While wasting time, I stumbled upon yet another treasure trove of intelligent broadcasting that I can stream on my TV. (NOTE: I’m one of those irritatingly proud people who like to tell everyone that we’ve UNPLUGGED from cable TV and are only streaming WHAT WE WANT TO SEE now. We say this as if that means that we’re only indulging in premium, intelligent, witty, informed programming, where in fact we are streaming total muck just faster than cable-bound people are able to watch. This post, however, is about something that is truly high-brow and yet amazingly entertaining.)
There appears to be a happy convergence of debate and thought called IQSquared, or Intelligence Squared. The episode I stumbled upon was a debate concerning which writer was the preeminent novelist of the 19th century: Dickens or Tolstoy. Immediately, I had a few bones to pick because, well that’s what readers do. But since the structure of debate is fundamentally male, pro or con, right or wrong, it makes some sense that we should posit two leviathans, two male whoppers, against one another. What drew me in was that one was Tolstoy, always Tolstoy.
I know I would not like the man – do not get me started about his goofy religious thought or the bizarre unfairness that his greatness depended on his wife handwriting those novels over and over – Jesus, man! Hire a fucking clerk or give her a byline! But I fell into War and Peace at thirteen, and came back changed. I wonder what would have happened if I had read it in Russian, given that I assume something must be lost in translation. Would I have burst into flame, spoken in tongues, or become a mystic?
The format of the debate includes a cast of good British actors reading the texts and breathing life into the characters. Dickens gave the actors more to work with, as far as variety and peculiarity, but Tolstoy pushed them into translating souls. Watch for yourself, if you have an hour and a half to spend, and see if you agree. (Or you can fast-forward to Tom Hiddleston and the childbirth scene from Anna Karenina, at about 1:05 or so.)