Levin and the Zen Downgrade

Some recent Twitter chat has me reflecting on Levin in Anna Karenina and his politics. First let me start by saying that I am trying to draw from the text only, and not from external sources. I want my responses to be from the pages, not from some kind of Barthesian ‘death of the author, birth of crud-on-the-interweb’ transaction.

Tolstoy, in all likelihood modelling Levin on himself, devotes pages and consecutive pages to agrarian political and philosophical rumination. And you know what? It never gets old.

Levin/Tolstoy craves the ascetic life, but has no disillusions about the economic systems needed to support his choice. He has highly contemporary views about class that make academics today seem insensitive. I have labelled Levin as a kind of libertarian anarchist, refusing to take part in any politics outside the scope of what will affect him. Not to label him as uncaring, he describes his views on class in this wonderful way:

“To say that he knew the peasants was tantamount to saying that he knew human beings. He continually observed and learnt to know all sorts of human beings, among them human beings of the peasant class, whom he considered interesting, constantly discovering in them new traits and altering his opinions accordingly (238)”.

There’s something a bit Zen about that passage, don’t you think? He considers people as they present themselves. I think libertarian anarchism gets a bad rap, but Levin really shows that if you’re rich and loving and live in the Russian countryside…ok well my politics are a work in progress.

Tolstoy, Leo. 1877. Anna Karenina. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.

Image: English Russia.


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