Nevertheless. Have the guts to have your own opinions and share them. The world will not collapse because you did.
[ 4 min read ]
Beyond any doubt it was what Leo Tolstoy did. He was a gutsy guy. Here is an excerpt from his essay called “On Shakespeare”.
I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “Macbeth,” not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium, and doubted as to whether I was senseless in feeling works regarded as the summit of perfection by the whole of the civilized world to be trivial and positively bad, or whether the significance which this civilized world attributes to the works of Shakespeare was itself senseless. My consternation was increased by the fact that I always keenly felt the beauties of poetry in every form; then why should artistic works recognized by the whole world as those of a genius, — the works of Shakespeare, — not only fail to please me, but be disagreeable to me?
For a long time I could not believe in myself, and during fifty years, in order to test myself, I several times recommenced reading Shakespeare in every possible form, in Russian, in English, in German and in Schlegel’s translation, as I was advised. Several times I read the dramas and the comedies and historical plays, and I invariably underwent the same feelings: repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment. At the present time, before writing this preface, being desirous once more to test myself, I have, as an old man of seventy-five, again read the whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the “Henrys,” “Troilus and Cressida,” the “Tempest,” “Cymbeline,” and I have felt, with even greater force, the same feelings, — this time, however, not of bewilderment, but of firm, indubitable conviction that the unquestionable glory of a great genius which Shakespeare enjoys, and which compels writers of our time to imitate him and readers and spectators to discover in him non-existent merits, — thereby distorting their esthetic and ethical understanding, — is a great evil, as is every untruth.
Altho I know that the majority of people so firmly believe in the greatness of Shakespeare that in reading this judgment of mine they will not admit even the possibility of its justice, and will not give it the slightest attention, nevertheless I will endeavor, as well as I can, to show why I believe that Shakespeare can not be recognized either as a great genius, or even as an average author.
Whether Leo Tolstoy was right or not doesn’t matter. It’s just an opinion. I can have one, you can have one, Leo Tolstoy could have one. Everybody can have one. And that’s the point! Everybody is free to have their own opinions. We don’t need to blindly and mindlessly mimic others. We don’t need to agree with the majority. We don’t owe it to the majority to agree with them, to validate their worldview, opinions, ideas, philosophy, behavior so that they can feel good. We don’t need to like the same things the majority likes (or which our parents, family members, or friends like). We really don’t. It’s not against the law (I mean in most places it’s not against the law) to have an opinion which is different than that of the majority. The world will not collapse if we do.
Now, I don’t like that Leo Tolstoy told others what is and what isn’t art (he did it in What is art? — he argued that other people who, in the past, tried to define art for everybody did it wrong, and then offered his own definition, as obviously superior, and thus attempted to impose his idea on others), and consequently who is and who isn’t an artist, or how they should write and who is and who isn’t a writer (which he did in On Shakespeare), but I admire him for his gutsiness.
Not many people have the courage to even think that a genius (someone whom someone else once referred to as ‘a genius’, and because it appeared in print, or because he or she shared that sentiment in public multiple times, others eventually started to follow suit and gradually it became weird not to perceive this person as a genius and not to revere him or her) could actually not be a genius, let alone spread such, by now obvious, heresy.
That’s why, despite the fact that I don’t agree with everything Leo Tolstoy said, and might not like some things which he did, I still admire his courage. That’s the good part. The part I, and everybody else for that matter, can learn from.