I somehow see the miserable picture of my future life. It is one full of struggle, the struggle between the gigantic amount of moments, memory and mayhem of things to process with my scarcely-ridged tiny brain and the singular, simplistic and synchronizing principle in which I seek to fit all my fragmentary experiences. I distain all the abandoned attempts at seeking it, though I myself am yet at sea as to what it is. I promise to burn the short and brutish life of mine all to the pilgrimage towards this end, yet my sail remains permanently at shore when storm strikes. I can never claim to have caught a single glimpse of its sparks, yet I promise to be following its light. I have never tasted the authentic flavor of its product, but neither have I doubted that its fruit must smell sweet. I have never touched or tested its core with either my body or soul, yet I dare to be its unyielding disciple, and I adamantly call it Truth.
Tolstoy is just one among the many learned men who have been tempted early in their life by the good, the true and the beautiful to believe in the existence of a transcendental order within their mind’s reach, one to which they should aim to dedicate all their genius in order to bring into sight. War and Peace is such an attempt, though at the very end he only manages to show us the missing puzzle of truth in face of which he is silent. He confesses his ignorance only because he knows too much to accept an expedient answer as his faith calls upon him to, yet he is too faithful a believer in its existence to give up the try and succumb to the fact that the answer may never be there. Life, to Tolstoy, is not a mystery but a riddle, one with an answer eternally suspended in air, yet there it must exist so that the whole course of the journey would not be too heavily loaded with intolerable myths and burdensome question marks. “Tolstoy himself, too, knows that the truth is there, and not ‘here’—not in the regions susceptible to observation, discrimination, constructive imagination, not in the power of microscopic perception and analysis of which he is so much the greatest master of our time; but he has not, himself, seen it face to face; for he has not, do what he might, a vision of the whole; he is not, he is remote from being, a hedgehog; and what he sees is not the one, but always, with an ever growing minuteness, in all its teeming individuality, with an obsessive, inescapable, incorruptible, all-penetrating lucidity which maddens him, the many.” (Berlin 71)
Unlike Tolstoy or Joseph de Maistre, my yearning for the transcendent is not brewed in the dinky altar of the Church. Nor is it a product of an overarching nationality, which seemingly explains away all the uneven pattern of habits of a people. I was born and raised in the way of nature, and desire to live in accordance with it. I do not abide by preaching, nor do I have the taste for moral didactics. All that I could remember about my early moral teaching is the handfuls of dawn and dusk spent in the balcony with flora and fauna, all of which started to bear the veil of anthropos for me, a fragile and friendless little soul. I came to understand men through seeds, leaves, bugs and birds. I wrote them tributes and elegies, as if all those I observed in these quiet and almost slothful beings were just as real and intimate as those in my fellow beings and me, if not more. The seedling spring, the velvety morning glories reaching up high towards the sky, the ladybugs and fireflies that would not risk stealing one extra second of life at the price of dignity, the yams and potatoes I lost to my dear old neighbors after seasons of labor. These lives made me. The minute yet miraculous signs of budding in deep fall, the struggle of lives against nature upon rocks and beneath as fierce as the struggle between themselves, the migration of childhood memory from one green corner of an open balcony to the solitary aquarium on the other end of the bridge—these pictures have convinced me that the reality of life, despite the creatures’ common struggle towards survival, is full of surprising strife. Yet the tragic striving of all beings against the tide of time is not futile, as at some point, nature always seasons the bitterness with comedies and hits me at moments of epiphany with the hidden connections among them all. I am reluctant to abandon any details of reality or any potential associations breeding from the present in pursuit of a morbid and monistic picture, yet the contrasting details within the reality, however stark, would not prevent me from seeking a unifying principle that explains them all.
I try to grasp in Tolstoy a wisp of hope, the hope for him as a belletrist to come to term with his heart torn between the urge to belong to the multiplicity on earth and the yearning to pilot the flight for the otherworldly simplicity. All I have found is his tragic yet heroic failure, one which that is meant to be, and perfectly realizes the truth as he claims. Should I am fortunate enough to continue with my journey towards Athens/Arcadia/Syracuse, it is destined to be one with puzzle and pain, both of which I have vowed to befriend as I embarked on the journey. It is through Berlin, however, that I sensed a kind of hope, the hope that a man of letter can still persist in his inquiry by dissipating the myth about truth and even by denying its previously ascertainable existence. Perhaps it is only when the tempting glory of truth vanishes that its essence starts to emerge. I wonder whether it is Tolstoy or Berlin who is actually closer to truth. I wonder if it is by surrendering to the truth's disappearance that you finally become part of it. I wonder if it is really as they say, that the greatest conquest is humility, and that the greatest strength lies in gentleness.
The reading of War and Peace only intensifies my struggle, but it is through coming face to face with it that I am at peace with myself, for I know that I cannot choose otherwise. And should I were to live my life all over again, I would remain the same perplexed wanderer along this ivy-twined path. I am a being with a foxy head, palpitating with a hedgehog heart.