Monday, October 4, 2010

Volume III, Book I, Chapter X

Whew. I’m back. This novel spans several years. One needs a break every once in a while I guess. Rearranged the furniture to include a beautiful red leather chair perfect for reading, today it’s misting outside, and I’m ready to jump back in time.

Andrei is told to go to Benningsen’s house by the sovereign, so he goes. Mostly this chapter is a description of Pfuel as a theorist. I’ll comment here that I love the compassion and care T gives to the description of the characters, even I think to the character themselves, whether or not he likes them. I don’t think he likes Pfuel all that much, though may have respect for him as a tactician. It certainly gives him time to take a swipe at Germans.

Pfuel is an a “poorly cut Russian general’s uniform, which sat on him awkwardly like a mummer’s costume.” He is impatient, angry, and this because he wants to get inside and start arguing. He even insults the Turkish action Andrei has returned from. “He grumbled something to himself in a tough bass voice, the way self-assured Germans speak…Clearly, Pfuel, always ready for ironic irritation anyway [ha-love that], was especially upset that day that they had dared to inspect and criticize his camp without him.

This does give T some time to wax on national character – “Pfuel was one of those hopelessly, permanently, painfully sefl-assured men as only Germans can be, and precisely because only Germans can be self-assured on the basis of an abstract idea – science, that is, an imaginary knowledge of the perfect truth.” [Let’s for a moment remember that in 1865 science was not to the point it was today, though I don’t know if that would change Tolstoy’s view of it. Certainly people still have this argument today.]

He goes on to say that a Frenchman is self-assured because he “considers himself personally, in mind as well as body, irresistibly enchanting to men as well as women”; an Englishman that he is a “citizen of the best-organized state in the world…he always knows what he must do, and knows that everything he does as an Englishman is unquestionably good”; an Italian “because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others”; a Russian because “he does not know anything and does not want to know anything, because he does not believe it is possible to know anything fully” [read:wise, if he does say so himself – ha]. “A German is self-assured worst of all, and most firmly of all, and most disgustingly of all, because he imagines that he knows the truth, science, which he has invented himself, but which for him is the absolute truth.”

Sounds a little like Ann Coulter.

But I digress. I think it’s safe to say T is not a fan of the Germans, or perhaps just dislikes their self-assuredness. But since this is who he says Pfuel is specifically, he has a person to universalize with. And, in this light, and the battles we’ve seen so far in the book, “military science” seems a sad, misguided oxymoron at best.

Tolstoy points out that Pfuel was an architect of a failed war in 1806, which he only uses to back up his theory – as it was his prediction it wouldn’t work since people departed from his theory. “…in his love for theory, he hated everything practical and did not want to know about it. He was even glad of failure, because failure, proceeding from departures of his theory, only proved to him the correctness of his theory.”

Gotta love that. How can that not be comedy?

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