I am currently reading this:
and I am blown away.
This is one of those books where you feel like other books like this exist, because it’s so human and…organic, and because you’re almost certain you’ve heard of a book like this, and because there’s just no way that we’ve progressed so far as human beings and not produced something like this. It’s like the discovery of gravity. When you first learn about it, you think, “psshtt. I could have told them that stuff falls down and doesn’t stay suspended in mid air.” Or like post its, or the iPod, the iPad, or sliced bread. You could have thought of all those things, but the point is that you didn’t.
It’s one of those books. It’s like hearing a song, reading a poem, and knowing that material like that exists in the world because it sounds so familiar, but then coming to the realization that other material like that doesn’t exist because this is that material. This is the familiar, the natural, the thing that has to exist.
Tolstoy’s Confession is a piece written by him during his most vulnerable period in life. Having written what were considered to be some of the finest novels ever, and having gained the riches and fame that comes with that, Tolstoy was living happily with his wife and children when he underwent a spiritual breakdown.
If you’ve never experienced a spiritual breakdown, consider yourself the luckiest person in the world. They are pure hell. Just trust me on this one, and pray that you never experience even the tiniest portion of one.
What strikes me about his Confession is how viscerally honest it is. This is some seriously brutal stuff we’re talking about. One of my favorite parts comes about halfway through.
“Life is a senseless evil, that is certain, I said to myself. Yet I have lived and still live, and so too humanity has lived and still lives. How can this be? Why do men live when it is possible not to live? Can it be that only Schopenhauer and I have been intelligent enough to understand the senselessness and evil of life?”
Ho-ly Crap. That is some awesome stuff. Think about this: “Why do men live when it is possible not to live?” Wow. Great question. Why do they? We all have this option, why do we choose life?
Please understand that I’m a believer in God and that I have never, thankfully, been suicidal. But Tolstoy’s entire piece is filled with such anguish, such raw emotion, and such honesty, that one can’t fail but to be moved by it. I’m sure every thinker throughout humanity has come up against such thoughts, but Tolstoy really takes it above and beyond. Since life was evil and there was no point to anything, he says, I figured everyone had one of four options they could take.
The first, was to simply not understand this fact (And, as a side note, Tolstoy was incredibly sexist because he does say at this point that those whom he saw following this path were usually women or incredibly foolish/ignorant. Does being a sexist make everything else you say completely irrelevant and not worth listening to? I’m still working on that one) and to go on living as if life matters.
The second, was to understand this fact, but continue taking in the good things, wealth, money, pleasure, for as long as you could.
The third, was to choose death.
The fourth, was to understand that life was senseless and evil, but to be too weak to choose death and so go on living.
Tolstoy lays out his arguments with breathtaking clarity, showing you just how great his mental torment was. I wish I could find other books that were this stunningly honest