"War and peace across the disciplines" international Tolstoy conference, 7-11 April, 2010. West Point, New York.
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"
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"
Vladimir Tolstoy, "Legends About War and Peace in the Tolstoy Family"
Univerity of Toronto
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|Title Annotation:||News of the Profession|
|Publication:||Tolstoy Studies Journal|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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