"Who, What Am I?"
Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self
"God only knows how many diverse, captivating impressions and thoughts evoked by these impressions . . . pass in a single day. If it were only possible to render them in such a way that I could easily read myself and that others could read me as I do. . ." Such was the desire of the young Tolstoy. Although he knew that this narrative utopia—turning the totality of his life into a book—would remain unfulfilled, Tolstoy would spend the rest of his life attempting to achieve it. "Who, What Am I?" is an account of Tolstoy's lifelong attempt to find adequate ways to represent the self, to probe its limits and, ultimately, to arrive at an identity not based on the bodily self and its accumulated life experience.
This book guides readers through the voluminous, highly personal nonfiction writings that Tolstoy produced from the 1850s until his death in 1910. The variety of these texts is enormous, including diaries, religious tracts, personal confessions, letters, autobiographical fragments, and the meticulous accounts of dreams. For Tolstoy, inherent in the structure of the narrative form was a conception of life that accorded linear temporal order a predominant role, and this implied finitude. He refused to accept that human life stopped with death and that the self was limited to what could be remembered and told. In short, his was a philosophical and religious quest, and he followed in the footsteps of many, from Plato and Augustine to Rousseau and Schopenhauer. In reconstructing Tolstoy's struggles, this book reflects on the problems of self and narrative as well as provides an intellectual and psychological biography of the writer.
Irina Paperno teaches Russian literature and intellectual history at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of "Who, What Am I?": Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self, Stories of the Soviet Experience: Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams; and Suicide as a Cultural Institution in Dostoevsky's Russia, all from Cornell, and Chernyshevsky and the Age of Realism: A Study in the Semiotics of Behavior.
Stories of the Soviet Experience
Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams
Paperno argues that, diverse as they are, these narratives—memoirs, diaries, notes, blogs—assert the historical significance of intimate lives shaped by catastrophic political forces, especially the Terror under Stalin and World War II.
Suicide as a Cultural Institution in Dostoevsky's Russia
Analyzing a variety of sources—medical reports, social treatises, legal codes, newspaper articles, fiction, private documents left by suicides—Irina Paperno describes the search for the meaning of suicide. Paperno focuses on Russia of the 1860s–1880s.