Resurrection, by Leo Tolstoy

I just finished this one, my first Tolstoy, chosen because it’s the shortest novel he wrote. The story is about a nobleman in 1880, Nekhlyudov, who finds himself on a jury. One of the accused is a woman he knew in is past, and who he wronged when he was young. While watching the trial he recalls how he treated her, and blames himself for how her life turned out. He vows to do whatever he can to help her out of her situation, as a way to earn her forgiveness.

The story, while well written and engagingly told, is not so much about the characters, but about the politics of the era. Tolstoy uses the story to rail against the justice system, the church, the rich, the prison system, and the way humans treat each other as if they are objects. There are several very eloquently written rants that feel as if they could have been written about the state of the world today.

While I enjoyed it, I probably only did so because it was preaching to the right choir, and I cheered on all his statements about the world. But for someone else not so into political thoughts, it is pretty light on drama and story.

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The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

Another terrific read by Nabokov, I have yet to be disappointed by his novels. This one follows a chess player, but you don’t have to know a single thing about how to play chess in order to enjoy it. It’s more about the mental states, and how imagining all the possible outcomes in a game can send your brain down an unending maze of possibilities.

Aside from Nabokov’s usual wonderful prose and lovable characters, I found the slow, creeping insanity that Luzhin endures to be very believable and a bit unsettling. And even though I saw the end coming, that didn’t lessen the impact and effectiveness of it.

Another great read, and anyone who hasn’t read Nabokov please pick up one of his books, you won’t regret it!

Doers and preservers

I just listened to the section in Crime and Punishment featuring the talk about Raskolnikov’s article. (very minor spoilers) The article talks about what Raskolnikov calls ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ people, and their differences. The ordinary people, he says, are happy to be ruled and told what to do, and have not many exciting or interesting ideas, and live normal, daily lives of work, family, and happiness. ‘Extraordinary people’ are geniuses, leaders, inventors, and those who ‘create new words’. These people are not as bound by authority, and rules. This being the major point. Ordinary people are bound by the law, extraordinary people are not. Extraordinary people’s conscience allows them to break the law for their ideals/inventions/causes, without guilt, or with some remorse but knowing it’s worth it in the long run. Raskolnikov says these people have ‘the right to break the law’. Not that they have the right to go unpunished, but that their conscience gives them the right to break the law without guilt.

This started me thinking about similar thoughts I’ve had. Not about crime, or punishment, but about people’s reactions toward new ideas in general.

There seems to be (generally) two kinds of people, but instead of ordinary and extraordinary, I thought of them as ‘preservers’ and ‘doers’

Preservers are resistant to change and want to keep things the way they are, or if they want change they want it to be the way something was in the past. When presented with a new idea, new cause, new invention, new way of looking at things, new discovery–they will find the problems with it, the reasons not to embrace it, the reasons it is dangerous and should be avoided, the reasons it is wrong or immoral. This seems to me to be the majority of people, though I do not think that makes them ordinary.

The ‘doers’ are the people who present the new ideas, strive for change in our way of life, make discoveries and propose inventions, etc. They fight passionately for these ideas regardless of the negative consequences, possibly without even looking for or imagining there could be negative consequences. These people seem to be a minority–at least the ones we hear about.

I think we need both kinds of people. We can’t embrace every idea that anyone has, we need the preservers to knock down and find the negative side of every crap idea to prevent them from getting anywhere. The ideas that are strong enough to survive the attacks of the preservers, will eventually convince them.

Of course, someone could be both preserver and doer, and probably most people have a lot of both in them. But it seems that those who make big discoveries and movements and inventions are less negative people who are willing to embrace an idea regardless, or in spite of consequences.

So next time you’re reading the comments on an article about some neat new thing, and run into the inevitable crowd of people finding something wrong with it or dangerous or saying ‘oh no humanity will end because abc,’ try not to be annoyed, and instead be glad–they’re doing a job you don’t have the pain of having to do! (or if you do, I thank you that I don’t have to be the one doing it!)