As you are no doubt aware, I am the esteemed authoress of a wildly popular series of books about the marked similarities to be found in the writings of Tolstoy and the rappings of many rappers. Weighty volumes. I am, of course, also the producer of the soon-to-be-a-smash hip hopera version of War and Peace (would you look at the date on that? I’m making very…slow…progress on this novel!) Okay, I’m prepared to admit that none of that is true. However, ever since I spoke of Dostoyevsky and Talib Kweli yesterday, I’ve had a yen to chat about these same similarities. Which I will do after the jump. You’ve been warned!
There’s a certain quality that I love in Tolstoy novels, that can be found in large concentrations in hip hop as well – it’s a questioning, a questing for knowledge and understanding, and it’s all wrapped in a grounding and appealing cloak of very human concerns. Take the character of Levin, for instance, from Anna Karenina. He’s won the love of a woman he’d thought out of his reach, he has a home, a child – and yet he’s so unsure of his place in the universe that he’s depressed. He questions his faith, and, in the end, (spoiler alert) he seems to become comfortable not knowing, not having a definite answer. Which is, of course, what “faith” means – but a stubbornly unquestioning faith seems such a dangerous thing! He steps onto his terrace, he watches a thunderstorm, he thinks about the stars and our knowledge of them.
“Well, what is it perplexes me?” Levin said to himself, feeling beforehand that the solution of his difficulties was ready in his soul, though he did not know it yet. “Yes, the one unmistakable, incontestable manifestation of the Divinity is the law of right and wrong, which has come into the world by revelation, and which I feel in myself, and in the recognition of which–I don’t make myself, but whether I will or not–I am made one with other men in one body of believers, which is called the church. Well, but the Jews, the Mohammedans, the Confucians, the Buddhists–what of them?” he put to himself the question he had feared to face. “Can these hundreds of millions of men be deprived of that highest blessing without which life has no meaning?” He pondered a moment, but immediately corrected himself. “But what am I questioning?” he said to himself. “I am questioning the relation to Divinity of all the different religions of all mankind. I am questioning the universal manifestation of God to all the world with all those misty blurs. What am I about? To me individually, to my heart has been revealed a knowledge beyond all doubt, and unattainable by reason, and here I am obstinately trying to express that knowledge in reason and words.
I’m not a religious person, in the traditional sense of the word, but there’s something ecstatic about hearing Levin’s thoughts. It’s the same sort of feeling I get when I listen to, say, Give em Hell, by Talib Kweli. It’s in his soul, too…
“They got us thinking that Muslims like to make bombs
But real Muslims believe in paradise and the resist the Shaitan
So it all sound the same to me
That’s why when they say one is right and the other is wrong it just sound
like game to me
It’s like God skipped past the church and came to me
No that ain’t vain to me
It’s just a particular way that I came to see
The difference between those who claim to be
Religious and those that say they spiritual
And recognizing that life is full of miracles.”
And, of course, Levin turns back to the house, and he meets his wife, and she asks him about something mundane, and this seems beautiful, too.
Well! I could go on and on and on about this! But I’ll stop now. Did you know that Levin was a farmer? That’s right! He grew vegetables, such as one might put into a salad. (Segue!) Despite the fact that I eat salad every night, I don’t write about them very often. But, this being lettuce week, here at The Ordinary, it seems right to share one version with you! We got some lovely spring arugula from the CSA, along with loads of beautiful red leaf lettuce. I combined those, and I dressed them very lightly with olive oil and balsamic, gave them a shake of salt and many grindings of pepper. Then I chopped up some apricots and pecans, and tossed those on top. And I recently bought some ridiculously tasty and expensive french feta from the market down the road. I crumbled some of that on as well, but you could easily use regular feta or goat cheese, if those are more available. And that’s pretty much it!
Here’s Talib Kweli’s Give em Hell.