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We are very pleased to announce the winners of the 2021-22 North American Dostoevsky Society student essay contests! This year we had a significant number of submissions and we are thankful for the work of the committees. The undergraduate essay contest committee was led by Chair Vladimir Ivantsov and included Readers Advisory Board members Lindsay Ceballos and Octavian Gabor while the graduate essay contest committee was led by Chair Chloë Kitzinger and included Executive Board member Yuri Corrigan. Thanks to them for their work reading and deliberating and ultimately deciding on winners. And now… the results!
From the Undergraduate Student Essay Contest Committee:
The Committee would like to thank all participants for their submissions.
David Winner of Boston University wins this year’s NADS Undergraduate Essay Contest. Winner’s essay, titled “The Center Cannot Hold: Dostoevsky’s Monophonic Novel,” discusses the limitations of Mikhail Bakhtin’s view of Dostoevsky’s novels as a “polyphony” of ideas, focusing on the literary fête scene in Demons. The author argues that instead of serving as a Bakhtinian “marketplace of ideas,” the fête scene provides an example of the “failure of discourse.” In his essay, Winner develops the concept of “discursive nihilism” to describe a situation when “people perform discourse without any commitment to their own words; dialogue then devolves into an impersonal and vacuous monophony, just as the fête collapses into the din of a mob.” In this way, Dostoevsky’s own political and ideological stance becomes clear as he portrays Russia’s “progressive” society as a “multi-voiced monophony” where “people have no real ideological commitments,” thus justifying chaos and destruction. The Committee concludes that the essay provides an original contribution to Dostoevsky studies in that it critically addresses Bakhtin’s tendency to avoid the issue of political ideology as it hardly fits into his “dialogical” framework. In his essay, Winner points out potential pitfalls of the Bakhtinian “dialogism” by connecting Dostoevsky’s message in Demons to the present moment. With “[t]he advent of social media,” Winner claims, “we are increasingly defined both by our ideas and by our willingness to pit those ideas against one another. But even with our online discourse, we are […] detached from both ourselves and our communities.” The Committee was impressed by Winner’s essay’s intellectual depth, the strength and originality of its argument, as well as its ability to acknowledge and address possible contradictions of its own approach. The Committee also thinks that Winner’s essay opens up many avenues for further research and contains promising ideas for further exploration. Congratulations, David!
Two essays receive Honorary Mentions –
1. Maggie Pan (Duke University), “Master and Serf as Mind and Body: The role of Apollon in Notes from Underground.” Pan’s essay offers an original and provocative interpretation of a minor character often neglected by Dostoevsky scholarship: the servant Apollon from Notes from Underground. The essay reads Apollon as the Underground Man’s demonic alter-ego, positioning him in the mind vs. body dichotomy and providing an exciting interpretation of the character in the broader context of Dostoevsky’s interest in demonic themes, which he developed to a greater extent in his later works.
2. Max Pearson (Bristol University), “How does the legal system fail to hold fathers accountable in The Brothers Karamazov?: An analysis of four systemic flaws.” Examining flaws in 19th-century Russia’s legal system, Pearson’s essay invites us to re-consider the responsibility of various “fathers” for their sons’ moral misconduct and, ultimately, the murder of Fedor Pavlovich, in Dostoevsky’s novel. Among the essay’s strengths, the Committee would like to emphasize its well-developed argumentation, a variety of angles from which the author looks at the problem of parental neglect in Dostoevsky’s Russia, and the productive connections between Dostoevsky’s fiction and his journalism.
Congratulations to David, Maggie, and Max!
From the Graduate Essay Contest Committee:
We are delighted to award first prize in the 2021–2022 NADS graduate essay contest to “Raskolnikov’s Red Nose: The Slapstick Comedy of Dostoevsky’s Serious Protagonists” by Fiona Bell (Yale University). This essay offers an original and rewarding reading of The Double and Crime and Punishment as works that cultivate the generic mode of slapstick to represent and critique their heroes’ spiritual and socioeconomic precarity. Showing how Golyadkin is objectified and mechanized by the material world around him, Bell convincingly reads him as a “zany clown,” unable to gain agency or purchase in the capitalist sphere he must negotiate. She goes on to lay out similarities between the physical representation of Golyadkin and Raskolnikov, suggesting that “urban socioeconomic precarity has turned Raskolnikov [too] into a clown: one who wears ridiculous clothing, performs private behaviors in public, and moves either in circles or in sudden jolts.” She finds this clownishness disturbingly intensified during the murder scene, where it comes to signal “both the degrading effects of capitalism and the indignity of earthly existence.” By invoking the physicality and gestures of slapstick, Dostoevsky primes the reader to hope for Raskolnikov’s escape via spiritual transcendence from “an eternity of zany detours”, and thus to accept the controversial vision of the novel’s epilogue. Bell’s beautifully argued and researched essay is a striking contribution to the scholarly conversations on The Double and (especially) Crime and Punishment.
We are also delighted to award an honorable mention to “An Abrahamic Double Bind: An Examination of the Possibility of Faith in Crime and Punishment” by Daniel Schwartz (Brandeis University). Schwartz makes the provocative argument that Raskolnikov’s murder cannot (unequivocally) be considered a murder. Rather, it should be seen through the lens of Kierkegaard’s writings as situated on a “knife edge” between murder and sacrifice. While readers of the novel must ultimately conclude that Raskolnikov did murder Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna, we cannot be sure whether this conclusion is “a ‘fact’ about Raskolnikov,” or whether it results from the impossibility of “representing the knight of faith artistically”—that is, of representing the “absolute” individual for whom the murder would have been an extra-ethical act of faith. Closely engaged with recent scholarship on Raskolnikov’s conversion and the novel’s epilogue, Schwartz’s essay also opens unexpected pathways between Crime and Punishment and Dostoevsky’s other novels, particularly The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov.
Warmest congratulations to Fiona and Daniel on their exciting work, and thanks to all who submitted their essays to this year’s competition!