Dr. Darko Lukić:
DRAMATIZATION OF THE NOVEL - TRANSLATION THROUGH TIME AND SPIRITUAL SPACES
Dramatization resembles a translation of a text from one language into another, something very similar, almost the same (Umberto Ecco would say: quasi la stessa cosa), but never quite identical with the original. On the first and most superficial level, dramatization is always a transition of prose into dramatic form and a transition of literary material from one literary kind into another, and, of course, from one literary type into another, but, underneath, it is always primarily a matter of translating from one language into another, of transposing from one age into another, of converting narrative images and reflective digressions into dramatic action. After all, it is always also a matter of transfer-ring generally known writers’ ideas into the language of a certain director’s poetics and the author’s authentic style of a concrete production. And therefore, just like any translation, dramatization implies the author’s choice, decisions, creative selection and shouldering responsibility. A few basic problems show themselves already at first sight. Thousands of pages of philosophical prose, written over the years, should be presented on the stage within a few hours. Tolstoy actually wrote two parallel novels that run into one another, draw closer to each other and then move away again - a large-scale historical-philosophical épopée about the greatest event of his time (as a matter of fact, a sort of general rehearsal for World War One), and, on the other level, a whole lot of intimate human confessions and personal experiences, from shattering and dramatic ones, to quite incidental and touchingly insignificant ones. And the two levels keep illuminating and explaining each other, forming - in this interweaving - a complex novel. At the same time, the main characters move through the story in ways as different as their natures are. Pierre Bezukhov moves through life like a little ball in a pinball machine, bouncing and changing his direction the way that events and people happen to throw, direct or attract him. On the other hand, Andrei Bolkonsky walks only straight at any cost and in spite of all, like a runner in a hurdle race. Therefore, Andrei’s motion is stopped by death, whereas Pierre manages to stop death itself through his motion. And all the heterogeneous material, that was accumulated into the novel for decades, has to be taken in by the spectator within the reasonable duration of a performance. Those familiar with the novel expect to recognize the story, those unfamiliar with it expect to get acquainted with it.
In his novel Anna Karenina, Tolstoy describes a horrible dream, a nightmare in which a man is running away from a pack of wolves and when he finally finds shelter, it is only to realize that he has got into a bear’s den. This picture comes to my mind whenever I try to imagine Tolstoy’s perception of history. An abyss of fatal temptations and never-ending menaces. Already in the epilogue to the novel there are glimpses of new bloodshed. The Napoleonic Wars had hardly finished and apparent peace seemed to set in, the Decembrist Revolt was already in the air... The Decembrist uprising would, of course, be followed by more revolutions and big wars because no sacrifice is ever sufficient. Our way of understanding Tolstoy’s novel today, its comprehensive topic of the Napoleonic Wars and the ideas around which it was created, is as many as two centuries away from the events in question. In the meantime, both novels and wars have changed. And the traumatic memories of war here and now, still fresh in our minds, have made our view of the whole matter even more complex. We have been marked by our historicity - we have been living in a highly specific age and vitally influencing history. Our consciousness of our role, but also of our own responsibility, makes our view of Tolstoy’s story and its heroes disquietingly contemporary. War and Peace, this panoramic epic history, thus ceases to be only a great testimony of an enormous historical change and becomes the material of our current, highly topical questions. Tolstoy’s historical skepticism and pessimism, his groundless fervent anti-Masonic attitude, his harrowingly naive faith in people power, a faith that completely marginalizes the role of the individual, these are all distant and meaningless notions to us today, unnecessary for the understanding of War and Peace. Tolstoy was fanatically obsessed with the idea of a rational and moral society and quite convinced that it was possible to transform it by means of a non-violent moral revolution, so that even Gandhi himself said later that his idea of non-violent resistance had arisen from his reading Tolstoy. He was against violence of all kinds (hence also against revolution), believing that the purpose of human life lies in clearing up mysteries. He dedicated the last three decades of his life to a Christian-based mystical sect teaching that the Kingdom of God was within man, from which he drew the conclusion that every man can free himself from evil. It was a sort of epitome of early Christian elements, Luther’s Reformation and ancient oriental mysticism, with elements of Confucianism and Buddhism. Tolstoy himself called the sect genuine Christianity, describing his faith as a servant to ethics, a faith destitute of any institutionalized churchly structure. He managed to rally a number of followers, but his influence was imponderably stronger through his essays and sermons. No wonder that the official Russian Orthodox Church demonstratively denied him a churchly burial, regardless of the fact that Tolstoy neither wanted, nor asked for something like that. Tolstoy’s convictions find no echo in the modern world, they seem to be naive, childlike dreams and rough sketches of the prehistory of the New Age Movement. And yet, the need for new reflections on history opens up more scope for modern interpretations in Tolstoy’s work. Just like all earlier historians, Tolstoy used to comprehend the past by always reflecting on it from his own perspective. Modern approaches try to understand historical events from their own perspective and in their own setting and circumstances. Thus, Napoleon was, judging from a present-day perspective, a dictator and tyrant, but in his time he was a better form of power and a higher degree of democracy and civil liberties. The ambitiously reformatory beginning of Tsar Alexander’s reign seems to have been exceedingly revolutionary from the present-day perspective, but in its time and circumstances it was premature and in disharmony with its own surroundings, hence, also doomed to ruin and sinking into a radical form of its own opposite. What was actually happening at Borodino, at Austerlitz, how and why did Moscow burn down, was the famous lateral march General Kutuzov’s ingenious strategic move or a totally accidental solution of a desperate man... Of course, there is not only one true version of the events. There is one past, but there is a large number of its (hi)stories. Our personal traumatic experience of war (and our not less traumatic experience of peace) finds precisely here enough room for our own present-day interpretations. It is said that it does not matter at all whether a certain story is authentic or not, but that it matters what it can teach us. With some stories, though, it is important neither whether they are authentic, nor whether they carry a moral, it is given to them to be simply grandiose. For some stories it is essential simply to be there. A bird does not sing because it has got something to say, but because it has got a song. Tolstoy’s large-scale story about history is one of such admirable songs. However, on the other, intimate, human level of its characters’ stories, the possibilities of present-day identifications are amazingly modern. In all of their actions and attempts, Tolstoy’s characters keep searching for areas of general and their own individual freedom. And all of them come across this very modern thought that freedom is actually being overestimated, that it also involves sacrifice and suffering. Rather than the grandeur of its abstractness, it is much more work, love, faith in something, commitment... that matters to the human soul. Freedom is necessary, of course, but only freedom is not enough. What matters is what we do with freedom, what we sacrifice for it, how much we pay for it and how much we are willing to pay for it. At what price are we free - this is the question, asked by all Tolstoy’s characters at the end of this large-scale épopée about their delusions and enlightenments, joys and tribulations...
More than a hundred years after Tolstoy, there was not a similar saga of freedom. Until a novel of the same title came out, namely, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, being (with the author’s clear and undisguised intention) a sort of 21st century War and Peace. Each of the two large-scale novels carries an ambitious, too demanding and monumental title. Both deal with quests for personal freedom through the case of a woman in a love triangle between two totally opposite men who happen to be best friends. Thus, Patty Berglund appears to be a real present-day Natasha Rostova (and in Franzen’s novel she also reads War and Peace reflecting on Natasha’s fate), during whose emotional wanderings between Walter Berglund (Pierre Bezukhov) and Richard Katz (Andrei Bolkonsky) a great historical drama takes place - the collapse of the Twin Towers, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the first African-American President in the White House... Anna Akhmatova once said that the majority of Dostoyevsky’s characters were actually Pushkin’s characters grown old. It seems to me that Franzen’s characters in Freedom are rejuvenated Tolstoy’s characters, transferred to another continent two centuries later. Why was there no such historical épopée from Tolstoy to Franzen, intertwined into intimate stories about the limits and price of freedom? Because the world was falling apart in world wars and big planetary ideologies of evil, hence, there was no room for Natasha’s barefoot dance? Or because, during this bloody interval, the question of freedom was so fanatically idealized that it could not be asked within the bounds of little human insomnias? Be that as it may, the present-day interpretation of Tolstoy is precisely in this area excitingly modern and up-to-date.
Livija Pandur :
All thoughts that have far-reaching consequences are always simple: if corrupt people unite amongst themselves to constitute a force, then honest people must do the same. It is as simple as that. – L. N. Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, a writer with glimmering brains, a diagnostician of inexorable truthfulness, forever stretched between extremes of existence, asks himself in his diary entries: Why live? What is the reason of my existence and the existence of others? What does the divide between good and evil that I sense within me mean? How should I live? What is death - how can I free myself? And then he puts down this almost blasphemous thought: I am endlessly happy, and a little bit further, as a sort of stimulus for his entire writing: Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story. Convinced that the characteristics of a certain period are best directly reflected in the personal life of an individual and that man’s works are identical in each historical period, Tolstoy appreciated beauty and nature, man’s creative spirit, and a few months before the completion of his novel War and Peace he described the White Terror - la blanche terreur - his fear, panic about the lost meaning of life.
Two thousand pages of the novel War and Peace (Tolstoy took over the title from Proudhon’s philosophical writing La Guerre et la Paix, while earlier ideas for the title were 1805 and All Is Well That Ends Well, respectively) are awe-inspiring by themselves, but also due to the monumental title because we perceive both, war and peace, as two basic paradigms of human civilization. However, it goes without saying that the novel War and Peace - we could easily also call it War and the World - is much more than a novel. It is a philosophy of a certain period, a cross-sectional view of historical events fatefully affecting intimate family stories between 1805 and 1813, an analysis of the role of Tsar Alexander I at the time of the Napoleonic Wars against Russia, the military strategy of General Kutuzov who developed the victorious swarm theory, a concept of the world of free will, interaction between an individual and the world, an analysis of power and its consequences, a history of losses - wars, ideals, loves being lost - in order to attain insight, the truth and understanding. It is a picture of time and spirit. In this cross-sectional view of the eight years of a fateful moment in History, Tolstoy found the alchemical formula of the universal peacelessness of mankind, that creates harmony and scenes of beauty on the one hand, and an atmosphere of cataclysm and self-destruction on the other hand.
In our dramatization, there are three interdependent spheres singled out in War and Peace, in this Russian Ark (to use Alexander Sokurov’s title): peacelessness, war and peace, interwoven with melodramatic personal stories and tectonic movements of raw history and the tragedies of the bedroom (Tolstoy) as the positive of the negative of endless deathfields, of a no man’s land, followed by conditional peace as a consequence that is characterized by renewed peacelessness and a continuation of the inevitable cycle - this unreachable point of balance that is elusive as a concept of the present in the phenomenology of time, but nonetheless the basic moving force not only of arts and sciences, but also of existence in general. It is precisely this peace-less spirit of the world that has been on its constant campaign of conquest throughout history. Hegel described it when he saw Napoleon in Jena in 1806: I saw the Emperor - this world-soul - a wonderful sensation, an individual concentrated at a single point. Tolstoy, on the other hand, believes that world events shape themselves and that they are a consequence of social and other forces, whereas people just use and reshape them. Those are mysterious forces that move humanity. But what kind of forces move the main heroes of the novel - Pierre Bezukhov and Andrei Bolkonsky? Pierre, a mystic and dreamer, carrying within himself the features of Prince Myshkin (Dostoyevsky), finally experiences an inner renaissance and crystallizes the central idea of the novel from which he derives the strength to survive: All thoughts that have far-reaching consequences are always simple: if corrupt people unite amongst themselves to constitute a force, then honest people must do the same. It is as simple as that. In contrast to Pierre, Andrei Bolkonsky is a romantic hero with romantic ideas of homeland, glory and fame, the hero of thought and action who - only as he lies dying - experiences spiritual awakening and perceives new images, arising from every drop of light in the unending sky.
The light of Russia’s white nights, the peaceless light of insomnia, reveals the human garden of today’s spiritual states of peacelessness, war and peace. It is in this garden that we have been living out the same stories in the same or a similar way, like the Servant in the play, the perfect servant, who watches in order to recognize and listens in order not to forget. He opens up rooms and provinces in order to be able to express the precise image of that which is elusive and that which exists in the form of a story that he could and wanted to express in this form. He certainly has insight into past and future events and he knows how to weave them into a network of the known, but also of the unknown and inexplicable, always directed towards one aim: the quest for the Truth. It is also Tolstoy’s personal story, a story of great ideas and of the quest for basic realizations about human existence, a story about the atom of endless love that dwells in everyone, about vulnerability and solitude, and, in spite of the realization of futility, a paean to life.
War and Peace exists as an infinite phantasm, read through, seen and experienced, that seems to be larger than itself and smaller than anything that we hope for. The production of War and Peace is under Pandur’s direction the peacelessness of spirit that sees light before itself, it is the portrayal of the Russian soul and the journey through the intricate forests of Tolstoy’s writing style, the traveller being blind and seeing the trees like in Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, but seeing simultaneously further through time, when the mist of shellfire and the burning of Moscow has dispersed, and further through space, where the wounds were already healed.