Leo Tolstoy

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Leo Tolstoy, who lived from 1828 to 1910, wrote within the cultural movement transcendentalism, a group of ideas ranging from the fields of literature and the fine arts to the fields of the different sciences, which basically encompassed a revolt against the cultural norms and established ideals at the time, a kind of intellectual upheaval against society’s standards. The ideals of the transcendentalist era, which ranged from the early nineteenth century to the early 20th century, were also set on individual drive and talent, rather than the submission to a group of standard ideals to reach a goal.

Transcendentalism originated, it is speculated, around the early nineteenth century, and was rooted in the philosophical beliefs of Immanuel Kant, and with considerable influence from the German ideology of the time as a whole, which Immanuel Kant played a major role in. German idealism in the nineteenth century was centered around “transcending” the boundaries that the current movements and idealisms of the time had imparted on the search for knowledge, and how man can go about acquiring knowledge. At the time, the major schools of philosophy in Germany were rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism was based on the idea that man can only acquire knowledge though mental processes that led to conclusions based on given ideas or schemas that the person had already built on from his or her own experiences. Empiricism was based on the idea that knowledge can only be acquired though the senses, the opposite and counterpart of rationalism.

With these two ideals governing the research of the time, Immanuel Kant sought to break free from the trend, believing that there were truths to be reached beyond the scope of rationalizing or the senses and how man reacted to his environment. Kant felt that truth lay beyond these boundaries, and thus hatched transcendentalism. The main beliefs of the movement were centered around the individual, and what lie within him as far as his capabilities and drive to seek out knowledge, but mainly on how the individual perceived the world around him. Space and time, according to Kant, were relative to the individual’s intuition and how he perceived his environment. This focus on the individual led to the more spiritual part of transcendentalism as it spread from Germany to Russia and then to the Western culture.

Leo Tolstoy shared in this belief spiritual search through self understanding and scrutinizing, which focused on the depths of the individual’s personality and how he perceived the world around him. This belief was often interpreted as a free for all as far as ideologies and behaviors, and Leo Tolstoy took his to an extreme. He soon began developing his own religious beliefs, conjured of his own personal experiences and nothing more, and followed his own made up doctrines in his later life.

Although independent in his social life, Tolstoy followed the trend of transcendentalism in his literary works, trying to show the transformation that could occur within an individual solely though introspection and evaluation of one’s own experiences throughout life. Tolstoy's work "After the Dance", exemplifies his ideologies with its in depth view of the main character's transformation as he goes form an idealistic romantisist to more of a realist, within one night. The following excerpt from the story shows this transformation:

"'Bring new sticks!' he cried, and looking round, he saw me.
Assuming an air of not knowing me, and with a ferocious, angry frown,
he hastily turned away. I felt so utterly ashamed that I didn't know
where to look. It was as if I had been detected in a disgraceful act.
I dropped my eyes, and quickly hurried home. All the way I had the drums
beating and the fifes whistling in my ears. And I heard the words,
'Brothers, have mercy on me!' or 'Will you pat him? Will you?'
My heart was full of physical disgust that was almost sickness.
So much so that I halted several times on my way, for I had the feeling
that I was going to be really sick from all the horrors that possessed
me at that sight. I do not remember how I got home and got to bed.
But the moment I was about to fall asleep I heard and saw again all
that had happened, and I sprang up.

    "Evidently he knows something I do not know,' I thought about the colonel.
'If I knew what he knows I should certainly grasp--understand--what I have
just seen, and it would not cause me such suffering.'

"But however much I thought about it, I could not understand the thing
that the colonel knew. It was evening before I could get to sleep,
and then only after calling on a friend and drinking till I;
was quite drunk."

     Tolstoy's work in "After the Dance" is not only an example of his beliefs in the depth of the individual and the power of free will, but it is a piece of the transcendentalist movement, and is characteristic of the beliefs and idealisms of the time.

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