Thursday, March 26, 2009

Levin wises up

"Since the moment when, at the sight of his beloved and dying brother, Levin for the first time looked at the questions of life and death in the light of the new convictions, as he called them, which between the ages of twenty and thirty-four had imperceptibly replaced the beliefs of his childhood and youth, he had been less horrified by death than by life without the least knowledge of whence it came, what it is for, why, and what it is. Organisms, their destruction, the indestructibility of matter, the law of the conservation of energy, development--the terms that had superceded these beliefs--were very useful for mental purposes; but they gave no guidance for life, and Levin suddenly felt like a person who has exchanged a thick fur coat for a muslin garment and who, being out in the frost for the first time, becomes clearly convinced, not by arguments, but with the whole of his being, that he is as good as naked and that he must inevitably perish miserably.
"From that moment, without thinking about it and though he continued living as he had done heretofore, Levin never ceased to feel afraid of his ignorance.
"Moreover, he was vaguely conscious that what he had called his convictions were really ignorance and, more than that, were a state of mind which rendered knowledge of what he needed impossible. . . .
"For him the problem was this: 'If I don't accept the replies offered by Christianity to the questions my life presents, what solutions do I accept?' And he not only failed to find in the whole arsenal of his convictions any kind of answer, but he could not even find anything resembling an answer.
"He was in the position of a man seeking for food in a toyshop or at a gunsmith's. . . .
"What astounded and upset him most in this connection, was that the majority of those in his set and of his age, having like himself replaced their former beliefs by new convictions like his own, did not see anything to be distressed about, and were quite contented and tranquil. So that, besides the principal question, Levin was tormented by other questions: Were these people sincere? Were they not pretending? Or did they understand, possibly in some different and clearer way than he, the answers science gives to the questions he was concerned with? . . .
"One thing he had discovered since these questions had begun to occupy him, namely, that he had been mistaken in imagining from his recollections of his youthful university circle, that religion had outlived its day and no longer existed. . . ."

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude, Part 8, chap. 8 (New York: Everyman's Library, 1992): 926-927). The story of Levin's conversion, which may veer too far into a kind of supra- (but really an ir-) rationalism (?), continues right on through to the end of the novel, and is surprisingly ecclesiocentric. Was Tolstoy more of a churchman than I had thought, or is his ecclesiology, too, just a disguised form of mysticism? And that epigraph: what is that supposed to mean? "Vengeance is mine; I will repay": can the point of the novel be really as obvious as that makes it seem? I'm going to have to read this again.

No comments: