Printer Friendly

"War and peace across the disciplines" international Tolstoy conference, 7-11 April, 2010. West Point, New York.

On April 7-11, 2010 a group of scholars from a variety of disciplines gathered for a conference on War and Peace that was as unique and stimulating as the grounds on which the event was held--West Point Military Academy. It was not only the engaging presentations or the lively conversations, which carried over from the sessions into lunch and dinner and even further into the night, that made this conference so remarkable, but also its geographical locale, which acted as both a complement and a challenge to the ideas about the novel and the concepts of war that were examined. Conference participants did not simply attend sessions that happened to be held on this historic campus; instead, we were invited to participate in the life of the campus as we ate lunch in the mess hall, cheered on teams in displays of physical strength and agility as a part of the annual Sandhurst Competition, and were provided multiple opportunities to interact with cadets who provided us with the real story of life "on the ground." These experiences formed a backdrop against which the academic presentations and discussions occurred.

The intersection of history and fiction formed a recurrent thematic refrain that was sounded in different registers throughout the presentations. Engaging this theme on a theoretical level Caryl Emerson cautioned us as readers not to become too 'Hayden Whitized,' that we miss Tolstoy's own understanding of Truth as a vision of transformative power that is able to motivate a subject towards moral action and as a concept that exists outside of White's dialectical model of history. Weighing in on the sometimes contentious debate regarding Tolstoy's fidelity to historical facts, Dan Ungurianu examined the types of historical sources that Tolstoy consulted when writing War and Peace as well as the accuracy with which he used these sources, arguing that Tolstoy was convinced that he had done sufficient historical preparation to adequately support the work of art that he created.

In considering the reasons for the lack of correspondence between Tolstoy's portrayal of Moscow during the events of 1812 and eyewitness accounts, Alexander Martin's talk provided an element of particularity to this general theme. In his paper Martin demonstrated that by representing the city of Moscow from the perspective of the aristocracy Tolstoy was better able to use the city for his own symbolic purposes, portraying it as a space where the classes acted harmoniously and collaboratively. Furthermore, Alan Forrest encouraged us to broaden our scope of what constitutes historical texts as he argued for the use of 'ego' documents as a means of reconstructing the inner lives and subjective experience of people throughout history, a concern that also occupied Tolstoy.

Gary Saul Morson's examination of the concept of open time and the attendant radical uncertainties of war in his keynote address took on an added layer of meaning as he addressed a lecture hall overflowing with over 2,000 cadets, many of whom would soon be graduating and facing the realities of life on the battlefield. In his talk, peppered with an admixture of humor and provocation, Morson encouraged the cadets to consider the likelihood that heroic actions arise from the way that a soldier has trained himself to think and act in ordinary moments and he left them to ponder the possibility that War and Peace demonstrates that what really matters in the course of history are unhistoric acts.

Other scholars illuminated the text by examining familiar topics from a new angle, as was the case with David Welch's talk on the tension between free will and determinism in Tolstoy's work as seen from the perspective of international relations theory. While both Tolstoy and international relations theorists are concerned with identifying the force that moves the nations, Welch argued that Tolstoy is both more honest and more conflicted about the problematic contradictions that arise when engaging with the concepts of free will and determinism. Elizabeth Samet framed the generic "disobedience" of Tolstoy's text within the context of the rules of war and military models of obedience. As an example of the text's disobedience Samet highlighted the contrast between the epic space and time evoked by the novel and the nonepic resolution of the conflict between heroic will and the force of war. Jeff Love provided a fresh perspective on the concept of the "great man" in War and Peace by considering Prince Andrei, Pierre Bezukhov, Kutuzov, and Platon Karataev, rather than Napoleon, as possible candidates for this role.

Furthermore, several of the talks explicitly examined Tolstoy's work through a military lens. Noting Carl von Clausewitz's two-fold presence in War and Peace as a character and a military theoretician, Andreas Herberg-Rothe examined the way in which Tolstoy condenses Clausewitz's philosophy of war to its instrumental side and then undermines this instrumentality, a tactic that allowed Tolstoy to remain faithful to the spirit of history while nonetheless adapting characters to fit within his own narrative scheme and purposes. Additionally, Donna Tussing Orwin, one of the conference organizers, analyzed Mikahil Dragomirov's criticism of Tolstoy's work as a way to evaluate the text and the ideas therein from a soldier's point-of-view. In doing so Orwin came to the conclusion that while both Tolstoy and Dragomirov emphasize the importance of will over reason on the battlefield, the latter--a soldier and military commander who was committed to maintaining the significance of his role within battle--disagreed with Tolstoy's assertion that human will is inimical to human nature and essentially irrational.

Grounding his talk in Clausewitz's statement that war is an extension of the duel, McPeak, also a conference organizer, proceeded to explore a potentially inverted understanding of these two spheres of activity within the text, exploring the idea that in War and Peace the duel is potentially present as a microcosm of war that could replace the act of war. However, McPeak concluded that, according to Tolstoy, the duel is unable to resolve the conflicts that wars can and therefore cannot be enlisted as a viable alternative to war.

Whether in response to the fruitful assembly of scholars from divergent academic backgrounds, the chance to listen to a Russian hymn on the acclaimed organ in the Cadet Chapel or the mature and respectful demeanor the cadets continually displayed, participants could often be heard commenting that they had never been to a conference quite like this one. Reflecting upon a particular session that was briefly interrupted by the unexpected site of cadets parachuting just outside the window, I would definitely have to agree.

Session 1: Edwina Cruise, Moderator

Caryl Emerson, "On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Fiction (Tolstoy's War and Peace)"

Dan Ungurianu, "Tolstoy's Use of Historical Sources in War and Peace"

Keynote Address

Saul Morson, "What is Heroism?"

Session 2: Michael Denner, Moderator

Andreas Herberg-Rothe, "Clausewitz and Tolstoy"

Elizabeth Samet, "The Disobedience of War and Peace"

Session 3: Robin Miller, Moderator

Alex Martin, "Napoleon in Moscow: War and Peace Compared with Eyewitness Accounts"

Donna Tussing Orwin, "War and Peace from the Soldier's Point-of-View"

Session 4: Patrick O'Meara, Moderator

Alan Forrest, "The French At War: Representations of the Enemy in War and Peace"

Jeff Love, "The Great Man in War and Peace" Session 5: Ilya Vinitsky, Moderator

Rick McPeak, "War and Peace: The Duel as a Microcosm of War"

David Welch, "Tolstoy the International Relations Theorist"

Farewell Address

Vladimir Tolstoy, "Legends About War and Peace in the Tolstoy Family"

Amber Aulen

Univerity of Toronto
COPYRIGHT 2010 Tolstoy Society of North America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:News of the Profession
Author:Aulen, Amber
Publication:Tolstoy Studies Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Previous Article:"The Sincerity of Leo Tolstoy" Conference, April 7-9, 2010. Gargnano, Italy.
Next Article:"Peace, War and Politics" Lev Tolstoy Centenary Conference, September 22, 2010. University of the Fraser Valley.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |