- This pseudo-Paper is intended as the mechanism to record time spent on the Note 'Ivan Ilych1' during my Thesis research, as from 2016.
- For the actual time recorded, click on "Paper Summary" above.
Write-up2 (as at 05/04/2016 23:19:41): Ivan Ilych
- Tolstoy’s short novella "Tolstoy (Leo) - The Death of Ivan Ilyich" tends to feature in discussions on the philosophy of death3.
- I first came upon it via "Kagan (Shelly) - The nature of death (continued); Believing you will die". The contention in Kagan’s lecture was that Tolstoy’s novella taught that no-one really expects to die, an idea Kagan rejects.
- My own view is that this isn’t really what the novella is about, but is rather about how we should live our lives – or at least how we should not live them.
- In this context, bridge and related card-games appear in a negative light.
- In this Note, I intend to consider three questions:-
- Does Tolstoy suggest that no-one really expects to die?
- What references to card games appear, and what is the implied objection to them?
- What is the aim of the novella?
- As I’m not a literary critic, I’ll be somewhat briefer with regards to the third question than Tolstoy’s work deserves.
- The explicit passage on the expectation of death is where Ivan – on hearing that he is about to die – observes that the syllogism beginning “all men are mortal” applies to “all men”, but not specifically to him.
- Of course, no-one really believes they are immortal (or, at least, that they are not going to die) but the reality of personal death is pushed so far into the background that it is hardly taken into account in our plans (other than in the making of rather impersonal provisions), until it is just around the corner. Our plans always extend infinitely on, without the explicit acknowledgement until the last possible minute that we – and more urgently our faculties – will not continue on for ever, and that we need to eke out our time more carefully.
- No doubt this is especially true of the young, but I can vouch for the fact that it’s still true of at least one person aged 624.
- In the overall context of the work, this is something of a side-show and there’s much else of value5 in Tolstoy’s novella. It is discussed more widely in the papers in the reading list below:-
- "Cook (T.C.B.) - The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories: Introduction", Cook
- "Donnelly (John) - Death and Ivan Ilych", Donnelly
- "Kagan (Shelly) - The nature of death (continued); Believing you will die", Kagan
- "Kagan (Shelly) - Dying alone; The badness of death, Part I", Kagan
- "Lichterman (Boleslav) - Medical Classics: The Death of Ivan Ilych", Lichterman
- "Gavin (William J.) - En Attendant La Mort: Plato's Socrates, Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych, and Beckett's Waiting for Godot", Gavin
- "Olney (James) - Experience, Metaphor, and Meaning: 'The Death of Ivan Ilych'", Olney
- "Feldman (Steven P.) - The Professional Conscience: A Psychoanalytic Study of Moral Character in Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilych'", Feldman
- "Wexelblatt (Robert) - The Higher Parody: Ivan Ilych's Metamorphosis and the Death of Gregor Samsa", Wexelblatt
- "Napier (James J.) - The Stages of Dying and 'The Death of Ivan Ilych'", Napier
- "Kamm (F.M.) - Rescuing Ivan Ilych: How We Live and How We Die", Kamm
- "Felps (Maryann) - How to Live? What We Can Learn from Ivan Ilych's Death", Felps
- "Pope (Stephen J.) - Compassion and Self-Deception: The Unity of Love and Truthfulness in Leo Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich'", Pope
- "Pachmuss (Temira) - The Theme of Love and Death in Tolstoy's the Death of Ivan Ilyich", Pachmuss
- Note that “Ilych” is sometimes spelled “Ilyich”.
This is mostly a place-holder6.
Footnote 4: As I write this in February 2016.
- This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (05/04/2016 23:19:41).
- Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
- Tolstoy’s main purpose is moral – to encourage us to live less conventional and more authentic lives.
- There’s a helpful footnote in "Kamm (F.M.) - Rescuing Ivan Ilych: How We Live and How We Die":-
- In brief, this is the way Ivan lived. He conformed to the social code, having a profession, a wife, and a family, but he was driven by concern for social and professional climbing, had no deep feelings for others, enjoyed having power over them, and got pleasure from superficial pursuits.
- We may not agree that everything was all wrong with his mature years. For example, he was an incorruptible judge. This should count for something positive, at least if the laws he applied had any justice in them. One may even argue that the real pleasure he took in his last interior decoration project can be defended.
- However, when Tolstoy has Ivan say that his life was all not right, Tolstoy may have in mind that the reasons why Ivan did even the useful acts in his life were wrong. That is, the principle (or maxim) of his conduct was competitive social climbing. Tolstoy would then be suggesting that when we judge our lives, we focus on the maxim at the root of it, rather than on behavior.
- But surely it would be correct to feel better about a life in which we did not kill someone (due to an accidental intervention) than one in which we did, even if the deep maxim in each life that led us to act as we did was equally wrong.
- This is the problem of moral luck. Even if this were true, we should remember that Tolstoy’s point is that someone who was not a bad person in the most obvious criminal way can still have a remarkably worthless life. Since most people are not criminals, this makes Ivan’s story of greater relevance to them.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)