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252 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 1897
«سه موردی که بیان شد، یعنی «حرفه ای بودن هنرمندان و نقد هنری و مدارس هنری» این نتیجه را به بار آورده است که اکثریت افراد عصر ما مطلقاً از درک هنر عاجزند و ناهنجارترین محصولات هنر تقلبی را به جای هنر واقعی می پذیرند.» ص 140
«کار هنر این است: آنچه را ممکن است در قالب استدلال و تعقل، نامفهوم و دور از دسترس باقی بماند، مفهوم سازد و در دسترس همۀ مردم قرار دهد. معمولاً، وقتی انسان تأثری را که حقیقتاً هنری است می گیرد، تصور می کند این حالت را قبلاً در خود احساس کرده، اما از بیان آن عاجز بوده است.» ص 115
«اگر انسانی این احساس را تجربه کند، حالت سازندۀ اثر بدو سرایت نماید، و اختلاط و اتحاد خود را با انسان های دیگر احساس کند، موضوعی که این حال را در او به وجود آورده هنر است. اگر این سرایت وجود نداشته باشد و با سازندۀ اثر و آنها که اثر را درک می کنند، اختلاطی دست ندهد، هنری وجود ندارد. مهم تر از این، نه تنها مسری بودن، علامت مشخص هنر است، بلکه میزان سرایت، تنها معیار ارزش هنر است.» ص 167
Tolstoy makes the familiar seem strange by not naming the familiar object. He describes an object as if he were seeing it for the first time, an event as if it were happening for the first time.But Tolstoy was no formalist. He put this technique to the end of social criticism: when he refuses to recognize the stage business as serious or even intelligible, Tolstoy renders judgment against the theater as such. He turns his attention instead to those who toil to bring the spectacle to life, to “one of the workers, his face grey and thin, wearing a dirty blouse, with dirty workman’s hands, the fingers sticking out, obviously tired and displeased.” Why should people’s lives be wasted, in an unequal society, on such insipid and debasing pleasures as the theater?
Essentially, Tolstoy’s teaching is a form of Christian anarchism, based on the principles of brotherly love and on certain precepts from the Sermon on the Mount: do not be angry; do not commit adultery; do not swear oaths; do not resist evil; love your enemies (see Matthew 5:21-43). With this Gospel distillation he combined the general outlook of a nineteenth-century liberal and specifically the view of history as the process of moral evolution of the masses and the effacement of governments. The good, he believed, would lead mankind eventually to a stateless, egalitarian, agrarian society of non-smoking, teetotal vegetarians dressed as peasants and practising chastity before and after marriage. This would be the Kingdom of God on earth.On the basis of this religious morality, Tolstoy believes that true art must serve “mankind’s movement forward towards perfection” and must therefore be “understood by all people.” All other art, especially the incipiently modernist art of the late 19th century, but also most European art from the Renaissance forward, deserves to be considered false art to be banished from the brotherhood of man.
And the highest work of [Christian] art was no temple of victory with statues of the victors, but the image of a human soul so transformed by love that a tortured and murdered man could pity and love his tormentors.On the basis of this caste metaphysics, Tolstoy judges that only art made by or comprehensible to everyone, especially society’s victims, is legitimate art. Legitimate art can either be religious or essentially neutral (here Tolstoy charmingly—and in a surely inadvertent echo of Wilde—upholds household decoration as serious business, and ornament, from fashion to dolls, as well as wholesome children’s entertainment, as superior to fine art and opera).
The majority understand and have always understood what we, too, consider the highest art: the artistically simple narratives of the Bible, the Gospel parables, folk legends, fairy tales, folk songs are understood by everyone.We might grant him the folklore, though even here I suspect that “folk” art is made by dedicated individual artists, and not by the collective mind of the volk, to a much higher degree than 19th-century Romantic intellectuals (and their 21st-century multiculturalist legatees) suspect. But the Bible is a bad example even on its face. The very fact that its narratives are “artistically simple”—that is, they do not always yield up immediately intelligible meanings—has made them objects of theological contention and even religious warfare for millennia. Why did the Talmudists and the Church Fathers spill so much ink on a text supposedly so transparent? And even the contents of the Bible were not decided by “the people” but by a council of intellectuals. As for “Gospel parables,” Christ himself insisted they were for a coterie, not for the hoi polloi (He who has ears to hear, let him hear!), appropriately enough, since they are often spectacularly obscure. I understand why Jesus cursed the fig tree less than I understand Mallarmé.
The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having the appetite for power. There are people who are convinced of the wickedness both of armies and of police forces, but who are nevertheless much more intolerant and inquisitorial in outlook than the normal person who believes that it is necessary to use violence in certain circumstances. They will not say to somebody else, ‘Do this, that and the other or you will go to prison,’ but they will, if they can, get inside his brain and dictate his thoughts for him in the minutest particulars. Creeds like pacifism and anarchism, which seem on the surface to imply a complete renunciation of power, rather encourage this habit of mind. For if you have embraced a creed which appears to be free from the ordinary dirtiness of politics—a creed from which you yourself cannot expect to draw any material advantage—surely that proves that you are in the right? And the more you are in the right, the more natural that everyone else should be bullied into thinking likewise.The Tolstoy of the great novels was, as a great novelist must be, a sharp enough psychologist to know this. The Tolstoy of What Is Art? knows only what the totalitarian polemicist always knows: he is right, and we must either agree with him in every detail or be “banished, rejected and despised.”