Tolstoy’s screw

No matter what he thought about, he always returned to these same questions which he could not solve and yet could not cease to ask himself. It was as if the thread of the chief screw which held his life together were stripped, so that the screw could not get in or out, but went on turning uselessly in the same place

I read War and Peace in my early twenties. There is probably something to be said for rereading it now that I’m older and wiser. It taught me to appreciate descriptive prose, which previously I skimmed to get to the action. Tolstoy’s descriptions of the battles during the Napoleonic Wars were vivid, details and strangely beautiful.

But more than anything, what has stayed with me is this passage in which Pierre is stuck in a loop from which he doesn’t seem to be able to escape. It’s a situation I’ve often found myself in, and I’ve always referred to it as “Tolstoy’s screw.”

Much of what I try to do both professionally and personally is finding ways of escaping the creative impasse of Tolstoy’s screw.

In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’m trying to write something in the blog on a daily basis. Rather than simply noting ideas that interest me, where they get stuck as Kindle highlights, Pocket favorites or quickly forgotten marginalia. This blog is an attempt to understand the appeal of certain ideas and the connections between them. Inspired by the idea of the commonplace book, it’s has become an attempt to make connections between these fragments and make something new and interesting out of them.