Nabokov shows no love for Dostoyevsky and little for Tolstoy

My three favorite Russian authors are Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Nabokov which makes these two interview questions and answers amusing:

Why do you dislike writers who go in for soul-searching and self-revelations in print? After all, do you not do it at another remove, behind a thicket of art?

If you are alluding to Dostoevski’s worst novels, then, indeed, I dislike intensely The Karamazov Brothers and the ghastly Crime and Punishment rigmarole. No, I do not object to soul-searching and self-revelation, but in those books the soul, and the sins, and the sentimentality, and the journalese, hardly warrant the tedious and muddled search.

Great writers have had strong political and sociological preferences or ideas. Tolstoy was one. Does the presence of such ideas in his work make you think the less of him? I go by books, not by authors. I consider Anna Karenin the supreme masterpiece of nineteenth-century literature; it is closely followed by The Death of Ivan llyich. I detest Resurrection and The Kreuzer Sonata.

Tolstoy’s publicistic forays are unreadable. War and Peace, though a little too long, is a rollicking historical novel written for that amorphic and limp creature known as “the general reader,” and more specifically for the young. In terms of artistic structure it does not satisfy me. I derive no pleasure from its cumbersome message, from the didactic interludes, from the artificial coincidences, with cool Prince Audrey turning up to witness this or that historical moment, this or that footnote in the sources used often uncritically by the author.


Future memories

Confusing experience with the memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion—and it is the substitution that makes us believe a past experience can be ruined. The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximize the qualities of our future memories, not necessarily of our future experience. This is the tyranny of the remembering self.

Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow

Whither happiness?

For happiness, how little suffices for happiness!…the least thing precisely, the gentlest thing, the lightest thing, a lizards’s rustling, a breath, a wink, an eye glance—little maketh up the best happiness. Be still.

Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra

and similarly:

The playfulness and joy of a dog, its unconditional love and readiness to celebrate life at any moment often contrast sharply with the inner state of the dog’s owner — depressed, anxious, burdened by problems, lost in thought, not present in the only place and only time there is: Here and Now. One wonders: living with this person, how does the dog manage to remain so sane, so joyous?

Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks

Simulation & Simulacra

The convergence of literature:

For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but is a tale. And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these also are the selfsame tale and contain as well all else within them. So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall.

Cormac McCarthy – The Crossing

and philosophy:

For something to be real, it needs to be implemented. So the model that you have of reality is real in as far as it is a model, it’s an appropriate description of the world to say that there are models that are being experienced. But the world that you experience is not necessarily implemented, there is a difference between a reality, a simulation and a simulacrum. The reality that we are talking about is something that fully emerges over a causally closed lowest layer. And the idea of physicalism is that we are in that layer, that basically our world emerges over that. Every alternative to physicalism is a simulation theory, which basically says that we are in some kind of simulation universe and the real world needs to be an apparent universe of that, where the actual causal structure is.

When you look at the ocean and your own mind, you are looking at a simulation that explains what you’re going to see next. [We are living in a] simulation generated by own brains. And this simulation is different from the physical reality, because the causal structure that is being produced, what you are seeing, is different from the causal structural of physics. […] Your behavior needs to work in such a way that it’s interacting with an accurately predictive model of reality. And, if your brain is unable to make your model of reality predictive, you will need help.

Joscha Bach on the Lex Fridman podcast


The way

It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground…. But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way.

Zen master Hakuin Ekaku as quoted by Robert Greene in Mastery


The labyrinth is thoroughly known

Joseph Mallord William Turner – Death on a pale horse

We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

Joseph Campbell – The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Ceaseless reading and study