Dostoevsky Panels at ASEEES 2017

by Vadim Shneyder

Autumn is a rich season for Russian literature. Readers of Dostoevsky might recall the vivid evocation of September in the Russian countryside in Poor Folk. Fans of Pushkin perhaps recite his famous verses about the beauty of October days. Those who identify with Baratynskii’s “tiller of life’s field,” now join him in reflecting on the meager fruits of their ill-spent years. And those who are lucky enough not just to read Russian literature, but to study it, pack their bags for the annual ASEEES convention. This year’s conference in Chicago brings with it an abundance of Dostoevsky-related panels, which we have collected here for the convenience of our readers. The following two-part list features, first, entire panels focused on the works of Dostoevsky, and second, panels that include individual papers covering some aspect of Dostoevsky’s life, work, thought, or legacy. We hope you can make the most of this impressive lineup!


Panels on Dostoevsky

Thursday, November 9

Fictional Trials, Real Transgressions: Dostoevsky, Bunin, Nabokov

Thu, November 9, 1:00 to 2:45pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

The panel examines the ways in which Dostoevsky, Bunin, and Nabokov mobilize the trope of the jury trial as a means to think through a range of legal, social, and aesthetic questions. Amy Ronner argues that viewed together, Dostoevsky’s fictional and non-fictional representations of the jury trial reveal his understanding of earthly justice and its salutary potential. Anna Schur explores how Bunin’s fictionalization of a real-life trial in The Case of Cornet Elagin reworks the jury trial trope to reconceptualize the relationship between law and literature in light of the changing conceptions of truth, reality, and literary character. Erika Donner discusses Nabokov’s interpretation of Tolstoy’s Pozdnyshev in a mock-trial production of The Kreutzer Sonata as a lens on the evolution of Lolita’s Humbert and considers both texts as participating in the tradition of constructing the reader as the juror.


Dostoevsky and Metaphor

Thu, November 9, 3:00 to 4:45pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

This panel considers the use of metaphor in Dostoevsky’s novels of the 1860s-70s. Focusing on metaphors of the house and the city, the railway and money, we discuss how they function on a local and global level, how they relate to Dostoevsky’s use of allegory, how they reflect contemporary scientific and historical discourses, and how they contribute to realist representation more broadly. Melissa Frazier’s paper compares Dostoevsky’s use of metaphors in Crime and Punishment with George Eliot’s in Middlemarch, focusing on the shared reliance on Lewesian physiological psychology underlying their strikingly similar conflation of physical and mental space. In their literary rendering of Lewesian “dual-aspect monism,” metaphor in Eliot as in Dostoevsky works not to elevate concrete instance or abstract referent, but to show substance and idea as always interdependent. Kate Holland’s paper examines how in The Idiot Dostoevsky uses a comic character, Lebedev, to raise the problem of the railway as metaphor for modernity. Given that the railway is a central metaphor for this novel, what does its self-referential treatment tell us about metaphoricity and modernity in Dostoevsky’s novels more generally? Vadim Shneyder’s paper examines how monetary operations—in particular, pricing and exchange—serve as a kind of metaphor for metaphor itself in Dostoevsky’s novels. It focuses on several scenes from The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov to show how, at certain key moments, quantities of money posit the identity of non-identical things, gestures, and persons and how this quasi-metaphorical operation breaks down at other moments in the novels.


Dostoevsky and Philosophy

Thu, November 9, 5:00 to 6:45pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

This is the third annual Dostoevsky and Philosophy ASEEES panel. Then panel series was established in honor of Joseph Scanlan’s claim that the “idea of treating a great writer as a philosopher will be unsettling to both writers and philosophers.” It may seem that taking a philosophical approach will do injustice to the literary text; it may also seem that working with a literary text cannot possibly be philosophically rigorous. Nonetheless, the influence of philosophy on Dostoevsky and of Dostoevsky on philosophy remains. There is also much of philosophical worth to be discovered in Dostoevsky’s fiction. These panels aim to further investigate those influences and unearth those discoveries in an attempt to do justice to both Dostoevsky’s thought and writing.


Friday, November 10

Dostoevsky and the Representation of Russian Identity

Fri, November 10, 10:00 to 11:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

In his journalism Dostoevsky voices a strong sense of a re-born Russian national identity. But his self-acknowledged attempts to represent aspects of this in his fiction reveal a much more nuanced, even confused, picture. He seems to realise that over-promoting such aspects in his heroes, from Myshkin to Zosima, risks damaging reader credibility. He depicts in his fiction how this very process can alienate other in-story characters. The contradiction suggests that Dostoevsky’s concept of national identity is at odds with his perception of real reader response. His conflict reflects the wider contemporary tension in Russian society between imperial policies designed to help Russia engage with the West and at the same time to reinforce a sense of national ‘otherness’. This panel will explore how Dostoevsky’s portrayal of national identity and empire varies between his journalism and his fictional works, and investigates how his promotion of a separate Slavic destiny was tempered by his perception of the realities of the readership for which he wrote.


Dostoevsky and The Sacred

Fri, November 10, 3:45 to 5:30pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

Presentation: “‘Prince Christ’: Myshkin vs. Jesus, or Petersburg vs. Peleganianism” – Maxwell Parlin

Presentation: “Laughter, Spectacle and Violence in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the House of the Dead” – Cecilia Dilworth

Presentation: “Sacred and Desecrated Spaces in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed” – Olha Tytarenko



Saturday, November 11

Dostoevsky: Narrative, Ethics, Poetics

Sat, November 11, 10:00 to 11:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

This panel brings together new narratological and theoretical approaches to reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works. All three papers seek insights into Dostoevsky’s ethical and aesthetic concerns by grounding their analyses in the formal plane, and particularly by looking at the ways in which novelistic form exceeds itself, breaks down and tests its own limits. Greta Matzner-Gore’s paper explores the ethical implications of narrative indeterminacy through an analysis of the notebooks for The Adolescent. Irina Erman’s presentation traces Dostoevsky’s frequent use of stage curtains to analyze theatrical interventions into the formal plane of his novels. Sarah Ruth Lorenz’s paper argues for a reevaluation of Dostoevsky’s realism “in the higher sense” in favor of a more empirical understanding of his realist aesthetics.


Heroes, Tragedy, and Victims: Rhetoric, Moral Insight, and Narrative Technique in Dostoevsky’s Fiction

Sat, November 11, 1:45 to 3:30pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

Affiliate Organization: North American Dostoevsky Society

This panel proposes to put together three papers which explore Dostoevsky’s most enduring achievements in the narrative presentation of moral issues. The first paper charts Dostoevsky’s treatment of the “wounded hero” in historical contexts. The second addresses how the negative passions of resentment, vengefulness, and hatred overwhelm the moral virtue of forgiveness in The Idiot. The third paper joins the legal notion of victim impact statements and the narrative technique of free indirect discourse to explore Dostoevsky’s complicated treatment of moral responsibility in Crime and Punishment.


Sunday, November 12

Illness in Dostoevsky: Addiction, Obsession and Trauma

Sun, November 12, 8:00 to 9:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois 

Illness, physical and mental, is a pervasive theme throughout Dostoevsky’s work and merits scrutiny from a variety of perspectives. As the title indicates, this panel will explore three types of illnesses predominant in Dostoevsky; each paper will approach its illness from a different theoretical framework. One paper will examine the illness of alcoholism from the perspective of the medical discourse of Dostoevsky’s era. Another paper will address the issue of trauma, and the ways in which Fyodor Dostoevsky creates distance between his experience being imprisoned in the Omsk fortress and the imagining of this trauma in his autobiographical novel Notes from the House of the Dead. The final paper will take on the topic of obsessive thinking, and how it manifests itself as both a mental illness and a sign of ideological discipline.


A Genealogy of Dostoevsky’s Underground

Sun, November 12, 10:00 to 11:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Great America 2 

This panel traces the evolution of Dostoevsky’s “underground” mentality in “The Double”, “Notes from Underground” and “Brothers Karamazov”. The panel’s papers, each devoted to one or more of Dostoevsky’s works, explore their protagonists’ subjectivities from philosophical and psychoanalytical perspectives, emphasizing the interpersonal dimensions of empathy, desire, and recognition. The panel diagnoses the predetermined failure of “underground” protagonists to realize their desire for self-definition and links it to their failure to acknowledge another person’s autonomy and freedom. The panel’s theoretical interpretations are informed by works of Mikhail Bakhtin, Friedrich Nietzche, Max Scheler, and Jacques Lacan.


Panels Featuring Presentations on or related to Dostoevsky

Thursday, November 9

Crime in Late Imperial Russia

Thu, November 9, 3:00 to 4:45pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 4th, Grace

Presentation: A Murder Most Siberian: ‘Crime and Punishment’ in 1909 Tomsk

This paper is an in depth examination of the 1909 murder of the monk Ignatii Dvernitskii, a reactionary school headmaster and newspaper editor strangled by two of his pupils. An investigation of the press coverage of the crime, as well as its perpetrators and its victim, reveals an event intimately connected to key historical themes of late-Imperial Tomsk: antisemitism, Orthodoxy, conservatism, education, revolution, and even the influence of Dostoevsky’s writings. The paper uses local Tomsk archival materials, the liberal and conservative press, contemporary publications, and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in order to unpack the symbolic and direct historical significance of this particular murder and its aftermath.


Transgressing Borders: Artistic Collaboration and Co-Authorship in the 20th Century and Beyond

Thu, November 9, 3:00 to 4:45pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Michigan State

Presentation: A Cure or a Self-Medication?: The Anti-Dialogical Collaborations of Inspection: ‘Medical Hermeneutics’

Founded in 1986, the practice of Inspection: ‘Medical Hermeneutics’ represents the last chapter in the anti-dialogical revolt as staged by the key Moscow Conceptualists. In the early 1970s, Ilya Kabakov creatively reinterpreted Mikhail Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1929) to capture the alienating effect of Brezhnev-era stagnation. As a result, instead of giving rise to self-aware heroes who were capable of withstanding objectification by providing their own authorial viewpoint upon themselves and their worlds, which is what Dostoevsky did, Kabakov made paintings with multiple consciousnesses that actively resisted any dialogical exchange. In the late 1970s, Collective Actions expanded upon these experiments via performance art, by staging purposely incoherent, semantically nonsensical happenings that sought to affect and manipulate the viewers’ perception.

Inspection: ‘Medical Hermeneutics’ conflated these two different approaches. The members Pavel Pepperstein, Yuri Leiderman and Sergei Anufriev posed as inspectors who examined and interpreted the momentous changes brought upon by perestroika, hoping to find a ‘cure’ for the ‘attacks of the Western market’. This they found in their ‘analytical’ method of ‘psychedelic realism,’ an impenetrably convoluted style of writing that behind the facade of a critical enquiry arbitrarily coupled disparate but notably intellectual concepts, both real and made-up. The ‘cure,’ more precisely, was the bafflement, or the ‘intoxication,’ that one felt when attempting to grasp this spurious but not entirely implausible goulash of ideas. In the early 1990s, the group sought to popularise this ‘cure’ by recruiting ‘junior inspectors’ and establishing closer relations with the Leningrad-based artists, who prior to perestroika has been isolated from the Muscovites.


Friday, November 10

Florensky, Tarkovsky, and the Icon

Fri, November 10, 8:00 to 9:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 10th, Huron

 Presentation: Icons, Dostoevsky, and Tarkovsky’s ‘Mirror’

Dostoevsky is explicitly mentioned once in Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Mirror,” in addition to numerous other references and echoes of the author’s works. This paper will explore the relationship between the writer and the director, in particular their attempts to recreate icons and iconic vision, through the prism of Florensky’s theories of reverse perspective, art, and representation.


Transgressions, Relationships, and Transformations

Fri, November 10, 8:00 to 9:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

Presentation: A Bug’s Life in the Novels of F.M. Dostoevsky: Insects, Arachnids, and Zoomorphism as Indicators of Debasement and Transgression

Characters in the novels of F.M. Dostoevsky express curious commentary ascribing likenesses between human subjects and a variety of different bugs, including beetles, spiders, lice, cockroaches, centipedes, and mosquitoes. This paper surveys memorable examples of zoomorphic imagery in the writings of Dostoevsky, tracing the extended trajectory of such metaphors in different literary styles and works, and evaluates the role of these connections in the development of key themes and interpersonal relationships.


Sincerity, Authenticity, and Satire in Post-Soviet Russia

Fri, November 10, 8:00 to 9:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Purdue

Presentation: Vladimir Tuchkov’s Intertextual Transgression: The Parody of the Russian Classics as Post-Soviet Social Criticism 

The post-Soviet Russian writer Vladimir Tuchkov has authored novels and mostly shorter narratives. His short fictions are marked predominantly by the grotesque, hyperbole, humor, intertextual parody, grotesque monstrosity and social satire. His critical engagement with post-Soviet realities is achieved through the creation of ahistorical, anachronistic, even mythological and archaic, narrative spaces, and all too often characterized by repugnant plots. The characters’ abnormality in his fictions is a function of the grotesque and its implicit recognition that the world is changing too fast for man to comprehend what is going on; their heteronomy appears to be a result of the loss of wider meaning and humanity. Tuchkov’s intertextual parody invokes the ideas represented by names such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev, and his often dark plots against the background of the end of a specific world and insecurity about the future, are contrasted with the ideas of Russia’s literary giants, concerning ultimate meaning and moral and social responsibility. Tuchkov’s stories thereby appear to ultimately facilitate the critical coming-to-terms with the past, and the finding of one’s new bearings amongst the loss of cultural and social values effected by the end of communism and the Soviet system.
The suggested conference paper will analyze and discuss the above outlined features in Tuchkov’s works, as represented in several of his short stories. It will also reflect on why such grotesque and parodic transgression against the venerated Russian literary tradition may serve as social criticism.


Ethics and Religion in Tolstoy: Navigating Self and Other

Fri, November 10, 10:00 to 11:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Wisconsin

Presentation: Tolstoy’s Resurrection

This paper considers how Tolstoy, in his late novel “Resurrection,” is responding to ideas about moral resurrection, ethics, and relations with others put forth by Dostoevsky. It focuses on “House of the Dead” (which Tolstoy claimed was his favorite work by Dostoevsky), and “The Brothers Karamazov,” which he claimed not to have read but was found on the night stand in his bedroom at Yasnaya Polyana after his death.


New Perspectives on Russian Religious Thought

Fri, November 10, 10:00 to 11:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 5th, Miami

Presentation: The Influence of Russian Religious Thought on Western Theology in the Twentieth Century

This paper will address some of the signal developments in the influence of Russian religious thought on Western theology since 1945. These include 1) the making of the Ecumenical Movement; 2) the renewal of patristics; 3) the making of the Second Vatican Council; 4) the impact of Russian religious thinkers on some of the most influential Western theologians of the 20th century, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar (Soloviev), Yves Congar (Berdyaev and others in the Paris emigration), Jaroslav Pelikan (Florovsky), Kallistos Ware (Khomiakov), John Milbank (Bulgakov) and Rowan Williams; and 5) the enduring hold of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and other modern Russian literary figures (including Bakhtin) on the Christian theological imagination. The paper will conclude that Western theology, through its encounter with Russian religious thought, has become something more than Western: Certainly it has become more cosmopolitan and arguably it has become more ecumenical.


Promoting Reading in Putin’s Russia: The Cult of Serious Literature Restored?

Fri, November 10, 1:45 to 3:30pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Purdue

Presentation: Guardians of Russian Literature. Vladimir Tolstoy, Dmitrii Dostoevsky, and the Kremlin’s Cultural Policies

The paper explores how surviving relatives and descendants of famous Russian writers are used and present themselves in the media as embodying and guarding the spiritual heritage of their ancestors. By examining, amongst others, the National Literary Convention of November 2012 (with the participation of president Putin and several descendants of famous Russian writers), the paper will argue that the Kremlin enlists the classics of Russian literature to promote its nation-building agenda.


Saturday, November 11

Florensky’s Vision of the Human Condition

Sat, November 11, 10:00 to 11:45am, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Lincolnshire II

Presentation: Reading the Russian Novel through Florensky’s Anthropology

In this paper I will argue that 19th-century Russian authors (such as Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov), because they were brought up in an Orthodox Christian culture, imbibed from the air, so to speak, and expressed in their works an understanding of the human being — or to be more precise, of the human person — that is rooted in Orthodox theology. Those authors’ works, in turn, figured among the roots and spawning grounds for the ideas of Russian religious philosophers of the turn of the 20th century, including perhaps especially Pavel Florensky. That is why Florensky’s anthropology, the Trinitarian vision of the person (lichnost’), provides a very useful interpretive lens for understanding certain common features of these works.


Florensky and the Problem of Seeing

Sat, November 11, 1:45 to 3:30pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Purdue

Presentation: Using Florensky’s ‘Reverse Perspective’ to see The Dead Christ in The Idiot

This paper uses Floresnky’s article “Obratnaia perspectiva” to explain three different ways of looking at Holbein’s Dead Christ in The Idiot. Florensky’s articulation of realist art illuminates both Ippolit’s and Rogozhin’s different interpretations of the painting, while Floresnky’s articulation of reverse perspectival art illuminates Myshkin’s. I contend that for Dostoevsky, as for Florensky, ways of seeing reflect ways of thinking.


Translating Race in Eurasia III: Race and the Canon: New Approaches to 19th-century Russian Literature

Sat, November 11, 1:45 to 3:30pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Ohio State

Presentation: Racial Signifiers in the Russian Canon

This paper examines tendencies within the Russian literary classics of the 19th-century to inscribe race onto characters through coded language (for example, references to dark features and kinky hair) in order to signify instability and unreliability. Through close readings of key scenes in works by Dostoevsky and Chekhov, this presentation works towards understanding how race, though by definition a matter of exteriority, came to be a marker of psychological and even medical deficiencies in the Russian context. This project incorporates recent scholarship from the medical humanities and critical race studies to investigate how the psychology (not merely biology) of race became instilled in 19th-century Russian cultural practices.


Family Novel Variations: Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy

Sat, November 11, 3:45 to 5:30pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Illinois

Presentation: Incest and the Limits of Family in the Nineteenth-Century Russian Novel

In “I’m in Love with My Brother,” Anna Berman explores the way Russian authors avoided the sibling incest obsession of the English, while still honoring the intense power of the first-family bond. Focusing on the novelistic families of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the paper examines the use the sibling bond as a model for romantic relations and the pattern of falling in love with one who is “like” kin, tracing their roots in the wider European tradition.


Presentation: Brothers (Karamazov)

In “Brothers (Karamazov),” Chloë Kitzinger considers Dostoevsky’s Karamazovs (1879-80) as a reimagining of Konstantin Levin’s family in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1875-77). Working with both novels, as well as Dostoevsky’s comments on Anna Karenina in “The Diary of a Writer,” her paper reexamines contrasts and parallels between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as realist writers in terms of the differences between these two similarly-structured families. She argues that in rewriting Levin and his brothers, Dostoevsky picked up specific techniques of characterization from Tolstoy that served their shared — though disparately pursued — aim of transforming the Russian reading public.

Sunday, November 12

Cognitive Approaches to Russian Literature II: Reading, Memory, and Transformation

Sun, November 12, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, 6th, Wisconsin 

Roundtable: The second roundtable on “Cognitive Approaches to Russian Literature” will take us on an alternative tour of Russian literature, by investigating the cognitive states of characters, the process of reading, and the workings of memory in Russian texts. Jerry Piven will explore what cognitive psychology can tell us about the experiences of Dostoevsky’s characters, as they go through fugue states, religious crises, and transformations. Sarah Mohler will then focus on the process of reading and examine how the immersive reading of Tolstoy can affect his readers by enhancing empathy and promoting moral elevation (altruistic acts). She will also discuss Tolstoy’s use of visual techniques for promoting readers’ simulation of a fictional world, to be contrasted with Dostoevsky’s polyphonic techniques. Katherina Kokinova will continue the exploration of the reading process and the role of context in Nabokov through the double lens of cognitive science and reception theory. Amina Gabrielova will next examine the intersection of cognitive linguistics and memory studies and explore how Dmitry S. Likhachev’s “conceptospheres,” which can both shrink and expand, find a parallel in A. Assmann’s theory of “canon” and “archive” in cultural memory. Finally, Denis Akhapkin will discuss conceptual blending in Brodsky’s poetry. Engaging with the annual ASEEES theme of Transgression, this cognitive roundtable investigates how transgressing the boundaries between literary studies and cognitive science can engender fertile possibilities for intellectual inquiry and cross-pollination.

Vadim Shneyder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Languages and Cultures at UCLA. He is writing a book called  Russia’s Capitalist Realism: Historical Change and Narrative Form in Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov.



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