Saturday, September 5, 2009


Count Leo Tolstoy

Two days ago I had a brief debate with my co-author about the pros and cons of existence. My friend said he feared non-existence above all else and thought that it would be better to live a life of at least mild suffering than never have existed at all. I disagreed. In fact, the debate arose over the question of abortion rights. This passage from Tolstoy, quoted by his friend and biographer Steiner in Tolstoy the Man, seems to capture my friend's position, and almost (but not quite) convinces me. After bearing witness to his brother's death from consumption he wrote:

"He literally died in my arms. Nothing in my life has made such an impression on me. He was right when he said, "Nothing is worse than death" and when one remembers that is the end of everything, then there is nothing worse than life. Why should one work and worry when nothing of that which was Nikolai Tolstoy nothing remains?... He was beginning to feel his absorption into nothing; and if he found nothing on which to take hold, what shall I find? Much less than he; and assuredly I shall struggle with death as he has struggled. To the last minute he held on to life... [T]he truth which I have discovered in my thirty-two years is, that life is terrible. You write, "Take life as you find it, because you yourself are to blame for the position you find yourself." I take life as I find it, but as soon as man has reached the highest plane of his development, the truth which he loves above everything else is awful. When one comes to see that clearly and plainly, he wakes, and says like my brother, "What is that?"

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