Tolstoy's lifelong quest to know and represent himself accurately and exhaustively in narrative form is the subject of Irina Paperno's study, whose title—“Who, What Am I?”—quotes the questions Tolstoy repeatedly posed to himself along this quest. Paperno's previous book, Stories of Soviet Experience: Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams (2009), provided a fascinating examination of post-Soviet personal narratives and perhaps inspired an equally fascinating, original approach to arguably the most canonical figure of classical Russian literature. On her view, Tolstoy pursued his “narrative utopia” across a multitude of nonfiction genres, including diary, memoir, epistolary correspondence, autobiographical fragment, moral and religious treatise, and essay. Frustrated by the limitations of linear temporality inherent in conventional narrative form, Tolstoy ultimately drew on philosophical and religious sources to envision a self that transcends the mundane finitude of the individual. Paperno retraces chronologically Tolstoy's attempts to depict the...
henry w. pickford is associate professor of German and philosophy at Duke University. His publications include The Sense of Semblance: Philosophical Analyses of Holocaust Art and Thinking with Tolstoy and Wittgenstein: Emotion, Expression, and Art.
Henry W. Pickford; Tolstoy's Selfie. Novel 1 May 2017; 50 (1): 128–132. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3854431
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