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Gazing on Life's Page: Perspectival Vision in Tolstoy

Thomas Seifrid
PMLA
Vol. 113, No. 3 (May, 1998), pp. 436-448
DOI: 10.2307/463351
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463351
Page Count: 13
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Gazing on Life's Page: Perspectival Vision in Tolstoy
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Abstract

Abounding in visual metaphors and situations, Tolstoy's works are permeated with the conviction that it is the nature of truth to be seen. This attitude exemplifies the ocularcentrism that has characterized European thought since the Greeks, though the Tolstoyan corpus also displays some of the tension between ocularcentrism's eastern and western European recensions that obtains in the Russian context. The quintessential visual situation in Tolstoy is emphatically perspectival-despite the attractions of more "Russian" ways of seeing. The scenes constituting that situation work, in a way reminiscent of the camera obscura, to present life in an intellectually and morally apprehensible form by turning it into a planar visual surface. Ultimately Tolstoy's impulse can be linked with the material nature of books, which foster this very kind of experience when the eye is trained on the page, and this linkage has implications for Russian culture as well as for the relation between the verbal and the visual in general.

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