I am currently toying with some ideas for a project in my Russian Realism class.
Count Leo Tolstoy was very interested in the way we fit into social roles and what happens when we attempt to transcend our given roles, or perform in a role that isn't ours.
I think that this is question of how to be genuine is relevant; that it doesn't belong only in a 20th century realist setting.
In War and Peace, there is a famous critique of the theater through the eyes of his character Natasha. She seems to be the most candid of characters; always instinctual and unassuming. She doesn't shy away from her Russian countryside background as shown in the scene where she is dancing an old peasant dance barefoot with her rugged uncle. She seems to be the most "real."
In this scene at the theater in the city she is dressed to the nines, complete with a heavy silk gown. But Natasha, "[a]fter the country...found all this [performance] wild and astonishing" (561). Natasha is sitting with the best of society up in the balcony, being shown off to all prospective suitors, and is not quite understanding the play. She sees through the falseness of theater, noticing the "painted cardboard," and the "man with tight silk breeches on his fat legs" (560-1). Natasha recognizes the falsity of this representation on the stage of "real" life even feeling "embarrassed for the performers" (561). As she watches, though, she suddenly becomes enamored and imagines herself up on stage...changing her view of theater and ultimately changing herself.
If you pan away from this immediate scene, Natasha herself is acting in a role that is not hers. She has been falsely dolled-up in order to fit in with the other women of society. It is only here in Moscow, at the theater where Natasha is attempting to perform in a role expected of her by society, where she becomes apocryphal, false. Not to mention that the next scenes involving the foppish Anatole is the start of her demise within contemporary Russian society.This scene could represent a warning against performing or faking a self by showing an unblemished character becoming tainted because of her attempt to be something she is not.
This idea of performance reminds me of Judith Butler's discussion of gender and sexuality being a performance (if you haven't read her work, do so. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination"). I wonder if I can somehow tie Tolstoy's critique of false representation in literature to Butler's modern ideas of gender and sexuality.
I also think about this in everything I do (and there's no wonder Tolstoy was a neurotic wreck at times); if its real, if I am only "performing, " if I am being genuine.
Anywhy (made that up, but I think its better than 'anywho, ' who came up with that?), since this has become my digital diary, which the world can see, those are my Tuesday rain thoughts.
'til next time,