Feb. 13th, 2016

armyofsnails: (time snail)
I've been watching BBC's recent, lavish production of War and Peace over the last couple of weeks. I had to read Tolstoy's gigantic novel as a kid growing up in Russia, as obligatory part of school curriculum; I hated it at the time. Tolstoy's writing did not resonate with me at all, not until I read Anna Karenina of my own volition years later, and then I *kind of* got it. Though as far as Russian classical writers were concerned, Dostoyevsky in my mind was always vastly superior to Tolstoy, and still is.

Anyway, BBC's version of War and Peace is beautiful and entirely anglicised. Despite mixed acting levels and sexualisation of the source material, I enjoyed the series. But having just finished the last episode, which portrayed the brutality of war, grief and loss unexpectedly well, I am now struck with a realisation that has never occurred to me before:

The reason we believe that adversity is supposed to bring us enlightenment, is because so much of humanity's creative output tells us so.

Much of Tolstoy's novel towards the end is about the transformative power of grief and about forgiveness; the main characters achieve a sort of personal enlightenment through it, become better people. Countless other works of literature, art and music focus on the same message, over and over again: that grief transforms you, makes you better, makes you care more for others, gives your life meaning. This message then permeates our culture and  makes us believe in this as a way of life, the way to be.

Trouble is, grief is not by its nature transformative. I know this now, as a 37-year-old adult who has so far been through some horrific, hair raising experiences. I honestly can't say any of it has made me a better person. The people close to me who have also been affected by these events, have only been made worse for it, much worse. Angrier, bitterer, more hating, more short-tempered, more broken, less forgiving. I can count on the fingers of one hand, those who seem to have become better through adversity - and this is only because their circumstances have improved with time and this has permitted them to relax.

So I don't know whether to dismiss those literary and artistic examples of transformation as beautiful bullshit that's moving to read but has no bearing on reality. Or whether to acknowledge that I'm missing something and not trying hard enough - even though surely telling someone who is grieving that they are not doing their best is just a tad inconsiderate.

I have more to say on the subject, some of it far too personal for this post. I don't really use this site anymore to record the details of my life. So I'll leave it at that for now. Maybe later I'll write more.


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