Dostoevsky Through the Eyes of the World

by Katarina Iurovskaia

“To read or not to read?” – that is a question, the more so to read or not to read Dostoevsky’s novels. Ask any fifty year old Russian if he has ever read any book by Dostoevsky and he will shrug his shoulders and say, “Sure. Crime and Punishment. The generation of people who were born and studied in the USSR, in Soviet schools were used to reading. The new era has brought new devices, new technologies, and new values. Are Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works still alive and important for everybody or at least for somebody in this new world in which we are now living?

When I was planning my documentary film, I decided to talk not to my fellow Russians, but to people living in other countries, speaking other languages, and having other problems and points of view on our life. Dostoevsky as a person of a global reputation, comparable with Shakespeare, Homer, Michelangelo. He has crossed the borders of Russian national literature and become a world writer.

I decided to ask famous philologists, whose scientific research works are tightly connected with Dostoevsky’s masterpieces, who study philosophical and sociological aspects of his novels, as well as ordinary people from all over the world. I created six questions and asked honorable professors to answer them. Their answers were so different and unexpected that in some points that they made a real polyphonic text. I think this is not by chance because all of them are Dostoevsky researchers and constant readers, and polyphony is a central quality of his texts.

Dostoevsky’s novels are the space where mostly all national differences disappear. The depth of human soul which Fyodor Mikhailovich reached in his thoughts and literary images is the same where or whenever you are born and whatever language is you speak. The God which Dostoevsky’s heroes are searching for is unique and overnational. It is Good, Light and absolute Truth. It is no surprise that the musical track of our documentary consists of brilliant musical pieces by composers from all over the world – A. Skriabin, J. Brahms, S. Rachmaninoff, P. Sarasate, A. Piazzolla, M. Čiurlionis, J. Sibelius, etc.

The participants of our video project are:

  1. Professor Stefano Aloe, Università di Verona, Italia, Managing Editor of Dostoevsky Studies.
  2. Sarah Hudspith, Professor of Russian language department at The University of Leeds, the UK.
  3. Professor Ivo Pospisil, Head of the Department of Slavonic Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic.
  4. Wang Zhigeng, Professor of the Faculty of Liberal Arts at the Nankai University, China, Doctor of Literature (PhD Literature) and vice-chairman of the Chinese Association for the Study of Russian Literature.
  5. Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover, President of the Australian Dostoevsky Society, Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University, Australia.
  6. Nicholas Ulbrick, Vice-president of the Australian Dostoevsky Society, Australia.
  7. Zhu Jiangang, Doctor of Philological Sciences, Professor at the University of Soochow.

As well as 14 people of different ages and jobs from all over the world.

During the weeks since the documentary launched, we have received many responses, many of them saying “Now I want to reread Dostoevsky!” I guess the main goal of my work has been reached, though I didn’t articulate it in such a concrete and pragmatic way. The nuanced, complicated, and sometimes even mystical nature of Dostoevsky’s prose doesn’t require any pragmatic and rational approach.

You can view the film on YouTube:

The film is available with English and Russian subtitles.

Katarina Iurovskaia is a Master’s student in the TV faculty at Lomonosov Moscow State University. She owns a complete works of Dostoevsky printed in 1957, which she inherited from her great grandmother, who finished only 3 grades of school, but was an intellectual person, well-read, and loved Dostoevsky. Her favorite Dostoevsky novels are Crime and Punishment and The Idiot. In The Idiot, Dostoevsky says that absolute kindness is the quality of an idiot, that is a person who can’t live with ordinary people. And the central question of Crime and Punishment is still very important and maybe even more important in the 21st century: what rights do we have in this world and what limits them?

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