September 2nd, 2016

Tolstoy post du jour: the voice

More Tolstoy! Just can’t get enough of that Tolstoy!!

Seriously, though, I came across something extraordinary yesterday. It’s a recording of Tolstoy himself reading an English translation of a book of quotations from other writers (The Thoughts of Wise Men, published as A Calendar of Wisdom in English), that he assembled late in life:

The audio recordings above were made at the writer’s home in Yasnaya Polyana on October 31, 1909, when he was 81 years old. He died just over a year later. Tolstoy apparently translated the passage himself.

Here’s what he’s saying; you can follow along:

That the object of life is self-perfection, the perfection of all immortal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be correct by the fact alone that every other object is essentially a new object. Therefore, the question whether thou hast done what thou shoudst have done is of immense importance, for the only meaning of thy life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?

I find hearing the actual voice of a long-ago historic figure to be a powerful and moving experience. There are a lot of these old audios on YouTube, one of the many reasons I love that site and am addicted to it.

7 Responses to “Tolstoy post du jour: the voice”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Tolstoi declares, “the object of life is self-perfection”

    I’m all for self-improvement but I’m doubtful that life’s purpose is “self-perfection”… as when would that state be reached, how much of life would be missed in pursuit of perfection?

    “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Soren Kierkegaard

  2. miklos000rosza Says:

    I don’t know. I’m usually disappointed in these deals and am not excited here. For one thing, we never know the circumstances under which many if not most of these recordings are made. William Burroughs has gotten enormous mileage out of his distinctive manner and voice, to the point where hip rock bands provided him with musical backings and recordings of his readings have sold a fair amount, (I have one,) Sylvia Plath’s voice entrances me, it throws a whole new light on things (and after I lost a cassette of her during a move I had to have it replaced.) James Joyce was a big disappointment and I’ve tried to forget about it but cannot.

    Michael McClure, the Beat poet, does wonderful readings, even of his wordless beast-poems. Ursula LeGuin can make a fool out o herself when she starts performing the voices of robots and so on. James Ellroy turns his readings into great entertainment by his answers to questions afterwards but in truth he’s a godawful reader of his work

    Paul Bowles once told me, “I don’t like to be read to,” and in general I agree, But I’ve strayed from the thesis of this post. Would I want to hear Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s voice, or Arthur Rimbaud’s? No! It could only spoil what’s o the page, and what’s on the page is what will continue to survive, not some element of epiphenomenal personality or theatre.

  3. miklos000rosza Says:

    Somewhat embarrassingly (to my mind) Tolstoy was afraid of death. And near the end he said, “What does it matter, what I have accomplished, if it all has to end in death?”

    You may say, “Everyone has their moments of weakness. Tolstoy was human, all too human, and he was an open book, he hid nothing. He freely admitted his natural fear of the unknown.”

    Well, I think if you don’t have enough personal philosophy to accept death as a natural part of life, then that’s too bad. You’ve haven’t properly done your job. Again: too bad.

    I’ve been in position to see quite a number of people die, and some fourteen year olds have died with great dignity and grace while some seventy-five year olds have gone out in embarrassing fashion — dying, as some might say, like dogs.

    Let’s hope Tolstoy collected himself, and was at peace with his life at its inevitable end.

  4. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    I got to hear a cylindrical recording of TR once. I have read that his voice was high pitched enough, that if he was talking to a woman in another room, it sounded like two women having a conversation. Alas, all I heard was scrick, scrick, scrick..

  5. MHollywood Says:

    I did not read all the comments on the 3 Tolstoy posts, so maybe someone mentioned this, but just in case: U wld enjoy Paul Johnson’s chapter in his “Intellectuals.” He takes on Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen–then Tolstoy, Hemingway, Russell, Brecht, Sartre, and a few more. Here’s the link

  6. miklos000rosza Says:

    MHollywood, thanks for mentioning this book. Some of the listed figures are in a sense low-hanging fruit, but I have my own reasons for wanting to go after Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

  7. MHollywood Says:

    Miklos000rosza: low hanging fruit LOL yes maybe. If you like this Paul Johnson, you have another delight waiting for you in his history of the last century:

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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