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La maladie d’Ivan Ilitch. Tolstoï lecteur de Pascal

Abstract : It is common knowledge that The Death of Ivan Ilitch has been heavily influenced by Pascal. But this proximity between Tolstoï and Pascal cannot be made out through direct references or subdued quotes: far from being linked by some kind of intertextuality, Tolstoï’s narrative and the Thoughts are bound by a creative intimacy that ought to be looked into more precisely than ever before. Tolstoï had a deep understanding of the French text, as shows in the way he builds his narrative structure along with one of the Thought’s bundles (“Beginning”), though its contents were scattered throughout the many editions available at the time. But more importantly, he made use of all the narrative potentialities hidden behind Pascal’s famous notion of “diversion”: in his short story, Tolstoï shows how a game as trivial as cards can actually become so important in one’s life that it covers up what is truly at stake in existence. He goes even further as to show that even worries can be used as a form of diversion. By reading Tolstoï’s short story carefully, one cannot fail to grasp anew all the depth in Pascal’s notion of diversion, all its structural specificity, and the many subtle oppositions it builds up (oppositions between the inner and the outer world, between small things close to us, and big things far from us). Last of all, Tolstoï’s short story exemplifies the social dimension of diversion. Society takes part in the illusion created by diversion, and people mutually support each other in this illusion. That is to say, diversion is not a mere individual strategy aiming at personal comfort, but the consequence of a common will: it is a shared deceitful comedy. This metaphysical denial is pictured in Tolstoï’s short story in the way Ivan Ilitch’s acquaintances refuse to admit he is about to die. Diversion is a concrete reality. It is not the theoretical notion that people refer to as “diversion in Pascal’s acceptance of the term”. Quite on the contrary, it is to be found in actions, in play cards, in the perspective of a slam, in professional setbacks… It takes a novelist such as Tolstoï to truly make out the essence of diversion, the way it is scandalous, as well as its stupefying and disastrous power. And this is precisely the reason why Tolstoï’s short story can be said to be « pascalian ».
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Contributor : Laurent Thirouin <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - 7:01:13 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - 7:21:01 PM

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  • HAL Id : halshs-03109546, version 1

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Laurent Thirouin. La maladie d’Ivan Ilitch. Tolstoï lecteur de Pascal. Françoise Lesourd; Laurent Thirouin. Lectures russes de Pascal, hier et aujourd’hui., Classiques Garnier, pp.81-105, 2020, Constitution de la modernité, 978-2-406-10394-3. ⟨halshs-03109546⟩

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