Funny Dostoevsky! Virtual Conference – May 14-15

Need a laugh? Look no further than the Funny Dostoevsky conference coming up later this week. The virtual conference is co-organized by Irina Erman and Lynn Patyk. It’s free to attend with registration and you can find all the details about it on the event website. The registration link is there too!

Check out the schedule and abstracts below!

Friday May 14, 2021 

Organizers’ brief opening remarks ~ 10:00am-10:10am 

Panel 1: New Readings of The Devils ~ 10:10am-11:30am 

Michael Katz, “Stepan Verkhovensky’s Dangerous Poem in Dostoevsky’s Devils”

Abstract: In Part One, Chapter One of Dostoevsky’s Devils, the always entertaining and rarely reliable narrator, Mr. G-v [Govorov], describes a so-called “dangerous” poem written by the young Stepan Trofimovich. This poem merits serious consideration on three separate, but related grounds: first, it constitutes a brilliant parody of romantic idealism of the 1830s; second, it is a display of Dostoevsky’s wicked humor at its most delicious and vicious; and third, it provides an early and often overlooked outline of the main religious theme of the entire novel.

Susanne Fusso, “Restorative Parody from Devils to Hamilton: How Dostoevsky Pioneered a Key Postmodern Strategy”

Abstract: In this paper I analyze how Dostoevsky in Devils (1869) and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton (2015) employ a form of parody that I refer to as “restorative parody.” In Devils, Dostoevsky parodies the image of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, which had become a stale shibboleth, and reinvigorates the deeper meaning, both aesthetic and religious, of the painting. A similar artistic process takes place in Miranda’s Hamilton. The “Founding Fathers”  had become an  idol or target for conservative or radical politics. Like Dostoevsky, Miranda uses classic techniques of parody, like incongruity and decontextualization, to restore the deeper meaning of the origins of the United States.

Discussant: Yuri Corrigan, Boston University

Panel 2: Physical Comedy ~ 11:45am-1:05pm 

Fiona Bell, “Marx Brothers, Meet the Brothers Karamazov!”: The Physical Comedy of Dostoevsky’s Protagonists”

Abstract: Although many minor “fools” have been thoughtfully observed in Dostoevsky’s works, even the author’s “three-dimensional” main characters participate in the “two-dimensional” world of mask, clown, and slapstick. Dostoevsky thus challenges the traditionally accepted inverse relation between a character’s degree of interiority and his comic potential. Drawing on the work of Henri Bergson and clown theorists Jacques Lecoq and Giovanni Fusetti, I analyze protagonists’ moments of physical comedy in Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov. In these episodes of physically motivated bathos, Dostoevsky both challenges the conventions of the novel and enriches his works’ religious thematics.

Léandre Lucas, “Comic polyphony in Dostoevsky’s Uncle Dream” 

Abstract: In my presentation, I would like to reflect on Dostoevsky’s strong comic potential that operates in the short-story Uncle’s Dream. Following Bakhtin’s theory of polyphony, I seek to examine how the very principle is epitomized in the comic stories of Dostoevsky. Although my paper is mainly  focused on Uncle’s Dream, I will also refer to the short-stories Crocodile or Another Man’s Wife and a Husband Under the Bed.

Discussant: Monika Greenleaf, Stanford University


Panel 3: Philosophy of Laughter ~ 2:00pm-3:20pm 

Alina Wyman, “Having the Last Laugh: Ontological Jokes and Dostoevsky’s Comedic Genius”

Abstract: For all the seriousness of Dostoevsky’s notorious “accursed questions,” his prose is saturated with comedy, often of the most outrageous and indecorous kind. This paper will reflect on the philosophical significance of laughter in Dostoevsky, focusing on the concept of ontological jest both as a metaphysical phenomenon and as a type of discourse. Building up on the work of R. Belknap, I. Lapshin and G. S. Morson and using Max Scheler’s phenomenological theory of ressentiment, I will analyze the scene of Ippolit’s attempted suicide as an intriguing example of Dostoevsky’s philosophically justified use of tragicomedy.

Melissa Frazier, “Sensations of Laughter” 

Abstract:  For all its claims to scientific objectivity, the Nihilist take on the material world was entirely shaped to suit its politics, with the curious effect of emptying their only would-be material monism of any real matter at all.  In direct contrast in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, for example, Dostoevsky not only describes his characters’ bodies and world in often vividly material terms, but also evokes his readers’ own “living life.”  While critics have often read the novel of “sensation” as an attempt by-pass cognition altogether, the nineteenth-century appeal to readers’ bodies didn’t always come at the expense of readers’ minds, nor did it involve unpleasant sensations alone.  Above all in Demons, the complicated sensation evoked is also laughter.

Discussant: Irina Erman, College of Charleston

Panel 4: Beyond Carnival: Challenges and Alternatives ~ 3:35pm-4:55pm 

Ben Hooyman, “Unburdening Dostoevskian Laughter: A Critical Analysis of Bakhtinian Grotesque”

Abstract: In my analysis of ‘the comic’ and ‘the grotesque’ in Dostoevsky’s The Double, I will attempt to unburden these concepts from Bakhtin’s rather restrictive framing of them.  Placing The Double in dialogue with Eikhenbaum’s comments on Gogolian grotesque, Tynianov’s work on parody, and Propp’s work on ‘the comic,’ I will propose a more flexible theoretical framework that allows for a post-Bakhtinian reading of Dostoevsky’s novel, capturing the rich ecosystem of subtleties in Dostoevskian laughter.

Denis Zhernokleyev, “Lebedev’s Laughter: Bakhtin’s Carnival in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot”

Abstract: In his study of Dostoevsky, Bakhtin suggests that The Idiot is a carnivalesque novel. However, I will argue that laughter in the novel serves a very different purpose. Bakhtin’s carnival is circular in motion, while The Idiot is unforgivingly linear. And it is Lebedev who through his comic interventions supervises this linear progress.

Discussant: Caryl Emerson, Princeton University

Saturday May 15, 2021

Panel 5: Translating Dostoevsky’s Humor ~ 10:00am-11:20am 

Tatyana Kowalewska, “Funny Dostoevsky in Translation: How Funny Is He?”

Abstract: The paper will look at various translations of some of Dostoevsky’s darkest and also funniest works (primarily Notes from the Underground and The Devils) and compare the fragments that sound funny to a native Russian speaker to a range of their translations. The goal is to see whether the English texts are as funny as their originals, where the comedic effects come from in both texts, and what pitfalls awaited the translators.

Anastasia Belousova, Paula Ruiz, “Dostoevsky’s comic and skaz techniques through the prism of translation:  “A Nasty Story”, “The Crocodile” and “Bobok” translated into Spanish by Alejandro Ariel González”

Abstract: Our paper is devoted to the issues of rendering Dostoevsky’s comic and skaz techniques into Spanish and to the question of what these issues can tell us about the writer’s poetics. We focus on the forms of representation of “the other’s speech”, the word choice, the imitation of oral and incoherent discourse, as well as other forms of creating speech masks. In addition, we discuss the elements of metalinguistic games and the ways of representing them in translation.

Discussant: Elizabeth Geballe, Indiana University

Panel 6: Subversive Laughter ~ 11:35am-12:55pm 

Arpi Movsesian, “Send in the (Holy) Fool: 
Dostoevsky’s Laughing Women Performing Reversals”

Abstract: Nikolai Mikhailovsky’s discontent with Dostoevsky’s portrayal of his female characters is marked by contempt, particularly toward Dostoevsky’s “strange type of imperiously cruel, eccentric, but charming woman” (Zhestokii talant, 1882). He takes issue with what he sees as Dostoevsky’s failure to further develop this type. In this paper, I argue that Dostoevsky instead concerned himself with developing the function such characters served within his own literary version of foolishness, which not only frames Dostoevsky’s ethics, but also resists existing conventions that sought to sublimate women’s laughter.  

Chloe Papadopoulos, “Too dragged out, can’t understand a thing”: The Impatience of Youth in Demons

Abstract: In Demons, the comical representation of the proverbial fathers’ feeble attempts at social action often overshadows its humorous rendering of the radical youths, whose boisterous impatience is both menacing and downright hilarious. Focusing on the name-day party at Virginsky’s in “With our People,” this paper examines this dark, but funny impatience, showing how it encapsulates and disarms the very real threat then posed by youth activists.

Discussant: Kate Holland, University of Toronto


Panel 7: Performance ~ 1:45pm-3:05pm 

Gabriella Safran, “Dostoevsky’s Ritual Insults”

Abstract: During his time in prison, Dostoevsky observed the other prisoners engaging in ritual insults, a competitive performance meant more to impress than to wound, and he described such insults in Notes from the Dead House. I argue that he remained intrigued by this genre and that he engaged in a ritual insult contest of a sort in print with another writer, Nikolai Leskov, inspired by the question of which of them might be a better stenographer of folk speech. This polemic displays the ways that Dostoevsky, even as he harvested lower-class words, borrowed a lowbrow verbal art form to hint at the flaws in the fantasy of writers as perfect vehicles for the voice of the people.

Irina Erman, “Shooting Blanks: Laughter, Misfire, and Performance in Crime and Punishment” 

Abstract: The ancient Greeks compared laughter to a dagger. As arsenals evolved, theorists of laughter came to foreground its explosive potentiality. This paper focuses on the figure of the explosive and ridiculous Lt. Gunpowder in Crime and Punishment. An insecure petty tyrant, Lt. Gunpowder functions as Raskolnikov’s comic double and plays an outsize role in Raskolnikov’s failure as an “extraordinary” criminal. I trace Lt. Gunpowder’s emergence from the vaudeville and read him as the nexus for Dostoevsky’s theorization of the interrelations between laughter, violence, and performance.

Discussant: Lynn Patyk, Dartmouth

Conference Mixer ~ 3:20pm-4:40pm 

Want to join the fun? Click here to register!

One thought

  1. I am especially eager to read or hear Lynn Patyk’s argument that Il’ya Petrovich “Gunpowder” is Raskol’nikov’s comic double. With his fiery temper and spontaneity, I have long argued that he is a worldly reflection of Elijah the Prophet as he is perceived in Russian folk belief (lord of thunder, rain and lightning and symbol of the Last Judgment). Raskol’nilov’s confession to Il’ya Petrovich comes on Elijah’s Day, after the proverbial thunderstorm that was always expected on that holiday. His nickname Porokh (‘Gunpowder’) evokes associations with the Church of Elijah at the Powderworks (Храм Ильи-пророка на Пороховых). I hope Dr. Patyk will address my theory, which has been developed in six publications, including this e-book available on Amazon Kindle:

    Dostoevsky: What They Don’t Teach You in School


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