On life, and essays on religion, (Book, 1934) …

Get this from a library! On life, and essays on religion,. [Leo Tolstoy, graf; Aylmer Maude]

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Sometimes art showing such passions can awaken man to the horror of his condition, he can see them outside himself, they come before him as objects rather than part of himself - he begins to be free from them as aliens.

In the same way, wailing women were hired at funerals, to create an external expression of grief, so that the sufferer can see his sorrow in an objective form and in reflecting on it, his sorrow is made lighter.

And often this is because it exposes the fact that our life is inconsistent with that religious perception.

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Philosophy and religion also do this, but art appeals to the senses and is nearer to Nature and to our sensitive and emotional life.

Art is the primary bond of mediation between the external world of the senses and the medium of pure thought and understanding.

On Life and Essays on Religion book by Leo …

Confession comes to life again if we read it alongside The Death of Ivan Ilyich rather than alongside the religious essays with which it is usually grouped. The similarities and overlaps between the two instantly catch the eye: from the discussion of the inevitability of death to the nature of human self-deception and the admiration (romantic or not) of the honorable approach to life and mortality shown by Russian peasants (in contrast to the people, as Tolstoy puts it, “in our world”; that is, among the elite). In short, the pairing encourages us to see The Death of Ivan Ilyich as a fictional exploration of the theoretical problems of religion, morality, and mortality explored autobiographically in Confession. In other words, that question directly posed in Confession—“Is there any meaning in my life that wouldn’t be destroyed by the death that inevitably awaits me?”—is answered by the novella.

On Life and Essays on Religion by Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Count starting at $10.54


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It is a poignant irony that Tolstoy’s translator, Peter Carson, was much closer to death and dying when he was working on The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession than Tolstoy himself was at the time he was first writing them.

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Carson himself was very committed to the unusual pairing within the same volume of The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession. The novella has long been a favorite among the later works of Tolstoy and has attracted a wide range of interpretations and explanations almost from the moment of its publication. The aggressive and unforgettable “realism” of the description of Ivan Ilyich’s final illness has prompted some critics to hunt for a factual source for the story, and indeed it does seem fairly certain that Tolstoy was partly inspired by the death of a judge called Ivan Ilyich Mechnichov who worked in the town of Tula, near the Tolstoy country estate, and whose sufferings had been described to Tolstoy by the judge’s brother. Other readers—undeterred by the fact that, whatever real-life models there may have been, the story is essentially fiction—have attempted to diagnose the illness from which Ivan Ilyich was suffering, even though the elusive uncertainty about the nature of his condition is part of the point of the tale. Was it cancer of the gall bladder? Or was it cancer of the pancreas? Questions like these, as well as the lessons they might (or might not) hold for the palliative care of the dying, have insured The Death of Ivan Ilyich, alone of all Tolstoy’s works, an unlikely foothold in modern medical journals and libraries.

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The inaccuracy of all these definitions arises from the fact that, in them all, the object considered is the pleasure art may give, and not the purpose it may serve in the life of man and of humanity.

In order to define art correctly, it is necessary to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure, and to consider it as one of the conditions of life.

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It is important to remember that when Tolstoy wrote The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession, preoccupied with dying as both those works are, he was still only in his fifties; he was to live another twenty-five years. Human mortality was for him, in large part, a philosophical dilemma. He also (as we see in The Death of Ivan Ilyich) relished the writer’s challenge of intimately exploring the processes of dying—when it was something he could only have observed from the perspective of the living. It was a challenge that so intrigued him that he is later supposed to have asked his friends and followers to quiz him about the experience of his own death as he was going through it. “Did human perception of life change as one approached the end?” he wanted them to inquire. “Did one feel a progression toward something different?” Cannily foreseeing that, on his deathbed, he might be unable to voice a coherent response, he had even devised a code of eye movements to express his answers. But in their distress, those gathered around him in his final hours at Astapovo apparently forgot to pose the questions.