‘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”

by Peter Winsky

In his letter of August 16, 1839, Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote to his brother Mikhail Mikhailovich that “the person is a mystery…I am studying that mystery because I want to become a person.”[1] In similar fashion, scholars from around the globe gathered for the International Symposium on “The Anthropology of Dostoevsky” to continue Dostoevsky’s quest to understand the enigmas encrypted into the human being. Organized and held by the Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society between October 23-26, 2018 at the Sofia University of St. Kliment Ohridski, the Symposium addressed the question of the person as a problem and subject of investigation in Dostoevsky’s world. The gathering was held in honor of the 150th anniversary of the publication of the novel The Idiot.

According to Professor Emil Dimitrov, the chief architect and mastermind of both the Symposium and Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society and one of the most engaging and passionate organizers of an intellectual gathering one could possibly meet, “the question of Dostoevsky’s anthropology is not ‘What is the person?’ (that is, in the way according to Kant), but ‘What is the person capable of?’ It is the testing of the ultimate foundations of the person and humanity, the testing of the boundaries of this humanity, on the other side of which the person becomes something else – subhuman or superhuman (the Man-God, according to Kirillov)… In the spirit of Heidegger, I can say that the purpose of our Symposium is to uncover the secret of the person according to Dostoevsky, while preserving the secret as a secret.”[2] To achieve this, Professor Dimitrov built a magnificent series of events to compliment the presentations at the conference, and in doing so brought together professionals from varied disciplines, not only literature or philosophy scholars, via the particularly welcoming and friendly Bulgarian culture and lifestyle.

The morning of the first day of the Symposium opened with a panikhida, an Orthodox requiem service, for Fyodor Mikhailovich in the rotunda church of Saint Sofia, constructed between the 4th and 6th centuries. Following the service, the participants transferred to the main hall of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences for the official opening of the Symposium, marked by short welcoming speeches from Professor Dimitrov and Yordanka Fandakova, the mayor of Sofia.

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Opening Remarks from Yordanka Fandakova. Image Credit: Emil Dimitrov

Following the opening greetings, Dr. Sergei Sergeevich Khoruzhy, founder of the Institute of Synergetic Anthropology at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow and professor, mathematician, and philosopher, delivered the plenary address for the Symposium entitled “The Eschatology of Dostoevsky in the Context and Light of the Contemporary Renaissance of Eschatology.” Over the course of his remarks Professor Khoruzhy mused on the foundations of Dostoevsky’s eschatology as a personal and anthropological question through the lens of certain episodes in the novels such as Marmeladov’s Confession and Versilov’s Dream. The second half of the talk addressed the apparent ‘realizations’ of the apocalyptic situations of which Dostoevsky had prophesied (i.e. the Revolution), and possible connections of his visions and to contemporary manifestations such as global terrorism.

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Plenary Address by Sergei Sergeevich Khoruzhy.  Image Credit: Emil Dimitrov

Following Professor Khoruzhy’s captivating presentation the Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society provided a cocktail reception amid an exhibition of sketches and paintings inspired by The Idiot entitled “I was Happy in a Different Way…” After the reception, the conference began in earnest with two sessions exploring the anthropocentric universe of Dostoevsky. Panels on topics ranging from varieties of philosophical discourse in Dostoevsky, such as through Hegelian influence, to literary evaluations of The Idiot, including this author’s presentation on questions of narrative construction through the lens of Orthodox Personalism, to comparative analyses with novels like Zamyatin’s We or Ivan Bazov’s Under the Yoke, continued for the following two days. These presentations mapped and investigated the macro- and microcosmic pockets of personal being and its reverberations throughout the author’s oeuvre.

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Lazar Milentievich and Emil Dimitrov during Session One. Image Credit: Emil Dimitrov

The Symposium was not confined to the academic sphere of presentation and discourse. Every evening Professor Dimitrov engaged the participants with an assortment of cultural activities, ranging from a performance of Bulgarian Orthodox singing in the Museum of Iconography in the basement of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, to a dinner accompanied by Bulgarian folk dancing and singing, and finally the first ever screening of Akira Kurosowa’s film adaptation of The Idiot with Bulgarian subtitles.

The film was presented by members of the Japanese Society of Akira Kurosawa and the Dostoevsky Society of Japan. Select members also spoke during a round table event that showcased rare interviews with Kurosawa on his work translating the novel into cinema. The history of the lost footage from the film, which exists because of the demands of the studio on the director to make the movie under 3 hours, was also discussed. These presentations, which comprised the closing panel for the conference, truly reinforced the universality of Dostoevsky’s art as it penetrates not merely across linguistic and national boarders, but across cultural codes and mediums as well. If the task of the Symposium was, as Professor Dimitrov noted, an engagement with and evaluation of the boundaries of the person and an inquisition into its mystery, then this final discussion showed that the riches of the mines of personal being in Dostoevsky’s work are far from being uncovered.

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Presentation by the Japanese Society of Akira Kurosawa. Image Credit: Emil Dimitrov

On the last day of the conference, the participants of the Symposium set out together for the Rila Monastery, located 73 miles south of Sofia. During the excursion the group wandered beneath the breathtaking frescos of the central church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, the museum of religious artifacts, and were greeted by the Hegumen of the monastery. From the beautifully tree-lined valley in which the monastery is situated the conference ended at a vineyard and winery near the Greek border where Professor Dimitrov toasted the participants, the forthcoming publication of the conference proceedings, and a future International Symposium of the Bulgarian Dostoevsky Society. The curtain was drawn on the conference in the same way in which it was revealed, with the joyful spirit of academic cooperation and exploration into the mysteries of Dostoevsky’s profoundly personal worldview.

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Participants of the Symposium at the Rila Monastery. Image Credit: Katja Winsky

[1] F.M. Dostoevsky, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v tridsati tomakh. vol. 28(I), ed. Bazanov et. al., (Leningrad: Nauka 1972-90), 63. Translations are the author’s own.

[2] Emil Dimitrov, “Osnovnoi voproc antropologii Dostoevskogo- ‘Kak chelovek vozmozhen?’” translated by the author (accessed, 2 Feburary, 2019).


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The author presenting his paper. Image Credit: Katja Winsky

Peter Gregory Winsky is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of California Los Angeles in the Department of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Languages and Cultures. He is writing his dissertation on the poetics of Dostoevsky’s late novels through the lens of Orthodox Personalism, with a particular interest in the relation of beauty, metanoia, and noetic vision to ‘higher realism.’ He presented a paper at the Symposium, titled ‘“I Opened to My Beloved, but My Beloved had Withdrawn” – The Anthropological Foundations of Myshkin’s Failure in Идиот.” 

CFP: XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium

The XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium

The XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium will be held at Boston University in the city of Boston (with the participation of Harvard University, Suffolk University, Wellesley College, Brown University, and the Harriman Institute, Columbia University), 15-19 July, 2019.
Abstracts: Proposals for papers on one of the Symposium themes will be accepted until July 1, 2018. Please send your proposal using the submission form at http://www.bu.edu/wll/dostoevsky-2019/. The Program Committee will review the submissions, and decisions will be announced on the IDS website by October 1, 2018. The Program will be announced on April 28, 2019.
The official languages of the Conference are Russian and English. Presentations should last about fifteen minutes, to be followed by 5 minutes of discussion.
Symposium participants will be limited to about 150 speakers. Membership in IDS is required before registration. Further information about membership can be found here: http://www.dostoevsky.org.

XVII Симпозиум международного общества Достоевского

XVII Симпозиум международного общества Достоевского состоится в Бостонском университете в Бостоне, США. Финансовую и организационную поддержку окажут Harvard University, Suffolk University, Wellesley College, Brown University и Harriman Institute, Columbia University. Симпозиум будет проходить с 15 по 19 июля 2019 года.
Заявки на участие в Симпозиуме будут приниматься до 1 июля 2018 года. Пожалуйста, присылайте тезисы докладов и регистрационные формы в электронном виде через портал hhttp://www.bu.edu/wll/dostoevsky-2019/. Отборочная комиссия рассмотрит ваши заявки и объявит состав участников на сайте Международного общества Достоевского к 1 октября 2018 года. Программа симпозиума будет сформирована и опубликована к 28 апреля 2019 года.
Официальные языки симпозиума – русский и английский. Каждому участнику выделяется 15 минут для доклада и дополнительно 5 минут для дискуссии.
Количество участников симпозиума с докладами – около 1 5 0-ти человек. До регистрации необходимо подтвердить членство в Международном обществе Достоевского (IDS). Дополнительная информацияо членстве в IDS размещена на сайте : http://www.dostoevsky.org.

Symposium Theme:
150 years of The Idiot

The Symposium will celebrate 150 years of The Idiot, with a focus on new and multidisciplinary approaches to the novel. Sessions will include:

  • The Idiot in its time and 150 years later
  • Digital Dostoevsky
  • Late Dostoevsky and The Life of a Great Sinner
  • Dostoevsky and the West
  • Dostoevsky and Translation
Cultural Program
The cultural program will include a visit to Walden Pond, a film screening at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and a tour of historical landmarks.
Housing and Meals
Participants will be housed in air-conditioned dormitories on the Charles River Campus of Boston University (in central Boston, right next to the St. Paul Street subway stop) at a price of $ 86 per person a night.
Buffet-style breakfast and lunch will be served each morning and noon, provided courtesy of a series of co-sponsors, including Boston University, Harvard University, Brown University and Wellesley College. Coffee and refreshments will be served throughout the day courtesy of the Harriman Institute, Columbia University.
The Symposium will end with a celebratory banquet overlooking the Boston Harbor.
Funding
Accommodation and travel expenses will be borne by the participants, but we are dedicated to developing a fund to help defray conference fees and the costs of travel and accommodations for those in need of financial assistance.
Conference Fee
The conference fee will be $150 for participants ($100 for spouses).
Visas
For participants from countries requiring visas to the US, letters of invitation will be issued by the International Students and Scholars Office at Boston University.
Airport and Transportation
Boston Logan Airport is located near downtown Boston. The average time on the subway from the airport to the Boston University campus is under one hour. The average taxi fare from the airport to campus is $35.

Тема симпозиума:
150 лет со дня публикации романа «Идиот»

Симпозиум отметит 150-летие романа «Идиот» и осветит новые и междисциплинарные подходы к изучению романа. Предполагаемые темы заседаний:

  • «Идиот» при жизни Достоевского и 150 лет спустя
  • Достоевский и информационные технологии ( Digital Dostoevsky )
  • Поздний Достоевский и «Житие великого грешника»
  • Достоевский и Запад
  • Достоевский в переводах
Культурная программа
В программу симпозиума будут включены поездка на Уолденский пруд, экскурсия по историческим местам Бостона, а также просмотр фильмов в Бостонском музее изобразительных искусств.
Проживание и питание
Участникам будет организовано проживание на кампусе Бостонского университета. Университет предоставляет кондиционированные комнаты в общежитии по цене 86 долларов в день на человека. Общежитие находится в центре города, на берегу реки Чарльз, недалеко от станции метро St. Paul Street.
Завтраки и обеды (шведский стол) в течение 4х дней будут обеспечены нашими спонсорами — Boston University, Harvard University, Brown University и Wellesley College. Кофе и легкие закуски обеспечит Harriman Institute. Симпозиум завершится «Пиром на пирсе» — банкетом в бостонской гавани.
Финансирование
Большинство участников должны будут сами оплатить проезд и проживание, но мы понимаем, что некоторым коллегам может понадобиться финансовая помощь. Мы постараемся найти средства и обеспечить поддержку тем, кто в ней нуждается.
Регистрационный взнос
Для участников с докладом взнос составит 150 долларов. Для гостей и членов семей – 100 долларов.
Визы
Всем участникам, кому требуется виза в США, будут высланы официальные приглашения из Бостонского университета.
Как добраться из аэропорта
Boston Logan Airport расположен недалеко от центра города. На метро Вы сможете добраться до университета меньше, чем за час. Средняя стоимость поездки на такси (20-25 минут) составляет 35 долларов.
Организаторы / Conference co-organizers:

  • Yuri Corrigan (Boston University)
  • Evgenia Cherkasova (Suffolk University)
  • William Mills Todd III (Harvard University)
  • Svetlana Evdokimova (Brown University)
  • Deborah Martinsen (Columbia University)
  • Carol Apollonio (Duke University)
  • Brian Armstrong (Augusta University)
Спонсоры / Sponsors :

  • The International Dostoevsky Society ( IDS )
  • The North American Dostoevsky Society (NADS)
  • Boston University Department of World Languages and Literatures
  • Harvard University Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Brown University Department of Slavic Studies
  • Wellesley College Department of Russian
  • Suffolk University College of Arts and Sciences
  • Harriman Institute, Columbia University
  • The North American Dostoevsky Society

For more details, please visit the symposium website.