HIST 4172 Tolstoy: History and Counter-Culture

HIST 4172 Tolstoy: History and Counter-Culture (also RUSSL 4172) (HA-AS, HST-AS)  (HEU)

Monday: 2:00-4:20 plus Discussion @ Wednesday: 2:30-3:20

Professor Olga Litvak

Tolstoy is impossible. An aristocrat who renounced the privileges of wealth and rank. A man of titanic appetites who repudiated meat, alcohol and sex. A Christian who did not believe in God and tried to rewrite the Gospels. An anarchist who ruled his estate like an ancient patriarch. A writer of genius who thought literature was evil and a waste of time and referred to his greatest novel as “garbage.” A pacifist who described the frontline experience of soldiers in the most careful, loving detail. In Tolstoy’s imaginative universe, we may find the origin of contemporary conflicts and anxieties about money, about love and about power. But Tolstoy’s modern consciousness was not made in Paris or New York — Tolstoy was made in late imperial Russia, notoriously the least modern country in nineteenth century Europe. How, then, did Tolstoy happen? How can we account historically for the contradictions that informed his epic project of self-fashioning? In this seminar, we will see Tolstoy at work in his single-handed creation of a counter-culture at war with the social and political currents of his time — and of ours.

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Kramskoi Portrait of L.N. Tolstoy 1873