A Chat with Greta Matzner-Gore about Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form

Today we’re sitting down with Greta Matzner-Gore to talk about her book, Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form: Suspense, Closure, Minor Characters, a fantastic new contribution to Dostoevsky scholarship and to our understanding of the novel, form, and nineteenth-century Russian literature.

BK: First, congratulations on the publication of your book last month! Tell us a little about your book. How would you describe it to a layperson? What questions do you ask in it? What would you say is its overarching narrative?

GMG: My book is about how Dostoevsky’s works work on us.

From the very beginning of his career (I’m talking 1847 here), Dostoevsky’s readers were comparing his novels to moral mirrors—look into the hearts of his most unlikeable characters, and you’ll see yourself there. My book asks how he creates this mirroring effect, how he draws us into the ethical dramas that play out on the pages of his novels.

I argue that Dostoevsky uses a slew of innovative narrative techniques in order to do so. He ratchets up the suspense, experiments with different kinds of endings, adds or subtracts minor characters from the plot—all in a bid to better control our reading experience and, ultimately, to transform us.

BK: How did you first become interested in the question of how Dostoevsky constructs his novels?

GMG: When I was 16 years old. It was a hot day in July (really!), and I was lying on a hammock devouring Crime and Punishment. I was already a fan of detective fiction, and I was struck by how different Crime and Punishment was from anything I’d read before. What impressed me most was the powerful justification Raskolnikov had for committing his crime. In most detective stories I’d read, the motive for the murder was the weakest part of the plot—in the end you find out that so-and-so killed x number of people in order to win an inheritance, in revenge for a personal humiliation, out of jealousy, etc. The motive is never anything very convincing, and it never really matters: the point is the intellectual exercise of solving the crime, not the crime itself. But in Dostoevsky’s novel, the crime matters, and Raskolnikov’s justification for it matters too. His justification is (at least on the surface) rational and compelling: the pawnbroker is cruel, destructive, and parasitical, and the world would be better off without her in it. At one point, I even caught myself agreeing with Raskolnikov’s thought processes. Then I immediately felt horrified with myself. “Did I really just think that? Did I really just think that the premeditated murder of an elderly woman was, well, maybe not so bad after all?”

By the time I finished the novel, I was convinced that I hadn’t simply come to this thought of my own accord. Instead, the novel was designed to lead me to it—to make me feel the full logical power of Raskolnikov’s justifications for murder, and then ultimately to reject them (and the part of myself that found them convincing). That’s when I started getting interested in how Dostoevsky did it, in the artistic sleight-of-hand that makes the readerly manipulation possible. That was my first serious encounter with Russian literature, and it set the course for my entire future career.

Many years later, I learned that Robert Belknap had been teaching Crime and Punishment along more or less those same lines for decades. So my “discovery” as a 16-year-old wasn’t exactly original, but at least I was in good company!   

BK: You call Dostoevsky’s novels “maximally interactive” – what do you think is the result of this kind of art? Why does Dostoevsky pursue it?

GMG: Dostoevsky believed that art changes us, and changes us for the better. In his polemic “Mr –bov and the Question of Art” (1861), he imagined what might happen to a young man who sees the Apollo Belvedere for the first time:

And because the youth’s impression was, perhaps, an ardent one, convulsing his nerves and making his epidermis turn cold; perhaps—who knows!—perhaps as a result of such sensations of higher beauty, as a result of this convulsion of the nerves, some sort of internal change even takes place in a person, some sort of shifting of particles, some sort of galvanic current, which, in one instant, makes the past not what it was before, turns a piece of ordinary iron into a magnet.

Twenty years later, Dostoevsky insists, that (no longer young) man may still be acting under the magnetic influence of this “majestic and infinitely beautiful image,” albeit in ways that he may not fully recognize or understand. According to Dostoevsky, works of art like the Apollo Belvedere can “form” people and form them for good.

Of course, Dostoevsky knew that his own work had little in common with the Apollo Belvedere. He wrote long, messy, disorienting narratives, where the moments of “higher beauty” are few and far between. (After all, he considered himself a realist, a writer committed to portraying 19th-century Russian life in all its chaos and disorder). But he still dreamed that his novels would have a positive moral impact on the people who read them, that they would produce their own kind of ethical-aesthetic shock.

And that’s, I think, why Dostoevsky aims for “maximal interactivity.” He knows he isn’t going to electrify his readers with images of beauty, kindness, or love, so he pushes hard in the opposite direction. With the help of his seductive, morally ambivalent narrators, he immerses us in violence, cruelty, and ugliness; he encourages us to emotionally participate in them; and then exposes us to ourselves. It’s a little sadistic, to be honest. But then we’re talking about Dostoevsky here! 

BK: What are the stakes of “narrative ethics”? How does Dostoevsky bring them to the fore?

GMG: People have been arguing about the moral stakes of novel reading for centuries. For hundreds of years, the usual worry was that novels would have a morally degenerative effect on their readers. In the past few decades, however, the standard line has shifted. The most influential critics have argued that reading novels (at least certain classics, anyway) is regenerative instead. It is a kind of moral training ground, instructing readers in empathy, sympathy, and compassion; teaching them to withhold judgment and respect difference—lessons that they can then take into their day-to-day lives.

What makes Dostoevsky so interesting for me is that he plays on both of these possibilities. His narrators do seem to be “training” readers in particular habits of mind, but often in bad habits: malicious gossip, attraction to violence, hasty judgments and social stereotyping (to name just a few).

I think that Dostoevsky is still trying to write novels that will, in the final account, have a positive impact on the people who read them. But he takes his readers on a circuitous route toward that ultimate goal, pushing them to recognize their own complicity in sin first. In a sense, the plots Dostoevsky writes for his protagonists and the ones he imagines for his readers are structurally similar: we have to descend in order to ascend. 

BK: Your book focuses on three novels, mainly: Demons, The Adolescent, and Brothers Karamazov – why these three?

GMG: It happened organically. Each chapter grew out of a sense of uneasiness with each of the three novels, a sense that there was something wrong with them. As literary critics, we’re trained to look for resonances between form and content. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a fundamental disconnect between the ethical principles championed by the positive characters in these novels, and the narrative form of the novels—which often seemed to be working at cross purposes.

I could write a lot about this topic, so I will limit myself to one example: how I came up with the idea for chapter one (“Curiosity, Suspense, and Dostoevsky’s Demons”). It all started with Liputin, who always got under my skin. A self-declared “gossip” and “spy,” he is one of the nastiest characters in the novel. But nevertheless, he (through his gossiping and spying) fulfills an essential narrative function—exposition. His gossip provides insider information about Stavrogin’s secret past, which readers need to know in order to make sense of the novel’s plot. The novel is built on the very mechanisms of knowing and telling that it explicitly critiques.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that such disconnects between form and content were not the insoluble problems they seemed to be at first glance—they were the point. Dostoevsky’s novels are not written about, for, or by perfect people who have already realized his dream of universal brotherhood on earth. They are written about, for, and by people who haven’t, who are still struggling with their personal weaknesses and limitations, and who are trying to do better.

BK: What is the most exciting part of your book for you? How does this book change the conversation?

GMG: One benefit of focusing on just three novels is that it allowed me to write in-depth, holistic interpretations of each one, showing how even their tiniest textual details resonate with their biggest philosophical questions. That’s what I was aiming for, and that’s what I am ultimately most proud of. I am also excited about the new insights the book provides into Dostoevsky’s artistic process. Each chapter traces Dostoevsky’s work on a single novel, from his notebooks to the finished product: how he grapples with some question of novelistic craft, starts thinking through its moral stakes, and in the end creates a narrator who is struggling with the same challenges to ethical storytelling that he is.  

Ultimately, I hope that the book will help change the way not just Slavists, but also literary theorists and historians in general think and talk about Dostoevsky’s legacy. He has an international reputation for being an emotionally explosive writer and an influential religious philosopher. But he is also one of the nineteenth-century’s most subtle thinkers about the ethics of reading and writing fiction. He didn’t write much in the way of literary theory, but he was still a great narrative theorist in his own way.


Greta Matzner-Gore is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California. A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature, her research interests include narrative theory, the ethics of reading, and the intersections between science and literature. She is also a founding member of the North American Dostoevsky Society’s Reader Advisory Board. Her first book, Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form, is available now from Northwestern University Press.

Virtual Dostoevsky Day!

Dostoevsky Day is coming! The first Saturday in July, every July since 2010, the Dostoevsky Museum in St Petersburg has hosted Dostoevsky Day, a celebration of Dostoevsky’s life, works, and characters that has come to be a beloved annual festival in the city. The scheduled day is a reference to the beginning of Crime and Punishment, which starts on a hot day in early July.

If you’re not familiar with Dostoevsky Day, you can catch performances from years past on the event’s YouTube Channel, or check out photos on their Facebook or Vkontakte. In the past, though, the best way to experience Dostoevsky Day has always been to attend Dostoevsky Day (OR to read Tomi Haxhi’s eye witness account of the 2017 Dostoevsky Day celebration).

But in this year of global pandemic, the festival is moving online, so you can catch it from anywhere in the world. Plus! Given the Russian time zone, some of the events will be especially well-timed for North Americans experiencing insomnia. You can find the complete schedule online, but for those who can’t read Russian, here’s what you can expect to happen and when:


Friday, July 3 – The day BEFORE


3pm St Petersburg (8am Eastern, 5am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky as a Brand” documentary film (streaming on the Stremiannaia Library vkontakte page)


Saturday, July 4 – The DAY – official events


10am St Petersburg (3am Eastern, midnight Pacific)

“20 Addresses of Dostoevsky in 2020” Instagram tour (via #20адресовДостоевского2020 hashtag on Instagram)


from 12pm St Petersburg (5am Eastern, 2am Pacific)

Lectures on Dostoevsky from leading scholars (via the official Dostoevsky Day YouTube channel):

  • 12pm: Natalia Ashimbaeva, “Dostoevsky and his young contemporaries”
  • 12:15pm: Boris Tikhomirov, “Dostoevsky’s first Petersburg address”
  • 12:45pm: Maria Mikhnovets, “Did Dostoevsky live on ul. Dostoevskogo?”
  • 1:15pm: Natalia Chernova, “The literary sensibilities of Dostoevsky’s heroes”

from 2:30pm St Petersburg (7:30am Eastern, 4:30am Pacific)

Video tours of Dostoevsky’s Petersburg from leading scholars (via the official Dostoevsky Day YouTube channel):

  • 2:30pm: Alexandra Chernyshovaia, “Dostoevsky on Vladimirsky Square: the writer’s place in the city”
  • 3:30pm: Maria Mikhnovets, “Raskolnikov in the city: why can crime only happen in St Petersburg?”

7pm St Petersburg (12pm Eastern, 9am Pacific)

Preview of the FMD Theatre’s new production (via the official Dostoevsky Day YouTube channel)


8pm St Petersburg (1pm Eastern, 10am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky Route” documentary film (15 mins) – this is an event taking place socially distanced in St Petersburg, but the film, which will illustrate a brief episode from the Writer’s Diary — a journey from St Petersburg to Darovoe — will be done in the style of Instagram stories. (more information here)


Saturday, July 4 – The DAY – events in partner museums and libraries


3am St Petersburg (8pm Fri Eastern, 5pm Fri Pacific)

Video-tour of Dostoevsky’s tomb (from the State Museum of Urban Sculpture via YouTube)


from 9am St Petersburg (2am Eastern, 11pm Fri Pacific)

The “Diverse St Petersburg” State Museum is holding a series of virtual tours and events across its website and social media pages. These include events related to: Dostoevsky’s region of Petersburg and locations from the novel The Adolescent, the Feuilleton, and the “music of old Petersburg”, as well as a small (virtual) theatrical event and a photo competition (more info on the museum’s website).


11am St Petersburg (4am Eastern, 1am Pacific)

“An Appointment with Dostoevsky” – a virtual event that highlights Dostoevsky quotes on “the most vital questions” in order to imagine what it would be like if Dostoevsky became a psychologist (from the Central Children’s Library of the Petrograd Side via Vkontakte and Instagram)


12pm St Petersburg (5am Eastern, 2am Pacific)

Quiz on Dostoevsky’s life and works (from the Mikhailovsky Fortress branch of the Russian Museum via Instagram)

Quiz on “Dostoevsky’s world” (from the Nevsky Central Library Branch via Vkontakte)

“Dostoevsky Hour” – a quiz (from the A. S. Pushkin Central District Library via Vkontakte)

Video tour of “Dostoevsky’s Petersburg” (from the O. F. Berggol’ts Library no. 3 via Vkontakte)


3pm St Petersburg (8am Eastern, 5am Pacific)

Virtual guided excursion through the Mikhailovsky Fortress with particular focus on Dostoevsky’s time as an engineering student there (from the Mikhailovsky Fortress branch of the Russian Museum via Instagram)

“The Story of a Crime” – a virtual quest based on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (from the B. A. Lavrenev Library via their VKontakte)


4pm St Petersburg (9am Eastern, 6am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky on the Islands” – an online event organized by the Kirov Islands Library (all taking place via the library’s Vkontakte group) including:

  • a presentation of the book A Look Through Time. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Three Petersburg Novels by author and photographer Yuri Panteleev
  • a quest
  • some short videos

Events organized by the Fyodor Abramov Library (all taking place in the library’s VKontakte group):

  • Dostoevsky’s city in the works of Boris Kostygov: a presentation of an album of architectural and graphic illustrations
  • In the footsteps of Dostoevsky’s heroes: an online-excursion
  • “Beauty will Save the World”: a virtual quiz on Dostoevsky quotes in our lives

“Dostoevsky in self-isolation” an interactive online walk of Dostoevsky places in St Petersburg, organized by the A. S. Pushkin Central District Library (via zoom, registration required – more details on the library’s Vkontakte)


from 10am-6pm St Petersburg (3am-11am Eastern, midnight-8am Pacific)

Events organized by the Alexander Pushkin Central City Children’s Library:

  • a pre-recorded lecture by legal scholar and lawyer S. A. Afanas’ev on “Two Views on Crime and Punishment of Dostoevsky’s Epoch”
  • A video excursion of the merchant A. P. Strubinsky’s house, where Dostoevsky lived for three years while he finished the novel The Adolescent
  • An illustration and book exhibit on “Dostoevsky and his Contemporaries in St Petersburg”
  • An illustration and book exhibit on “Dostoevsky’s Personality in Biographies and Memoirs”
  • A virtual presentation, “Dostoevsky’s Petersburg Studio: The Secret of the Picture’s Gaze”, on the significance of the gaze in Dostoevsky’s work, especially in The Idiot
  • An online test on Diary of a Writer

More information and links out to the events via the library’s website.


from 12-6pm St Petersburg (5-11am Eastern, 2-8am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky Day in the V. I. Lenin Library on the Petrograd Side” – an online program featuring quests, quizzes, and lectures, including:

  • A video excursion of locations important for Dostoevsky on the Petrograd Side
  • A special feature from Lev Lur’e’s book Dostoevsky’s Petersburg
  • A live visit with Dostoevsky’s great-great grandson to find out what it is like to be related to the great author
  • A special team quiz event
  • A feature on illustrations of Dostoevsky’s novels by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Mikhail Shemyakin, and Ilya Glazunov

Everything will take place online, live (via the YouTube channel of the Petrograd Side Libraries)


Rendered somewhat loosely from Russian into English by Katherine Bowers. Images and text borrowed from the Dostoevsky Day website.

Dr Katherine Bowers is Associate Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is the Vice-President of the North American Dostoevsky Society and Editor of this blog. She has tragically never attended Dostoevsky Day in person, but is very excited about the online events!

#DostoevskySaturday: Scrapbooking One’s Way Through Russian Classics

by Oli Akroyd and Dirk Puehl

In the uneasy quarantine climate of Spring 2020 in London, a University of Kent PhD candidate writing on 19th century English and Russian literature, Oli Akroyd, wanted to reach out and connect with the readers, scholars and fans of one of her favourite research topics: Dostoevsky’s landmark novels. Twitter seemed the ideal location to bring people together virtually and celebrate the writer’s rich legacy. Joined by her charming assistant Dirk Puehl from Frankfurt, who still claims he is just another one of Dostoevsky’s imaginations, they both kicked off #DostoevskySaturday in March. Read a bit more about the people behind the weekly Dostoevsky online festival on Twitter below

OLI

So… what is the idea behind #DostoevskySaturday? What prompted you to create this hashtag?

This came as a spontaneous decision! My “day job” involves reading A LOT, and specifically – reading a lot of Dostoevsky. And of course, what is the stereotype concerning the Russian classics? It’s imagined to be something highbrow, heavy-duty and difficult to digest – not pleasure reading, especially in translation. So very often, students, particularly those just starting to delve into Russian literature, become put off by that. My goal was to create something scrap-book like, full of fascinating, bite-size pieces and snippets of information and inspiration, to introduce the audience to one of the most complex writers in the realm of literature through a fun interactive activity, where you could share your findings and ideas with others, get inspired, amused, perplexed… On Twitter, there are many hashtags to do with literature (#MelvilleMonday! #WyrdWednesday! #ShakespeareSunday!), and so, creating #DostoevskySaturday was a natural step to bring the writer’s world in tune with social media, digital humanities and interactive learning.

How did you become acquainted with Dostoevsky in the first place?

Stemming from a bicultural, Russian-British background, Dostoevsky has been a household name for me since an early age. I was introduced to his key texts as a young teenager (after all, “Crime and Punishment” is a typical high-school programme presence in Russia). Later on, as a postgrad student writing a thesis on the interplay of themes in Herman Melville and Dostoevsky’s works, I was able to look closer at the complexities and hidden themes in the writer’s world.

 Do you have a favourite Dostoevskian text? And a least favourite one?

My favourite text would probably either be “Crime and Punishment” – because I cannot resist the detective element to the plot running alongside the more philosophical themes, and besides, it is probably the most interesting to teach! Or “Demons,” for its exploration of Nihilism as a topic. Although, as a 10 year-old, I was rather disappointed, upon finishing that novel, that there were no horned or hooved entities making mischief as part of the narrative! As for the least favourite text… that is a difficult choice, but perhaps “The Adolescent” pales a bit next to the others – purely my personal opinion!

There is a stereotype floating around the literary world, that Dostoevsky can be described as a “depressing” writer. What can you say about that?

I’d say that this stereotype is rather misleading, as, first and foremost, Dostoevsky is a champion of hope. Yes, he does describe the darkness, squalor and the suffering – but whether you pick up “Brothers Karamazov” or consider Raskolnikov’s fate, the message is clear – there is life at the end of the tunnel, hope and happiness. And we can all do our humble bit to bring this a little bit closer.

Do you have a character you really identify with / respect / want to strangle?

Normally, I’d say I identify with Grushenka from “Brothers Karamazov” (her fairytale about the onion is one of my favourite passages) or Dasha from “Demons.” Although lately, I am rather fascinated with the Limping Girl from “Demons” too, because of the echoes of the supernatural – she is a fortune-teller and a visionary! And I am still mildly terrified by Svidrigailov and his dream of a “bath-house full of spiders.”

What do you think of Dostoevsky on film? Any particular series, or movies you can recommend?

Probably the modern-day Russian rendition of “Demons” (2014) made as a TV series. It is filmed in a modern, accessible manner a bit reminiscent of the costume dramas and crime series thrown together, so it often appeals to the students just making their acquaintance with Dostoevsky. But I’ve yet to see a film version of any text that would fully and truly do it justice.

Have you ever attempted reading Dostoevsky in the original? Or read him in translation? Would you say there are any translations you particularly like/dislike, and why?

Being bilingual, I read Dostoevsky both in translation and in Russian. I probably won’t be very original in recommending the Constance Garnett translation, because it is quite lucid and easy to read.  Also, Michael R. Katz’s translation of “The Devils” is great.

 

DIRK

How did you get acquainted with Dostoevsky in the first place?

There were those three-volume novels in my parents’ bookshelves… high recognition value when I began to read the French Existentialists as a pale, bespectacled, black rollneck-sweatered and Gauloises-smoking teen. Grabbed them from said shelves and was… hooked.

What is your favourite novel?

Certainly the “Brothers”. Greatest novel ever written in my humble opinion.

And least favourite one?

Do I have one? Probably “The Adolescent”. Found it to be too deep into contemporary religious exegesis. Interesting from a historical perspective, but less polyphonous than the others. Didn’t talk to me like the other novels did.

Which of his characters do you most/least identify with?

Some 30 years ago I would have instantly cried out Raskolnikov and Ivan Karamazov. Today? Probably Stephan Verkhovensky.

And dislikes?

Oh dear, Dostoevsky has written of so many well-rounded, despicable arseholes… hard to choose. But I have a special place of contempt reserved for Katerina Ivanovna from “Crime and Punishment”.

There are some stereotypes floating around that Dostoevsky is a “depressing” writer. What would you say to this statement?

Absolutely is. Part of the many-voiced choir that is Dostoevsky. Depressing because he does not touch one but several nerves. And that’s a good thing because we are not reading edificatory literature here, right?

What do you think of Dostoevsky on film?

Truth be told, not much. The Russian adoptions are, generally speaking, rather good, especially in regards to the types they’ve cast, costumes and atmosphere. But they usually fail at capturing the magnitude of the novels.

Are there any particular series or movies you can recommend?

Offhandedly, no. I usually prefer movies that are more or less inspired by Dostoevsky, like Visconti’s “White Nights” – straightforward screen adaptions of Dostoevsky’s works.

Have you ever attempted reading Dostoevsky in the original? Or read him in translation?

My Russian is, at best, good enough to read a menu. Wanted to? Yes, absolutely. But I have to work with translations.

Would you say there are any translations you particularly like/dislike, and why?

As mentioned above, I’m not a judge here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – background, and so on.

Looked for literature and came upon philology. I did an MA but my heart never really was in the academic world. Had to pay the rent, too. Now in online sales & advertising, I really will finish that 12-volume series of epic novels one day.


Dirk Puehl received an MA in German and English Literatures at Frankfurt’s Goethe University 20 years ago. With a day job in online sales and marketing, he is still working on a dissertation on Lord Byron’s influence in 19th century literature focusing on Heine, Pushkin and Lermontov, he sincerely hopes he finishes it before he succumbs to ennui and disease in Western Greece or gets shot in a duel.

Oli Akroyd completed a BA degree in English and Russian at Queen Mary, University of London, and a Masters’ degree in Russian and East European Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford, where her dissertation addressed the topic of archetype evolution in post-1900 Russian literature. Now in the final stages of a doctorate at University of Kent, based in picturesque Canterbury, Oli in her spare time dabbles in yoga, watches folk horror films and is learning Scottish Gaelic.

Announcing: the 2020/21 North American Dostoevsky Society Student Essay Contest!

We are excited to announce that the Readers’ Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society is running another student essay contest! This year, we are looking for outstanding undergraduate- and graduate-student essays on Dostoevsky-related topics. Nominate your best students… or nominate yourself! See the two separate CFPs below for more details. Good luck!

Note: because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have extended the competition to encompass 2019-21. Please note the updated submission date of June 1 2021 (submissions are welcome on a rolling basis).

Undergraduate CFP

The Readers’ Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society (NADS) invites its members in good standing to nominate an outstanding undergraduate-student essay on a Dostoevsky-related topic. (If you are not a member of NADS, you can join at https://dostoevsky.org/). Current undergraduate students are also welcome to nominate their own work, in which case NADS membership is not required. The topic is open; however, Dostoevsky and his works should be the main focus of the essay. The winner of the contest will receive free membership in NADS for one year and a Dostoevsky-themed swag.  To submit a nomination, please send an email containing the student’s name, email address, institutional affiliation, and the title and level/number of the coursefor which the essay was written (e.g. BIOL 322 “Dostoevsky and Spiders”) to vladimir.ivantsov@mail.mcgill.ca. Please attach the essay to the email as a .pdf file containing no identifying information about the author.  The essay should be no more than 4000 words12 font size, double-spaced; it should consistently follow either MLA or Chicago style and contain full bibliographical information on the used sources, either in the footnotes or as a separate list of references. The deadline to submit a nomination is June 15, 2020 June 1, 2021, 11:59 PM EST.

Graduate CFP

The Readers’ Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society (NADS) invites its members in good standing to nominate an outstanding graduate-student essay on a Dostoevsky-related topic. (If you are not a member of NADS, you can join at https://dostoevsky.org/). Current M.A. and PhD students are also welcome to nominate their own work, in which case NADS membership is not required. The topic is open; however, Dostoevsky and his works should be the main focus of the essay. The winner of the contest will receive: 1) free membership in NADS for one year and 2) a guaranteed spot as a presenter on the NADS-sponsored panel at AATSEEL, 2022. To submit a nomination, please send an email containing the student’s name, email address, institutional affiliation to matzner@usc.edu.Please attach the essay to the email as a .pdf file containing no identifying information about the author.  The essay should be no more than 8000 words12 font size, double-spaced; and it should consistently follow either MLA or Chicago style and contain full bibliographical information on the used sources, either in the footnotes or as a separate list of references. The deadline to submit a nomination is June 15, 2020 June 1 2021, 11:59 PM EST.

CFP – MLA 2021 panel – Dostoevsky at 200: International Receptions

This is a call for papers for a proposed panel at the 2021 MLA Convention to be held in Toronto 7-10 Jan 2021. For more information about the convention, click here.

CFP: Dostoevsky at 200: International Receptions

Considerable research has been devoted to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s incorporation of non-Russian art and texts as inspiration for his writing. Comparatively less attention, however, has been to paid to the immense influence the author’s own life and works have had on literature, drama, philosophy, and art. This panel seeks to explore Dostoevsky’s reception, as a man and as an author, by 20th and 21st century writers and artists. It is co-sponsored by the International Dostoevsky Society and the Reception Study Society in celebration of the author’s 200th year.

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Dostoevsky’s influence on existentialist philosophy
  • Postcolonial adaptations of Dostoevky’s writing
  • Dostoevsky’s role in shaping Modernist and Post-Modernist literatures
  • Shifts in international acclaim or censure
  • Diverse interpretations of Dostoevsky’s anti-heroes
  • Counters to Bakhtin’s influential reading of Dostoevsky
  • The global reach of Dostoevskian fiction
  • Fictional interpretations of Dostoevsky’s life
  • Adapting Dostoevsky for theatre or film

Less researched areas of influence are especially welcome. Please submit your abstract (max. 300 words) and CV to Melanie Jones (feuillyjones@gmail.com) by 15 March 2020.

Contact: Melanie Jones, Katherine Bowers, Kelsey Squire

Dostoevsky panels at AATSEEL 2020

The 2020 AATSEEL convention is taking place in San Diego February 6–9. This year’s program features several panels focused completely or partially on the ideas and works of Dostoevsky scheduled for Saturday, February 08 and Sunday, February 09. Come join us this weekend to hear the latest research on Dostoevsky!

 

Saturday, February 08


8:00–10:00am 

5-5 Reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

Location: Balboa 1

Chair: Lynn Ellen Patyk, Dartmouth College

Group panelists:

Laurel Schmuck, University of Colorado, Boulder and Justin Trifiro, University of Southern California – “Tolstoy Versus Dostoevsky?: Free Will Under the Microscope”

Boungsam Jeung, Stanford University – “The Unaddressed Letters in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot: The Unfinalizability of The Human Soul”

 

5-10 Early Soviet Aesthetic and Social Theory: Between Immanence and Transcendence

Location: Gaslamp 2

Chair: Robert Bird, University of Chicago

Group panelists:

Mari Jarris, Princeton University – “Emotionality and “Winged Eros”: Alexandra Kollontai’s Transitional Theory of Gender Emancipation”

Anne Eakin Moss, Johns Hopkins University – “Vladimir Nil’sen’s Transparent Mirror”

Tom Roberts, Smith College – “Lukács on Dostoevsky: Immanence and Totality in the Wake of 1917”


1:00–3:00pm

6-1 Stream 1B: Dostoevsky Beyond Bakhtin (I)

Location: Gaslamp 4

Chair: Jacob Emery, Indiana University

Group panelists:

Benjamin Paloff, University of Michigan – “Bakhtin’s Narrative Realism”

Maxwell Parlin, Princeton University – “Raskolnikov’s Repentance: Kierkegaard as a Corrective to Bakhtin”

Lynn E. Patyk, Dartmouth College – “Provoking Bakhtin”

 

3:30–5:00pm 

7-1 Stream 1B: Dostoevsky Beyond Bakhtin (II)

Location: Gaslamp 4

Chair: Edyta Bojanowska

Group panelists:

Alexander Spektor, University of Georgia, Athens – “Mr. -tin and the Question of Plot”: Realigning Dialogism in Dostoevsky”

Jillian Costello, Stanford University – “Reading Slant: The Failure of Dialogism and Narrative Cruelty in Dostoevsky’s Krotkaya”

Jefferson Gatrall – “A Single Child’s Suffering: Dostoevsky’s War Rhetoric from Diary of a Writer to the War in Donbass”

 

5:15–7:00pm

8-6 Dialogues with/in Dostoevsky (Sponsored by the North American Dostoevsky Society)

Location: Balboa 2 

Chair: Greta Matzner-Gore, University of Southern California

Group panelists:

Chloe Papadopoulos, Yale University – “Speaking Silently in Fedor Dostoevsky’s ‘Krotkaia’”

Kelsey Rubin-Detlev, University of Southern California – “F. M. Dostoevsky’s Correspondence with A. G. Dostoevskaia: Dialogue or Serialized Novel?”

Alex Spektor, University of Georgia – “Between Idyll and Catastrophe: The Space of Ethics in ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’”

 

Sunday, February 09


8:00–10:00am

9-4 Dostoevsky’s Poetics

Location: Gallery 3B

Chair: Paul Contino, Pepperdine University

Group panelists:

Max Gordon, Northwestern University – Crime and Punishment: Return of the Matricidal Son

Paul Contino, Pepperdine University – “Ivan’s Confession and Kenosis: How von Balthasar’s Theology Enriches Bakhtin’s Study of Dostoevsky’s Poetics”

Piotr Axer, Brown University – “‘The Only Other World’ – Elaborating the Representations of the Void in Demons


Thank you to Vadim Shneyder of UCLA who compiled this list!

The Double Gets a Double: Dostoevsky Student Rotten Tomato Reviews

Students in Greta Matzner-Gore’s course Literature and Philosophy: Dostoevsky at the University of Southern California reviewed Richard Ayoade’s 2013 adaptation of The Double. Here are some excerpts of their work.

double_fake_tomatometer

——————–Movie Info——————–

Double_poster

“Eisenberg plays Simon, a timid, isolated man who’s overlooked at work, scorned by his mother, and ignored by the woman of his dreams (Wasikowska). The arrival of a new co-worker, James (also played by Eisenberg), serves to upset the balance. James is both Simon’s exact physical double and his opposite—confident, charismatic and good with women. To Simon’s horror, James slowly starts taking over his life” (https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_double_2013).

 

——–Critic Reviews for The Double———

1.5/5 stars 

This Movie Makes Me Feel Like Golyadkin

By Leo Houts

The Double by Dostoyevsky is funny, self-aware, and centered around Golyadkin, an idiosyncratic civil servant who is gradually driven insane by issues both in his psyche and his environment. It is called The Double because Golyadkin meets a person with the same facial features, name, and even clothes as himself. This double (Golyadkin Jr.) begins working at the same place Golyadkin does, and is more successful both socially and in work.

The Double by Richard Ayoade, on the other hand, is neither funny nor self-aware. It sacrifices the humor of Golyadkin’s pathetic character for an awkward antihero with a love interest (Simon) played by Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg plays Simon with the same confidence that Golyadkin Jr. has, maybe because like Golyadkin Jr., Eisenberg’s character is the exact double of a pre-existing person, in this case every past role Eisenberg has ever had. […]

If you are the kind of person who enjoys indie films about shy antiheroes, maybe you will like this film. If you are the kind of person who likes good writing and acting, you probably will not. If you are a fan of the original work by Dostoyevsky, I am sorry.”

 

3/5 Stars

“Richard Ayoade’s The Double is Great But It’s Not the Book, Literally”

By Lauren Foley

“The uncanny riddles Richard Ayoade’s film adaptation of ​The Double,​ transforming the classic Fyodor Dostoevsky novel into an otherworldly mix of science-fiction, horror, and dark comedy. Although foundationally similar, tonally, Ayoade creates a new beast from Dostoevsky’s original work, fracturing what Dostoevsky fans have come to know and love from the original work. With new character names, settings, and plot points (amongst other changes), ​The Double​ has been through quite a transformation on its way to the screen. […]

Ultimately, if you are a fan of the novella you might be able to gain something from the film– you just might not like it all that much. But, on its own, it’s worth a watch for its impeccable set design, world building, plotting, and performance by Jesse Eisenberg. You might just not be as fond of the editing, and Mia Wasikowska’s performance. Nonetheless, I recommend you give it a try– at least just to have some fun.”

The Double’s Double

By Connor Valore-Kemmerer

“They say if your doppelganger ever appears that you’re doomed to die; Dostoevsky’s novella The Double finds itself in this situation with the release of a film called The Double, directed by Richard Ayoade. You might say a book can’t die, though try googling “The Double” and look at the results—I’ll bet most of them are related to Ayoade’s adaption, not the novella. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as either the movie captures the themes and ideas of the novella, or you don’t value what the novella has to offer. Given that we’re fans of Dostoevsky, however, we’ll assume the ideas of the novella are worth passing down, meaning it can only be replaced if those ideas are preserved. Does Ayoade’s adaption do this? The short answer is yes and no. […]

If it was only inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Double, I would praise it for inspiring viewers to seek out the original ideas that motivated its creation. Like in the novella, however, Dostoevsky’s The Double finds itself being replaced by Ayoade’s The Double, and while this would be fine if the cores were the same, the similarities are mostly skin deep. The “personality” of the film is preferred by society over the “personality” of the novella, which is at risk of being discarded. As someone who values this original “personality,” I have to give Ayoade’s The Double a rating of 3 stars, not because it fails as a film, but because it fails as a proper adaption. An excerpt of a poem by Marie Laurencin feels appropriate: More than exiled, dead; more than dead, forgotten.”

 

3.5/5 Stars

The Double”: An Adaptation Lost in Translation?

By Ashwin Bhumbla

“Fans of the original will be delighted by the sense of place Ayoade gives to the film, an effort that lives up to the gloriously laid out setting of the novella. The sickly greens and dull yellows of the office building, the dim, grey apartments, the unrelenting darkness of the movie’s unnamed city are all definitely not St. Petersburg, but the similarities are there. We see the “messy green walls of [Golyadkin’s] little room” reflected in the hallways of the data company. The “murky, grey autumnal day” of the novella’s beginning is instead replaced by near constant darkness. While the minimalist design almost certainly is owed in part to budget constraints, it proves to be the appropriate artistic choice. A standout scene of the film is when we see Simon’s room for the first time. As he walks in we hear the door creak. We can hear and feel the constant shaking of the walls of his cramped, under-furnished apartment. The faucet shudders and moans as he pours out water into a dusty glass and that cup is the only thing we see him partake in as he watches a television show on the tiniest TV screen known to man, perhaps a modern replacement for Golyadkin’s own “small round mirror” […] The ending, like that of the original, will leave viewers scratching heads and discussing for some time. Ayoade is to be commended, taking a story one might think is unadaptable and not just adapting the plot, but adapting the feel and presence of the novella into an entirely different medium and work of art all his own.”

#NotMyGolyadkin: A Review of The Double (2013)

By Maria Camasmie

“A fan of the novella would notice quite quickly, from the first scene even, that Simon James is by no means comparable to our beloved Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin. As a fan myself, I was most delighted by The Double’s profoundly perplexing main character, Mr. Golyadkin—his paranoia, his delusions of grandeur, his obsession with status, and of course, his bizarre propensity to hide in corners. Simon James is an ordinary man in a bizarre world, while Golyadkin is a bizarre man in an ordinary world. […]

[T]he fundamental difference between the two protagonists generates a fundamental difference between the works themselves—where the original novella navigates a man’s complex and often irrational relationship with his own personality and the world around him, the film adaptation explores the reactions of a helpless, ordinary man to inexplicable events brought onto him by the outside world. Though the storylines are similar, the experience of the original novella is much more internal, while the film adaptation only scratches the surface.”

5/5 stars

How Ayoade Put Dostoevsky’s Classic in a Time Machine

By Blake Amann

“Ayoade’s adaption of Dostoevsky’s novella The Double is an extremely innovative way of translating Dostoevsky’s environment from the page to the screen and modernizing the central philosophical question of struggling with one’s identity. Ayoade’s picture, also called The Double, brilliantly employs a very dystopian-like setting in order to match the rigid, bureaucratic society that was present in the life of Golyadkin in St. Petersburg. The setting’s boring coloration and strict organization in the office area spotlights the ideal of fitting in and matching societal expectations that is key to social success in 19th century St. Petersburg. Additionally, Ayoade’s film takes place in a city that has no daylight, drawing even more parallel to the dark mood of St. Petersburg, which Dostoevsky describes in his novella as ‘pregnant with colds, agues, quinsies, gumboils, and fevers of every conceivable shape and size.’”

 

A Mad, Mad World

By Skyler Melnick

“Am I asleep? Am I dreaming?” Dostoevsky’s protagonist asks himself upon peering at his double (49). Throughout the manic stream of the novella, Golyadkin wavers, doubts, suffers, and fantasizes, feeling as though he is “neither dead nor alive, but somewhere in between” (23). In a similar fashion, Richard Ayoade’s film adaptation, ​The Double​ (2013), cultivates an absurd, dreamlike tone of inbetweenness through the use of constant oppressive noises, disorienting lighting, deadpan dialogue, and a hurried protagonist trying to catch up with a fast-paced environment. These visual and formulaic choices generate a similar manic, dreamlike tone to that of Dostoevsky’s novella, but reverse the core thematic essence from an unraveling man to a more stable, albeit troubled man in a deranged society. I give the film five twinkling stars on account of its superb sustained tone, an unusual pairing of bleakness with whimsy. It deviates from the novella in its thematic reversal, but retains the essence of madness and bleakness, resulting in a surprising, yet timeless translation: a piece of inbetweenness, a film where dream and reality, death and life, a man and his shadow are not separated, but swing back and forth like a pendulum, intertwined, leaving the viewer both shocked and empathizing.”

Call for Papers: The Cities and Towns of and in Dostoevsky (Istanbul, Oct 2020)

The Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society is pleased to announce its Second International Symposium, to be held in Istanbul (Turkey), October 19-22, 2020.

The Symposium will be organized in collaboration with:

  • Institute of Literature of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • National Museum of Literature (Sofia)
  • The Community of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Istanbul (Bulgar Ortodoks Kilisesi Vakfi, Istanbul)

The topic of the Symposium is:

The Cities and Towns of and in Dostoevsky

The symposium’s program will be orientated toward the following problems:

  • The question of the space in Dostoevsky. The specificity of the town’s space in Dostoevsky.
  • Topics on topoi in the novels of Dostoevsky: the hierarchy of topoi, “privileged” topoi, and the typology of topoi.
  • Dostoevsky as a writer of the city/town. The phenomenology of the city/town in Dostoevsky: the street, the bridge, the square, houses, slums and cabins, taverns, hotels, and parks. The question of real and “imaginary” cities/towns.
  • The Russian cities/towns in Dostoevsky: Moscow, Omsk, Semipalatinsk, Novokuznetsk, Tver etc. and the Russian ways of Dostoevsky.
  • European cities/towns in Dostoevsky: Dresden, Geneva, Florence, Naples, London, Ems, etc. and the European ways of Dostoevsky.
  • St. Petersburg in Dostoevsky.
  • Constantinople and the Holy Land in Dostoevsky.
  • Topics on “Space and Time,” “On the threshold” and “On the eve,” and Dostoevsky on the eve of his 200-year anniversary.

Specialists of various fields are invited to participate in the Symposium: including literary scholars, linguists, philosophers, architects, anthropologists, theologians, psychologists, and others.

The official languages of the Symposium are Russian and English.

Presentations should last no more than 20 minutes and will be followed by 10 minutes of discussion.

Applications and abstracts (up to 2000 characters, including spaces) must be submitted to the following e-mail address: symposium2020@bod.bg

Deadline for the submission of applications: 31 December 2019.

The number of participants at the Symposium will be limited to 40.

The registration fee will be 130 Euros for participants and 80 Euros for guests, respectively. The registration fee includes: abstract publication, paper publication, coffee breaks, cultural program, and excursion.

The cultural program of the Symposium will include sightseeing in Istanbul as well as one-day-trip to the Princes’ Islands, concluding with a celebratory dinner.

Accommodation and travel expenses are to be borne by the participants.

Venue for the Symposium: The Building of the Bulgarian Exarchy (Istanbul – Şişli, 124 Abide-i Hürriet Caddesi Str.).

Organizing Committee of the Symposium: Emil Dimitrov (Sofia, Chair), Hulya Arslan (Istanbul, Vice Chair) Stoyan Assenov (Sofia), Philip Kumanov (Sofia), Basil Liase (Istanbul), Kader Hasanova (Istanbul), Ivan Zelev (Sofia), Rosanna Casari (Bergamo, Italy), Anastasia Gacheva (Moscow), Jordi Morillas (Barcelona, Spain), Pavel Fokin (Moscow).

Program Editing Committee: Emil Dimitrov, Philip Kumanov, Nina Dimitrova (Sofia), Аlessandra Elisa Visinoni (Bergamo, Italy), Alexander Kochetkov (Niznyi Novgorod, Russia).

The Social Board of the Symposium includes eminent and popular scientists and cultural activists in Bulgaria and Turkey.

The Program Committee will review the submissions and decisions will be announced by March 1, 2020.

All information about the symposium will be updated in a timely manner and available on the website of the Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society: https://bod.bg/bg/

We look forward to seeing you in Istanbul!

This is the second International Symposium organized by the Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society. A writeup of the first appears here on Bloggers Karamazov: ‘To Uncover the Secret of the Person, While Preserving the Secret as a Secret’ – A Review of the Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society’s International Symposium “The Anthropology of Dostoevsky” – check it out!

Call for Papers: Havoc and Healing (Uppsala, March 2020)

Call for Papers

Havoc and Healing: Insights into Human Action in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

Conference at Uppsala University, 26–27 March 2020

In the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, human action is frequently destructive, leading collectively to war and individually to murder or other forms of social and familial disruption. Concomitantly these authors offer some of the most incisive psychosocial insights available in cultural discourse into the motivations and dynamics of such behavior.

Focusing on Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, this conference will examine the full complexity of these insights, explicit in philosophical statements and implicit in the embodied human experience of the fictional characters.

Keynote speakers:

Robin Feuer Miller, Brandeis University
Donna Tussing Orwin, University of Toronto

We welcome paper proposals on topics such as (but not limited to):

  • Depictions of war, crime and injustice
  • Depictions of family, domestic happiness and discord
  • Existential questions such as free will and the existence of God
  • The relation of these questions to such formal aspects as narratorial and textual structures
  • The question of “polyphony”: Without adducing the writer’s presumed position, does the novel in question privilege certain standpoints over others or do several standpoints remain equally valid?

The general format is a 20-minute presentation followed by 10 minutes for discussion. However, participants may propose another time-frame or format, e.g. a roundtable discussion on a particular topic. The conference will be held in English.

There will be no conference fee. Participants are expected to book their own accommodation and travel. Suggestions of hotels in Uppsala will be provided in due course.

Please send your paper title, an abstract (150–200 words) and a short bio (100 words) to the organizers Julie Hansen (julie.hansen@moderna.uu.se) and Torsten Pettersson (torsten.pettersson@littvet.uu.se) by January 10, 2020. Notification of acceptance will be given by the end of January.

This conference is organized with support from the Department of Modern Languages at Uppsala University (www.uu.se).

Dostoevsky papers and events at ASEEES 2019!

The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies is holding its 51st annual convention in San Francisco, November 23–26. Once again, the conference 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’s works or legacy feature prominently in at least one presentation. We hope you can join us in San Francisco to hear about the fruits of another year’s work on Dostoevsky!

 

Panels with a Principal Focus on Dostoevsky

Sunday, November 24

Philosophy and Form throughout Dostoevsky’s Creative Corpus

2:30 to 4:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

When discussing Dostoevsky’s famous claim (“I am only a realist in the higher sense, that is, I depict all the depths of the human soul”), Robert Louis Jackson points out that “it is no surprise, against a background of an age dominated by German romantic aesthetics, to find Dostoevsky positing art as a form of philosophical inquiry <…> and the object of philosophical inquiry is simultaneously the object of poetic creation” (Dostoevsky’s Quest For Form. A Study of His Philosophy of Art, 13). The goal of this panel is two-fold. First, we aim to address the ways in which philosophy and poetics are inextricably interwoven throughout Dostoevsky’s oeuvre: from the influence of Friedrich Schelling’s Philosophy of Identity on the early novella White Nights, to The Brothers Karamazov’s specific conception of love as informed by the author’s readings of the Gospels and patristics. Secondly, we will examine, by means of close-reading, Dostoevsky’s “quest for form” in its metaliterary dimension, looking at how, in Crime and Punishment, the concept of form is encoded on the phonemic level and builds up into the novel’s potential master trope. We envision the two approaches—one foregrounding the philosophical context of Dostoevsky’s creation, the other privileging the texts’ formal features— as compatible rather than contradictory. Given the broad scope of works that our panel touches upon, we hope to identify both shifts and consistencies across Dostoevsky’s corpus, from his early, pre-exile works to his final novel.

Papers:

“Reason and Aesthetic Knowledge in Dostoevsky’s ‘Belye nochi’” – Kit Pribble, UC Berkeley

“‘Form Won’t Run Away’: Patterns of Paranomasia in ‘Crime and Punishment’” – Semyon Leonenko, UC Berkeley

“‘He That Loveth Not Knoweth Not God’: Praxis, Theory, and Spiritual Knowledge in The Brothers Karamazov” – Braxton Boyer, U of Toronto (Canada)

Discussant: Julian W Connolly, U of Virginia

Chair: Lindsay Marie Ceballos, Lafayette College

 

The North American Dostoevsky Society: The Idiot Approaching Modernity

4:30 to 6:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

This panel marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Idiot with three papers focused on the novel’s relationship with modernity. The first paper examines the novel’s situation in the modern through its engagement with philosophy, both its involvement in contemporaneous debates and its grounding in Enlightenment humanistic discourse. The second paper looks at illness in the novel and, in particular, the way modern medicine is portrayed as both a reflection of its time and a future-looking projection. Finally, the third paper, reflects on technology in the novel, in particular the relatively new field of photography, and its implications for social stratification. Looking at reflections of modernity such as philosophical debate, medical science, and photography in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, these three papers engage in a broader discussion about the place of the human as both individual and as part of a broader collective in Dostoevsky’s work and in modern life.

Papers:

“Can Idiots Become Human?” – Brian Arthur Armstrong, Augusta U

“Modernity and Medicine in The Idiot” – Brian R. Johnson, Macalester College

“‘It’s All One Big Fantasy’: Memory, Identity, and Modernity in The Idiot” – Katya Jordan, Brigham Young U

Discussant: Kate Rowan Holland, U of Toronto (Canada)

Chair: Susan McReynolds, Northwestern U

 

Tuesday, November 26

Dostoevsky and Philosophy

8:00 to 9:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

In 2002, James Scanlan wrote that the “idea of treating a great writer as a philosopher will be unsettling to both writers and philosophers.” It may seem that such “philosophical ghostwriting,” as Scanlan describes it, will do injustice to the literary text; it may also seem that such ghostwriting will fail to be philosophically rigorous. Nonetheless, the influence of philosophy on Dostoevsky and of Dostoevsky on philosophy remains. This panel aims to further investigate those influences in an attempt to do justice to both Dostoevsky’s thought and writing. In particular, each panelist will focus on the reception of Dostoevsky’s work by Russian philosophers: Mjør and Ceballos will focus on the early twentieth century reception and Ivantsov on the Leningrad Underground of the 1970s and 80s.

Papers:

“The Making of a Philosopher: Dostoevsky through the Lens of Rozanov, Bulgakov, and Shestov” – Kåre Johan Mjør, Western Norway U of Applied Sciences (Norway)

“Overcoming Existentialism: The Reception of Dostoevsky by the Members of the Leningrad Religious-Philosophical Seminar” – Vladimir Ivantsov, Williams College

“Philospher of the Spirit: Racial Typologies in Merezhkovsky’s L. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky” – Lindsay Marie Ceballos, Lafayette College

Chair: Lyudmila Parts, McGill U (Canada)

 

Dostoevsky and The Gospel of Luke

10:00 to 11:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

We have seen renewed scholarly interest in the religious and theological dimensions of Dostoevsky’s fiction in the past few decades. It is not surprising that methodological approaches and assumptions vary widely, although one frequent assumption is that Dostoevsky should be read in a Johannine context, whether because of marks he made in his copy of the 1822 edition of the new Russian Synodal Bible or because of the importance of John in Russian Orthodoxy. When other Gospels are cited, they are often used episodically or as part of broader Synoptic context. However, it is the claim of this panel that Luke – author of a Gospel and Acts – warrants special attention because of Luke’s pragmatic approach to issues vital to Dostoevsky, including social justice and the challenge of overcoming enmity with one’s neighbors. Our panelists will each work with Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamzov, and they will focus on the Lukan concern with incarnational realism (Contino), terrestrial time (Parlin), and the neighbor (Wyman).

Papers: 

“The Gospel of Luke and Incarnational realism in The Brothers Karamazov” – Paul Joseph Contino, Pepperdine U

“Luke, Acts, and Active Love: The Validity of Terrestrial Time in The Brothers Karamazov” – Maxwell Parlin, Princeton U

“An Ideal ‘Thou’: The Concept of Neighbor in The Brothers Karamazov” – Alina Wyman, New College of Florida

Discussant: Michael Mikhailovitch Ossorgin VIII, Fordham U

Chair: Michael Mikhailovitch Ossorgin VIII, Fordham U

 

In Honor of Joseph Frank: Comparative Approaches to Dostoevsky Through the Lens of Belief

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

In this panel, dedicated to the memory of acclaimed Dostoevsky scholar, biographer, and comparatist Joseph Frank (1918-2013), whom most of the panel participants knew personally and whom all panel participants admire and use in their work, panelists employ comparative approaches to examine the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, as focused through the lens of belief. The trained comparatists delivering papers, Arpi Movsesian, Monika Greenleaf, and Sara Pankenier Weld, take a comparative angle to investigating their individual topics of holy foolishness, performance, and theodicy as they juxtapose Dostoevsky’s writings with those of major figures of the Anglophone tradition, namely William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Vladimir Nabokov. Though united by their shared focus on Dostoevsky, the collective scope of the papers also encompasses a range of periods; genres such as drama, poetry, and prose; and disciplinary approaches, such as religious studies, performance studies, and philosophy – all of which enrich their analysis and the scope of the panel. The papers’ commonalities and shared focus on belief ensures a coherence and cohesiveness to the panel, as does the subsequent discussion guided by the remarks of discussant Martha Kelly, who brings her expertise on religion and poetics to the panel. The comparative scope of the panel and the attention to a broader religious and intellectual context represented by all panelists represents an homage to Joseph Frank, who himself embodied a broadly comparative perspective and a depth of insight into literary, cultural, philosophical, and religious history, as the panel organizer and chair will highlight in a brief introduction.

Papers:

“Performing Faithfully: Shakespearean Fools in Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead” – Arpi Movesian, UC Santa Barbara

“Two Cruel Talents: The Interplay of Constriction and Kata-Strophe in the Scenic Art of Dickinson and Dostoevsky” – Monika Greenleaf, Stanford U

“Theodicy and Faith in an Ethical Universe: Dostoevsky and Nabokov on the Suffering Child” – Sara Pankenier Weld, UC Santa Barbara

Discussant: Martha M. F. Kelley, U of Missouri

Chair: Sara Pankenier Weld, UC Santa Barbara

 

Book Discussion: “Approaches to Teaching Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment,” Edited by Michael Katz and Alex Burry

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific C

A volume of essays is currently in preparation for the MLA Series called Approaches to Teaching (edited by Michael Katz and Alex Burry). This roundtable will allow five of the contributors to share their ideas about how to teach the novel in the college or secondary school classroom. The approaches vary widely. A roundtable will enable the presenters to gain valuable feedback from the audience as they prepare their essays; it will also provide suggestions and ideas to the audience as to how they might approach the book in their various classrooms.

Roundtable Members: 

Katherine Bowers, U of British Columbia (Canada)

Kate Rowan Holland, U of Toronto (Canada)

Ani Kokobobo, U of Kansas

Susan McReynolds, Northwestern U

Chair: Michael R. Katz, Middlebury College

 

Panels Featuring One or More Papers on Dostoevsky 

Saturday, November 23

Dark Waters and Monstrous Illusions in Russian Literature and Culture

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

Literature, film, fine art and other acts of cultural production have long mediated our relationship with landscape. Following Karine Gagne and Mattias Rasmussen’s call for an “amphibious anthropology” that directs our attention to the confluences of land and water (Anthropologica 58: 2, 2017), this panel explores cultural production in the Russian tradition that mediates our relationship to ‘amphibious’ land-and-waterscapes. The papers on the panel, however, add engagement with the dark, the uncanny, the monstrous to this conversation. How does water act as a conduit for the otherworldly and what does this dynamic reveal about amphibious landscapes within the bounds of Russian cultural production?

Papers:

“Go I Know Not Where, Bring Back I Know Not What: The Russian Folktale in Uncertain Waters” – Barbara Henry, U of Washington

“Watery Creatures: The Fantastic and the City in the Petersburg Text” – Katherine Bowers, U of British Columbia (Canada)

“Making Kin with Swamp Monsters: Zinovieva-Annibal’s ‘Chudovishche’” – Alec Brooks, Memorial U of Newfoundland (Canada)

Discussants:

Brittany Rae Roberts, UC Riverside

Colleen McQuillen, U of Southern California

Chair: Jenny Kaminer, UC Davis

 

Future Visions, Unseen Dimensions, and Dreamscapes in Russian Literature

4:00 to 5:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 5, Sierra G

Papers:

“‘Novel Voyages’: Fantastical Travel through Time and Space in the Early Nineteenth Century” – Stephen Andrew Bruce, Columbia U

“Of Imaginary Machines and Mundane Futures: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Literary Interface and the Perception of Reality through Alternative Literature” – Alejandra Isabel Otero Pires, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“‘Higher Matter’” The Fourth Dimension in Anderi Bely’s Petersburg” – Olga Zolotareva, Princeton U

“Overcoming Linear Perspective in Dostoevsky’s ‘Dream of a Ridiculous Man’” – Olga Stuchebrukhov, UC Davis

Discussant: Irina M. Erman, College of Charleston

 

Imperial Culture in the Soviet Imaginary

4:00 to 5:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific H

In The House of Government, Yuri Slezkine writes, “The Bolsheviks… ended up raising their children on ideas that were the very opposite of those they wished them to have (or thought they did, some of the time). The parents lived for the future; their children lived in the past.” [1] Slezkine points to an apparent paradox in the foundation of Soviet culture: those who set about remaking society enthusiastically embraced the literary culture of the previous era. Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, nineteenth-century literature and culture continued to be incorporated into party-line cultural policy and production, and claimed as an inheritance with equal vigor by the Marxists of Literaturnyi kritik and representatives of the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia, such as Anna Akhmatova. The works and biographies of authors from Pushkin to Dostoevsky to Chernyshevsky were put to a variety of symbolic uses, institutionalized and reconceived in complex ways. This panel will explore the reception and reframing of nineteenth-century culture in the Soviet period in the context of cultural memory, institutions, and ideological texts. Papers will consider the reconfiguration of powerful nineteenth-century cultural concepts such as the “intelligentsia,” as well as the role of memorializing institutions such as literary house museums in shaping cultural memory at different historical moments.

[1] Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 955.

Papers:

“The Soviet Masses as Polufabrikat: Grigorii Pomerants and the Meaning of “Intelligentsia” and “Narod” in 1968” – Pavel Khazanov, Rutgers, the State U of New Jersey

“A Space Outside the Present: The Literary House Museum and Memorialization in the Soviet Union” – Brett Roark Winestock, Stanford U

“Reshaping Russian Imaginaries: Literary House Museums in the Post-Soviet Era” – Kathleen Macfie, UNC at Greensboro

Discussant: Christine Elaine Evans, U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Chair: Ludmilla A. Trigos, Independent Scholar

 

Soviet Film Adaptations: Soviet-Western Encounters through Film, 1930-1972

4:00 to 5:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 11

This is the first in the series of three panels on film adaptations produced in the Soviet and post-Soviet period, 1930-2017. Our first panel examines Soviet-Western encounters through studying film adaptations made between 1930 and 1972: Soviet film adaptations of Western literature, such as the Soviet Winnie the Pooh, and vice versa, Western attempts to adapt Russian literature to screen, as in the Hollywood adaptation of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” The panel is interested in the conversion “from foreign to native” system of beliefs that happens in the course of cross-cultural film adaptations. The focus is on the Soviet vs. Western (Disney, Hollywood) divide, and the way film adaptations attempt to bridge cultural gaps.

Papers:

“Every Sound is Shrill: Sergei Eisenstein, Adaptation, the American Landscape” – Dustin Michael Condern, U of Oklahoma

“Filming the Criminal Mind: Josef von Sternberg’s and Lev Kulidzhanov’s Adaptations of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment” – Rita Safariants, U of Rochester

“Naïve Absurdity in the Soviet Winnie the Pooh” – Sabina Amanbayeva, Oklahoma City U

Discussant: Elena Konstantinovna Murenina, East Carolina U

Chair: Maria Mayofis, NRU Higher School of Economics (Russia)

 

Sunday, November 24

Expanding the Nineteenth-Century Russian Prose Canon

12:30 to 2:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

In recent years, North American scholarship on nineteenth-century Russian prose has become increasingly focused on a shrinking number of authors, namely: Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Goncharov. The aim of this panel is to reintroduce the figures around these “literary giants,” men and women who played an integral role in shaping Russia’s literary landscape. Gabriella Safran’s paper examines Aleksei Pisemskii’s novel People of the 40s to address issues of cultural appropriation and the materiality of print culture. Greta Matzner-Gore looks at the scientific writings of a range of non-canonical writers that had a crucial shaping influence on authors like Gogol, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky. And Anna Berman focuses on the novels of Evgenia Tur to explore how her depictions of courtship, marriage, and the family complicate our ideas about the classic Russian approach to these topics. Together the papers address a variety of Russia’s central literary concerns, demonstrating how expanding the range of authors we consider to more accurately reflect what people were reading in the period gives us a clearer picture of Russia’s literary tradition.

Papers:

“Aleksei Pisemskii’s People of the 40s, Cultural Appropriation, and Paper” – Gabriella Safran, Stanford U

“The Science of Early Russian Realism” – Greta Nicole Matzner-Gore, U of Southern California

“Evgenia Tur and the Non-Canonical Marriage Plot” – Anna A. Berman, McGill U (Canada)

Discussant: Anna Schur, Keene State College

Chair: Valeria Sobol, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

Nationalizing Russian Literature: How Literary Institutions Shaped the Canon in the 19th Century

4:30 to 6:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

This panel, bringing together Russian, European and American scholars, seeks to reestablish the sociological perspective in the studies of 19th-century Russian literature and culture. Using recent theories of nationalism and canon formation, the speakers will explore how various institutions (theatre, book publishing, school, Academy of Sciences) modernized the notion of literature and its practice according to the most cutting-edge ideology of nationalism and unification. The panel also stresses reciprocal and unexpected influences between social and literary institutions.

Papers:

“Staging Theatre History: The Origin Myth and the Struggle for Autonomy in Russian Imperial Theatre” – Andrey Fedotov, Lomonosov State U (Russia)

“Constructing Russian Nation in the Age of the Great Reforms: Alexander Ostrovsky and the Canon of Russian Drama” – Kirill Zubkov, Higher School of Economics (Russia)

“Classics for All?: Book Publishing and the Popularization of Dostoevsky in Late Imperial Russia” – Raffaella Vassena, U of Milan (Italy)

“How Russian Novel Came to School: Curriculum and Literary Canon in Late Imperial Russia” – Alexey Vdovin, NRU Higher School of Economics (Russia)

Discussant: Jeffrey Peter Brooks, Johns Hopkins U

Chair: William Mills Todd III, Harvard U

 

Monday, November 25

Cognitive Approaches to Russian Literature II

10:00 to 11:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

Our panel tests recent findings in cognitive science (psychology and philosophy) by applying them to established works of Russian literature. Inasmuch as these works denote acceptance by wide audiences, they constitute valid data for assessing so-called human universals.

Papers:

“Rates of Foreign Influence in the Russian Tradition: An Application of Psychology to Literary History” – Tom Dolack, Wheaton College

“Ivan Karamazov’s Fuzzy Feelings: The Cognitive Possibilities for a Non-Euclidean Mind” – Milica Ilicic, Columbia U

“The Cognitive Psychology of Belief, Piety, and Fantasy: From Fictive to Actual Inquisitors, Zealots, and Visionaries” – Jerry Piven, Rutgers, the State U of New Jersey

“Possibilities of Cognitive Approach to Biographical and Historical Novels of Evgeny Vodolazkin” – Amina Gabrielova, Purdue U

Discussant: Brett Cooke, Texes A&M U

Chair: David Powelstock, Brandeis U

 

Violence, Crime, and Suicide: The Ethics of Representation in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

3:45 to 5:30pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

Scholars across disciplines have increasingly turned to exploring the ethical implications of literary forms of representation as a way of reexamining traditional narrative categories. The study of the intersection of narrative and ethics has produced many works that question the essentially positive value of fiction-reading, or that investigate the possible encounters novels enable with lives different than our own. Focusing on the representations of suicide, trials, and violence, this panel seeks to bring the Russian nineteenth-century novel into this conversation by examining the intersections of narrative and ethics in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, who stand out for their use of literary forms to question and explore the implications of the ethics of their fiction.

Papers:

 “Dostoevsky and Thanatotic Contagion” – Amy D. Ronner, St. Thomas U

“Fictional Defendants and Real Readers: The Ethics of Literary Trials” – Erica Stone Drennan, Columbia U

“‘Что ж, хоть и чужой, все надо жалость иметь’: The Ethics of Representing Alterity in Early Tolstoy” – Thomas Dyne, UC Berkeley

Discussants:

Alex Spektor, U of Georgia

Deborah A. Martinsen, Columbia U

Chair: Irina Paperno, UC Berkeley

 

Tuesday, November 26

Post-Soviet Film Adaptations: Redefining Russian and Soviet Literary Classics in 1990-early 2000s

10:00 to 11:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 11

This is the second in the series of three panels on film adaptations produced in the Soviet and post-Soviet period, 1930-2017. Our second panel focuses on the renewed attempt to re-interpret Russian and Soviet classics through film adaptations in the post-Soviet period, 1992-2015. The panel shows how post-Soviet filmmakers approached time-honored Russian literature by Pushkin and Dostoevsky, and the Soviet classic, “Quiet Flows the Don” by Mikhail Sholokhov, and re-interpreted these works for the new, post-Soviet period. The papers examine new beliefs about history and the canon implicit in the filmmakers’ revisions and also trace new film techniques in the updated films.

Papers:

“Making of a Dream: An Animated Film Adaptation of Dostoevsky’s ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’” – Irina Karlsohn, Dalarna U (Sweden) / Uppsala U (Sweden)

“Proshkin’s Post-Soviet Projection of Pushkin’s Prose: Catherine the Great in the film ‘Russkii Bunt’” – Amanda Fairchild Murphy, Nazarbayev U (Kazakhstan)

“Reclaiming Soviet Classics: Desire for Repetition or Change?” – Irina Makoveeva, Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE)

Discussant: Milla (Lioudmila) Fedorova, Georgetown U

Chair: Sabina Amanbayeva, Oklahoma City U

 

Cosmic Dreams and Communal Nightmares: Russian Science Fiction and Horror

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 5, Sierra G

This panel explores the spaces and influences of 20th-21st century Russian science fiction and horror literature: from the utopian dreams of space exploration and collective world-building to their nightmarish disintegration within the Soviet kommunalka and into post-Soviet reality. The first paper discusses the phenomenon of collective vampirism within the utopian society on Mars in Bogdanov’s “Red Star.” The second paper analyzes Petrushevskaya’s engagement with Poe in her short story “Chocolates with Liqueur” as a manifestation of what the author terms the domestic gothic. Finally, the third paper notes the influences of Russian Cosmism on Pelevin’s parodic revisioning of the Soviet space race in “Omon Ra.”

Papers:

“Communal Vampirism in Alexander Bogdanov’s ‘Red Star’” – Irina M. Erman, College of Charleston

“Transforming Poe and the Domestic Gothic in Petrushevskaya’s ‘Chocolates with Liqueur’” – Meghan Vicks, U of Colorado at Boulder

“Viktor Pelevin’s ‘Omon Ra’ and Russian Cosmism – Ritsuko Kidera, Doshisha U (Japan)

Chair: Oksana Husieva, U of Kansas


Thanks to Vadim Shneyder, North American Dostoevsky Society Readers Advisory Board member and Assistant Professor at UCLA, for compiling the list!