“Who, What Am I?”: Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self

Irina Paperno
Berkeley Book Chats
Paperno's book cover
Wednesday, Sep 16, 2015 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall
United States

Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures Irina Paperno conducts research in the fields of Russian literature and intellectual history in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Her latest book,“Who, What Am I?”: Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self (Cornell, 2014), is an account of Tolstoy's lifelong attempt to find adequate ways to represent the self, to probe its limits and, ultimately, to arrive at an identity not based on the bodily self and its accumulated life experience.

Paperno’s book guides readers through the voluminous, highly personal nonfiction writings that Tolstoy produced from the 1850s until his death in 1910. The variety of these texts is enormous, including diaries, religious tracts, personal confessions, letters, autobiographical fragments, and the meticulous accounts of dreams. For Tolstoy, inherent in the structure of the narrative form was a conception of life that accorded linear temporal order a predominant role, and this implied finitude. He refused to accept that human life stopped with death and that the self was limited to what could be remembered and told. In short, his was a philosophical and religious quest, and he followed in the footsteps of many, from Plato and Augustine to Rousseau and Schopenhauer. In reconstructing Tolstoy's struggles, this book reflects on the problems of self and narrative as well as provides an intellectual and psychological biography of the writer.

After an introduction by Eric Naiman (Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature), Paperno will speak briefly about her work and then open the floor for discussion.

Part of the 
Thinking the Self Initiative.