19 June 2010

Pierre Bezukhov, “Clerical Persons”, and Defamiliarization (Part 3)

In my last post I discussed the Tolstoy’s concern for reality and how he paradoxically uses anti-realist techniques, specifically defamiliarization. I promised to ponder how this relates to Toltoy’s complicated, and tragic, relationship to organized religion. So I’d like to jump ahead a few decade to the end of the Count’s life. Aaron of Logismoi gives a good overview of his eventual excommunication so I won’t get into it in detail, except insofar as it relates to literature.

One thing I’ll note is that, at least superficially, the excommunication was occasioned by the publication of his novel Ressurection. He had criticized the Orthodox Faith significantly before 1901, and it was surprising to me to find that the Church took so long excommunicate him, but it is at least interesting that it was in fact occasioned by the publication of a novel.

Count Tolstoy didn’t think much of the Church. As Metropolitan Anthony put it, according to Tolstoy, Orthodoxy "substitutes the moral teaching of the Gospel with idle ritualism." [1] But was the "attack on the Church in Resurrection led to Tolstoy’s formal excommunication." [2]

And with what tactics does launch his attach on the Church? Put simply, defamiliarization, our subject. Victor Shklovsky, in "Art as Technique," writes:
“Tolstoy described the dogmas and rituals he attacked as if they were unfamiliar, substituting everyday meanings for the customarily religious meanings of the words common in church ritual. Many persons were painfully wounded; they considered it blasphemy to present as strange and monstrous what they accepted as sacred. Their reaction was due chiefly to the technique through which Tolstoy perceived and reported his environment. And after turning to what he had long avoided, Tolstoy found that his perceptions had unsettled his faith." [3]

Rosemary Edmonds writes,
"In every description he gives of church services, ritual, traditions, texts, he disfigures and caricatures with such obvious tendentiousness and vehemence that art goes by the board… Everything that, as a rationalist, he could not accept, everything in which he could not BELIEVE, Tolstoy rejected with the intransigence of a man who knows himself to be right." [4]

The defamiliarized Church service takes place in Chapter 39 of Resurrection. Chapter 40 is a sort of commentary on Chapter 39 (using absolute, monophonic language, another technique of Tolstoy’s that we know from War and Peace). These chapters were, of course, censored for the original publication. I have to admit they are difficult to take. I am sorry to report that he not only attacked the Church’s Liturgy, but mocked even the Gospel According to St. Mark. [5] Both offensive and artless, a good editor would have cut the chapters before it even got to a government censor.

Now, of course, this is at a whole different level than the mention of 'clerical person' in War and Peace. But the difference is a difference of degree, not of kind.

To be continued...

[1] The Moral Idea of the Main Dogmas of the Faith.(Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, Synaxis Press). Page 102.
[2] Rosemary Edmond’s introduction to her translation of Resurrection published by Penguin Classics. Page 15.
[3] Shklovsky. Page 8.
[4] (Edmond, Penguin) Page 14.
[5] Apparently he didn’t realize that the passage he referenced would never be read during the Liturgy. See the note in Edmond/Penguin, page 181. I guess it had been a while since the Count actually paid attention to the Liturgy, or bothered to flip through a service book.