Dostoevsky and Detective Fiction: An Interview with Claire Whitehead

Today we’re sitting down with Claire Whitehead to talk about Dostoevsky, crime fiction, and her new book, The Poetics of Early Russian Crime Fiction, 1860-1917: Deciphering Stories of Detection, published in September by Legenda.

BK: So, first, tell us a little about your new book. What is it about?

M-lgs-p771It’s a book about some of the many brilliant works of crime fiction that were published in Russia during the late Imperial era, from the period of the Great Reforms of the 1860s up to the 1917 revolution. And I guess I wrote it with two main aims in mind. The first is that I wanted to find out more about the history of this genre that doesn’t really appear in the pages of Russia’s canonical literary history: who was writing crime fiction, what sort of works were they producing and were these works like the works we know from the same era in other countries? The second is that I wanted to provide something more than an historical survey: I wanted to look at how these stories, novellas and novels use their narrative structures to manipulate the reader’s access to knowledge, which is what I think of as the key currency of crime fiction. So, there are chapters on questions such as narrative authority, temporal organization, multiple voice, intertextuality and parody that make reference to a host of largely unknown, but really entertaining and interesting, works.

BK: How popular was crime fiction in 19th-century Russia? How familiar would Dostoevsky have been with the genre?

Very, and deservedly so. If you look at Avram Reitblat’s book, Ot Bovy k Bal’montu i drugie raboty po istoricheskoi sotsiologii russkoi literatury (From Bova to Balmont and other works on the historical sociology of Russian literature, 2009), numerous works of crime fiction during this period figured amongst the most widely read publications of their given year. These include: Nikolai Sokolovskii’s Ostrog i zhizn’: iz zapisok sledovatelia (Prison and Life: From the Notes of an Investigator) (1866), Nikolai Timofeev’s Zapiski sledovatelia (Notes of an Investigator) (1872), Aleksandr Shkliarevskii’s Collected Works (1881), as well, of course, as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Jeffrey Brooks’s When Russia Learned to Read (2003) makes clear that the rise in literacy rates, changes in publishing conditions, including the proliferation of smaller urban presses, ensured that crime fiction was readily available to (and hugely popular with!) Russian readers in the later part of this period, and right up to the 1917 revolution.

I think it’s fair to say that Dostoevsky was very familiar with the various authors who contributed to the birth of crime fiction in Russia. For instance, some of the earliest stories by Nikolai Sokolovskii were published in his journal, Vremia (Time), during 1862 and 1863. In the early 1870s, the aspiring crime writer Aleksandr Shkliarevskii wrote to Dostoevsky to declare his admiration for his works’ ‘deep psychological analysis’. And when Shkliarevskii moved to St Petersburg under the protection of the renowned prosecutor, A.F. Koni, he is said to have moved in some of the same circles as Dostoevsky. Moreover, given the popularity of these authors with a general readership, and Dostoevsky’s interest in all things connected with the law, it seems unlikely that Dostoevsky wouldn’t also have been reading these works.

BK: Crime and Punishment is obviously a text that must be addressed in your study, but it is not commonly read as crime fiction. Why is that?

I think there are a number of reasons. To some extent, it’s a question of the initial reception of the novel that has influenced its reading over subsequent years. When Crime and Punishment was first serialized, crime fiction was only just beginning to appear in Russia, and so there would have been little question of it being categorized in this genre. It was far more appropriate for it to be received as a work of critical realism in keeping with Belinskii’s call to action. And, as the era of the great realist novel in Russia continued to develop, Crime and Punishment, with its ideological, philosophical and existential concerns, fitted in with that particular narrative of literary historical development very productively. I do think it is important, however, to guard against any temptation to argue that Crime and Punishment is not primarily seen as crime fiction because there is so much else going on in the novel. I would suggest that that is, in fact, true of the majority of Russian crime fiction from this era, most of which displays a similar preoccupation with questions of socio-historical environment, individual psychology, determinism and free will, and the role of the law. Russian crime fiction of the late Imperial era is a sophisticated genre that shares many features with its more renowned or canonical literary cousins.

BK: I was intrigued to discover that, after Crime and Punishment, the Dostoevsky text your book discusses the most is Notes from the House of the Dead. This is a work about criminals and penal servitude, but I find it somewhat far from what I think of as crime fiction. What’s the connection?

I don’t claim in the book that Notes from the House of the Dead is a work of crime fiction. However, there are similarities between some of its features and works that do belong to the genre. So, for instance, Sokolovskii’s Prison and Life includes some stories that feature a judicial investigator working on criminal cases, but also others that simply recount his encounters with prison inmates and his knowledge of their habits and traditions whilst incarcerated, which are similar to those found in Dostoevsky’s work. This and other early examples of Russian crime fiction (such as Konstantin Popov’s Vinovatye i pravye (The Guilty and the Innocent) from 1871) make use of the type of physiological/ethnographic sketch that is to be found in Notes from the House of the Dead as well as, for instance, in a work such as V.V. Krestovskii’s Petersburg Slums (1864). And early Russian crime fiction seeks to create a strong sense of realism in part by its use of slang and dialect, which is another feature that is prominent in House of the Dead. So, it’s really a case of shared features rather than a common genre.

BK: Was Dostoevsky influential in 19th-century or later Russian crime fiction writing? What are some of the stories he influenced?

Yes, undoubtedly, although it’s obviously quite difficult definitively to establish influence. I’ve mentioned Dostoevsky’s connection with Aleksandr Shkliarevskii and I think you can see Shkliarevskii echoing a good number of his idol’s preoccupations with questions around criminal psychology, the role of environment and fate as well as with literary techniques related to temporal organisation and narrative voice. More specifically, in Shkliarevskii’s 1872 story ‘Otchego on ubil ikh?’ (‘Why Did He Kill Them?’), the protagonist, Narostov, who has strangled his wife and shot his mistress, refers to himself as a member of the ‘house of the dead’ and expounds on what he sees as the qualities of Dostoevsky’s depiction of the enigma of crime in that work. There are also clear points of resemblance between Dostoevsky’s concern with the plight of the lower echelons of society and Nikolai Timofeev’s plots in stories such as ‘Murder and Suicide’ and ‘The Prostitute’ in his Notes of an Investigator collection. I would also argue that Aleksandra Sokolova’s refusal of an easy explanation of criminal motive in a work such as Spetaia pesnia (The Song Has Been Sung) (1892) reveals the influence of Dostoevsky.

BK: How much influence did other crime fiction from the time have on Dostoevsky?

Again, I think it’s quite difficult to establish this definitively, but there’s no question in my mind that Dostoevsky was aware of the crime writing of the time and that it affected him to some extent. So, for example, I’ve always wondered whether the description in Sokolovskii’s story ‘Skvernye minuty’ (‘Fateful Minutes’), first published in 1863, of a prostitute, Lizaveta, who hides a stolen wallet under the wallpaper near the plinth of her door, might have given Dostoevsky the idea for Raskolnikov’s stashing of what he has stolen from Alyona Ivanovna. More broadly, the depiction of broken family relations that lead to crime, of the type that Dostoevsky illustrates in The Brothers Karamazov, were a staple of Russian crime fiction throughout the 1860s and 1870s. And, the recognition that scenes played out in law courts were ripe with dramatic potential might well have been influenced by other crime writers, such as Semyon Panov and Nikolai Timofeev, who frequently included an account of criminal trials in their work.

BK: Does reading Dostoevsky within the context of 19th-century crime fiction shift our understanding of Dostoevsky’s works?

Yes, potentially. One of the first arguments I make in my book is that Dostoevsky should not be considered to be the first or only author of crime fiction writing in the 1860s. Dostoevsky’s fascination with various aspects of the legal system both in Russia and abroad, expressed not just in Crime and Punishment but also in Notes from the House of the Dead and, later, in The Brothers Karamazov, is far from being unique during this period. Debates conducted in polemical journalism about the proposed legal reforms influenced a good many writers, and these preoccupations found their way into a numerous literary works. Also, to a reader more familiar with the ‘Western’ canon of crime fiction, Crime and Punishment seems at odds with the genre’s conventions because there is no mystery whatsoever about the identity of the criminal. However, when you place Dostoevsky’s novel in the context of works of crime fiction from this early period, you discover that none of them are really interested in the question of ‘whodunit’. Louise McReynolds has written very persuasively about the Russian genre’s greater interest in the issue of ‘whydunit’ and the implications of that focus: she argues that whilst the ‘whodunit’ accuses an individual, the ‘whydunit’ points the finger of guilt at broader, more collective social forces. None of this is to take away from Dostoevsky’s achievements; but it is important to view him as part of a broader literary-cultural movement, many of whose participants have been forgotten.

BK: What is your favourite work of 19th-century crime fiction and why?

Hmmm… that’s a difficult one. Of course, I genuinely love Crime and Punishment and always have such fun talking about its various aspects with my students. But looking beyond that landmark, I would say my favourite author currently is Semyon Panov who wrote five works of crime fiction in the 1870s, all of which are deserving of a much greater reputation. Of his works, I think that Ubiistvo v derevne Medveditse (Murder in Medveditsa Village) (1872) is a very accomplished and rich work, and the dizzying parody Iz zhizni uezdnogo gorodka (From the Life of a Provincial Town) (1876) is well worth a read, not least because I think it might well have influenced Chekhov later on.

BK: Why do you think nearly all of the texts you discuss are not translated into English yet? And do you know of any plans to translate them?

There is still a good deal of ignorance about the existence of many of these works (in spite of my and others’ best efforts) and so they aren’t immediately obvious choices for translators. Many of them have not been reprinted even in Russian since their first publication, or at least not since the late nineteenth century. I would love for someone to translate them and have begun to do some work on trying to find translators with whom I could collaborate. The project that I’m most excited about at the moment, though, is my collaboration with the illustrator and author, Carol Adlam (www.caroladlam.co.uk), on a graphic-novel adaptation into English of Semyon Panov’s Tri suda, ili ubiistvo vo vremia bala (Three Courts, of Murder During the Ball) from 1876. Carol is the artist behind the brilliant cover image of my book and we have just received some seed-funding from the University of St Andrews to produce about ten pages of proof-of-concept artwork to be able to pitch the full adaptation to a publisher. We are hoping that this might be the first step on a longer journey of bringing some more of these works to an anglophone audience, and in an exciting and popular medium.


A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature, Claire Whitehead is Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Her books include The Fantastic in France and Russia in the Nineteenth Century: In Pursuit of Hesitation (2006) and The Poetics of Early Russian Crime Fiction, 1860-1917: Deciphering Stories of Detection (2018). Growing up, she flirted with the idea of becoming a police officer or a forensic scientist, before deciding on the far more glamorous career of an academic.

The cover image at the top of the page is original artwork by Carol Adlam and appears with the artist’s permission. 

 

Dostoevsky at AATSEEL 2019!

by Greta Matzner-Gore

In just a week you all will be eating beignets in the French Quarter… and I’ll be eating my heart out here at home. In between jazz sessions and bowls of gumbo, make sure to check out the conference’s many exciting papers on Dostoevsky! You can find them below, listed by date, time, and room number.

Friday, February 8

8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Session 1-7: Stream 7A: Monopoliphonic/polimonologic Tolstoevsky or Spirited in Flesh (I): Friendship, Suicide and Resurrection in Dostoevsky’s Works

Location: Orleans

Chair: Carol Apollonio, Duke University

“The Philosophical Problem of Friendship in Dostoevsky’s Works”

Justin Trifiro, University of Southern California

“Physical Resurrection in Notes from Underground

Max Gordon, Northwestern University

“Sudden Suicidal Convulsions in Notes from the House of the Dead

Amy Ronner, St. Thomas University School of Law

Discussant: Robin Feuer Miller, Brandeis University

 

10:15 AM – 12:00 PM

Session 2-7: Stream 7A: Monopoliphonic/polimonologic Tolstoevsky or Spirited in Flesh (II): The Problem of Gender in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

Location: Orleans

Chair: D. Brian Kim, University of Pennsylvania

“How a Man Killed His Wife: Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata and Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Dead House

Irina Erman, College of Charleston

“In Defense of Katerina Maslova: Bakhtin and Resurrection

Erica Drennan, Columbia University

Discussant: Victoria Juharyan, Princeton University

 

4:30 PM – 6:30 PM

Session 4-7: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gogol

Location: Endymion

“The Disintegration of Personality: Literary Parallels Between Dostoevsky’s The Double and Gogol’s ‘The Portrait’”

Olga Khometa, University of Toronto

“So…What Is To Be Done About Poor Nastasya in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot?”

Denis Zhernokleyev, Vanderbilt University

 

Session 4-10: The Language of Space and the Space of Language in (Post-)Soviet Russian Culture

Location: St. Claude

“Space in Contemporary Cinematic Transpositions of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Alexander Burry, Ohio State University

 

Saturday, February 9

8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Session 5-2: Stream 2B: Mimesis in Russian Art and Aesthetic Theory (I)

Location: Ile de France II

Chair: Kit Pribble, University of California at Berkeley

“Dostoevskiian Allegory and the Realist Project”

Melissa Frazier, Sarah Lawrence College

“V romane nado geroiia”: Realist character-systems in Dostoevsky’s Zapiski iz podpol’ia

Chloë Kitzinger, Rutgers University

“Not theatrical, not aesthetic beauty will save the world: Realistic Symbolism and Naturalism on the Stage”

Lindsay Ceballos, Lafayette College

Discussant: Susan McReynolds, Northwestern University

 

Session 5-7: Stream 7B: The Russian Medical Humanities (I)

Location: Orleans

Chair: Melissa Miller, University of Notre Dame

“Stavrogin as Syphilitic in Dostoevsky’s Demons

Brian R. Johnson, Macalester College

 

3:15 PM – 5:00 PM

Session 7-10: Graduate Invitational Panel: Feeling Across Borders in 19th-century Russia

Location: St. Claude

Chair: Jinyi Chu, Stanford University

“Identifying Emotional Communities in the Age of Pushkin”

Emily Wang, University of Notre Dame

“Emotions and Cognition in Dostoevsky’s ‘Dream of a Ridiculous Man’”

Victoria Juharyan, Princeton University

Discussant: Ilya Vinitsky, Princeton University

 

 5:15 PM – 7:00 PM

 Session 8-5: Roundtable: Crime and Punishment: Issues of Teaching and Translation

Location: Frontenac

Chair: Robin Feuer Miller, Brandeis University

Discussants:

Carol Apollonio, Duke University

Kate Holland, University of Toronto

Katherine Bowers, University of British Columbia

Val Vinokur, The New School

 

Sunday, February 10

8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Session 9-5: Roundtable: Teaching Dostoevsky in the 21st Century

Location: Endymion

Chair: Robin Feuer Miller, Brandeis University

Discussants:

Amy Ronner, St. Thomas University School of Law

Caroline Lemak Brickman, UC Berkeley

Chloë Kitzinger, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Daniel Brooks, Franklin & Marshall College

Katherine Bowers, University of British Columbia

Sean Blink, Yale University

 

Session 9-6: The Reading and Reception of the Russian Classics in the Late-Soviet Period

Location: Orleans

Chair: Jonathan Wurl, Stanford University

“‘Yes, not to Leningrad, but to Petersburg’: Reading Tsypkin Reading Dostoevsky”

Brett Roark Winestock, Stanford University

Discussant: Alexander Prokhorov, College of William and Mary

David Magarshack, the Penguin Archive, and Translating Dostoevsky: A Chat with Cathy McAteer

Today we are sitting down to talk about translating Dostoevsky and David Magarshack with Cathy McAteer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Exeter who has recently defended her PhD in Russian and Translation Studies at the University of Bristol. Her doctoral thesis examines Penguin Books’s Russian Classics series (1950-1964) with special emphasis on Magarshack’s role as translator in bringing Russian literary texts to an anglophone audience.

BK: So, first of all, tell us a bit about your research project. Why did you decide to focus on Penguin’s Russian Classics series? Were there any surprising discoveries in your research?

CM: Hello Katia, thanks for inviting me to talk a bit about my research. My interest in Penguin’s Russian Classics took on a new dimension once I’d started my MA in Translation Studies at the University of Bristol. The act of comparing different Penguin versions of Russian literary classics against the original source texts prompted a new set of questions for me about the background to those Penguin commissions: who were the people driving and completing them; what were their various professional backgrounds and qualifications (if any); how did Penguin and its commissioned translators interact with each other; was there ever such a thing as an in-house Penguin translation style; and then, how well did the Anglophone lay audience, which ultimately spanned several geographical borders, receive this relaunched literary canon? When I finished my Masters, I was fortunate to receive funding to pursue a PhD framed around answering these questions. On a broader scale, I also wanted my PhD to fill a gap in knowledge as far as the more modern phase of Russian literary translation in English is concerned, namely the mid- to late-twentieth century, the exact time when Penguin was publishing its versions of the classic Russian literary canon.

My doctoral project relied heavily on detailed archival research, initially at the Penguin archive (housed at the University of Bristol) but also at the Leeds Russian archive. In terms of surprising discoveries, I never expected the personalities of key and minor players to reveal themselves so strikingly via their correspondence. They came to life in a way which is never apparent just from reading their end-products, the translated texts themselves. Individuals like the editors EV Rieu and ASB Glover feature throughout, efficient, often humorous, and polite. Translators like Elisaveta Fen, Rosemary Edmonds, and, of course, David Magarshack reveal that they could be self-assured and commercially astute, but at times frustrated by the tedium of the commercial process and unsolicited changes to their translations. Surprises include one letter which reveals the Turgenev translator Gilbert Gardiner’s patient, 25-year wait for missed royalty payments. There are startlingly frank letters from the lay-reading public too. Some applaud the price and accessibility of Penguin’s Russian Classics, while others offer criticism. One correspondent criticizes Penguin for allowing over-popular translations of Russian literature ‘just so that it can be understood by people without literary knowledge’, another complains to the editors for even allowing the title Anna Karenin (‘an act of impudence and vandalism’), and another correspondent praises an excellent translation (The Devils) but laments that it is marred with ‘phrases, not to say paragraphs in French’. Their voices are vibrant; it was fascinating to discover how opinionated Penguin’s readership could be over matters of translation.

Analysis of this archival material allowed me, therefore, to construct a profile, a microhistory, of key Penguin Russian players, but also to map the climate of reception for Russian literature in English translation during the last half of the twentieth century.

magarshack

David Magarshack, (n.d.)
© Magarshack family

BK: Now tell us a bit about David Magarshack. He’s an acclaimed translator of Dostoevsky (and others). Why did you choose him as the focus of your case study?

CM: I suspected from the outset that David Magarshack would probably play an important role in my thesis – he was after all one of the longest-serving early translators for Penguin’s Russian Classics, translating the four major works by Dostoevsky for them, along with Goncharov’s Oblomov, Gogol’s Dead Souls, and Chekhov’s Lady with Lapdog – but I never actually expected him to dominate the project to such an extent! After weeks of scouring the Penguin archive I realized I would need to corroborate my Bristol findings by pursuing material stored in other collections. I went to Leeds, therefore, to examine David Magarshack’s (and Elisaveta Fen’s) private papers. Fen’s papers were useful, certainly, but I found the most relevant and detailed material in Magarshack’s papers where, to my delight, his notes included specific lectures and essays about his translation strategy.

Magarshack was born in Riga (then Russia) in 1899 but emigrated to the UK in 1920 in search of a higher education (a right restricted to only a limited number of Jews at the time of Magarshack’s student years). He arrived in the UK with scarcely any English but graduated four years later with a 2:1 in English Language and Literature at UCL. After years of trying to make a living as a crime-writer, journalist, and aspiring newspaper editor, he eventually offered his services as a literary translator to Penguin. His first Penguin book was Crime and Punishment, completed ahead of the scheduled delivery date, perhaps thanks in part to his wife Elsie, a Yorkshire-born, Cambridge-graduate of English. (According to Magarshack’s daughter, Stella, Elsie helped with all his translations, proofreading and correcting, but she is never mentioned in his work. For me, Elsie is something of an unsung heroine; my hope is that my PhD has at least apportioned her some belated fame.)

The more I learned about Magarshack, the more fascinated I became by his commercial approach to translation and literature. With very little money coming in as a journalist, Magarshack was a man under pressure; he had a wife (and in-laws with financial aspirations for their daughter), four children, and a keen sense of pride and ambition. Magarshack comes across in his letters as driven primarily to make his career a success, but also eager to refashion the Russian literature translated by Constance Garnett and keen to match (if not improve!) Dostoevsky.

He represents a rare, modern case study because of the large amount of archival material which stands alongside all the text-based material he left behind; this combination has made it possible to construct a detailed microhistory of his professional life, to shed light for the first time on a man so readily associated in readers’ minds (lay and academic) with Penguin’s Russian literature.

BK: I know you’ve worked extensively with Penguin’s archive and the Magarshack papers in the Leeds Russian archive. Can you speak a bit about those collections? What are the documents like? What kinds of materials? And did you make any new discoveries?

The Penguin archive consists of 2,300 boxes, 500 metres of Penguin titles, and it grows by a metre of shelf space every month: signed books, correspondence, photos, promotional material. It is vast. The Penguin Classics section represents a small part of the entire archive, and the Russian Classics titles amount to just 23 folders in total, spanning from 1950 to 1970, which vary considerably in size. Some contain no more than a couple of letters confirming a print re-run, others contain tens of pages of detailed discussion about deadlines, royalty payments, corrections, correction costs, copyright, translation queries, suggestions for cover design, readers’ letters, etc. Thick files usually bode well, either because there has been a particular working rapport between editor and translator – good or bad! but always with an eagerness all round to produce the best possible text for publication – or because a text has prompted a high level of reader response: from individuals, theatre troupes requesting stage adaptations, the BBC seeking broadcasting permission, and, in the case of the Dostoevsky files, there are repeated requests by academics for permission to use translation excerpts in their psychology manuals. Inevitably, though, archival work is the domain of one-sided conversations which can often lead to unanswered questions, red-herrings, and dead-ends; these all become a bit of an occupational hazard! Just when you think the next letter will neatly conclude an ongoing discussion, the trail runs dry, which is why I ended up pursuing other collections.

Fortunately for me, Magarshack kept large quantities (27 boxes in total) of his letters, reviews, theatre programmes (his play translations continued to be used for decades), copies of his works, notes on translation, which answered many questions, provided new lines of enquiry, but also led me to Magarshack’s daughter Stella and the opportunity for me to interview her about her father’s translation career. I discovered that aside from his translations (not just for Penguin) and biographies (many of your readers will be aware of Magarshack’s Dostoevsky biography), Magarshack also tried his hand at crime-writing, à la Dostoevsky, but without comparable success. The highlight for me, though, was discovering that he had attempted to quantify his translation strategy towards the end of his career. He set down his thoughts and observations of twenty years or so of literary translation practice in preparation for a book he had been commissioned to produce for Victor Gollancz on the principles of translation. Had Magarshack’s book made it to publication, it would have been ahead of his time; he had hoped to offer his strategies on how best to tackle classic translation challenges such as Russian naming practices (a question which appears repeatedly in the Penguin Russian Classics archive and perplexes even today), vernacular dialogue, idiomatic equivalence, register, syntax. It is a great shame, therefore, that Magarshack died before the book could be completed.

The strategies and references he noted in the preparatory material for his book reveal that Magarshack was a man straddling the two cultures and worlds he knew best: Russian and British, and he felt strongly that his Russia and Dostoevsky’s Russia had not previously been satisfactorily conveyed by translators, mainly Constance Garnett. He appears to have felt a huge responsibility to try and address this failing by producing his own translations.

 

Two of Magarshack’s translations for Penguin Classics (Personal collection of C. McAteer)

BK: One of your chapters examines Magarshack’s translation of The Idiot (1955). This was really the first of the modern translations – the previous translations were all published at least 40 years earlier. What does your research reveal about Magarshack’s translation practice?

CM: As I mentioned earlier, my research has revealed that Magarshack approached his translation work with a keen sense that the ‘real’ Russia had never been accurately conveyed to British readers in preceding translations. In his observations about translation, Magarshack noted with evident concern that Garnett had created a ‘popular notion of the Russian as an incompetent, gloom-sodden, bizarre, and even grotesque figure’, a view ‘so generally accepted that it even colours the views of serious authors on Russian affairs’. Magarshack relates his concern over poor translations even more specifically to Dostoevsky, though; he writes that the realization ‘that, for instance, Dostoevsky’s novels are full of laughter as well as tragedy, has yet to be proved to the English reader’. Magarshack hoped that his translations would reinstate the humour as well as the tragedy. Not all readers would now agree that Magarshack achieved this aim; Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonskaya, for example, claim instead that there is ‘something tame’ about Magarshack’s translation of Brothers Karamazov which replaces the style, tone, and humour of Dostoevsky’s original. The important thing for me, though, is that Magarshack identified what he felt was missing and tried to rectify the shortfall.

Magarshack’s attempt to differ from his predecessors’ efforts (summed up in his notes in a blend of Western and Soviet-style traditions and techniques) relies on a combination of translation devices: he tries his hand at vernacularized dialogue; incorporates Anglicized naming practices (Mr, Mrs, and Miss) and minimizes the inclusion of patronymics; domesticates culture-specific references; avoids all footnotes (he believed they were ‘a translator’s confession of failure’), and he frequently tries to smooth out syntax. The Idiot contains examples of all these effects and, while readers from a modern vantage point may consider his practice unsubtle and somewhat contrived at times, these devices were a novel way to treat Dostoevsky in the mid-twentieth century. Magarshack created a different feel to Garnett’s earlier translations and provided a stylistic talking point for subsequent translators.

BK: And what can Magarshack’s translation of Dostoevsky tell us about Dostoevsky?

CM: Magarshack wanted his translations to speak to a modern audience and show that there was more to Dostoevsky, more depth and colour, than previously thought. Magarshack strove to show that Dostoevsky had all the tragedy as well as the comedy of Dickens. He believed that the absence in previous Dostoevsky translations either of any humour, or of any attempt at full-bodied characterization, presented an anaemic version of the real Dostoevsky. Magarshack felt it was the translator’s duty to serve and reveal the original author by researching the author’s background, social context, morals, literary style, and channel that knowledge into decisions over lexis, idiom, register, voice. Magarshack can be regarded as the first modern translator, therefore, to expose the existence in Dostoevsky of characters who build tension, evoke sympathy, have nicknames and humour, reveal vices and morals, who speak like barrow boys and express credible feelings. Of course, he didn’t succeed on every count (possibly because he was having to work fast to pay the bills). There are always deficits in a translation, some of Magarshack’s decisions irritated readers then and now (for example, Magarshack’s occasional glossing over of culture-specific references and syntax, his occasional omissions, over-domestication of names) but Magarshack has been credited with revealing the polyphony which exists in Dostoevsky’s works, giving voice to a more comprehensive range of Dostoevskian characters who were previously served by Garnett’s one Edwardian voice, for example.

Magarshack and Penguin proved that Dostoevsky was an accessible author who could be appreciated by all lovers of great literature, that he wrote for the everyman and not for an elitist readership after all. Many of Penguin’s archived letters of appreciation confirm as much but I’d like to finish with just one comment from Anthony Powell of Punch. He wrote that ‘David Magarshack has revolutionized the reading of Dostoyevsky’s novels in English by his translations which have appeared during the last few years … for years I was rather an anti-Dostoyevsky man, owing to the badness of the translations, but now there is an excellent translator in Magarshack’ (2 April 1958)’.

Thank you!


Cathy McAteer is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Exeter on the project “The Dark Side of Translation: 20th and 21st Century Translation from Russian as a Political Phenomenon in the UK, Ireland and the USA”, which has just gone live, fresh for 2019. More information is available on Twitter (@Rustransdark) and on the project website. Cathy’s publications include ‘Bringing Books Across Borders – Behind the Scenes in Penguin Books’, Transnational Russian Studies (edited by Andy Byford, Connor Doak, Stephen Hutchings) due to be published later this year, and ‘Translation and the Classic: Russians and Romanticism until 1917’, Routledge Handbook on Translation (edited by Siobhan McElduff, James Hadley, Paul Bandia), publication date tbc.

Dostoevsky at MLA 2019!

Are you heading to Chicago for MLA 2019 next week? If yes, stop by the International Dostoevsky Society-sponsored panel, taking place on Fri, Jan 4 from 5:15-6:30pm in the Sheraton Grand (rm Superior A). The panel is Idiot-themed to kick off the novel’s 150th anniversary year!

Dostoevsky’s The Idiot at 150: Textual Transactions

“Dostoevsky’s Capitalist Realism; or, Why Money Doesn’t Burn in The Idiot” – Vadim Shneyder, U of California, Los Angeles

“Prince Myshkin and the Female Fool: Gendering Dostoevsky’s Fools for Christ” Melanie Jones, U of California, Los Angeles

“The Devil Rousseau Comes to Petersburg” – Brian Armstrong, Augusta U

We hope you’ll join us in Chicago! Click here for more information.

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Raskolnikov’s Strange Ideas: How Dostoevsky Predicted Modern Terrorism

by Iman Masmoudi

“While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

– Attributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky in the 1999 report The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism

​The quotation above is less a reflection of what Dostoevsky actually said —it remains unverified but frequently cited — as it is an indication of what the Russian author’s novels continue to offer us: an understanding of the evildoer. His novel Crime and Punishment is known for its harrowing depiction of the mind of an ideological murderer. Do his predictions about ideological radicalization hold true for the most seemingly-inexplicable crimes of our day, namely suicide terrorism? Dostoevsky attempts to give us answers to three questions that relate to terrorism: what kind of idea can drive a person to murder? What kind of person can be so driven by an idea? And in what kind of social setting can such a process take place? Dostoevsky’s answers, as will be seen, often accurately predict the motivations observed in modern-day terrorists.[1]

The Idea

We learn of Raskolnikov’s utilitarian justification for murder in a flashback scene when he recalls overhearing two men in a tavern discussing the idea that had just occurred to him when he met the old moneylender: that perhaps someone should kill her, take her vast wealth, and distribute it to the thousands of poor throughout the city of St. Petersburg, thereby saving thousands of lives. “Kill her and take the money, so as to devote yourself afterwards to the service of all humanity and the common cause” (80). [2] One of the men in the tavern calls this idea “simple arithmetic.” At hearing this, Raskolnikov is astounded at the coincidence of how “those very same thoughts had just been conceived in his own mind” (81). Months pass and this “strange idea” stews in his mind. He debates with himself, going this way and that until finally, “his casuistry was now as sharp as a razor blade” and he didn’t have a, “single conscious objection” (87-88).

​Several explanatory theories for the modern phenomenon of terrorism exist. The most widespread of these is that Islam itself is the primary cause of such violence. The data, however, shows that religious knowledge and adherence is not a key factor in predicting radicalization, and in fact may be negatively correlated. According to MI5’s Behavioral Science Unit, most British terrorists do not have an in-depth knowledge of religion and are described as “religious novices.” In addition, prior to their radicalization or even after, they often behaved in ways that are contradictory to the Islamic orthodoxy for which they claim to fight, such as drinking, smoking, taking drugs, or visiting prostitutes.

Clearly religion plays some role in uniting members of such organizations and providing a discourse of moral superiority. But it is also plain that, at the very least, religious arguments alone provide insufficient justification. Political scientist Professor Robert Pape compiled the largest database on suicide terrorism around the world from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. He neatly summarizes the terrorist’s utilitarian justification in his 2005 book [3]:

there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any of the world’s religions. […] Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.

This is the murderous logic employed by the modern terrorist: that to kill a small number of innocent civilians could motivate world powers to withdraw from conflicts that cost many more lives. Daesh propaganda exemplifies this justification. Their conception of ‘homeland’ is the lost caliphate, an idealized notion of the Islamic world that extended from Spain to Southeast Asia centuries ago. This is the mythic homeland from which they want to expel Western influence. Their consistent use of the term ‘Crusaders’ to describe the West reveals an intent to cast Western governments as active invaders who bring suffering for Muslims. Importantly, as with Raskolnikov’s unplanned murder of Lizaveta, the moneylender’s innocent and kind-hearted sister, such perspectives always lead to harm inflicted on uninvolved innocents, sometimes even the very people the criminals claim to be fighting for.

​The idea, then, that can drive a person to utilitarian murder is one that places the criminal himself in the morally superior position. But importantly, as Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank notes, Raskolnikov’s radicalization relied on more than just the superior logic of his justification. Rather, the entire process was only made possible by his “fierce and self-absorbed egoism,” his “innate extremism,” and “a desire for self-sacrifice bordering on martyrdom.”[4]

The Person

​As for the egoism that drove Raskolnikov to commit his crime, Dostoevsky gradually reveals this underlying psychology until even Raskolnikov himself realizes that his supposedly humanitarian reasons were not his true motivators, confessing, “Listen: I wanted to become a Napoleon, that’s why I killed..” He continues, “It wasn’t to [..] make myself a benefactor of humanity. Nonsense! I just killed. I killed for myself, for myself alone.” Raskolnikov was driven by acute insecurity that made him need “to find out [..] was I a quivering creature or did I have the right…?” For if he could bring himself to disregard the most basic human injunctions against murder, then he could count himself among the class of men that Napoleon occupied: men who justified their crimes and were later glorified for them as “masters of the future.” The utilitarian ideals that seemed to motivate Raskolnikov were contradicted both by his unsympathetic thoughts and actions and his underlying egoistic search for self-validation.

Frank adds to this understanding by arguing that Raskolnikov’s nature is inherently extreme and that he has innate desires for martyrdom. One such example of Raskolnikov’s desire for heroic martyrdom is his previous insistence on marrying the daughter of his landlord despite her great disabilities and lower social standing and over the wishes of his family. He saw this as an opportunity for him to act in a way that made him seem the noble hero.

The similarity here to modern terrorists in terms of a culture of heroic martyrdom and a search for self-validation is quite clear. According to Dana Rovang, research director with the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, Daesh filmmakers mimic well-known narrative techniques, such as the “Hero’s Journey” plot progression, in order to cast their fighters as heroic martyrs. Despite coming from diverse educational backgrounds, most British terrorists work in low-grade jobs suggesting thwarted aspirations that may lead to a loss of direction and a need for validation. Raskolnikov, too, was unemployed and had his student dreams thwarted by economic hardship at the time of his radicalization. The intimate psychology of indiscriminate murder found in Crime and Punishment helps us to understand what may be going on in the minds of some such criminals when innate compassion is gradually made subordinate to distorted ideologies and egos.

The Social Setting

​Dostoevsky’s cautionary tale should prompt us to re-examine the social conditions that contribute to the rise of ideological crimes, as Dostoevsky’s key talent was “this ability to integrate the personal with the major social-political and cultural issues of his day.” Philosopher Jürgen Habermas argues that the modern project will fail, unless we have “an awareness of what is missing” in our societies that leads people to a constant search for meaning and purpose in their lives. This meaning was previously provided by religion, but has been largely pushed out in in the West in favor of Enlightenment rationalism and individualism. Sociologist Max Weber called this process “disenchantment.” This disappearance of meaning in everyday life is a central challenge in modern Western societies.

​The search for personal meaning is also at the heart of Raskolnikov’s crimes and it seems likely that it animates crimes of modern terrorists as well. Despite the tendency to perceive groups like Daesh as backwards or even “medieval,” their projects are actually only made possible by the social conditions, ideas, and technologies — like the internet and modern weaponry— that have emerged during the modern period (a topic previously discussed here). Young, socially-alienated men with little meaning in their lives are particularly susceptible to the heroic narratives told by online recruitment networks. The search for meaning is part of what drives them to such extreme acts. Even Raskolnikov was influenced by a growing sense that the path he was on was what he was meant to be doing. When chance occurrences seemed to point him towards the murder, he thought it was “as if there really were something preordained in it all, some sign…”

​In this way, Dostoevsky manages to weave into his narrative an element of coincidence and unpredictability that is also typical of terrorism. For just as we can’t fully predict who will be radicalized or when attacks will occur, there were often moments when Raskolnikov was spurred on by events of random chance that implied metaphysical purpose. This occurred most prominently just before the murder when he turned away from his “damned dream” and prayed for guidance. ​

And yet what returns him to the path of murder, and perhaps what solidifies the act for many unsure would-be murderers and terrorists, is the sudden appearance of a clear path, an opportunity to carry out their ‘strange’ ideas. This occurred when Raskolnikov serendipitously learned “that the very next day, at such-and-such a time, such-and-such a woman — the object of an intended murder — would be home alone.” And it is this knowledge that eventually leads him to her apartment the next day with a hidden axe and a supposedly humanitarian sanction to murder.

Conclusion

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment helps us to humanize the experience of radicalization. As readers, we see Raskolnikov struggle with the murderous idea and his own revulsion towards it. The first part of the novel, before the murder, largely follows Raskolnikov’s inner conflict between his “intention to commit a crime in the interests of humanity” and “the resistance of his moral conscience against the taking of human life.”[5] Frank argues that Dostoevsky’s heart-wrenching depiction of “the agonies of a conscience wrestling with itself” has “no equal this side of Macbeth.”[6] Raskolnikov asks himself “but will that really happen? Surely it can’t, can it?” (65). Closer to the murder, he wakes from a nightmare and exclaims, “My God! Will I really — I mean, really — actually take an axe, start bashing her on the head, smash her skull to pieces? [..] Lord, will I really?” (73). Raskolnikov even has moments when he entirely turns away from his “strange idea” asking God for help to “show me my path, while I renounce this damned … dream of mine!” (74). The gradual breakdown of Raskolnikov’s innate humanity and compassion is perhaps the most intimate portrait of the radicalization of a terrorist that we can read today. Reading Crime and Punishment can be an exercise in truly understanding the “evildoer” as our opening quotation has asked us to do.

This analysis may also provide an opportunity for much-needed societal reflection. Although we need not accept Dostoevsky’s social prescription of a return to Christian faith, it is clear that his critiques of modernization endure, as the social problems he warned of persist. This acknowledgement provides an important opportunity to return to the question and finally address “what is missing.” On the heels of the horrific murders of Jewish congregants in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, we cannot ignore the complex interplay of political, socioeconomic, and emotional factors that birth the dark psychological machinations comprising the modern terrorist.


Iman Masmoudi is a guest contributor. She is a student of law and political theory and the President of Tuniq, a cooperative for North African inspired anti-capitalist clothing. Her interests lie in Islamic pedagogy, legal pluralism, and human stewardship of the earth. You can follow her on Twitter here.

This post is an expanded version of a post that originally appeared on the blog Traversing Tradition on Oct 29, 2018.


[1] English-language discourses around terrorism focus on self-professed Muslim groups in the United States and Europe, as does the available research by academic and national security groups. This essay concentrates on these groups also, while noting that white extremist groups have caused more deaths in the US since 9/11 and are cited by American law enforcement agencies as a more alarming threat to national security. Additionally, this essay’s emphasis on attacks that occur in Western Europe and the United States should not indicate that these victims are more worthy of solidarity than others, but rather that attacks that are perpetrated by Westerners are of particular interest to this essay. This is because the social conditions relevant to Dostoevsky’s analysis are more similar than those of other regions that suffer from terrorism, particularly when such regions experience war and other broad social traumas that may contribute to violence.

[2] Fyodor Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment, translated by Oliver Ready. Penguin Books, 2015. All quotes from the novel are from this translation.

[3] Pape, Robert Anthony. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. 1st ed.  Random House, 2005.

[4] Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky : A Writer in His Time.  Princeton University Press, 2010.

[5] Ibid. 486.

[6] Ibid. 487.

Congratulations to our Graduate Essay Contest Winner, Chloe Papadopoulos!

The Readers Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society is excited to announce the winner of our Graduate Student Essay Contest: 

Chloe Papadopoulos, for her essay, “Speaking Silently in Fedor Dostoevskii’s ‘Krotkaia.’”

 Chloe is a third-year Ph.D. student in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. She received an H.B.A. and M.A in Russian Language and Literature at the University of Toronto, where she specialized in nineteenth-century Russian literature with a focus on Dostoevsky. Her current research focuses on the reception of historical fiction, drama, and sculpture in newspapers and the periodical press of the 1860s, as well as gendered models of communication in nineteenth-century Russian literature.

A hearty congratulations to Chloe and the entire Yale Slavic Department!

Dostoevsky at ASEEES 2018!

This year, ASEEES is holding its 50th annual convention and celebrating 70 years since its founding. Dostoevsky scholarship remains a crucial part of scholarship in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian studies, as the following list attests. Once again, the convention offers a rich selection of panels, roundtables, and individual presentations on Dostoevsky’s works and thought. The list below is divided into two parts: Part I features panels and roundtables that focus primarily on Dostoevsky; Part II lists panels and roundtables where Dostoevsky features prominently in at least one presentation. We hope you can join us in Boston to hear about the fruits of another year’s work on Dostoevsky!


Panels with a Principal Focus on Dostoevsky


Thursday, December 6

Perversity in Dostoevsky

Thu, December 6, 2:00 to 3:45pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

Perversity is a central concept for Dostoevsky studies. It entails an internal dialogism – where a discourse is deliberately contradicted, subverted or mocked in the perverse act. A perverse discourse is thus parasitical as it depends on a host narrative to manipulate and transform. Perversity can often be an act of provocation and also goes hand-in-hand with performativity, as the deliberate desire for contrariness implies the presence of an audience one is being perverse for. There are thus natural connections in Dostoevsky between perversity, performativity, provocation and parasitism. The papers in this panel will explore this rich seam of ideas in Dostoevsky’s work, focusing largely on novels he wrote after his return from Siberian exile, but also, in one case, discussing it in the context of his polemically-inclined, journalistic writing. These papers will largely seek to build on Bakhtinian Dostoevsky, exploring the existential, epistemic and ethical consequences of radical dialogism and polyphony.

Papers: 

“Lebedev as Anti-Saint: A Study in Dostoevsky’s Negative Anthropology” – Denis Zhernokleyev, Vanderbilt University

“The Perverse Mysticism of Dostoevsky’s Westernizers” – Bilal Siddiqi, University College London

“The Imp of the Perverse and the Oxygen of Publicity” – Lynn E. Patyk, Dartmouth College

Discussant: Carol Apollonio, Duke University

 

Friday, December 7

Dostoevsky’s Unstable Narratives: Self, Narrators, Discourse, Form

Fri, December 7, 8:00 to 9:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

This panel examines three of Dostoevsky’s works, with an eye towards narrative instability. The protagonists, narrators, spaces, discourses, and even the narrative structures of Dostoevsky’s works are distressingly unstable. Pervasive across his oeuvre is an acute sense of an unstable self, confronting the moral, spiritual, and historical disintegration occurring in 1860s and 1870s Russia. This emerges at the level of structure via conflicting discourses, unreliable narration, ambiguous information, and an impulse towards fragmentation both in perspective and form. Our interdisciplinary panel brings together psychology, narratology, discourse analysis, and sociology to shed light on the instability – of self, narrative, and reference – central to Dostoevsky’s poetics.

 

Papers:

“Dostoevsky’s Narrative Suicide Etiology: Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomic, and Fatalistic Paradigms” – Amy D. Ronner, St. Thomas University

“Problems of Narrative Irregularity in Dostoevsky’s Demons” – Kornelije Kvas, University of Belgrade

“Serving Dostoevsky: Myshkin as Servant and Counter-Narrator in The Idiot” – Inna Kapilevich, Columbia University

Discussant: Deborah A. Martinsen, Columbia University

 

Dostoevsky’s Podrostok (Roundtable)

Fri, December 7, 10:00 to 11:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I 

Dostoevsky’s critically neglected novel, The Adolescent [Podrostok] (1875), has long been considered an artistic failure. The scholars on this roundtable disagree. They argue, by contrast, that The Adolescent contains the keys to understanding Dostoevsky’s work as a whole. They will explore problems ranging from Dostoevsky’s reinvention of the bildungsroman genre, to Versilov’s changing role in the novel (from the notebooks to the final version); from the gender dynamics of speech and silence, to illegitimacy as a metaphor for Dostoevskian modes of characterization. By bringing a wide range of new interpretations and approaches into dialogue, this roundtable aims to spark new critical interest in The Adolescent, while treating it as a test case for mediating diverging approaches to and perspectives on Dostoevsky’s art.

Participants:

 Yuri Corrigan, Boston University

Kate Rowan Holland, University of Toronto

Chloë Kitzinger, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Chloe Simone Papadopoulos, Yale University

 

Dostoevsky in Space

Fri, December 7, 12:30 to 2:15pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

This panel explores Dostoevsky’s engagement with and depiction of the built environment and the natural world. From the sensory to the imagined, from Siberian prisons, the streets of St. Petersburg, to the mountain of Switzerland, consideration of space in Dostoevsky’s work is essential. As the presentations on this panel show, a place as apparent and solid as Russia’s capital city may quickly give way to other ways of understanding and experiencing space in Dostoevsky.

Papers:

“The House on the Ditch with a Stairway to Heaven” – Katya Jordan, Brigham Young University

“Sacred Space in The Idiot: The Case of Alexandre Calame” – Amy Singleton Adams, College of the Holy Cross

“From Street Theatre to Dramatized Interiors: Performing Spaces in Crime and Punishment” – Sarah Jean Young, University College London

Discussant: Greta Nicole Matzner-Gore, University of Southern California

 

Saturday, December 8

Emotional and Physical Trauma in Dostoevsky

Sat, December 8, 3:30 to 5:15pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I 

Papers:

“A Comparison of Dostoevsky’s Reported Medical Trauma Resulting from his Imprisonment with Those of Fellow Survivors of the Dead House” – Elizabeth Ann Blake, St. Louis University

“Performative Victimhood: The Right to Be Unhappy in Dostoevsky’s Idiot” – Milica Ilicic, Columbia University

“Stavrogin, the 1840s and 1860s, and the Non-Euclidian and its Limits in Dostoevsky” – Maxwell Parlin, Princeton University

Discussant: Brian R. Johnson, Macalester College

 

Sunday, December 9

The North American Dostoevsky Society: New Readings in Economic Criticism

Sun, December 9, 8:00 to 9:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

 These three papers offer stimulating new readings of economic factors in Dostoevsky’s novels, tightly embedding the theme in the writer’s complex poetics. The flow of money determines plot dynamics; conveys moral messages; throws characters of different social classes into connection and conflict; reflects rapidly changing realities in Russia during a time of economic and political reform; and undermines ostensibly neutral and rational systems of value by turning money into an artistic symbol fraught with danger. These readings offer a typology of economic elites in “The Idiot”; expose the speculator’s trading strategies in narrative in “The Adolescent”; and reveal money as the author’s most cherished generator of narrative interest over the sweep of his writing career.

Papers:

“Becoming a Rothschild: Trading Narratives in Podrostok” – Jonathan Paine, University of Oxford

“The Tie that Breaks: Money and Plot from Poor Folk to The Brothers Karamazov” – Jillian Porter, University of Colorado

“Forms of Money and Narrative Form in The Idiot” – Vadim Shneyder, University of California, Los Angeles

Discussant: William Mills Todd III, Harvard University

 

The Interaction of Science and Literature: The Case of Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sun, December 9, 10:00 to 11:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

Literary scholars have long explored the engagement between science and literature in the 19th century, not only on the level of theme but also through the shared use of metaphor, narrative structure, and plot. How do literature and science actually interact? Taking the example of Fyodor Dostoevsky, the panelists will trace different aspects of the novelist’s engagement with science at the time, focusing on the developments in Victorian physiological psychology, the adoption of Darwinian evolutionary plots and metaphors, the performance and spectacle of epileptic pathology, and Darwinian-inflected models for representing the workings of the brain.

Papers:

 “Mind and Material World: Dostoevsky and a Science of Realism” – Melissa Frazier, Sarah Lawrence College

“Performing Narratives of Illness: Dostoevsky’s Epileptics” – Brian R. Johnson, Macalester College

“Narrative and Science of the Brain: Dostoevsky’s Idiot” – Brian Egdorf, UC Berkeley

Discussant: Riccardo Nicolosi

 

Scripted Failures: Performance, Repetition, and Rupture in Dostoevsky, Turgenev, and Experimental Theater

Sun, December 9, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

This panel seeks to examine performative failure and interrupted communication by discussing attempts to communicate through temporal aporias, linguistic breakdown and repetition. The papers focus on the works of Dostoevsky and Turgenev, both in their 19th century context, as well as through later 20th-21st century theatrical performances. Monika Greenleaf’s paper analyzes the role of stuttering and repetition in Turgenev’s “Month in the Country” and two works by Dostoevsky to show that the texts constitute experiments in performative failure and prescient break-throughs in theatrical form, which thematize interrupted communication and contribute to their own postponed performances. Irina Erman’s paper traces a link between the excessive use of diminutives and repetition in Dostoevsky’s “Poor Folk” to the decomposition of language in “Bobok” to examine both texts as performative experiments in communication through failure. Anna Muza’s paper explores the performative treatment of Dostoevsky’s extreme, desperate emotionality and incoherent or inarticulate states – hysteria, hallucination, terror, nadryv – in the staging of “The Brothers Karamazov” (1910) and “The Possessed” (Nikolai Stavrogin, 1913) by the Moscow Art Theater.

Papers:

“The Stutter of Time: Failed Plays and Postponed Performances” – Monika Greenleaf, Stanford University

“Diminution, Repetition, and Decomposition in Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk and ‘Bobok’” – Irina M. Erman, College of Charleston

“Ivan’s Nightmare, Hamlet’s Madness: The Performance of Rupture” – Anna Muza, UC Berkeley

Discussants:

Elena Glazov-Corrigan, Emory University

Alexander Mihailovic, Brown University

 


Panels Featuring One or More Papers on Dostoevsky


Thursday, December 6

Russian Fictional Responses to Darwin

Thu, December 6, 2:00 to 3:45pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 1st, Columbus II

Several scholars have gathered for a project on the Russian Reception of Darwin. The plan is to produce a collection of translations of the most important responses to Darwin to be followed by a volume of essays. Two panels are being proposed for ASEEES 2018 as part of the project. This first panel focuses on fictional responses to Darwin.

Papers:

“Beyond Social Darwinism: Positive Heroes’ Engagement with Science and Progress in Russian Conservative Novels of the 1860s-1870s” – Victoria Y. Thorstensson, Nazarbayev University

“Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the Early Reception of Darwin in Russia: 1860-65” – James Frank Goodwin, University of Florida

“On Learned Neighbors and Philadelphia Naturalists: Mapping Chekhov’s Darwinist Parodies” – Melissa Lynn Miller, University of Notre Dame

Discussant: Yvonne Helen Howell, University of Richmond

 

The Performative Icons and the Arts

Thu, December 6, 2:00 to 3:45pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon D

The work of Alexei Lidov defines “spatial” icons – including churches, sanctuaries, and cities – in terms of their performativity, which forms and describes the perception of the space as sacred. Lidov and other scholars like Boris Uspensky, Bissera Pentcheva, and Marie Gasper-Hulvat approach the performativity of icons through three dimensionality and movement through space and through the materiality of icons themselves. But does our understanding of the performative icon change when it is encountered in literature rather than in a three-dimensional space? This panel considers the performative icon in the context of literature and representational arts of the nineteenth century, the workings of the literary icon, and the meaning of its performativity to the work(s) themselves.

Papers:

“Icon, Art, and Performance in the Works of Vsevolod Garshin” – Benjamin Jens, University of Arizona

“A Haymarket Khozhdenie na Osliati: Raskolnikov’s Donkey Walk and the Failure of Iconic Performativity” – Kathleen Scollins, University of Vermont

“How the Inmates’ Polyphonic Play in Dead House Performs the Nativity Icon” – Michael Mikailovitch Ossorgin VII, Fordham University

Discussant: Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

Friday, December 7

Music and Theatricality in Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, and Kharms

Fri, December 7, 12:30 to 2:15pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 5th, Maine

Papers:

“The Unsung Melody: Performance Practice in The Eternal Husband” – Eva Troje, Princeton University

“Towards the Sacred Banks of the Nile: Allusions to Verdi in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, 1925” – David Gomiera Molina, University of Chicago

“Performing the Cupboard: Daniil Kharms and the Eroticisation of Opacity” – Mariia Semashyna, Central European University

Discussant: Emily Frey, Swarthmore College

 

Dostoevsky and Tolstoy Starting from Their Psychology

Fri, December 7, 4:30 to 6:15pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

This panel looks at the ethical consequences of Dostoevsky’s and Tolstoy’s visions of human psychology, with a view to bringing out the differences in their psychologies and ethics. Yet despite those differences, each writer’s vision of how people should live is not free-standing but depends on an anterior vision of how the human psyche is constructed. We therefore attempt to chart some of the connections between the shape of human nature and the shape of morality in the two bodies of fiction.

Papers:

“Whose Unconscious is it?: The Role of Dreamlike Experiences in Dostoevsky’s Existential Moral Psychology” – Evgenia Cherkasova, Suffolk University

“Nihilism as Refuge: Rethinking the Philosophical Dostoevsky” – Yuri Corrigan, Boston University

“Tolstoy’s Three Ethical Systems” – David M.B.L. Herman, University of Virginia

Discussant: Irina Paperno, University of California, Berkeley

 

Saturday, December 8

Russian Dialogues with Critical Theory: Adorno, Arendt, and Russia

Sat, December 8, 8:00 to 9:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Orleans

This panel explores affinities and points of dialogue between Russian culture and German philosophy of the twentieth century, building on the work of recent volumes such as Critical Theory in Russia and the West (BASEES/Routledge 2010) and Arendt and Adorno: Political and Philosophical Investigations (Stanford 2012). There has been a surge of interest in the philosophy of Hannah Ardent in Russia, where her ideas have emerged from the “zone of silence” in the Soviet Union to a central place in intellectual discourse today. Diana Gasparyan’s paper takes a key theme in the work of Arendt and the twentieth-century Russian-Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili–the relationship between thinking and ethics—and shows that in studying this relationship, both writers recognize the necessity of clarifying the social and political nature of the individual, and the distinctiveness of the citizen. Svetlana Klimova shows that both Tolstoy and Arendt were building on the foundation of Kant’s philosophical anthropology; this common heritage, she argues, led them to identify a fundamental failure of thinking and judgment in their societies. For both, Klimova argues, the struggle against the dictatorial state turns out to be a struggle for the “Kantian” individual, capable of overcoming external and internal evil through reason and the moral law. In his paper, Brian Armstrong brings Dostoevsky’s familiar concerns with beauty and its socio-historical potential into dialogue with the explorations of beauty, the sublime, and their potential for social change in modernity in the work of Adorno, and behind him, Kant.

Papers:

“Hannah Arendt and Merab Mamardashvili: On the Possibility of Political Judgement” – Diana Gasparyan, NRU Higher School of Economics

“The Philosophy of Evil in the Work of Lev Tolstoy and Hannah Arendt” – Svetlana Klimova, NRU Higher School of Economics

“Can Beauty Save the World?: Dostoevsky, Adorno, and the Challenges of the Beautiful and Sublime” – Brian Arthur Armstrong, Augusta University

Discussant: Susan McReynolds, Northwestern University

 

Rewriting the Russian Literary Canon in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Sat, December 8, 10:00 to 11:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 5th, Connecticut

This panel puts diverse twentieth-century reinterpretations of nineteenth-century Russian literature in dialogue with one another in order to rethink the canon. Elizabeth Geballe reads Constance Garnett’s English translations of Dostoevsky’s passages about corpses as a form of rewriting. She demonstrates how the translations help to theorize and expose poetics already at work in Dostoevsky. Erica Drennan examines mock trial versions of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment that were performed in the 1920s and compares them to the original novel. She reads these performative reinterpretations in order to interrogate the role of the reader and the relationship between dialogue and authority in Dostoevsky’s novel. Sophie Pinkham’s paper shifts the focus from Dostoevsky to Pushkin. She argues that the recent “canonization” of Sergei Dovlatov, particularly in relation to his connection with Pushkin’s estate, reveals post-Soviet efforts to establish a sense of cultural continuity across the centuries. By connecting these different readings and rewritings of Dostoevsky and Pushkin, this panel examines how nineteenth-century works were appropriated and transformed in the twentieth century, and considers how these reinterpretations of the canon affect our understanding of both nineteenth and twentieth-century Russian literature.

Papers: 

“Unwanted Afterlives: Translating Dostoevsky’s Corpses” – Elizabeth Frances Geballe, Indiana University, Bloomington

“Performing Crime and Punishment: Raskolnikov on Trial” – Erica Stone Drennan, Columbia University

“Canonizing Dovlatov in Putin’s Russia” – Sophie Pinkham, Columbia University

Discussant: Milla (Lioudmila) Fedorova, Georgetown University

 

 

Cognitive Perspectives on Classic Russian Prose (Roundtable)

Sat, December 8, 10:00 to 11:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon I

Our roundtable will consider the bilateral study of Russian prose and cognitive science. On the one hand, recent discoveries in the functions of the mind point out how writers like Dostoevsky, Nabokov and Tolstaya exploit deep-set mental proclivities. On the other, sensitive readings of their prose works not only tests received science, they may also indicate directions for further clinical inquiry. Madelyn Stuart will apply blending theory and neurological memory work to Nabokov’s early short stories and novellas. Katherina B. Kokinova asks to what extent the collaboration of cognitive narratology and reception theory can unravel the mirroring cyclic recurrence of rereading and narrating in Nabokov’s “The Circle.” According to Amina Gabrielova, characters in Tatiana Tolstaya’s stories often make sense of the surrounding world by interpreting sounds, or by hearing; she will ponder the cognitive differences between visual and auditory perception. Examining the public circumstances of Raskolnikov’s confession in Crime and Punishment, Tom Dolack suggests that conscience conveys prosociality in individual consciousness. Looking at narrative innovations in that same Dostoevsky novel, Brett Cooke wonders what role classic prose plays in the development of our cognitive potential. Inasmuch as we will be discussing shared human capabilities, an important question for our ending discussion will be to what extent cognitive findings with one writer can be exported to the study of another.

Participants:

Brett Cooke, Texas A&M University

Tom Dolack, Wheaton College

Amina Gabrielova, Purdue University

Madelyn Stuart, University of Virginia

 

Crime, Punishment, and Bureaucracy: Dostoevsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, and Early Russian Crime Fiction

Sat, December 8, 1:30 to 3:15pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 3rd, Arlington

Papers:

“Dostoevsky’s Adventure in the French Language (1880-1930)” – Svetlana Cecovic, NRU Higher School of Economics

“Bureaucratic Mythologies: Folktale as Critique in Gospoda Golovlevy” – Michaela Telfer, University of Southern California

“Performing Criminal Investigations: Scenes of Confrontation and Interrogation in Late Imperial Russian Crime Fiction” – Claire Whitehead, University of St. Andrews

Discussant: Irina Reyfman, Columbia University

 

Folklore and Performance

Sat, December 8, 1:30 to 3:15pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon A

The three papers in this panel pose questions about performative folk genres in Russian literature and culture: songs and food. Oxana Vorobyova’s “The Study of Folklore in the “Russkoe slovo” Magazine: Performing Identity” presents fragments of folklore, found in different materials of the “Russkoe slovo” magazine, for example, the sad folk song “Na gore-gore tatar’yo stoit.” The author aims to determine the region, approximate time of origin, and the performer of fragments of folklore by context. In “Enacting the Folk Song in Dostoevsky’s “Akulka’s Husband:” Comic and Tragic Texts,” Cecilia Dilworth argues that the pattern of a comic folk song about cuckoldry is grafted onto the events related, skewering the perception of actors, narrator and audience, and moving the story towards its catastrophic conclusion. She notes that “Akulka’s Husband” also analyzes how draws on a different, tragic folkloric genre – the Russian folk ballad—and that piecing together motifs from a number of classic ballad plots centered on the act of wife murder, Dostoevsky creates a “ballad in prose.” She analyzes how comic and tragic trajectories of the two genres intersect and clash, the former partly functioning as a catalyst for the latter. In her paper, “Ritual, Recipe, Representation (or From Ritual to Recipe ): About Carrying On Culinary Traditions,” Amina Gabrielov approaches culinary recipe description and propagation through the theoretical background of Olga Freidenberg theories of folklore and of food and ritual as source of genres. She will also incorporate Sergei Nekludov’s ideas of folkloric genres.

Papers:

“The Study of Folklore in the Russkoe Slovo Magazine: Performing Identity” – Oxana Vorobyova, Lomonosov Moscow State University

“Enacting the Folk Song in Dostoevsky’s “Akulka’s Husband”: Coming and Tragic Texts” – Cecilia Dilworth, Stockholm University

“Ritual, Recipe, Representation (of From Ritual to Recipe): About Carrying on Culinary Traditions” – Amina Gabrielova, Purdue University

Discussant: Viktoria Bashman, Hampden-Sydney College

 

Sunday, December 9

Internal Colonization: Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Hemlin

Sun, December 9, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 1st, Boylston

The panel explores Alexander Etkind’s concept of “internal colonization” and Martin Buber’s notion of “I and thou” as essential for understanding both colonial and post-colonial relationships. The three papers examine how authors position themselves towards the “other” in a colonial, post-colonial, and philosophical sense through examinations of the works of Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Hemlin. Nadja Berkovich’s paper investigates Dostoevsky’s position towards the colonial “other” through his relationship with two prominent ethnographers of his time, Petr Semenov Tian-Shanskii and Chokan Valikhanov, in light of Buber’s and Bakhtin’s theories of dialogue, as well by viewing his novel The Notes from the House of the Dead as an example of the “imperial imaginary.” Alexander Droznin’s paper engages with Bakhtin’s and Buber’s reading of Gogol’s Dead Souls and Inspector General, whose main picaresque characters exemplify both a homo interior and a homo exterior. Yuliya Minkova’s paper addresses the plot of internal colonization in Margarita Hemlin’s novel Doznavatel’ which presents an opportunity to discuss the issue of otherness in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Papers:

“The Imperial Imaginary in Dostoevsky” – Nadja Berkovich, University of Arkansas

“Participation and Experience: Martin Buber’s Intersubjectivity and the Gogolian Picaresque” – Alexander Droznin, Harvard University

“The Vagaries of Internal Colonization in Margarita Hemlin’s Doznavatel’” – Yuliya Minkova, Virginia Tech

Discussant: Taras Koznarsky, University of Toronto


With thanks to Vadim Shneyder, Assistant Professor at UCLA, for compiling the list!