Creating and Recovering Experience: Repetition in Tolstoy

By Natasha Sankovitch | Go to book overview
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Introduction

My earliest recollections of my grandmother, before our move to Moscow and our life there, reduce to three strong impressions connected with her. The first is how grandmother used to wash and with some kind of special soap set free on her hands astonishing bubbles, which, it seemed to me, only she alone could make. We were brought on purpose to her--probably our delight and astonishment at her soap bubbles amused her--in order to see how she washed. I remember her white blouse and skirt, her white elderly hands and the enormous bubbles rising on them, and her satisfied, smiling white face.1

For Lev Tolstoy, it is our perception of the particular, unremarkable, and seemingly unmotivated details of our experience that can bestow on us a sense, an intuition, of some ultimate harmony. Those details acquire their significance through our gaze and recollection and it is by means of them that we structure and give meaning to our lives. Believing as he did that knowledge is a process of relating different elements together and giving unity to them, Tolstoy explores in his fictions how knowledge of the self and of the world is acquired. The role of

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1
Tolstoy quoted in P. I. Biriukov 1921 biography of him, p. 28. All translations into English are my own unless otherwise noted. Unless specified, translations of Tolstoy are based on the Jubilee edition of his works, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii ( Moscow, 1928-58), 90 volumes. Parenthetical references refer to the volume and page, except in the case of quotations from War and Peace, in which case they refer to volume, part, and chapter, and in the case of quotations from Anna Karenina and Resurrection, in which case they refer to part and chapter, so that citations can be found easily in any edition of these novels. Unless otherwise speci

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