Minute and infinitely small alterations

Looking randomly at the wikipedia page for Karl Bryullov, I read with interest that an anecdote concerning him appeared in Tolstoy’s why do men stupify themselves, his pro-temperance tract, which I’d scanned a good while back. This section –in which he tries to argue that even in moderation tobacco and alcohol are bad– and the lesson Tolstoy draws from it, seems a little bit of note:

Bryullov one day corrected a pupil’s study. The pupil, having glanced at the altered drawing, exclaimed: “Why, you only touched it a tiny bit, but it is quite another thing.” Bryullov replied: “Art begins where the tiny bit begins.”

That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the tiny bit begins — where what seem to us minute and infinitely small alterations take place. True life is not lived where great external changes take place — where people move about, clash, fight, and slay one another — it is lived only where these tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small changes occur.

Tolstoy goes on –interestingly but, in my opinion, unbelievably– to think of Raskalnikov’s crimes as the result of his having introduced just a little bit of beer or tobacco into his system. He seems to envision that our thoughts can be on a natural or an unnatural track, and even a very modest chemical nudge can put us on the unnatural one, which will make us commit crimes and the like.

Got to say, I love that Tolstoy bases his argument on something from Crime and Punishment where today an author would cite a scientific study. Probably no one should be persuaded by it, but still cool.

%d bloggers like this: