Gambling on Time: the Hermeneutics of Temporality and Structure in Tolstoj Criticism

Maksim Y. Klymentiev, University of Southern California

The paper will examine Gary Saul Morson's treatment of the narrative structure of Lev Tolstoj's War and Peace and Anna Karenina by placing the critic's views into the theoretical perspective informed by Walter Benjamin's views on the philosophy of history as presented in his essay "Theses On the Philosophy Of History" (from his Illuminations collection) as well as by the postmodernist awareness of epistemological—rather than ontological—limitations of human knowledge.

Morson argues that Tolstoj's narrative in War and Peace develops not by proceeding from one event within the plot to another but by evolving through infinitesimal, accidental, and trivial episodes which are the only recognizable structural elements of War and Peace. The paper will question this approach on several grounds: first, by presenting ample evidence that problematizes the notion of the accidental nature of the Tolstoyan narrative, second, by insisting that the incompleteness and "triviality" of certain episodes in War and Peace served for Tolstoj as the only way to counter the determinate nature of the known historical events, and, third, by underlining certain theoretical features of "prosaics" (as developed by Morson and Emerson) that reveal the approach's conservative intellectual and ideological stance, especially with regard to the avant-garde tradition in art.

The paper will also examine Morson's notion of "sideshadowing" and his analysis of different temporalities in literature (as advanced in his Narrative and Freedom). Using Walter Benjamin's ideas on the philosophy of history, it will attempt to relate Morson's notions of "sideshadowing," "tempics," and "lack of closure" to the hermeneutics of time and textuality as developed within the Jewish theological tradition.