Friday, 4 March 2011

The world of ink and paper of Alexei Karenin


Palimpsest cannot help but feel some affinity with the husband of Anna Karenina, the disagreeable Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin to whom Tolstoy assigns a love of writing accessories. A formidable bureaucrat of cold and sharp intellect Karenin is averse in expressing his emotions but he is comfortable amongst his writing appurtenances. On his immense writing desk on which six candles are burning Alexei Karenin puts his elbows on, bends his head on one side, thinks for a minute and begins to write without pausing for one second. What Karenin cannot voice, he writes.

Karenin’s desk is as immense as his formidable facade. There he feels at ease and from there he issues his affidavits. With a massive ivory knife he smoothes the letter he is about to send to his unfaithful wife containing his instructions. He is disagreeable like that. But Palimpsest’s heart softens when reading Tolstoy’s remark: “[Karenin] rang the bell with the gratification it always afforded him to use the well arranged appointments of his writing-table.” The gratification of objects – the need for objects to palliate loss. And Karenin has lost.

The writing table and its contents is a mirror to the emotions, to a secret life of another. Gratified to look at his writing desk Karenin is terrified to glance at the table of his wife.
...looking at her table, with the malachite blotting case lying at the top and an unfinished letter, his thoughts suddenly changed. He began to think of her, of what she was thinking and feeling. For the first time he pictured vividly to himself her personal life, her ideas, her desires and the idea that she could and should have a separate life of her own seemed to him so alarming that he made haste to dispel it. It was the chasm which he was afraid to peep into. To put himself in thought and feeling in another’s person’s place was a spiritual exercise not natural to Alexy Alexandrovitch. He looked on this spiritual exercise as a harmful and dangerous abuse of the fancy.

And so Karenin returns to ink. About to meet with the lawyer to discuss his divorce, he takes comfort from the exceptionally good appurtenances of the clerks’ writing tables. Avoid conflict with emotion. Grasp the pen. Arrange the inchoate world in words.
He had translated the matter from the world of real life to the world of ink and paper, he had grown more and more used to his own intention, and by now distinctly perceived the feasibility of its execution.

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