not know his limitations, would not know himself.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Absolute continuity of motion is not comprehensible to the human mind. Laws of motion of any kind become comprehensible to man only when he examines arbitrarily selected elements of that motion; but at the same time, a large proportion of human error comes from the arbitrary division of continuous motion into discontinuous elements. There is a well known, so-called sophism of the ancients consisting in this, that Achilles could never catch up with a tortoise he was following, in spite of the fact that he traveled ten times as fast as the tortoise. By the time Achilles has covered the distance that separated him from the tortoise, the tortoise has covered one tenth of that distance ahead of him: when Achilles has covered that tenth, the tortoise has covered another one hundredth, and so on forever. This problem seemed to the ancients insoluble. The absurd answer (that Achilles could never overtake the tortoise) resulted from this: that motion was arbitrarily divided into discontinuous elements, whereas the motion both of Achilles and of the tortoise was continuous. By adopting smaller and smaller elements of motion we only approach a solution of the problem, but never reach it. Only when we have admitted the conception of the infinitely small, and the resulting geometrical progression with a common ratio of one tenth, and have found the sum of this progression to infinity, do we reach a solution of the problem. A modern branch of mathematics having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when it deals with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable arbitrary human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. But to arrive at these laws, resulting from the sum of all those human wills, man’s mind postulates arbitrary and disconnected units. The first method of history is to take an arbitrarily selected series of continuous events and examine it apart from others, though there is and can be no beginning to any event, for one event always flows uninterruptedly from another. The second method is to consider the actions of some one man—a king or a commander—as equivalent to the sum of many individual wills; whereas the sum of individual wills is never expressed by the activity of a single historic personage. Historical science in its endeavor to draw nearer to truth continually takes smaller and smaller units for examination. But however small the units it takes, we feel that to take any unit disconnected from others, or to assume a beginning of any phenomenon, or to say that the will of many men is expressed by the actions of any one historic personage, is in itself false. It needs no critical exertion to reduce utterly to dust any deductions drawn from history. It is merely necessary to select some larger or smaller unit as the subject of observation—as criticism has every right to do, seeing that whatever unit history observes must always be arbitrarily selected. Only by taking infinitesimally small units for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of men) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)(emphases in original)
“The profoundest and most excellent dispositions and orders seem very bad, and every learned militarist criticizes them with looks of importance, when they relate to a battle that has been lost, and the very worst dispositions and orders seem very good, and serious people fill whole volumes to demonstrate their merits, when they relate to a battle that has been won.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“War is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept this terrible necessity sternly and seriously. It all lies in that: get rid of falsehood and let war be war and not a game.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to think about what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally listens to the first voice, but in society to the second.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Among the innumerable categories applicable to the phenomena of human life one may discriminate between those in which substance prevails and those in which form prevails.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Heat and drought had continued for more than three weeks. Each day fleecy clouds floated across the sky and occasionally veiled the sun, but toward evening the sky cleared again and the sun set in reddish-brown mist. Heavy night dews alone refreshed the earth. The unreaped corn was scorched and shed its grain. The marshes dried up. The cattle lowed from hunger, finding no food on the sun-parched meadows. Only at night and in the forests while the dew lasted was there any freshness. But on the road, the highroad along which the troops marched, there was no such freshness even at night or when the road passed through the forest; the dew was imperceptible on the sandy dust churned up more than six inches deep. As soon as day dawned the march began. The artillery and baggage wagons moved noiselessly through the deep dust that rose to the very hubs of the wheels, and the infantry sank ankle-deep in that soft, choking, hot dust that never cooled even at night. Some of this dust was kneaded by the feet and wheels, while the rest rose and hung like a cloud over the troops, settling in eyes, ears, hair, and nostrils, and worst of all in the lungs of the men and beasts as they moved along that road. The higher the sun rose the higher rose that cloud of dust, and through the screen of its hot fine particles one could look with naked eye at the sun, which showed like a huge crimson ball in the unclouded sky. There was no wind, and the men choked in that motionless atmosphere. They marched with handkerchiefs tied over their noses and mouths. When they passed through a village they all rushed to the wells and fought for the water and drank it down to the mud.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“No disease suffered by a live man can be known, for every living person has his own peculiarities and always has his own peculiar, personal, novel, complicated disease, unknown to medicine—not a disease of the lungs, liver, skin, heart, nerves, and so on mentioned in medical books, but a disease consisting of one of the innumerable combinations of the maladies of those organs.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Not only does a good army commander not need any special qualities, on the contrary he needs the absence of the highest and best human attributes—love, poetry, tenderness, and philosophic inquiring doubt. He should be limited, firmly convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he will not have sufficient patience), and only then will he be a brave leader. God forbid that he should be humane, should love, or pity, or think of what is just and unjust. It is understandable that a theory of their ‘genius’ was invented for them long ago because they have power! The success of a military action depends not on them, but on the man in the ranks who shouts, ‘We are lost!’ or who shouts, ‘Hurrah!’” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth—science—which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“Driving across the US this summer, from Brooklyn to Santa Barbara, in my hot rod – okay, with a six week pause in Denver; and up and down California, coastal and inland, just now; I have learned the following about our imperiled democracy:
Everyone under age 60 has a tattoo.
Nearly everyone under age 60 – and also over 60, though for different reasons, depending on age group – has blue hair; or pink hair; or green hair; or corn rows; or dreadlocks.
I saw more gender-queer people in Utah than I have ever seen in Brooklyn.
The cars lacquered with Trumpy stickers are not beaters picked up at police auctions – they’re big expensive Jeeps and $50,000 ATVs.
People with nowhere to live except the sidewalk, the park, the doorway, the parking lot, the freeway underpass, are everywhere, and are perhaps the most unifying presence in America – the population and problem that links Madison Avenue to Main Street. We are a country undivided in the following: everyone likes to have people around who are living openly in desperate poverty on your doorstep. Democrats love this as much as Republicans; Richy Rich loves it as much as the-struggling-middle-class. If we’re addicted to fossil fuels (I am!), we’re also addicted to the need to have unhoused people in our communities.
Women over age 60 are our genealogists and historians and record keepers in smalltown libraries and historic societies everywhere. A lot of them are Mormons!
Everyone in America knows, is related to, works with or for, has shared bathrooms with, loves, is raising, orders coffee from, is neighbors with, is married to a transgender person.
I don’t know what Ron DeSantis and his pack of neo-Nazis and conservative evangelical Christians are on about. Good grief. As the LGBTQ community said to Anita Bryant in the 1970s when she was worrying that homosexuals were corrupting her children:
“We are your children.”
The USA’s in bad shape, climate wise – to quote stand-up comedian Naomi Ekperigin, “This would be the part in the movie where America coughs into a rag and then pulls it away and sees blood.”
But the things that are not a problem are: queer kids. Critical Race Theory. History! Facts.
Weirdos and aging punk rockers and whiteguys with Walt Whitman beards on motorcycles zipping past you on the Hollywood Freeway.
Everybody in America knows somebody weird; is weird; and this bullshit that the GOP is feeding us about how difference is destroying America – is just utter bullshit. I can’t believe that more than 12 people believe it. Look around, motherfuckers. Half the people you know are letting their freak flag fly, and the other half are sticking a US flag on their back and pretending it means they’re “normal.”
The new normal is: there’s no normal!
It’s hard to think about how to deal with 106° weather in Arizona for weeks. Way easier to get upset that your kid’s reading a book.
The country is beautiful! The landscape. OMeffingG. The industrial waste just as beautiful as the Utah desert.
Nothing I said is true of Carson City, Nevada, though! There are always exceptions. . .
Dogs are everywhere.
Every conceivable kind of dog.”
– John Weir, Facebook, August 13, 2023
“We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events (that is to say, events the reasonableness of which we do not understand). The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they become to us. Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal aims, and feels with his whole being that he can now do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance. There are two sides to the life of every man, his individual life, which is the more free the more abstract its interests, and his elemental hive life in which he inevitably obeys laws laid down for him. Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity. A deed done is irrevocable, and its result coinciding in time with the actions of millions of other men assumes an historic significance.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)
“The trees cry out as they die, but you cannot hear them.” – Hayao Miyazaki & Neil Gaiman, Princess Mononoke
“Women often have not any sense of danger, after all a hen screams pitifully when she sees an eagle but she is only afraid for her children, men are afraid for themselves, that is the real difference between men and women.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“What is man, what are men, what are they. I do not say that they haven’t kind hearts, if I fall down in a faint, they will rush to pick me up, if my house is on fire, they will rush in to put the fire out and help me, yes they have kind hearts but they are afraid, afraid, they are afraid, they are afraid. They fear women, they fear each other, they fear their neighbor, they fear other countries and then they hearten themselves in their fear by crowding together and following each other, and when they crowd together and follow each other they are brutes, like animals who stampede.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“‘Traditional values’ are ignorant and grotesque and usually code for sexism, homophobia or transphobia. No one ever talks about ‘traditional values’ when it does not relate in some way to subjugating people.” – Robyn Pennacchia, “Right-Wing Incels Lose Their Shit Over ‘Unmarried Concubine’ Nancy Mace,” Wonkette, July 29, 2023
“Men can not count, they do not know that two and two make four if women do not tell them so. There is a devil creeps into men when their hands are strengthened. Men want to be half slave half free. Women want to be all slave or all free, therefore men govern and women know, and yet.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“The right to sleep is given to no woman.” – Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All
“There are so many points of view in a Frenchman, of course he cannot agree with any other Frenchman but he cannot even agree with himself.” – Gertrude Stein, Yes Is For a Very Young Man