A Chat with Greta Matzner-Gore about Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form

Today we’re sitting down with Greta Matzner-Gore to talk about her book, Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form: Suspense, Closure, Minor Characters, a fantastic new contribution to Dostoevsky scholarship and to our understanding of the novel, form, and nineteenth-century Russian literature.

BK: First, congratulations on the publication of your book last month! Tell us a little about your book. How would you describe it to a layperson? What questions do you ask in it? What would you say is its overarching narrative?

GMG: My book is about how Dostoevsky’s works work on us.

From the very beginning of his career (I’m talking 1847 here), Dostoevsky’s readers were comparing his novels to moral mirrors—look into the hearts of his most unlikeable characters, and you’ll see yourself there. My book asks how he creates this mirroring effect, how he draws us into the ethical dramas that play out on the pages of his novels.

I argue that Dostoevsky uses a slew of innovative narrative techniques in order to do so. He ratchets up the suspense, experiments with different kinds of endings, adds or subtracts minor characters from the plot—all in a bid to better control our reading experience and, ultimately, to transform us.

BK: How did you first become interested in the question of how Dostoevsky constructs his novels?

GMG: When I was 16 years old. It was a hot day in July (really!), and I was lying on a hammock devouring Crime and Punishment. I was already a fan of detective fiction, and I was struck by how different Crime and Punishment was from anything I’d read before. What impressed me most was the powerful justification Raskolnikov had for committing his crime. In most detective stories I’d read, the motive for the murder was the weakest part of the plot—in the end you find out that so-and-so killed x number of people in order to win an inheritance, in revenge for a personal humiliation, out of jealousy, etc. The motive is never anything very convincing, and it never really matters: the point is the intellectual exercise of solving the crime, not the crime itself. But in Dostoevsky’s novel, the crime matters, and Raskolnikov’s justification for it matters too. His justification is (at least on the surface) rational and compelling: the pawnbroker is cruel, destructive, and parasitical, and the world would be better off without her in it. At one point, I even caught myself agreeing with Raskolnikov’s thought processes. Then I immediately felt horrified with myself. “Did I really just think that? Did I really just think that the premeditated murder of an elderly woman was, well, maybe not so bad after all?”

By the time I finished the novel, I was convinced that I hadn’t simply come to this thought of my own accord. Instead, the novel was designed to lead me to it—to make me feel the full logical power of Raskolnikov’s justifications for murder, and then ultimately to reject them (and the part of myself that found them convincing). That’s when I started getting interested in how Dostoevsky did it, in the artistic sleight-of-hand that makes the readerly manipulation possible. That was my first serious encounter with Russian literature, and it set the course for my entire future career.

Many years later, I learned that Robert Belknap had been teaching Crime and Punishment along more or less those same lines for decades. So my “discovery” as a 16-year-old wasn’t exactly original, but at least I was in good company!   

BK: You call Dostoevsky’s novels “maximally interactive” – what do you think is the result of this kind of art? Why does Dostoevsky pursue it?

GMG: Dostoevsky believed that art changes us, and changes us for the better. In his polemic “Mr –bov and the Question of Art” (1861), he imagined what might happen to a young man who sees the Apollo Belvedere for the first time:

And because the youth’s impression was, perhaps, an ardent one, convulsing his nerves and making his epidermis turn cold; perhaps—who knows!—perhaps as a result of such sensations of higher beauty, as a result of this convulsion of the nerves, some sort of internal change even takes place in a person, some sort of shifting of particles, some sort of galvanic current, which, in one instant, makes the past not what it was before, turns a piece of ordinary iron into a magnet.

Twenty years later, Dostoevsky insists, that (no longer young) man may still be acting under the magnetic influence of this “majestic and infinitely beautiful image,” albeit in ways that he may not fully recognize or understand. According to Dostoevsky, works of art like the Apollo Belvedere can “form” people and form them for good.

Of course, Dostoevsky knew that his own work had little in common with the Apollo Belvedere. He wrote long, messy, disorienting narratives, where the moments of “higher beauty” are few and far between. (After all, he considered himself a realist, a writer committed to portraying 19th-century Russian life in all its chaos and disorder). But he still dreamed that his novels would have a positive moral impact on the people who read them, that they would produce their own kind of ethical-aesthetic shock.

And that’s, I think, why Dostoevsky aims for “maximal interactivity.” He knows he isn’t going to electrify his readers with images of beauty, kindness, or love, so he pushes hard in the opposite direction. With the help of his seductive, morally ambivalent narrators, he immerses us in violence, cruelty, and ugliness; he encourages us to emotionally participate in them; and then exposes us to ourselves. It’s a little sadistic, to be honest. But then we’re talking about Dostoevsky here! 

BK: What are the stakes of “narrative ethics”? How does Dostoevsky bring them to the fore?

GMG: People have been arguing about the moral stakes of novel reading for centuries. For hundreds of years, the usual worry was that novels would have a morally degenerative effect on their readers. In the past few decades, however, the standard line has shifted. The most influential critics have argued that reading novels (at least certain classics, anyway) is regenerative instead. It is a kind of moral training ground, instructing readers in empathy, sympathy, and compassion; teaching them to withhold judgment and respect difference—lessons that they can then take into their day-to-day lives.

What makes Dostoevsky so interesting for me is that he plays on both of these possibilities. His narrators do seem to be “training” readers in particular habits of mind, but often in bad habits: malicious gossip, attraction to violence, hasty judgments and social stereotyping (to name just a few).

I think that Dostoevsky is still trying to write novels that will, in the final account, have a positive impact on the people who read them. But he takes his readers on a circuitous route toward that ultimate goal, pushing them to recognize their own complicity in sin first. In a sense, the plots Dostoevsky writes for his protagonists and the ones he imagines for his readers are structurally similar: we have to descend in order to ascend. 

BK: Your book focuses on three novels, mainly: Demons, The Adolescent, and Brothers Karamazov – why these three?

GMG: It happened organically. Each chapter grew out of a sense of uneasiness with each of the three novels, a sense that there was something wrong with them. As literary critics, we’re trained to look for resonances between form and content. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a fundamental disconnect between the ethical principles championed by the positive characters in these novels, and the narrative form of the novels—which often seemed to be working at cross purposes.

I could write a lot about this topic, so I will limit myself to one example: how I came up with the idea for chapter one (“Curiosity, Suspense, and Dostoevsky’s Demons”). It all started with Liputin, who always got under my skin. A self-declared “gossip” and “spy,” he is one of the nastiest characters in the novel. But nevertheless, he (through his gossiping and spying) fulfills an essential narrative function—exposition. His gossip provides insider information about Stavrogin’s secret past, which readers need to know in order to make sense of the novel’s plot. The novel is built on the very mechanisms of knowing and telling that it explicitly critiques.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that such disconnects between form and content were not the insoluble problems they seemed to be at first glance—they were the point. Dostoevsky’s novels are not written about, for, or by perfect people who have already realized his dream of universal brotherhood on earth. They are written about, for, and by people who haven’t, who are still struggling with their personal weaknesses and limitations, and who are trying to do better.

BK: What is the most exciting part of your book for you? How does this book change the conversation?

GMG: One benefit of focusing on just three novels is that it allowed me to write in-depth, holistic interpretations of each one, showing how even their tiniest textual details resonate with their biggest philosophical questions. That’s what I was aiming for, and that’s what I am ultimately most proud of. I am also excited about the new insights the book provides into Dostoevsky’s artistic process. Each chapter traces Dostoevsky’s work on a single novel, from his notebooks to the finished product: how he grapples with some question of novelistic craft, starts thinking through its moral stakes, and in the end creates a narrator who is struggling with the same challenges to ethical storytelling that he is.  

Ultimately, I hope that the book will help change the way not just Slavists, but also literary theorists and historians in general think and talk about Dostoevsky’s legacy. He has an international reputation for being an emotionally explosive writer and an influential religious philosopher. But he is also one of the nineteenth-century’s most subtle thinkers about the ethics of reading and writing fiction. He didn’t write much in the way of literary theory, but he was still a great narrative theorist in his own way.


Greta Matzner-Gore is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California. A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature, her research interests include narrative theory, the ethics of reading, and the intersections between science and literature. She is also a founding member of the North American Dostoevsky Society’s Reader Advisory Board. Her first book, Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form, is available now from Northwestern University Press.

Dostoevsky papers and events at ASEEES 2019!

The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies is holding its 51st annual convention in San Francisco, November 23–26. Once again, the conference offers a rich selection of panels, roundtables, and individual presentations on Dostoevsky’s works and thought. The list below is divided into two parts: Part I features panels and roundtables that focus primarily on Dostoevsky; Part II lists panels and roundtables where Dostoevsky’s works or legacy feature prominently in at least one presentation. We hope you can join us in San Francisco to hear about the fruits of another year’s work on Dostoevsky!

 

Panels with a Principal Focus on Dostoevsky

Sunday, November 24

Philosophy and Form throughout Dostoevsky’s Creative Corpus

2:30 to 4:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

When discussing Dostoevsky’s famous claim (“I am only a realist in the higher sense, that is, I depict all the depths of the human soul”), Robert Louis Jackson points out that “it is no surprise, against a background of an age dominated by German romantic aesthetics, to find Dostoevsky positing art as a form of philosophical inquiry <…> and the object of philosophical inquiry is simultaneously the object of poetic creation” (Dostoevsky’s Quest For Form. A Study of His Philosophy of Art, 13). The goal of this panel is two-fold. First, we aim to address the ways in which philosophy and poetics are inextricably interwoven throughout Dostoevsky’s oeuvre: from the influence of Friedrich Schelling’s Philosophy of Identity on the early novella White Nights, to The Brothers Karamazov’s specific conception of love as informed by the author’s readings of the Gospels and patristics. Secondly, we will examine, by means of close-reading, Dostoevsky’s “quest for form” in its metaliterary dimension, looking at how, in Crime and Punishment, the concept of form is encoded on the phonemic level and builds up into the novel’s potential master trope. We envision the two approaches—one foregrounding the philosophical context of Dostoevsky’s creation, the other privileging the texts’ formal features— as compatible rather than contradictory. Given the broad scope of works that our panel touches upon, we hope to identify both shifts and consistencies across Dostoevsky’s corpus, from his early, pre-exile works to his final novel.

Papers:

“Reason and Aesthetic Knowledge in Dostoevsky’s ‘Belye nochi’” – Kit Pribble, UC Berkeley

“‘Form Won’t Run Away’: Patterns of Paranomasia in ‘Crime and Punishment’” – Semyon Leonenko, UC Berkeley

“‘He That Loveth Not Knoweth Not God’: Praxis, Theory, and Spiritual Knowledge in The Brothers Karamazov” – Braxton Boyer, U of Toronto (Canada)

Discussant: Julian W Connolly, U of Virginia

Chair: Lindsay Marie Ceballos, Lafayette College

 

The North American Dostoevsky Society: The Idiot Approaching Modernity

4:30 to 6:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

This panel marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Idiot with three papers focused on the novel’s relationship with modernity. The first paper examines the novel’s situation in the modern through its engagement with philosophy, both its involvement in contemporaneous debates and its grounding in Enlightenment humanistic discourse. The second paper looks at illness in the novel and, in particular, the way modern medicine is portrayed as both a reflection of its time and a future-looking projection. Finally, the third paper, reflects on technology in the novel, in particular the relatively new field of photography, and its implications for social stratification. Looking at reflections of modernity such as philosophical debate, medical science, and photography in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, these three papers engage in a broader discussion about the place of the human as both individual and as part of a broader collective in Dostoevsky’s work and in modern life.

Papers:

“Can Idiots Become Human?” – Brian Arthur Armstrong, Augusta U

“Modernity and Medicine in The Idiot” – Brian R. Johnson, Macalester College

“‘It’s All One Big Fantasy’: Memory, Identity, and Modernity in The Idiot” – Katya Jordan, Brigham Young U

Discussant: Kate Rowan Holland, U of Toronto (Canada)

Chair: Susan McReynolds, Northwestern U

 

Tuesday, November 26

Dostoevsky and Philosophy

8:00 to 9:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

In 2002, James Scanlan wrote that the “idea of treating a great writer as a philosopher will be unsettling to both writers and philosophers.” It may seem that such “philosophical ghostwriting,” as Scanlan describes it, will do injustice to the literary text; it may also seem that such ghostwriting will fail to be philosophically rigorous. Nonetheless, the influence of philosophy on Dostoevsky and of Dostoevsky on philosophy remains. This panel aims to further investigate those influences in an attempt to do justice to both Dostoevsky’s thought and writing. In particular, each panelist will focus on the reception of Dostoevsky’s work by Russian philosophers: Mjør and Ceballos will focus on the early twentieth century reception and Ivantsov on the Leningrad Underground of the 1970s and 80s.

Papers:

“The Making of a Philosopher: Dostoevsky through the Lens of Rozanov, Bulgakov, and Shestov” – Kåre Johan Mjør, Western Norway U of Applied Sciences (Norway)

“Overcoming Existentialism: The Reception of Dostoevsky by the Members of the Leningrad Religious-Philosophical Seminar” – Vladimir Ivantsov, Williams College

“Philospher of the Spirit: Racial Typologies in Merezhkovsky’s L. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky” – Lindsay Marie Ceballos, Lafayette College

Chair: Lyudmila Parts, McGill U (Canada)

 

Dostoevsky and The Gospel of Luke

10:00 to 11:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

We have seen renewed scholarly interest in the religious and theological dimensions of Dostoevsky’s fiction in the past few decades. It is not surprising that methodological approaches and assumptions vary widely, although one frequent assumption is that Dostoevsky should be read in a Johannine context, whether because of marks he made in his copy of the 1822 edition of the new Russian Synodal Bible or because of the importance of John in Russian Orthodoxy. When other Gospels are cited, they are often used episodically or as part of broader Synoptic context. However, it is the claim of this panel that Luke – author of a Gospel and Acts – warrants special attention because of Luke’s pragmatic approach to issues vital to Dostoevsky, including social justice and the challenge of overcoming enmity with one’s neighbors. Our panelists will each work with Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamzov, and they will focus on the Lukan concern with incarnational realism (Contino), terrestrial time (Parlin), and the neighbor (Wyman).

Papers: 

“The Gospel of Luke and Incarnational realism in The Brothers Karamazov” – Paul Joseph Contino, Pepperdine U

“Luke, Acts, and Active Love: The Validity of Terrestrial Time in The Brothers Karamazov” – Maxwell Parlin, Princeton U

“An Ideal ‘Thou’: The Concept of Neighbor in The Brothers Karamazov” – Alina Wyman, New College of Florida

Discussant: Michael Mikhailovitch Ossorgin VIII, Fordham U

Chair: Michael Mikhailovitch Ossorgin VIII, Fordham U

 

In Honor of Joseph Frank: Comparative Approaches to Dostoevsky Through the Lens of Belief

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

In this panel, dedicated to the memory of acclaimed Dostoevsky scholar, biographer, and comparatist Joseph Frank (1918-2013), whom most of the panel participants knew personally and whom all panel participants admire and use in their work, panelists employ comparative approaches to examine the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, as focused through the lens of belief. The trained comparatists delivering papers, Arpi Movsesian, Monika Greenleaf, and Sara Pankenier Weld, take a comparative angle to investigating their individual topics of holy foolishness, performance, and theodicy as they juxtapose Dostoevsky’s writings with those of major figures of the Anglophone tradition, namely William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Vladimir Nabokov. Though united by their shared focus on Dostoevsky, the collective scope of the papers also encompasses a range of periods; genres such as drama, poetry, and prose; and disciplinary approaches, such as religious studies, performance studies, and philosophy – all of which enrich their analysis and the scope of the panel. The papers’ commonalities and shared focus on belief ensures a coherence and cohesiveness to the panel, as does the subsequent discussion guided by the remarks of discussant Martha Kelly, who brings her expertise on religion and poetics to the panel. The comparative scope of the panel and the attention to a broader religious and intellectual context represented by all panelists represents an homage to Joseph Frank, who himself embodied a broadly comparative perspective and a depth of insight into literary, cultural, philosophical, and religious history, as the panel organizer and chair will highlight in a brief introduction.

Papers:

“Performing Faithfully: Shakespearean Fools in Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead” – Arpi Movesian, UC Santa Barbara

“Two Cruel Talents: The Interplay of Constriction and Kata-Strophe in the Scenic Art of Dickinson and Dostoevsky” – Monika Greenleaf, Stanford U

“Theodicy and Faith in an Ethical Universe: Dostoevsky and Nabokov on the Suffering Child” – Sara Pankenier Weld, UC Santa Barbara

Discussant: Martha M. F. Kelley, U of Missouri

Chair: Sara Pankenier Weld, UC Santa Barbara

 

Book Discussion: “Approaches to Teaching Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment,” Edited by Michael Katz and Alex Burry

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific C

A volume of essays is currently in preparation for the MLA Series called Approaches to Teaching (edited by Michael Katz and Alex Burry). This roundtable will allow five of the contributors to share their ideas about how to teach the novel in the college or secondary school classroom. The approaches vary widely. A roundtable will enable the presenters to gain valuable feedback from the audience as they prepare their essays; it will also provide suggestions and ideas to the audience as to how they might approach the book in their various classrooms.

Roundtable Members: 

Katherine Bowers, U of British Columbia (Canada)

Kate Rowan Holland, U of Toronto (Canada)

Ani Kokobobo, U of Kansas

Susan McReynolds, Northwestern U

Chair: Michael R. Katz, Middlebury College

 

Panels Featuring One or More Papers on Dostoevsky 

Saturday, November 23

Dark Waters and Monstrous Illusions in Russian Literature and Culture

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

Literature, film, fine art and other acts of cultural production have long mediated our relationship with landscape. Following Karine Gagne and Mattias Rasmussen’s call for an “amphibious anthropology” that directs our attention to the confluences of land and water (Anthropologica 58: 2, 2017), this panel explores cultural production in the Russian tradition that mediates our relationship to ‘amphibious’ land-and-waterscapes. The papers on the panel, however, add engagement with the dark, the uncanny, the monstrous to this conversation. How does water act as a conduit for the otherworldly and what does this dynamic reveal about amphibious landscapes within the bounds of Russian cultural production?

Papers:

“Go I Know Not Where, Bring Back I Know Not What: The Russian Folktale in Uncertain Waters” – Barbara Henry, U of Washington

“Watery Creatures: The Fantastic and the City in the Petersburg Text” – Katherine Bowers, U of British Columbia (Canada)

“Making Kin with Swamp Monsters: Zinovieva-Annibal’s ‘Chudovishche’” – Alec Brooks, Memorial U of Newfoundland (Canada)

Discussants:

Brittany Rae Roberts, UC Riverside

Colleen McQuillen, U of Southern California

Chair: Jenny Kaminer, UC Davis

 

Future Visions, Unseen Dimensions, and Dreamscapes in Russian Literature

4:00 to 5:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 5, Sierra G

Papers:

“‘Novel Voyages’: Fantastical Travel through Time and Space in the Early Nineteenth Century” – Stephen Andrew Bruce, Columbia U

“Of Imaginary Machines and Mundane Futures: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Literary Interface and the Perception of Reality through Alternative Literature” – Alejandra Isabel Otero Pires, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“‘Higher Matter’” The Fourth Dimension in Anderi Bely’s Petersburg” – Olga Zolotareva, Princeton U

“Overcoming Linear Perspective in Dostoevsky’s ‘Dream of a Ridiculous Man’” – Olga Stuchebrukhov, UC Davis

Discussant: Irina M. Erman, College of Charleston

 

Imperial Culture in the Soviet Imaginary

4:00 to 5:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific H

In The House of Government, Yuri Slezkine writes, “The Bolsheviks… ended up raising their children on ideas that were the very opposite of those they wished them to have (or thought they did, some of the time). The parents lived for the future; their children lived in the past.” [1] Slezkine points to an apparent paradox in the foundation of Soviet culture: those who set about remaking society enthusiastically embraced the literary culture of the previous era. Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, nineteenth-century literature and culture continued to be incorporated into party-line cultural policy and production, and claimed as an inheritance with equal vigor by the Marxists of Literaturnyi kritik and representatives of the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia, such as Anna Akhmatova. The works and biographies of authors from Pushkin to Dostoevsky to Chernyshevsky were put to a variety of symbolic uses, institutionalized and reconceived in complex ways. This panel will explore the reception and reframing of nineteenth-century culture in the Soviet period in the context of cultural memory, institutions, and ideological texts. Papers will consider the reconfiguration of powerful nineteenth-century cultural concepts such as the “intelligentsia,” as well as the role of memorializing institutions such as literary house museums in shaping cultural memory at different historical moments.

[1] Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 955.

Papers:

“The Soviet Masses as Polufabrikat: Grigorii Pomerants and the Meaning of “Intelligentsia” and “Narod” in 1968” – Pavel Khazanov, Rutgers, the State U of New Jersey

“A Space Outside the Present: The Literary House Museum and Memorialization in the Soviet Union” – Brett Roark Winestock, Stanford U

“Reshaping Russian Imaginaries: Literary House Museums in the Post-Soviet Era” – Kathleen Macfie, UNC at Greensboro

Discussant: Christine Elaine Evans, U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Chair: Ludmilla A. Trigos, Independent Scholar

 

Soviet Film Adaptations: Soviet-Western Encounters through Film, 1930-1972

4:00 to 5:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 11

This is the first in the series of three panels on film adaptations produced in the Soviet and post-Soviet period, 1930-2017. Our first panel examines Soviet-Western encounters through studying film adaptations made between 1930 and 1972: Soviet film adaptations of Western literature, such as the Soviet Winnie the Pooh, and vice versa, Western attempts to adapt Russian literature to screen, as in the Hollywood adaptation of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” The panel is interested in the conversion “from foreign to native” system of beliefs that happens in the course of cross-cultural film adaptations. The focus is on the Soviet vs. Western (Disney, Hollywood) divide, and the way film adaptations attempt to bridge cultural gaps.

Papers:

“Every Sound is Shrill: Sergei Eisenstein, Adaptation, the American Landscape” – Dustin Michael Condern, U of Oklahoma

“Filming the Criminal Mind: Josef von Sternberg’s and Lev Kulidzhanov’s Adaptations of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment” – Rita Safariants, U of Rochester

“Naïve Absurdity in the Soviet Winnie the Pooh” – Sabina Amanbayeva, Oklahoma City U

Discussant: Elena Konstantinovna Murenina, East Carolina U

Chair: Maria Mayofis, NRU Higher School of Economics (Russia)

 

Sunday, November 24

Expanding the Nineteenth-Century Russian Prose Canon

12:30 to 2:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

In recent years, North American scholarship on nineteenth-century Russian prose has become increasingly focused on a shrinking number of authors, namely: Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Goncharov. The aim of this panel is to reintroduce the figures around these “literary giants,” men and women who played an integral role in shaping Russia’s literary landscape. Gabriella Safran’s paper examines Aleksei Pisemskii’s novel People of the 40s to address issues of cultural appropriation and the materiality of print culture. Greta Matzner-Gore looks at the scientific writings of a range of non-canonical writers that had a crucial shaping influence on authors like Gogol, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky. And Anna Berman focuses on the novels of Evgenia Tur to explore how her depictions of courtship, marriage, and the family complicate our ideas about the classic Russian approach to these topics. Together the papers address a variety of Russia’s central literary concerns, demonstrating how expanding the range of authors we consider to more accurately reflect what people were reading in the period gives us a clearer picture of Russia’s literary tradition.

Papers:

“Aleksei Pisemskii’s People of the 40s, Cultural Appropriation, and Paper” – Gabriella Safran, Stanford U

“The Science of Early Russian Realism” – Greta Nicole Matzner-Gore, U of Southern California

“Evgenia Tur and the Non-Canonical Marriage Plot” – Anna A. Berman, McGill U (Canada)

Discussant: Anna Schur, Keene State College

Chair: Valeria Sobol, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

Nationalizing Russian Literature: How Literary Institutions Shaped the Canon in the 19th Century

4:30 to 6:15pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

This panel, bringing together Russian, European and American scholars, seeks to reestablish the sociological perspective in the studies of 19th-century Russian literature and culture. Using recent theories of nationalism and canon formation, the speakers will explore how various institutions (theatre, book publishing, school, Academy of Sciences) modernized the notion of literature and its practice according to the most cutting-edge ideology of nationalism and unification. The panel also stresses reciprocal and unexpected influences between social and literary institutions.

Papers:

“Staging Theatre History: The Origin Myth and the Struggle for Autonomy in Russian Imperial Theatre” – Andrey Fedotov, Lomonosov State U (Russia)

“Constructing Russian Nation in the Age of the Great Reforms: Alexander Ostrovsky and the Canon of Russian Drama” – Kirill Zubkov, Higher School of Economics (Russia)

“Classics for All?: Book Publishing and the Popularization of Dostoevsky in Late Imperial Russia” – Raffaella Vassena, U of Milan (Italy)

“How Russian Novel Came to School: Curriculum and Literary Canon in Late Imperial Russia” – Alexey Vdovin, NRU Higher School of Economics (Russia)

Discussant: Jeffrey Peter Brooks, Johns Hopkins U

Chair: William Mills Todd III, Harvard U

 

Monday, November 25

Cognitive Approaches to Russian Literature II

10:00 to 11:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 12

Our panel tests recent findings in cognitive science (psychology and philosophy) by applying them to established works of Russian literature. Inasmuch as these works denote acceptance by wide audiences, they constitute valid data for assessing so-called human universals.

Papers:

“Rates of Foreign Influence in the Russian Tradition: An Application of Psychology to Literary History” – Tom Dolack, Wheaton College

“Ivan Karamazov’s Fuzzy Feelings: The Cognitive Possibilities for a Non-Euclidean Mind” – Milica Ilicic, Columbia U

“The Cognitive Psychology of Belief, Piety, and Fantasy: From Fictive to Actual Inquisitors, Zealots, and Visionaries” – Jerry Piven, Rutgers, the State U of New Jersey

“Possibilities of Cognitive Approach to Biographical and Historical Novels of Evgeny Vodolazkin” – Amina Gabrielova, Purdue U

Discussant: Brett Cooke, Texes A&M U

Chair: David Powelstock, Brandeis U

 

Violence, Crime, and Suicide: The Ethics of Representation in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

3:45 to 5:30pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 4, Pacific I

Scholars across disciplines have increasingly turned to exploring the ethical implications of literary forms of representation as a way of reexamining traditional narrative categories. The study of the intersection of narrative and ethics has produced many works that question the essentially positive value of fiction-reading, or that investigate the possible encounters novels enable with lives different than our own. Focusing on the representations of suicide, trials, and violence, this panel seeks to bring the Russian nineteenth-century novel into this conversation by examining the intersections of narrative and ethics in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, who stand out for their use of literary forms to question and explore the implications of the ethics of their fiction.

Papers:

 “Dostoevsky and Thanatotic Contagion” – Amy D. Ronner, St. Thomas U

“Fictional Defendants and Real Readers: The Ethics of Literary Trials” – Erica Stone Drennan, Columbia U

“‘Что ж, хоть и чужой, все надо жалость иметь’: The Ethics of Representing Alterity in Early Tolstoy” – Thomas Dyne, UC Berkeley

Discussants:

Alex Spektor, U of Georgia

Deborah A. Martinsen, Columbia U

Chair: Irina Paperno, UC Berkeley

 

Tuesday, November 26

Post-Soviet Film Adaptations: Redefining Russian and Soviet Literary Classics in 1990-early 2000s

10:00 to 11:45am, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: LB2, Salon 11

This is the second in the series of three panels on film adaptations produced in the Soviet and post-Soviet period, 1930-2017. Our second panel focuses on the renewed attempt to re-interpret Russian and Soviet classics through film adaptations in the post-Soviet period, 1992-2015. The panel shows how post-Soviet filmmakers approached time-honored Russian literature by Pushkin and Dostoevsky, and the Soviet classic, “Quiet Flows the Don” by Mikhail Sholokhov, and re-interpreted these works for the new, post-Soviet period. The papers examine new beliefs about history and the canon implicit in the filmmakers’ revisions and also trace new film techniques in the updated films.

Papers:

“Making of a Dream: An Animated Film Adaptation of Dostoevsky’s ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’” – Irina Karlsohn, Dalarna U (Sweden) / Uppsala U (Sweden)

“Proshkin’s Post-Soviet Projection of Pushkin’s Prose: Catherine the Great in the film ‘Russkii Bunt’” – Amanda Fairchild Murphy, Nazarbayev U (Kazakhstan)

“Reclaiming Soviet Classics: Desire for Repetition or Change?” – Irina Makoveeva, Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE)

Discussant: Milla (Lioudmila) Fedorova, Georgetown U

Chair: Sabina Amanbayeva, Oklahoma City U

 

Cosmic Dreams and Communal Nightmares: Russian Science Fiction and Horror

12:00 to 1:45pm, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Floor: 5, Sierra G

This panel explores the spaces and influences of 20th-21st century Russian science fiction and horror literature: from the utopian dreams of space exploration and collective world-building to their nightmarish disintegration within the Soviet kommunalka and into post-Soviet reality. The first paper discusses the phenomenon of collective vampirism within the utopian society on Mars in Bogdanov’s “Red Star.” The second paper analyzes Petrushevskaya’s engagement with Poe in her short story “Chocolates with Liqueur” as a manifestation of what the author terms the domestic gothic. Finally, the third paper notes the influences of Russian Cosmism on Pelevin’s parodic revisioning of the Soviet space race in “Omon Ra.”

Papers:

“Communal Vampirism in Alexander Bogdanov’s ‘Red Star’” – Irina M. Erman, College of Charleston

“Transforming Poe and the Domestic Gothic in Petrushevskaya’s ‘Chocolates with Liqueur’” – Meghan Vicks, U of Colorado at Boulder

“Viktor Pelevin’s ‘Omon Ra’ and Russian Cosmism – Ritsuko Kidera, Doshisha U (Japan)

Chair: Oksana Husieva, U of Kansas


Thanks to Vadim Shneyder, North American Dostoevsky Society Readers Advisory Board member and Assistant Professor at UCLA, for compiling the list!

Dostoevsky on the Soul. An exchange between Yuri Corrigan and Denis Zhernokleyev, part 2

by Caryl Emerson

This is the second post in a two-part series on the agon between Yuri Corrigan and Denis Zhernokleyev and picks up in the middle of the narrative. To read Part 1, click here.

YuriHeadshot2018

Yuri Corrigan

On February 21, in Princeton, Yuri presented a variant on his ASEEES paper, “Nihilism as Refuge:  Rethinking the Philosophical Dostoevsky,” which significantly expanded and refined the thesis of his 2017 book, Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self.  He opened with the suggestion that “our notion of Dostoevsky as a theorist of the personality might be enriched if we begin by approaching Dostoevsky as a psychologist first and a novelist of ideas second.  I’ll focus my comments on Crime and Punishment as a test case.” Psychology means innerness, not ideology and not inter-personal communication. Both Joseph Frank and Bakhtin, in focusing on outside stimuli, had failed to engage sufficiently the pathological Dostoevsky.  Of course Raskolnikov did have an idea, but he wasn’t sure what it was;  he had cobbled it together long after some other buried, inaccessible inner pressure had pushed him to commit the crime.  Yuri suggests that the murder was committed not toward an idea or in order to prove a new word (say, the right of an extraordinary man to act ‘above the law’) but rather away from something, in order to distance himself from a dangerously personal hidden thing.  Raskolnikov rushing into crime was escaping the ‘demands of deep interiority’:  “the subliminal, dynamic, vital, and unplumbed unconscious energies, memories, and agencies (the что-то that clamors oppressively from within).”  But to stifle the noise within is horrendously difficult.  Yuri posits three ‘highly efficient methods’—in effect, distractions—that Dostoevsky perfected for keeping the suffering subject firmly in the shallows of consciousness.  The first is violence.  Do something so awful that all your attention, fear and anguish are absorbed by it.  The second is ideology.  Embrace a ready-made impersonal doctrine that pretends to be cold, logical, irrefutable, and this will keep all attempts at independent thinking at bay.  The third is addiction:  lose oneself in emotional, sexual, or collective excess.  These three methods—which, we note, taken together cover a disturbingly broad spectrum of everyday human activity—function as an ‘anaesthetic’, a drug that works on the surface of a person, preventing any sustained inward movement of consciousness.  Not until his scene with Sonya on the Siberian riverbank does Raskolnikov break through to his real self, when he “wasn’t thinking of anything,” that is, not actively keeping anything at bay.  He becomes, in Yuri’s words, “the first of Dostoevsky’s characters to face this force (the Holy Spirit) and to survive.  The second will be Alyosha.  Myshkin doesn’t survive it.  Neither does Stepan Trofimovich.”

At this point in his presentation, for all the secular psychoanalytic precision of the externally inflicted wound and the subject’s reasonable desire to repress it, Yuri opened the door to a metaphysical, overtly religious level of existence.  “Where Dostoevsky the psychologist meets Dostoevsky the theologian,” Yuri said, “is in the way that the self becomes broken open toward mystical experience.  What Dostoevsky drew from his earlier writing is that God enters into the self through a wound in the psyche;  the experience of being wounded in childhood opens the self toward a deeper form of inwardness.”  The key to forming a durable personality, Yuri later explained, was to be not over-wounded, and of course not unwounded (or unwoundable) like Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, but to be sufficiently wounded, just enough so that the transcendent “energies of the Holy Spirit can find their way into the self through the wound.” Dostoevsky believed that modern ideology was “overhasty medication” that cut short this painful and necessary process.

Denis Zhernokleyev (SF)

Denis Zhernokleyev

If Yuri fleshed out his book and refined his earlier ASEEES paper, then Denis, who was still on the upward slope of finalizing his book and shifting ground every month, did a major overhaul of his.  At ASEEES he had delivered a provocative paper on “Apocalyptic Perversity in Dostoevsky.”  The perverse in the title was there largely to satisfy the organizing rubric of the panel;  what Denis in fact argued was for a distinction, or actually for a conflict, between the ethical and the religious.  In those crucial post-exile years, Denis insisted, Dostoevsky renounces the first for the second.  Of course Dostoevsky never renounced the moral:  as we learn from the Gospel of John, our innate sense of the moral is from God and made manifest in Divine Grace.  The Johannine formula holds that human nature on its own is “morally insufficient.”  In Denis’s exposition of Dostoevsky’s position, then, what is wrong with the ethical is that it tries to get around the need for God.  The ethical is easily secularized because it understands morality as natural.  The source of this idea is Rousseau:  connect with Nature, connect with Beauty, and your soul will progress and flourish.  Denis sees the whole tragedy of The Idiot tied up in its investment in (and parody of) a Rousseauistic worldview, with earnest detailed confessions premised on the false assumption that reliable inward experience is graspable as pictures and narratable as stories.  This entire complex of aesthetic practices Denis calls ‘sentimental,’ and he would submit it to a severe critique.  At this point in the agon, I recalled the watershed between Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.  Not only the person of Rousseau but the entire Romantic cult of nature and ‘natural ethics’ had been precious to Tolstoy throughout his life. He insisted on the normalcy of goodness, if only State and institutional Church would leave us alone.  It gave me a jolt when, in an e-mail from December 6, Denis had casually called Leo Tolstoy our ‘greatest Russian secularist’.  Tolstoy, sunk in a search for God for decades, sworn enemy of the materialists and naturalists, a secularist!  But from the angle of Rousseau and sentimental (that is, sensually addictive) stimuli, the label made sense.

Denis made another controversial foray in his ASEEES paper, in defense of Bakhtin’s Dostoevsky.  By no means did he endorse everything Bakhtin said;  wholly unacceptable, for example, was Bakhtin’s unwillingness to confront the Underground Man’s cruel manipulation of Liza.  But on the ‘idea-person,’ Bakhtin was correct.  By claiming that Dostoevsky strips his heroes of their pasts and reduces their presents to the occasional terrifying deed surrounded by a huge amount of talk, Bakhtin (an experienced Classicist, steeped in Greek tragedy) grasped that for Dostoevsky, characters were less ‘real people’ than they were coordinates of metaphysical realms.  When they speak, they tell us about their collapsing world.  Denis notes that as modern sentimental readers and devotees of Rousseau, we want to gape, eavesdrop on, identify with, reach out to, weep on behalf of these fictive heroes—but none of that is appropriate here.  That’s the route of ethics, which strives to improve life with small kindnesses while continuing in the same groove, and above all while trying to talk one’s way out of crippling guilt.  Ethical approaches are pleasurable to engage, aesthetically motivated, essentially God-free, and as soon as we give in to them, we falter on Dostoevsky’s divinely difficult path.  Denis believes that Bakhtin hinted at all this in his 1929 Dostoevsky book, but he could not go much further than hint.  Not only was Bakhtin’s Soviet culture officially atheist;  his medium was words, and his Dostoevsky book claimed to study not value-laden ideology but the workings of words.  Since the core difficulty of the religious path is precisely its ineffability, Dostoevsky somehow had to speak persuasively about ‘that which cannot be talked about’.  Thus the cunning purity of the apophatic approach.

Several months later at Princeton, Denis revived both these themes in his presentation “The Invisible Soul in Dostoevsky.”  It opened on a comparison between Dostoevskian and Tolstoyan characters.  Tolstoy’s heroes we see, touch, hear, feel.  Dostoevskian heroes remain  “ungraspable to our imagination. . . . We cannot even see the face of Nastasya Filippovna whose photograph Myshkin tries to describe for us in some detail.”  Why is this?  The familiar answer is that Dostoevsky depicts not the outward world of objects but the inner world of the soul, the ‘landscapes of the unconscious,’ or in Corrigan’s phrase ‘the psychic wound.’  Denis challenged this psychologically realistic reading of Dostoevsky by arguing that “the soul—the person—for Dostoevsky is a priori indescribable and therefore, aesthetically speaking, unimaginable.”  His goal as a novelist was “to initiate the reader into the reality of the ungraspable,” that is, into “a mode of being in the world that refuses to reduce reality to any form of objectively available image, be it the outward world of the physical appearance or the inward world of the soul.”  His method was apophatic.

Yuri had spent some time distinguishing his approach from both Freud and Jung.  Denis, for his part, spent time explaining apophasis (Greek for negation, an unsaying or undoing (apo: away from;  phasis: assertive speech).  There are parallels with the icon, which trains us in an alternative form of seeing and distances us from familiar patterns of recognition.  This might seem like defamiliarization, but “contrary to the ostranenie of the Formalists, which is an aesthetic device intended to re-energize the mimetic mode of imagination, apophasis is an altogether anti-mimetic attitude.”  Of course there is inwardness in Dostoevsky, Denis admits, “even infinite inwardness, and thus profound suffering.”  But this suffering is and must remain ineffable, ungraspable, both for the characters and for the reader.  “The desire to engage suffering aesthetically (or mimetically), through language and imagination, constitutes in Dostoevsky the greatest temptation.”   It is the “temptation of secular (Rousseauian) salvation, which believes that suffering can be objectively grasped—or remembered, or communicated, or confessed—and thus can serve as the reliable ground on which to erect a sentimental metaphysic.”

The rest of Denis’s paper consisted of close readings of passages from Notes from Underground, “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” and The Idiot.  In each, confessions run riot and tantalizing (or sadomasochistic) pictures abound.  The point of them is to seduce the reader, as Ivan Karamazov tries to seduce his younger brother with a feuilletonistic reel of cruel human acts, and as Nastasya Filippovna would seduce the world with her bewitching suffering face.  But Denis is after even larger game.  Why would Dostoevsky insist on discrediting our instincts toward empathy and understanding?  Because, Denis ventures,

by equating suffering with truth, the sentimental metaphysic not only places truth intimately close to human experience, but it inevitably suggests that truth, in some fundamental sense, is the product of the human experience (this is the Romantic view).  Thus truth becomes a natural phenomenon and enters the purview of psychological realism.  Within this natural economy of suffering, justice (the ultimate alleviation of suffering) is no longer a prerogative of the divine (supra-natural) realm (Grace).  It is now a prerogative of the suffering self, which is believed capable of adequately assessing an imbalance of justice and thus of knowing how this balance could be restored, or at least improved.

Again, doing without God’s grace is taken by Denis to be Dostoevsky’s most feared outcome.   Sentimental confession, with its sinking-inward of attention, is everywhere its vehicle (for all that it might occasionally mimic acts of prayer).  At the end of his paper, Denis was more explicit about the dangers of “withdrawing into inwardness”—Yuri’s signature move.  As Dostoevsky shows elsewhere, Denis argued, to retreat into yourself tends to lead to demonic doubling, not to spiritual awakening or Revelation.  Self-knowledge of the sort that Yuri hints at and holds out to his trapped sufferers and ‘psychic fugitives’ is simply not available to the post-Notes (post-Rousseau) Dostoevsky.  The authentic saint of this second stage, Denis insists, is Sonya Marmeladova, resilient, indifferent to her own wound, utterly outward in her thoughts and gestures—in Valentina Izmirlieva’s wonderful phrase, ‘radically hospitable” in body and spirit.  Sonya can offer herself to others because she is a source;  she is not, like Raskolnikov, a seeker.  Seekers will always be undone before they are transformed.  In Crime and Punishment, Denis argues, Dostoevsky decisively returns to the “medieval, sacramental anthropology of Saint Augustine, who in his Confessions insists that self-knowledge is not naturally acquirable and must be ultimately received as revelation.”  For both Rousseau and Augustine, in Denis’s view, the problem of self-knowledge constitutes the threshold that divides secular from religious metaphysics.

These two positions, ‘psychological-sentimental’ and ‘apophatic’, provoked lengthy and heated discussions at the Princeton forum, engaging many of the issues raised above.  I took no notes on it, but thinking back and consulting the epistolary prehistory of the two participants, one theme might suggest its texture.  For several of us, the bomb in the closet was Yuri’s expanded exegesis of Crime and Punishment—the chapter he wished he had included in his book.  Not only did it demolish the foundational Bakhtinian reading of Raskolnikov as an ‘unselfish’ disembodied and historyless idea-person;  almost more important, the Helpers in this story turn out to be disablers.  Razumikhin, ‘the one wholesome loving normal person in Dostoevsky’s world’ (as I’ve long been wont to call him), when looked at from the perspective of Raskolnikov wounded and hell-bent on escaping knowledge of his wound, is in fact an Arkady, best friend of Vasia Shumkov.  The loyal Razumikhin is loving only if we assume that Raskolnikov is sick and helpless in the ordinary visible sentimental ways, and the help that he needs is sympathy.  Razumikhin’s reasonable practical ministrations are designed to keep his friend there, in the same sick spot.  And Sonya!  Svidrigailov!  Even made wiser by Carol Apollonio’s insightful revisionist readings, it seemed to me that Yuri’s interpretation did more than collapse that old familiar binary, Raskolnikov flanked on one side by a saint and on the other a lost fallen sinner.  He opened up the possibility that both these flanking figures are to some extent crutches.  Each is a place for Raskolnikov to fly to as long as he hates and disrespects himself, and that he will do, for as long as he looks outward.  Of course Sonya is the more complex enabler.  As Yuri notes, she is there temporarily to help the hero bear his burden, until he is prepared to partake of divine energies, somewhat like Alyosha does for his brother Ivan at the end of Brothers Karamazov.   Sonya is willing to become Raskolnikov’s soul until he is sufficiently strong to cultivate one himself.  But sooner or later these concerned outer persons, with all their outer good works, must give way and withdraw—otherwise they will “stifle the divine energies that are unleashed by the wound.”

I recalled what Yuri had written me back in August, as he was rethinking those novels he wished he had dealt with in more detail in his book.  “The whole of C&P is about how to fend off the energies of the Holy Spirit that find their way into the self through the wound, all the strategies of fending off God [italics in the original],” he wrote.  “Those strategies inevitably fail as the self is taken over from within (and maybe the personality is built into a sufficient conduit only through the struggle with this force).  That’s why the epilogue has never, in my view, been properly appreciated.  It’s not about repentance at all, it’s about being broken down from within, and thus transformed.  This is what I want to get across in the new book: Dostoevsky is crucial for our time (an age of extreme externality) because his novels are tutorials on how to discover and bear the weight of interiority.”

To this, Denis had a ready counter-argument.  We cannot, and should not, ‘put ourselves in the place of Raskolnikov’s consciousness’, because Dostoevsky’s characters are not human beings for whom wellbeing is a goal or a virtue.  They are carriers, novelistic filler, and must suffer by definition.  Back on August 10, fresh from writing the Corrigan review, Denis had shared with me his darker thoughts on this matter, which began with an inquiry into the very concept of ‘self’ for Dostoevsky.  Yuri’s basic idea, Denis wrote,

is that Dostoevsky is a psychologist, who is hyper-aware of trauma but nevertheless believes that traumatic experience can be organized and dealt with towards some sort of ‘positive’ psychological experience.  [ . . . ]  For Yuri, Dostoevskian characters correspond to real people and therefore represent robust individualities, with their own autonomous psyches.  Overall, subjectivity for Yuri is a scary but ultimately a reliable sort of thing.  Along with Bakhtin, I disagree with such an approach.  In my view, characters in Dostoevsky are not real selves but mere ontological coordinates, fragments of the self (the reader’s self) whose existence is assumed but never presented in the book.  The novel does not describe anything, including psychological landscapes.  They remain fragmented, quagmirish, never trustworthy.  Hence my thesis.  The only self that exists for Dostoevsky and the one he addresses as a totality is that of the reader.  The Dostoevskian novel is born as a new poetic format designed to work with the reader, not merely describe the traumatic experience of a character.  The self that Dostoevsky really cares for is the self that wrestles with his novel.

If we drop the expectation that Dostoevsky’s characters are ‘real people’ and accept what Bakhtin entirely correctly in my view calls ‘coordinates,’ we arrive in Crime and Punishment with two potentialities:  Sonya as ‘radical outwardness’ and Svidrigailov as ‘radical inwardness.’  Contrary to Yuri’s assumption that all Dostoevskian characters are afraid of their inwardness, Raskolnikov is not afraid of his inwardness. Goodness me! He loves it! Though he struggles to piece his inwardness together, he is remarkably resilient in attempting to get there. The endpoint of Raskolnikov’s inwardness, the horizon that lures him forward into the inward plunge is Svidrigailov. [ . . . ]

But the ultimate end of that inwardness is nihilistic nothingness.  Sonya is the alternative potentiality. She is radical outwardness, to the point of complete self-destruction.  She gives herself to the world completely, and the phrase “she has loved much” is not a sarcastic mocking of her prostituting of herself.  She is the icon, or the mode of the iconic. The icon is complete outwardness;  the icon is there precisely to help the self-escape itself.

Denis concluded his note with a disclaimer.  “To be fair to Yuri,” he wrote, “there is some sense of the ‘beyond’ in his reading of Dostoevsky.  It is the beyond of the self that happens when Alyosha reaches the completion, or fullness, of the inward experience.  The confession becomes possible only when the self brings itself outward before God.  Only God, as someone who is there radically outward and sees, as Bakhtin puts it, the ‘back of our head,’ possesses the full picture of our self and can give it back to us as grace.  We receive our self only within the radically outward movement.  Liturgical.”  Yuri was prepared for this move.  Picking up on Denis’s lines “Raskolnikov is not afraid of his inwardness.  Goodness me!  He loves his inwardness,” Yuri countered: “Denis!  He’s terrified of his genuine inwardness.  What he loves is his false diversionary inwardness, the decoy.”  Scraps of this rich subtext surfaced in February at Princeton.  But only scraps.

~~~

At the time, I remember my surprise when most participants in the Princeton forum thought that Yuri’s paper was ‘not all that opposed’ to Denis’s position.  True, Yuri had been out a long time.  His 2008 dissertation on Chekhov was legendary in the department as the product of a mind that wanted to arrive first at its own conclusions without allowing categories to leak in from secondary sources (the factoid here:  Yuri had read through all of Chekhov’s 600-plus short stories in Russian, chronologically, before settling on a topic).  Denis, on the other hand, was a personality still familiar to the department, especially in his adeptness, as seminar participant and undergraduate preceptor, at identifying Christian subtexts in the Russian tradition.  His 2016 dissertation defense had been the first in living memory conducted by a PhD candidate with an MDiv from a distinguished Divinity School, and thus by a person who knew the sacred texts as thoroughly as did Dostoevsky (and more thoroughly than all of his professors).  That was the expertise we expected from Denis.  And here was Yuri Corrigan with his sophisticated socio-psychological thesis, built out of Dostoevsky’s lesser-known works as well as his world-famous ones, also ending on the Holy Spirit.  Neither had talked about justice, the exploitation of the urban poor, the iniquity of prostitution or rape, the deceptions of utopian socialism or the oppression of one class by another.  Doesn’t this mean they are ending up in the same place?  This, for me, was one of the most valuable lessons of the Princeton forum, and of its prehistory and aftermath.  Similar to the careless habit in Soviet times of referring to “the West” as if it were one homogenous body of beliefs, languages, prejudices, and policies, so in our secularized academy the God Function taken seriously often catapults a critic into some blurry, mystical, all-of-a-single-kind category where rigorous logical thinking is presumed to have been replaced by superstition, blind belief or unreliable religious reflexes.  But surely the religious or metaphysical side of things is just as complex, precise, multi-voiced and non-compatible with itself as is the social, political, and materialistic.

Both Yuri and Denis acknowledge that Dostoevsky is a metaphysical novelist and a theist with a passionate religious agenda.  Where they differ, first, is in the primary addressee.   Is Dostoevsky inviting us to listen in and empathize while he addresses Raskolnikov, real-life Petersburg personality, or is he addressing the reader’s own anxieties and fantasies of escape on a metaphysical level, using Raskolnikov as foil?  Closely connected to this question is the second difference, tied up with the possibility of self-knowledge and thus of self-healing.  Here there are overlaps as well as cosmic dissimilarities.

The Cartesian worldview is rejected by both, since it effectively deletes the faculty of ‘soul’ from the personality.  Both pay homage to the Christian metaphysics of Augustine and Kierkegaard.  As Yuri describes his debt:  Augustine seeks God in the ‘depths of the psyche’ and these depths begin as psychological before becoming divine;  Kierkegaard adds an element of trauma when he notes that we make this irrational journey inward in a state of terror.  As regards Rousseau, Yuri considers himself (and Dostoevsky) a stern critic of that thinker, not an advocate.  Rousseau holds that we own our own interiority, that we are capable of saying everything about ourselves and can unwrap and reveal our true story.  Dostoevsky rejects that self-confident egoism, which occupies the shallows of our consciousness, beneath which is our truest self, first felt as an unknown darkness and then as the living God.  Our memories are at best mere footpaths to this territory.  But Denis—whose critique of aestheticized secularism is more radical—reads Yuri’s project otherwise.  He argues that Yuri’s real, if hidden, progenitor is in fact none other than Rousseau.  The Augustinian idea of the person is Trinitarian from the start, and therefore non-reducible at any point to psychological self-awareness.  It is for this reason that Denis insists Rousseau’s sentimental Confessions cannot be understood (as it so often is) as mere ‘post-Enlightenment Augustine’.  There are residual Augustinian traces in Rousseau, of course, but the abyss between apophatic revelation and feuilletonistic self-display is far too wide to bridge.

A final difference is one of timing.  When, in the trajectory of our rebirth, does God (as stern taskmaster, invisible truth-bearer, or ineffable Terror) come to our aid?  For Denis, an ‘apophatic’ theorist, Dostoevsky starts with this indescribable Presence and wraps his symbolic heroes (as well as his real-life readers) around it, forcing us to confront the fact that the human mind, our deepest interiority, cannot know itself.  For the psyche-based, more ‘sentimental’ Yuri, Dostoevsky teases his heroes with hope.  He pulls them painfully inward, forces them to confront and unwrap their buried past, watches them struggle, eventually cuts off all routes of escape, and—likewise—challenges the survivors to confront the untellable and to live with what cannot be known.

Can both be right?  Fortunately, the study of literature is not a progressive science but an accretive one.  The health of the humanities (and we would like also to believe, the health of the human race) rests on the need to keep an abundance of right answers in circulation, and as many great novelists being read and re-read as the world can bear.

old guard for BK

The author and members of the “old guard” of Dostoevsky scholars at IDS 2019 in Boston.
From left: Caryl Emerson, Robert Louis Jackson, Robin Feuer Miller, Gary Saul Morson, William Mills Todd, III


CARYL EMERSON is A. Watson Armour III University Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University.  Her work has focused on the Russian classics (Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky), Mikhail Bakhtin, and Russian music, opera and theater.  Recent projects include the Russian modernist Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950), the allegorical-historical novelist Vladimir Sharov (1952-2018), and, together with George Pattison and Randall A. Poole, co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought (forthcoming 2020).

YURI CORRIGAN is Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Boston University. His first book, Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self, was published by Northwestern University Press in 2017; Bloggers Karamazov interviewed Yuri about his book in November 2017Yuri serves on the Executive Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society and was the primary organizer of the XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium in 2019.

DENIS ZHERNOKLEYEV is Senior Lecturer in Russian Literature at Vanderbilt University. He works on 19th-20th century Russian literature and religious thought, Realist Aesthetics, Theories of the Tragic, and Mikhail Bakhtin. He is currently working on a book manuscript Dostoevsky’s Apophatic Novel.

Dostoevsky on the Soul. An exchange between Yuri Corrigan and Denis Zhernokleyev, part 1

by Caryl Emerson

On February 21, 2019, two Princeton PhDs, Yuri Corrigan (Boston University) and Denis Zhernokleyev (Vanderbilt University) came back home to discuss their diverging views on Dostoevsky and the inner life.  I was moderator of the event.  Yuri’s monograph Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self had been published in 2017;  at the time, Denis was rehauling his 2016 dissertation, Beholden by Love: A Study in the Apophasis of Dostoevsky’s Poesis, into a hard-hitting theological alternative to contemporary secular studies of the Russian novelist.  Since our February forum, the distance between the Corrigan and Zhernokleyev positions has become subtler, more precisely drawn, and mostly more public, thanks in large part to the appearance in print of several essays by each party and to lively personal exchanges at the International Dostoevsky Symposium in Boston last July.  In August, Katia Bowers expressed an interest in the prehistory of this debate for Bloggers Karamazov, so Denis and Yuri enlisted me to reconstruct that initial forum.  I fumbled around in my files, but could find little of substance written down beyond the presentation notes of the two participants.  However, having happily remained something of a mentor to both of these gifted young scholars, a huge number of e-mail threads leading up to the event came to my aid.  With the help of that record, I try here to provide some backstories to this professional agon.

CE+RLJ Boston IDS 2019

The author with Robert Louis Jackson, Boston, July 2019

Among the many great things about our Slavic field is its smallness.  Faculty old and young all know one another and have read one another;  access to everyone at all ranks is without serious obstacle.  The graduate students working on Dostoevsky who gathered in Boston encountered four generations of scholars, from newly-minted PhDs to the 95-year-old Robert Louis Jackson, enmeshed in that close personal conversation that we associate with the Russian literary tradition itself (Dostoevsky rewrites Gogol, Solzhenitsyn responds to Tolstoy, Prigov performs Pushkin).  But the Denis-Yuri debate was unusual in that it was lateral, between members of the same generation in real time, and although ideological, off to the side of the mainstream Dostoevsky wars.  Its fault line was not where one might expect.  For this was not the familiar secular-sociological-progressive Dostoevsky pitted against the religiously or metaphysically inclined.  Neither Denis nor Yuri is a civic critic, materialist, positivist, ‘atheist’ or politicized secular cultural critic.  Viewed from the larger perspective of the humanities today, they share quite a bit of common ground.  On August 9, 2018, at work on his review of Yuri’s book for SEEJ, Denis wrote me:  “I’ve just finished reading Yuri Corrigan’s book on Dostoevsky and I absolutely love it! [ . . . ]   Although I have some reservations about the moves he makes,     [ . . . ] the man is reading the right books.”  The resultant review—which Denis shared with Yuri pre-publication, and which appeared in SEEJ vol. 62.4 (Winter 2018), pp. 747-748—was indeed appreciative, calling the monograph “a most original reading of Dostoevsky’s major novels.”  As Denis identified the paradox that Yuri had chosen to address (p. 747):

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Yuri’s book

On the one hand [ . . . ] Dostoevsky affirms the notion of the resilient self.  On the other, Dostoevsky’s avowed commitment to the Christian ideal of selfless love suggests that he ultimately understands the self as something that needs to be renounced.  Yuri Corrigan in Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self  resolves the contradiction by arguing that, for Dostoevsky, the ability to overcome the self depends on the very highest development of personality.  Only an “abundance” of self can lead one to freedom from anxiety over-self-preservation.

Yuri (Denis concluded) saw the primary concern of a Dostoevskian narrative to be subjectivity itself.  Characters are seen as mimetically real (not figural or symbolic), vulnerable, and needful of our empathy.  Above all, individual heroes (and their author) strive to restore a personal wholeness that has been violated.  Denis did flag certain puzzling points.  He noted the relative absence of sustained attention to Notes from Underground in a study of the Dostoevskian ‘self,’ a rather too cursory treatment of Crime and Punishment, and the unconventional thesis that “Dostoevsky’s religious conversion during the Siberia years does not constitute a break with his early Romantic worldview but its expansion” (748).  The status of Romanticism, especially in the person of Rousseau, was problematic for Denis and incompatible with rigorous, religiously informed reading.  Still, it took several months—and considerable communication beneath the visibility bar—for the lines to be drawn.

Yuri did not like Denis’s review, and he let Denis know.  Yuri sensed under its “false advocacy” a deeper principled polemic at work, even, he said astutely, some scarcely concealed contempt, and he was curious to probe it.  Denis, equally forthright and generous, sent Yuri several pages of notes that he had compiled for me (and for himself) while working on the SEEJ commission, little of which he ultimately included.  There were good reasons for excluding them:  intricate and unforgiving, Denis’s detailed exegesis came from a whole other cosmos, and required far more contextualization than was appropriate for a brief review.  Yuri loved these longer notes, which concealed nothing and went out on many tantalizing limbs.  At this point, privy to these conversations, it became clear to me that this was an agon, and these two scholars were in it for the right reasons.  Uninsultable, fearless, borrowing ideas from no one, they were working on a great creative mind from the bottom up and out of their own deeply held, closely nurtured convictions.

 

Yuri Corrigan (left) and Denis Zhernokleyev (right)

From August to October 2018, the three of us conducted a sporadic correspondence on Dostoevsky.  My personal interest in their escalating exchange was fueled by the fact that both Yuri and Denis resisted the canonical Bakhtinian thesis that Dostoevsky’s heroes were ‘idea-persons’ functioning in the here-and-now with little need of real bodies or a personal past.  But they were clearly revising Bakhtin toward very different ends, and I was intensely curious to see where each would end up.  Yuri’s was the more straightforward path.  Among his central concepts is the traumatic wound (usually inflicted on a child, consciously or unconsciously) and so humiliating to the victims that they suffer a sort of amnesia.  There is no therapy, whether Freud’s or Bakhtin’s, that can ‘talk away this wound’—although the sufferer, terrified of the indwelling ‘howling’ of the wound, tries mightily to escape its mute pressure by erecting barriers against it, outsourcing agency to another person or group, or softening the sting of consciousness in outward dissipation or distraction.  But all is in vain.  Only an inward turn will permit the hero to move beyond painful memory, beyond false fantasies of autonomy, to merge with the deeper divine will and to make of oneself a conduit.  Corrigan’s exposition leaves some questions tantalizingly open.  Is a wound imposed exclusively by lived experience (Raskolnikov as a child witnessing the beating-to-death of a mare; Alyosha Karamazov recalling his frantic keening mother under the slanting sunbeam, or later forced to endure the disgrace of his Elder in death)?  Or is the wound also in some principled way ‘structural,’ that is, in our postlapsarian state are all humans wounded by definition, to be saved only by renunciation and confrontation with the Holy Spirit?  (Again, the processes here are clouded and cruel.)  Either way, Yuri argues, successful Dostoevskian heroes must learn to embrace their own private space and undergo lonely, inwardly-directed quests through their traumatically severed pasts to find deeper anchor in a divine transcendent.  Such inner isolation, perhaps requiring that words be silenced, was never a priority for Mikhail Bakhtin.  As Alina Wyman has documented in her excellent 2016 study of active empathy in Scheler, Bakhtin, and Dostoevsky, Bakhtin ignores our need for radical aloneness or for private spaces inaccessible to others, since he considers the ‘self,’ such as we can sense it at all, to be a transit point, an intersection of communicating selves each external to the other.

Denis, for his part, felt that Bakhtin had gotten a great deal right in his Dostoevsky book.  Nevertheless he lamented the fact that the Bakhtinian defense of ‘outsideness’ or ‘outwardness’ had been misunderstood by a secular readership, which can imagine nothing more complex for polyphony than endlessly tolerant, expanding dialogic utterances among speaking selves on the ground, all destined for some sort of comfortable co-existence in Great Time.  Dostoevsky’s intent, Denis insisted, was not to reassure us.  What the ‘outward move’ really means is far more frightening—and this is the core message of his book-in-progress, Dostoevsky’s Apophatic Novel.  Its first task is to define negation in a more rigorous way.  Apophasis does not mean merely saying no;  its purpose is to negate fraudulent views of reality.  For Dostoevsky’s evolving poetics this entails rejecting Rousseau, along with all other sentimental-confessional routes to self-knowledge.  Denis sees this beginning to happen in Notes from Underground, and thus, contra Yuri, Dostoevsky’s worldview and method do break apart in the early 1860s.  While reinforcing this traditional topology, however, Denis alters it fundamentally by putting forward a new view of the tragic, and by devising a theological model for the great novels that draws on Saint Augustine and Søren Kierkegaard.

Portions of Denis’s theses on The Idiot began to appear: «Настасьин бунт: Протест как метафизическая категория у Достоевского» (in Достоевский и мировая культура 5, 2018); “Mimetic Desire in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot with Continual Reference to René Girard” (The Dostoevsky Journal 20, 2019).  Both dealt with the nature of Nastasya Filippovna’s rebellion—for hers is no ordinary wound.  These essays found a sympathetic audience among senior Dostoevsky scholars in Russia open to religious readings, such as Tatiana Kasatkina.  But there was another prong to the Zhernokleyev argument.  For several years, while Yuri had been probing the vulnerable Dostoevskian psyche and its panic-stricken outward projections, Denis had been developing his critique of a ‘feuilletonistic’ approach to the empirical world.  The feuilletonist is a hopelessly aesthetic figure, voraciously visual, primed for the latest random scandal, insatiable as regards generating and disseminating fake news.  In an e-mail to me on December 6, 2018, Denis lamented “the potential of the feuilletonistic to become totalitarian,” noting that in its current incarnation, Facebook and Twitter, the feuilleton was just as untrustworthy and out of control as Lebedev’s rantings in The Idiot.  In the face of this growing technological horror, he wrote, his own reading of Dostoevsky was becoming ever more “sumptuously Johannine.”  This meant that he was taking the Apocalypse not symbolically but with deadly seriousness and finality, as Russians had long done with their beloved Gospel of John.  Denis was preparing a dark critique of the “secularization of goodness,” so characteristic of modern thinkers from Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant up to the confused philanthropy of our present day.

Meanwhile, preliminary segments of Yuri’s ambitious new book project, an inquiry into Dostoevskian themes in contemporary world literature, were appearing in print or moving into the pipeline:  “Donna Tartt’s Dostoevsky:  Trauma and the Displaced Self” in Comparative Literature 70:4 (2018), “Dostoevsky on Evil as Safe Haven and Anesthetic” (SEEJ 63.2 2019).  On October 26, 2018, Yuri’s Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self received a glowing, full-page review by Oliver Ready in the TLS.  Identifying its major theme as Dostoevsky’s “consistent picture of the damaged human subject” for whom “the dread of personal memory has a false bottom,” Ready concluded by declaring the book “eloquent testimony to the flourishing of North American scholarship on Russian literature over the past several decades.”  He lauded those younger scholars who, rather than look ‘beyond the text,’ were showing “just how much remains to be discovered within it.”  This was wonderful confirmation.  But as is often the case after the pleasure of positive feedback wears off, Yuri began to fret the corners that he might have cut    ‘in the tenure rush’ and the ideas that were insufficiently developed, which turned out to include some of the reservations voiced by Denis.  For his next oral presentation, Yuri would return to Crime and Punishment and push his argument further on the ground of that crucial threshold novel.

The next phase of the debate occurred at the ASEEES Annual Convention in Boston in early December, 2018, where both Yuri and Denis delivered papers.  Several days after the conference ended, on December 14, Yuri wrote me about his “fascinating conversations with Denis at ASEEES.”  In the ‘real’ review of his book—those pages of unofficial personal notes—Yuri had found “many productive and interesting misunderstandings [ . . . but] luckily, Denis warms up under fire and we found ourselves in a real heart-to-heart, almost a Shatov-Kirillov chronotope.”  Still, he added, “there was something ironic and funny about being categorized as a secular thinker [like all the rest] when I’ve spent so much energy and time trying to be secular enough for the academic world.”  Yuri closed his note with the thought that overall this was “a great conversation to have,” which might at some point be formalized and carried further in Princeton.

So what was at stake, by the time Denis contacted Michael Wachtel, Chair of Slavic, about the possibility of a Princeton continuation?  “Dear Michael,” Denis wrote on December 12, “as you might have heard, Yuri Corrigan’s very interesting book on Dostoevsky is making a splash in the Dostoevsky world.  In August I wrote a long, unofficial review of Yuri’s book for Caryl.  Eventually this document made its way to Yuri.  After a passionate conversation between Yuri and myself in Boston, it is obvious that we disagree on Dostoevsky fundamentally but in an engaging and fruitful way.”  Michael agreed that Princeton was a ‘good platform’ on which to share the debate.  Without repeating what is already in print and without giving away too much of what is still in gestation, let me summarize the state of the agon as it was presented publicly in February 2019.  Along the way and at the end, I will offer some general conclusions of my own.

Continued in Part 2


CARYL EMERSON is A. Watson Armour III University Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University.  Her work has focused on the Russian classics (Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky), Mikhail Bakhtin, and Russian music, opera and theater.  Recent projects include the Russian modernist Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950), the allegorical-historical novelist Vladimir Sharov (1952-2018), and, together with George Pattison and Randall A. Poole, co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought (forthcoming 2020).

YURI CORRIGAN is Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Boston University. His first book, Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self, was published by Northwestern University Press in 2017; Bloggers Karamazov interviewed Yuri about his book in November 2017Yuri serves on the Executive Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society and was the primary organizer of the XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium in 2019.

DENIS ZHERNOKLEYEV is Senior Lecturer in Russian Literature at Vanderbilt University. He works on 19th-20th century Russian literature and religious thought, Realist Aesthetics, Theories of the Tragic, and Mikhail Bakhtin. He is currently working on a book manuscript Dostoevsky’s Apophatic Novel.

Novokuznetsk: A Love Story

by Carol Apollonio

The blog post below is cross-posted on Bloggers Karamazov from Chekhov’s Footprints, a travel blog by Carol Apollonio documenting her journey tracing Chekhov’s journey from European Russia to Sakhalin this fall. You can read the original post here.

The thing about exile is that it is far away.

Dostoevsky was sent to Semipalatinsk as a common soldier after his release from the Omsk fortress  on March 2, 1854. The city is now called “Semey,” and it is now in Kazakhstan.  Find Omsk in the map (under the “A” in “Russian Federation”) and slide down to the southeast until you see the second little red airplane. Like Omsk and other key locations on our journey, Semipalatinsk is on the Irtysh River.

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Outside Dostoevsky circles, Semipalatinsk is best-known as a nuclear weapons testing facility, and the location of the first Soviet nuclear bomb test in 1949. For us Dostoevsky fanatics, though, its key attraction is its Dostoevsky Museum. In normal circumstances (whatever that means), this would put the town squarely on my itinerary.  But not only do you need to veer wildly off the main route (whatever that is); you also have to get a visa to enter Kazakhstan. I am not proud of this, but I chickened out.

Instead, I decide to follow a love story.

This means a significant detour from the Trans-Siberian, also, I might say, not for the chicken-hearted, to the city of Novokuznetsk (formerly Stalinsk, and before that, Kuznetsk).  A nice straight line would take me from Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk. But down to Novokuznetsk it is quite the zig-zag: a night train from Novosibirsk, a few hours in Novokuznetsk, and then  back on the next night train to Novosibirsk. Seems arduous, but compared with Dostoevsky’s travel from Semipalatinsk to Kuznetsk by dusty horse carriage, it’s nothing.

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Your train arrives at 6:00 am.  Too early for breakfast. You’ve figured, OK, let’s get oriented and find the museum, then we can sit and have some coffee nearby for a couple of hours before our date with the muzeishchiki after the museum opens at 11:00.

There’s plenty of time, so why not walk? A half-hour on the hoof down a long, chilly, gray avenue makes it clear that Novokuznetsk is larger in reality than it seemed to be on the map.  So you subject your cell phone to a vicious beating, and then set to learning about public transit. It’s not that hard, really.

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Personally, I love transit systems that include conductors who take coins and can answer questions.

Eventually, after a very long spell of gazing out the window at the broad gray avenues of Novokuznetsk (a landscape ominously devoid of eating establishments), I am deposited near this church.  Turn your back to it and look across the street:

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Progress! Now for that coffee, a muffin, a dose of wi-fi, the New York Times on my iPad, a nice little dip into the WC….

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HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

There are some industrial facilities, a couple of storage lots, a bit of what could be called traffic at 7:30 a.m. (trucks, and and a couple of guys walking on the side of the road in weathered work clothes, carrying what appear to be lunch bags). A car or two. The barking of invisible dogs.

It dawns on me that there will not be coffee, or food. Nor will there be even a place to sit down, for it is muddy on Dostoevsky Street. I try not to think about what I must look like to the natives, train-disheveled, bespectacled, bewildered, scowling at my cell phone.

One good thing; my (OK, all right, our) navigation is good:

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Looks pretty closed up–after all, it is 8:00 on a Saturday morning.  Three hours to opening. I could kind of lean on the wall for a couple of those hours, I guess. Or do a Dmitry Karamazov.

I choose the latter. Right about where you see my big-city gray bag hanging on the palings, I make my move. A person of my age and dignity level really shouldn’t be clambering, but after some huffing and puffing and a couple of snags, it works. I’m in!

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I dust myself off, neaten things up on my person, prowl the yard, and reconnoiter.

Footsteps…

A man walks through the gate. It was not locked.

It is Alexander Evgenievich. Alexander Evgenievich is the night guard.  He does not shoot me. Instead he gently walks me into the (unlocked) door of the museum and introduces me to Olga, who is sitting quietly there behind the reception desk. He says to Olga, “feed her.”

Olga doesn’t seem to notice my bedraggled state, nor the fact that I have just broken into the Dostoevsky Museum. She takes me by the hand and walks me to her cozy house down the street. Oladi, fresh ham, vegetables, and hot tea magically appear. I have fallen down the rabbit hole. Time, which 15 minutes ago was a terrible burden, opens up infinite possibilities at the place Russia does best: the kitchen table.

Once calm has been restored, and we have shared life experiences, and I have savored this sublime breakfast, Olga walks me back to the Museum.

selo-stepanchikovo-dress--300x225There she hands me over tenderly to the museum’s Deputy Director for Research Elena Dmitrievna Trukhan, who takes me through a couple of special exhibits in the main building. One of these displays artifacts and photographs of theatrical productions of Dostoevsky’s work done here by visiting directors. I am lucky to catch the exhibit, which is to be taken down TODAY. vl.semyonovich-with-camera-676x901Even better, I meet the photographer, Vladimir Semyonovich Pilipenko, a kind and very alert observer who has traveled all over Russia taking pictures. He’s not about to stop today. Indeed, Vladimir Semyonovich’s photos will soon appear in a report about our day together with Elena Dmitrievna at the museum.

The other exhibit is a charming collection of children’s art inspired by the great children’s writer and poet Kornei Chukovsky. The children have done collages and paper sculptures of Chukovsky characters.

Here, as elsewhere on my travels, I’m deeply impressed with the Russian emphasis on arts education, and with the ways museums are reaching out to children, not just as places where they can learn about famous people, places and events, but where they can interact with history and literature, and, importantly, create art themselves.

Yes, science is important. Art is equally important, and you need it for your soul.

marias-house-number-225x300Dostoevsky made three trips to (pre Novo-) Kuznetsk, spending a total of 22 days here, all in pursuit, and finally conquest, of Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva, whom he married in Kuznetsk in February of 1857. He had met her previously in Semipalatinsk, before her husband was transferred here. Then her husband died here….

1st visit: 2 days in June 1856: during this first visit to Kuznetsk, Dostoevsky learned that he had a rival for her hand (Nikolai Vergunov);

2nd visit: 5 days in November 1856: having received his promotion to the rank of ensign (praporshchik)– he came to make an official proposal of marriage to Maria Dmitrevna;

3d visit: 15 days in January-February 1857: during this visit he married Maria Dmitrievna in the Odigitrievskaya Church, and spent the first days of his married life before returning with her and her son to Semipalatinsk.

Just down Dostoevsky Street from the museum’s main building, you can visit the house of the tailor Dmitriev, where Maria and her first husband Alexander Isaev rented a room.  Wonder what she would have thought if she could have known her house was going to be on Dostoevsky Street? Wonder if anyone thought of naming it Maria Dmitrievna Street?

After posing this question, I received a fascinating answer from Elena Dmitrievna. Turns out, since the house technically did not belong to Dostoevsky, for years officials refused to allow a museum to be opened here. Only with the devoted efforts of local enthusiasts, with the support of the Dostoevsky Museum in Moscow, not to mention the sheer force of historical memory, did the museum finally open in 1980. The curious can read the full story here:

«Додумались» (в плохом смысле) чиновники, работающие в культуре. Очень долгое время они не давали открыть музей Достоевского в Новокузнецке, всячески препятствовали этому, называя дом не «Домиком Достоевского», как зовут сейчас его жители Новокузнецка, а Домом Исаевой, Домом портного Дмитриева. Их аргумент был «железным» и непробиваемым: «Не в каждом доме, где у писателя случился роман, надо открывать музеи».

Такой узкий краеведческий подход к событию (без культурного и литературного контекста) сделал своё грустное дело: открыть музей в Новокузнецке удалось только в 1980 году – то есть спустя 130 лет (!!!) после событий в Кузнецке.   Вообще удивительно, как это удалось сделать! Если бы не помощь руководства музея Достоевского в Москве, если бы не местные энтузиасты-краеведы Новокузнецка, если бы не человеческая память, этого бы вовсе не случилось.   И тогда еще одно место, связанное с жизнью Достоевского в Сибири, навсегда было утрачено.

Anyway, the house–the museum–is beautiful.

-и-кэрол-4-e1570074333229-249x300Elena takes me through the house.

It is not an ordinary museum; rather it offers a kind of adventure, a three-dimensional experience or even performance that loops in the story of Dostoevsky’s courtship of Maria with the larger story of the way his time with her influenced his writing. Novokuznetsk is a Dostoevsky city because of Maria’s story.

Elena tells me this story, leading me from room to room. Vladimir Semyonovich is with us.

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The diorama shows what Kuznetsk looked like when Maria lived here. The different rooms each offer a part of her story, display documents and artifacts related to her relationship with Dostoevsky, and offer connections to his works.

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Here, for example, are copies of documents registering witnesses to their wedding ceremony, and Dostoevsky’s own scrawled lists of wedding expenses he had to cover. Elena is an active scholar herself, and works in archives to fill out the pictures relating to these years. For example, she found a document recording that Maria Dmitrievna had served as godmother of a baby (of the local citizen Petr Sapozhnikov) during her time in Kuznetsk. And, it turns out (as other scholars discovered), Maria Dmitrievna served as godmother to another child in that family AFTER her marriage. So the question stands; did Maria Dmitrievna and her husband (?!) make another visit to Kuznetsk?! The research continues.

The displays remind us of the ways Dostoevsky drew upon Maria Dmitrievna’s personality when creating characters such as Crime and Punishment‘s Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova, and even Nastasia Filippovna of The Idiot. I take a quiet minute to ponder what it is, anyway, that writers do with life experience… Back in the museum, Dostoevsky’s famous meditation on the impossibilty of shedding the ego–written by his wife’s deathbed–“Masha is lying on the table,” is exhibited here on the wall.

One emerges from the museum full of impressions and thoughts about what life was like for Maria, and about why this person, time, and place were so formative for Dostoevsky’s life and works.

Elena then walks me around Novokuznetsk, to buildings that were standing during Dostoevsky’s time,

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and to the town’s major attraction, the hilltop fortress, which in addition to its historical value, offers a beautiful view over Novokuznetsk:

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We visit a newly renovated church (glimpsed in the photo above), and a newly built chapel by the train station.

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Tolstoy fans will appreciate the fact that Valentin Bulgakov, the writer’s secretary during the last year of his life, was from Kuznetsk. The name is familiar to anyone who saw the recent movie about Tolstoy’s last year, The Last Station, which draws on Bulgakov’s memoirs. On a longer visit I’d definitely visit the district school where Bulgakov’s father served as inspector–now a branch of the Novokuznetsk Ethnography Museum. Elena shows me the monument to him and Tolstoy: “Teacher and Student” (Учитель и ученик).

But let us not get distracted. Check out the Novokuznetsk Dostoevsky Museum’s website and many activities, including a virtual tour of an earlier iteration of the museum. And recently specialists in 3D graphics have produced a new virtual visit to the museum’s permanent exhibit, “A Guide to Novokuznetsk”: read about it here.

Here’s the actual tour: http://vrkuzbass.ru/muz/nvkz/fmd/

And more! Check them out:

Take my word for it, Novokuznetsk has a lot to offer, and not just to Dostoevsky fanatics like me.

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I am nurtured, mind, body and soul. But I cannot stay….there is a train to catch.


Carol Apollonio is the President of the International Dostoevsky Society and a Professor of the Practice of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. Her publications include Dostoevsky’s Secrets: Reading Against the Grain (2009) and The New Russian Dostoevsky: Readings for the Twenty-First Century (2010). 

Live Tweets from the XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium

by Vladimir Ivantsov

Below are summaries of selected papers. These summaries are based on live tweets from the IDS 2019 conference and only partially reflect the content of the papers delivered. All the tweets were collected from the hashtag #ids2019, with thanks to prolific conference livetweeters Dr Katia Bowers (on the Society account @DostoevskySoc) and Dr Brian Armstrong (tweeting on his personal account @wittstrong).

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Robin Miller and her Double!

Robin Miller gave a wonderful keynote on “Dostoevsky Writ Small.” (She was the first speaker of the first plenary session). Miller: The “raw life” of the animals, large and small, come to represent “the totality of the universe.” In The Brothers Karamazov “each small thing opens a portal … that creates an aura of the mystical, the fantastic,” into the whole of the universe … “these are the building blocks of Dostoevsky’s fantastic realism.”

Related to Miller’s talk was Zora Kadyrbekova’s paper on animal studies approach to The Idiot. She has argued that animals in the novel help lead or illuminate key themes in the novel and reveal or clarify a character’s moral/spiritual standing. Kadyrbekova: by calling a donkey a human Dostoevsky does not challenge the donkey’s species identity, rather he elevates that donkey to the level of a human, both capable of kindness and selfless service. Dostoevsky does not let the animal’s utility in the novel overtake their animalness, he respects animals’ subjectivity.

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Bakhtin on Love, from Emerson’s slide

Caryl Emerson’s keynote entitled “Bakhtin’s Dostoevsky and the Burden of Virtues” reconsidered the reading of Bakhtin in the Creation of a Prosaics book (co-authored by Emerson and Morson) predicated on Bakhtin’s theoretical understanding of the grace virtues faith, hope and love.

In his keynote, Vladimir Zakharov discussed the beautiful digitization project of Dostoevsky’s notebooks and manuscripts that is underway right now (you can check it out here: http://dostoevsky-archive.ru). Zakharov shares the great resource site from Petrozavodsk State University that has the digitized corpus of the Dostoevskys (not just FMD but also his brother, wife, daughter, etc.) as well as other Russian writers: http://philolog.petrsu.ru.

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Vladimir Zakharov’s keynote

In her paper “Metaphors in the House of the Dead and the Discourse of Peasant Liberation,” Cecilia Dilworth, drawing on Paperno, has made the point that the discourse around emancipation is characterized by particular narrative markers, including Christian imagery and resurrection from the dead. The emancipation language of resurrection did not just apply to the serfs being freed from slavery, but also to the Russian nation being freed from the barbarism of the past; and Notes from the House of the Dead should be read in this context, against the backdrop of emancipation discourse and its contemporaneous Russian cultural context.

Greta Matzner-Gore spoke on “Dostoevsky’s Poetics of Improbability and the Ending of Crime and Punishment.” Matzner-Gore: “the language and logic of statistical theory plays a significant role in the poetics of Crime and Punishment.” Greta has claimed that Dostoevsky chose so many coincidences precisely because they violated statisticians’ norms and laws. Hence, the controversial epilogue of Crime and Punishment does accord with the novel’s aesthetic structure because of its improbability.

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Satoshi Bamba’s paper

Satoshi Bamba’s paper placed the faces of The Idiot in the context of the physiognomic tradition. As Bamba observed, Bakhtin claims that Dostoevsky began not with ideas but with idea-heroes of dialogue (with voices), but we might add he also began with idea-faces.

Bilal Siddiqi spoke on “Materiality in The Idiot and Brothers Karamazov.” Siddiqi: Ivan Karamazov’s slipping away of reality is described through objects that are immaterial, imagined everyday objects. The breaking, missing, failure of everyday objects precisely by virtue of their everydayness signals to Ivan that he is losing his grasp on reality. The obtrusive object can be a source for awakening future events in Myshkin; examples: the pistol, the Chinese vase, and the knife. These objects and their function suggest that Dostoevsky is weaving into that novel a premonitory Myshkin who can see the future to some extent. Does this mean Myshkin carries with him an ability to see an unknown future truth? Perhaps.

For the full twitter narrative, click here. This Wakelet was created by Katia Bowers.


Vladimir Ivantsov is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian at Williams College. His research interests include Dostoevsky, his perception in Russian and world culture, and literature and philosophy (especially existentialism and posthumanist criticism). He is a member of the North American Dostoevsky Society Readers Advisory Board.

Reflections on the XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium

compiled by Vladimir Ivantsov and Katya Jordan

The XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium took place at Boston University in July 2019. The Symposium is the triennial meeting of the International Dostoevsky Society; scholars gathered from all over the world for 5 days of papers and discussions of all aspects of Dostoevsky’s works. More information about the XVII Symposium can be found here and you can view the program here.

Here are some reflections collected from participants of the XVII Symposium:

Thanks to the two Russian museums that provided the exhibition. Feinberg’s colourful breakfast scene (1948) could be a Hollywood design for Little Women or Washington Square (no harm in that), while recent artists (Guriev and Zykina) envision Myshkin as a Byzantine Christ and St Petersburg as the desert of temptation. Khruslov’s shimmering Myshkin dominates Rogozhin like a powerful resurrection figure. From now on, Nastasya Fillipovna is Vil’ner’s proud, defiant, child! Thanks again.

– George Pattison

 

A luminous gathering, evidence that Bakhtin was right (!) — those who learn their basic vocabulary from great literature will never be entirely without hope or the ability to express it.   A huge thanks to the tireless organizers.

– Caryl Emerson

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An impromptu toast to Vladimir Zakharov during the opening remarks

This was the most intellectually stimulating Symposium I have ever attended. The plenary talks demonstrated the full range of possibilities for Dostoevsky scholarship: meticulous analysis of drafts; engagement both with the great moral questions and with the tiny detail; digital publication and textual analysis; the writer’s biography; the problem of paradox. The talks about digital analysis reminded me of how much fun this can be, and how much potential it offers for future readings.  And I am in awe of the resources that our Russian colleagues have posted online.

The book presentations were memorable—the authors had to talk extremely fast to share over twenty books within one short hour. Everyone left Thursday’s session smiling, in a congratulatory mood and with a long reading list. As is often the case, the most exciting parts of the Symposium were those animated exchanges during the question-and-answer period and the longer, deeper conversations that they led to.

Tuesday’s plenary session featuring Caryl Emerson and Gary Saul Morson made me recall why I chose to study Dostoevsky, and inspired me to keep on reading, thinking, and talking to people about his works. Well actually, when I think about it, everyone did that. Fortunately, it is a job that will never be done.

– Carol Apollonio

 

The six days with colleagues in Boston have been fabulous; It is difficult to put hierarchy among so many good things that we have experienced during the days of the conference: conversations between us, presentations, smiles of complicity, toasts, good food, pub, Alumni Boston University castle the first evening, our last night in the restaurant on the top of the hub with all so radiant faces … And then Museum Of Fine Arts -Egypt, China, Renaissance, Impressionists, and even a corner with an entire chapel of Catalan Romanesque. My heart still vibrates from all these lovely impressions. Thank you for everything and CONGRATULATIONS for such a wonderful organization.

Warmly,

~ Tamara Djermanovic

 

Besides all those wonderful sessions and events, I would like to mention our tour to the MFA Boston. I was astonished not only by its wonderful collection of European art, but also by its terrific Asian collection, which is competable with Chinese national museums. I want to thank all colleagues, who organized this tour, and especially Anna Weinstein, who answered so many our random questions on our way there (cf. Sergey Kibal’nik’s anecdote about the drowning boy at the closing banquet).

Best regards,

~Xuyang Mi (Сюйян Ми)

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Robin Feuer Miller introduces a panel thinking about economics in Dostoevsky’s works: Vadim Shneyder, Jillian Porter, Jonathan Paine and discussant William Mills Todd, III

I would like to single out a particularly interesting paper I heard during Session 3A: Dostoevsky the Thinker (unfortunately I missed the first two presenters). Olena Bystrova of the Drohobych Ivan Franko State Pedagogical University gave a paper titled “‘На мгновение’ и ‘вдруг’ как слова-фиксаторы фотографического мышления Ф. Достоевского” [“For an Instant” and “suddenly” as Fixer Words in Dostoevsky’s Photographic Thought]. Dr. Bystrova prefaced her paper with a brief presentation about the city of Drohobych in Ukrainian Galicia near the Polish border, in which she discussed the city’s multiethnic and multiconfessional history and its traditional economic basis in salt production (the name of the region of Galicia may come from the Greek word for salt–halas). Among the famous people who called Drohobych home were the Polish Jewish writer Bruno Schulz and the Ukrainian poet Ivan Franko.

The main argument of Bystrova’s paper was that Dostoevsky’s responded to photography in his techniques for representing vision and time. To develop her concept of photographic thinking, Bystrova drew on the ideas of the Ukrainian poet and critic Maik Iohansen (1895–1937), who argued that the significance of photography lay in its capacity to fix an instantaneous moment in time.

Decades before Iohansen, Dostoevsky showed an interest in the capacity of the photograph to capture what is hidden, unnoticed, and momentary. At the same time, Dostoevsky contrasted the rarity with which a photograph—a fundamentally analytical technique—managed to capture a realistic likeness to the work of representational art, which could synthesize from a mass of impressions to reveal the truth of the whole.

Describing the scene in The Idiot where Myshkin breaks the Chinese vase, Bystrova claimed that Dostoevsky’s narrative technique consists of a series of verbal snapshots, sometimes tellingly divided by ellipses. Both “Suddenly” and “for a moment” are lexical markers of Dostoevsky’s photographic thinking according to Bystrova: “suddenly” marks the succession of individual photographic images, while the intermittent stillness of “for a moment” refers to the photograph’s capacity to fix an individual moment in time and break it out of the continuum of duration.

I thought this was a thought-provoking and compelling argument that demonstrated the sensitivity of Dostoevsky’s poetics to the most variegated historical developments.

Best,

~ Vadim Shneyder

 

At the opening reception, Bill Todd reflected with Gary Saul Morson on his review (nearly four decades ago) of two seminal monographs in the history of Dostoevsky scholarship: Gary Saul Morson’s own The Boundaries of Genre: Dostoevsky’s Diary of a Writer and the Traditions of Literary Utopia (from U of Texas P in 1981) and Robin Feuer Miller’s Dostoevsky and The Idiot: Author, Narrator, and Reader (from Harvard UP in 1981). It’s amazing to think of the sustained engagement with Dostoevsky’s work and with each other’s work that they and many other scholars exhibit; it’s also an excellent source of inspiration. 

~ Brian Armstrong

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Armstrong’s photo of Morson and Todd in discussion

I was particularly moved by Professor Caryl Emerson’s keynote address. With her customary eloquence and grace, Caryl offered generous reflections on Bakhtin, virtue, and that difficult and necessary attitude toward love espoused by Dostoevsky’s Zosima—деятельная любовь. Caryl reminds us that dialogue requires patience, and her carefully measured words encourage us to “slow down to better see what’s there.” In times of unchecked aggression and unbridled violence, Caryl’s wisdom remains balm for the living.

~ Justin Trifiro

 

The International Dostoevsky Symposium in Boston was one of the great joys of the summer. Thanks to all who made it such a success. I learned much from each presentation. I was especially intrigued by Anna Bermans’s insight into the paucity of descendants in Dostoevsky’s fiction. Yet I couldn’t help thinking of a wonderfully imaginative and moving poem by Robert Hass in which he imagines “the great-grandson / Of the elder Karamazov brother who fled to the Middle West / With his girlfriend Grushenka.” The poem is entitled, “I Am Your Waiter Tonight and My Name is Dmitri.”

You can hear Hass read the poem here.  And can read the poem here.

~ Paul Contino

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Old and New Presidents of the International Dostoevsky Society: Vladimir Zakharov and Carol Apollonio

Я совершенно согласен с теми словами, которые произнёс Вильям Тодд в завершающий день Симпозиума: из всех прошедших именно этот отличался наиболее высоким научным уровнем. Я был впечатлен и докладами высокого научного уровня, и острыми, но благожелательными дискуссиями, и самой замечательной интеллектуальной атмосферой в Бостоне, которая сопровождала все дни конференции. Особо же мне хотелось поблагодарить Кэрол Аполлонио, за очень деятельную помощь и Юрия Корригана, который очень чутко откликался на пожелания (в том числе, технического характера), как и в целом американских коллег за проявленное ими замечательное гостеприимство. Было бы очень хорошо издать (в том числе, и в «устаревающем» бумажном формате) хотя бы избранные материалы этого Симпозиума.

~ Иван Есаулов (Москва)

 

ХVІІ Конгресс IDS был третьим форумом (после Неаполя и Гранады), на котором я присутствовал.

Могу с уверенностью сказать, что организация, выбор докладов и сопутствующая программа были безупречны.

Я чрезвычайно горжусь и доволен возможностью общения с представителями американской русистики и русской достоевистики. Я знал многих из них раньше, но познакомился с некоторыми из моих коллег сейчас.

Я искренне надеюсь, что наши встречи и сотрудничество продолжатся. Спасибо всем!

С уважением,

~ Проф. д-р Людмил Димитров (София)

Presenters (clockwise from top left): Denis Zhernokleyev, Benamí Barros
Garcia, Zora Kadyrbekova, Bilal Siddiqi, Katya Jordan

 

17 симпозиум IDS был замечательно организован, царила тёплая атмосфера дружбы и любви. Именно такие взаимоотношения между людьми проповедовал Достоевский. Их выразил и тост на прощальном банкете – «За любовь!».

Хорошо то, что каждый день начинался с пленарных заседаний: можно было прослушать много докладов ведущих достоеведов. Особенно понравились доклады Р. Фойер Миллер, К. Эмерсон, В. Захарова, Б.Тихомирова, Ю. Корригана, С. Алое, К. Аполлонио, Б. Барроса.

Очень понравились экскурсии.

Такие встречи вдохновляют на новые творческие достижения и открытия.

~ Галина Федянова, Тамара Баталова

 

Дорогие коллеги!

Бостонская конференция была действительно прекрасной, рабочей и дружеской. Программа была замечательной и секции организованны очень хорошо. Нам, конечно, открылась возможность поговорить со старыми знакомыми и, одновременно, познакомится с новыми коллегами. Техническая поддержка была на высоком уровне (напитки, еда, Интернет связь, экскурсия, музей и проч.). Новое прочтение романа «Идиот» показалось плодотворным (разные взгляды на один роман или на одну тему – это и есть суть симпозиума!). Мне очень понравились дискуссии, которые велись после каждого доклада, а общения и комментарии к докладам не раз продолжались в течение обеда и кофе брейка.

Спасибо организаторам!

~ Ясмина Войводич

 

More presenters (clockwise from top left): Deborah Martinsen, Greta
Matzner-Gore, Justin Trifiro, Sarah Hudspith, Cecilia Dilworth

 

[…] Особый интерес вызвал доклад К. Эмерсон, который ознаменовал существенные изменения в восприятии северо-американскими учеными концепции творчества Достоевского, выдвинутой в ранней книге М.М. Бахтина «Проблемы поэтики Достоевского» (1929): интерпретация произведений писателя вне религиозно-этических категорий была со стороны русского философа, как это явствует из его собственных позднейших свидетельств, вынужденным шагом, который, следовательно, напрасно добровольно повторяют некоторые современные исследователи, слишком доверившиеся постмодернистским представлениям о безусловной относительности бахтинского «диалога».

Больше всего секционных заседаний было посвящено, естественно, проблемам интерпретации романа «Идиот», и в центре внимания докладчиков зачастую оказывался его главный герой, князь Мышкин. В докладах была представлена и первоначальная тенденция восприятия этого героя как безусловного представления писателя о «положительно прекрасном человеке», и тенденция к дегероизации Мышкина, отчетливо проявившаяся в последние десятилетия изучения творчества Достоевского.

Все же в большинстве докладов звучало, как представляется, своего рода новое и во всяком случае более взвешенное представление об этом одном из загадочных образов Достоевского как о «положительно прекрасном человеке», который, тем не менее, все равно, хотя бы вследствие своей человеческой природы, не в силах разрешить трагические противоречия жизни, мучительно переживаемые другими его героями. Кое-что князь Мышкин все же оказывается способен сделать: заронить в душу каждого из них частицу добра и света, которые согревают их в минуты этих переживаний, – причем не только при личном общении с ним.

[…] Охарактеризовать все доклады, заслуживающие упоминания, к сожалению, невозможно, потому что все, что было в программе Симпозиума […] в том или ином отношении заслуживало внимания. Однако поскольку некоторые секционные заседания проходили одновременно, то и возможности прослушать их все не было. И это, может быть, единственный, хотя и исключительно вынужденный, недостаток Симпозиума.

Впрочем, если попытаться взглянуть на него критически, чтобы более целенаправленно работать на совершенствование этого замечательного форума в дальнейшем, то, наверное, далеко не все было так радужно и безоблачно. Очевидно, по-прежнему сказывалась во время работы бостонского Симпозиума одна и та же застарелая проблема в деятельности Международного общества Достоевского. Англоязычное и русскоязычное изучение его творчества – это, как и раньше, во многом параллельные миры. […]

Выступавшие с заключительными словами участники Симпозиума единодушно отметили, что он был организован великолепно и прошел на высоком научном уровне. Были высказаны также надежды на то, что грядущий в 2021 году 200-летний юбилей Достоевского будет отмечен и в России, и за рубежом достойно и содержательно.

Full text is forthcoming in Russkaia Literatura.

Полный текст будет опубликован в журнале Русская литература.

~ С.А.Кибальник

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Dostoevsky authors with their books!


Vladimir Ivantsov is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian at Williams College. His research interests include Dostoevsky, his perception in Russian and world culture, and literature and philosophy (especially existentialism and posthumanist criticism). He is a member of the North American Dostoevsky Society Readers Advisory Board. 

Katya Jordan is an Assistant Professor of Russian at Brigham Young University. Her research centers on cultural underpinnings of silence in Russian literature. She is a member of the North American Dostoevsky Society Readers Advisory Board.

The photographs that appear in this post are from the personal collections of Carol Apollonio and Katherine Bowers, unless specified otherwise, and appear with the photographers’ permission.

Inevitably, Dostoevsky

by Carol Apollonio

The blog post below is cross-posted on Bloggers Karamazov from Chekhov’s Footprints, a travel blog by Carol Apollonio documenting her journey tracing Chekhov’s journey from European Russia to Sakhalin this fall. You can read about her Chekhov-focused adventures there, but first: Inevitably, Dostoevsky. (You can read the original post here).

Also, “Inevitably, Dostoevsky” is an appropriate title for this, our 100th post!

OK: this inevitably is turning into a Dostoevsky thing. How could it not? St. Petersburg is Dostoevsky’s city. Here he lived in a series of rented apartments, including, once in the 1840s and again at the end of his life, between 1878 and 1881, here at Kuznetsky Pereulok 5, 2. You enter by going down a few stairs, then up. This is a paradigm you can apply for reading all of his works, by the way.

Here, after decades of studying Dostoevsky, and if you are lucky, you will spend some time with Boris Tikhomirov, Deputy Director of the Museum.  Listen and learn. Boris knows more about Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg than any other human being. He knows the city’s 19th-century residence records, weather reports, public and private places, utilities, colors, sounds….He walks me through the apartment.  His knowledge pours out in an exhilarating torrent of facts, dates, names, and addresses, delivered in the fastest Russian I have ever heard.  I wish I had bigger ears. We thread through clumps of museum visitors, who drop their earphones in wonder. Your brain explodes. Dostoevsky’s hat!  The doorbell! Anna Grigorevna’s stenography!

Let us stop here. A single page under glass, filled with a mystifying cluster of letters and symbols. Turns out, there were stenography systems, but within them stenographers developed their own idiosyncratic methods. This takes me back to my own stenography days. When I was beginning my work as a contract interpreter for the State Department in the early 1990s, Joe Mozur, friend, colleague, mentor, and fellow interpreter, gave me a quaint stenography manual for secretaries, probably from the 1950s or 60s. For the work we did, which was mostly consecutive, we needed to listen, take notes, and then produce the interpretation from the notes. From the manual Joe gave me I learned tricks for abbreviating letters into squiggles. Skip the vowels! A wavy line will do for “tion”! Mix in Minyar-Beloruchev’s manual for Russian consecutive interpreters, add in some smiley faces, arrows and exclamation points, convenient Japanese hiragana and kanji, and presto–your own system. Minyar-Beloruchev is insistent about spacing your notes across the page to reflect not only the words, but also the logic of the text, its syntax. So my notes looked kind of like an outline for something, lots of white space with wavy lines connecting clusters of symbols. Anna Grigorevna’s page is neat and square: the symbols flow linearly, left to right, then left to right again. Nice straight margins. Stenography in your own language aims to capture and retain every word so that you can transcribe it later to obtain a precise record of what was said.  Before “dictophones” this was the only way to do it. For taking dictation in one language, stenography was based in phonetics. From the abbreviation of the sound, the word emerges naturally. But for interpreters between languages, the  more you move away from phonetics into symbols, the more effectively and quickly you will be able to move into the target language.

I’m down memory lane. But really, I could spend hours just gazing at one page of Anna Grigorevna’s notes.  Think what emerged from them: the world’s greatest novels… Boris explains how, after careful work comparing documents, a scholar was able to decipher her system. Think Rosetta Stone (the real one).  Panning back into the apartment, and into Dostoevsky’s whole life, we take a moment, yet again, to ask–what would have become of Dostoevsky if he had not met Anna?

Screen-Shot-2019-08-01-at-11.15.42-AM-300x200Here Anna Grigorevna created a nest for their family and brought their affairs into order. Here the children, Liuba and Fedya, played. Fedya liked horses and when he grew up had his own horse farm…

Liuba grew up and wrote a fanciful memoir of her father in bad French, which was translated into German, and from there into many languages, seeding the world with sloppy information about Dostoevsky. Among Boris’s extraordinary body of books and articles is a set of commentaries for a new edition of Liuba’s memoir.

Hello and listen, publishing world! When are you going to translate into English and publish the amazing work that our Russian colleagues are doing?!  Boris’s detailed commentaries on Crime and Punishment will blow your mind.

And this book is just out in a new edition.

Really now….

Stay tuned. In a separate post I will provide a list of links to Dostoevsky-related scholarship.

Screen-Shot-2019-08-01-at-12.10.41-PM-212x300Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov during these years. Here, on January 28 (old style) or February 9 (new style), he died. What time exactly? Boris will list the various versions: was it 8:36? 8:40? 8:38? The clock in the room was set to 8:38, where it stood so for years. Then research zeroes in on 8:36. When they try to move the clock to reflect this reality, it springs back to 8:38.  And that is what you will see when you visit the museum.

Аnd visit the museum you must:

https://www.md.spb.ru/;

and, in English:

http://eng.md.spb.ru/

After our strenuous walk through Dostoevsky’s apartment, under the watchful (and probably disapproving) gaze of The Man himself, Boris and I will, after some effort, figure out how to work the photo feature on my confusing new cell phone.

The thoughtful among you will ask how these pictures got taken; after all we are holding the phone.

Suvorin_ASIn all the excitement, I have forgotten Chekhov. But, unsurprisingly, Boris gives me some valuable information for further explorations. It happens that Alexei Suvorin, Chekhov’s friend and publisher, knew and visited Dostoevsky. Indeed, Suvorin’s photo hangs on the museum wall.

Here is a, if not the, photo. This one is from the mid-1860s….

And since it is time to towel off, we will postpone my stroll to the Suvorin addresses that Boris provided me, and my miraculous new phone helped guide me to.


Carol Apollonio is the President of the International Dostoevsky Society and a Professor of the Practice of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. Her publications include Dostoevsky’s Secrets: Reading Against the Grain (2009) and The New Russian Dostoevsky: Readings for the Twenty-First Century (2010). 

A Chat with Jonathan Paine about Selling the Story

by Jonathan Paine

Today we sit down with Jonathan Paine to talk about his book Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola, out today with Harvard University Press.

Paine_CoverBK: Jonathan, first, please tell our readers a little about your book. What is it about? And how does Dostoevsky feature in it?

JP: Selling the Story is a book about the economics of literature. It asks how writing for money changes what is written, and how we can mine texts for evidence of this process. It concentrates on the 19th-century ‘professional turn’ when authors for the first time began writing for money rather than patronage. It focuses on a 50-year timespan from the 1830s to the 1880s when, and especially in France, publishing in serialized periodicals became far more profitable for authors than publishing in book format, and so catapulted writers into a journalistic context which catered increasingly to a newly developing mass market. The techniques and genres of journalism leach into prose fiction, giving rise to entirely new literary genres – thrillers, detective stories, courtroom dramas.

Dostoevsky, of course, was famously and vocally indigent – hardly a letter goes by without a request for money or a complaint about its lack. Writing for money was an inevitability. But who was his readership? The Russian market was decades behind its West European counterparts – no mass market would develop till the early 20th century, and the ‘thick’ journals , Russia’s book format version of the serious monthly periodical, rarely reached an audience of more than 5-6,000 in Dostoevsky’s lifetime. Yet Russian publishers imported mass market techniques as soon as they were developed in the West – the boulevard newspaper , a precursor of the modern tabloid, took just one year to travel from France to Russia in 1864. Dostoevsky was well travelled, well read, and an enthusiastic follower of French literature, to which his early translation of Balzac’s Eugènie Grandet attests. So should a contemporary Russian author write for the tiny, demographically restricted, actual readership which paid the bills, or for the new mass market which was visibly developing outside Russia? Selling the Story argues that it is impossible to appreciate the literature of the period in Russia, particularly that of Dostoevsky, without an understanding of this publishing context.

BK: Your section on Dostoevsky is called “Who Buys the Story?” and there you specifically discuss the novel as a form. What insight does your research provide on Dostoevsky’s writing practice?

JP: If, as my book argues, the publishing context made it difficult for Russian writers to know whether to write for a very restricted contemporary audience or for a mass market yet to come, it makes sense to hedge your bets. Selling the Story suggests that all of Dostoevsky’s work, from Poor People to The Brothers Karamazov, is an extended experiment in the art of writing for multiple audiences. Did a formula in writing fiction exist which allowed the drama of the courtroom to be combined with the intellectual weight which Dostoevsky found no problem in introducing to his own mono-journal, Diary of a Writer?

Selling the Story offers an extended, book by book and serialized instalment by serialized instalment reading of The Brothers Karamazov which links it closely to its publishing context and shows how the text can be read as a literary ‘reinsurance policy’, attempting to combine the dramatic momentum of the murder mystery at the heart of the plot with the philosophical detours of the Grand Inquisitor or Alyosha’s life of Zosima. It argues that Dostoevsky even turns conventional literary devices, such as iteration, into economic tools in an attempt to broaden the reach of his text to different audiences and shows how the central story of the murder itself is iterated no less than 38 times through the mouths of the in-story characters. It shows how Dostoevsky used his characters to model their own in-text acts of literary creation, tested against in-story recipients who mimic the reactions of real readers.

And finally, it suggests that the increasing frequency of episodes showing a loss of control by the novel’s characters – Dmitry’s dream, Alyosha’s epiphany, Ivan’s madness, and most importantly Smerdyakov’s epileptic fit – mirrors Dostoevsky’s own problems in achieving anything but the most transient equilibrium between these competing forces.

BK: Your book isn’t just about Dostoevsky, though. It also features studies of Balzac and Zola, contemporaries of Dostoevsky’s. How has reading the three together enhanced your understanding of Dostoevsky?

JP: Understanding how the publishing context influences artistic output adds a new dimension to our appreciation of any text, and all the works I have selected contain seminal records of the conditions of their own creation. Balzac’s Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes [The Splendors and Mysteries of Courtesans] took 12 years to write and covers a period from 1835 to 1847 in which the French publishing market changed beyond recognition. Prose fiction migrated from its traditional historical book format to the feuilleton, at the foot of the first page of the newly emerging and popular daily newspapers. Balzac and his contemporary Eugène Sue competed head to head over whose work generated the most subscribers for its publishers. Selling the Story reveals how Balzac’s extended creation can be seen as a commentary on the evolving trends of the publishing industry; he starts with an exuberant celebration of the industry’s new-found freedoms, continues through an experimental disassembly and parody of his rival Sue’s techniques, and finishes in an end-of-career sabotage of his own work to see how far readers could be pushed before they stopped reading.

Zola, by contrast, was writing almost half a century later. The boulevard newspaper, introduced in 1863, had revolutionized journalism, catering to a mass market which industrial revolution, urbanization and the spread of literacy were creating. Roads, railways and canals had changed the French corporate landscape just as much as they had altered its geography. Big business had arrived, and Zola was its archivist. Two of his novels, La Curée [The Killing], 1872, and L’Argent [Money], 1891, deal with the rise and fall of his arch-capitalist, Aristide Saccard. But over the same period Zola had himself become big business. At the time of La Curée he was a literary nobody, forced to follow the dictates of the market to establish himself as a writer. By the time of L’Argent, Zola was the most successful writer of his age with print runs in the hundreds of thousands, publishing in a resurrected book format because he no longer needed the visibility of the feuilleton to promote his output. And his novels, inevitably, record and comment on this, the means and process of their own creation, from the importation of the literary devices of the boulevard newspapers in La Curée to Zola’s assumption of literary control over his readership, as the managing director of his own successful publishing business, documented in L’Argent.

And amidst this publishing revolution sits Dostoevsky, writing in a market far removed from France but acutely aware of the potential of his own literary legacy in the shape of a mass market yet to arrive in Russia. Selling the Story traces the influence of this on Dostoevsky as a writer, not least by adding a new dimension to the constant critical theme of memory and legacy in his works, and at the same time demonstrating that the techniques of economic criticism can be shown to travel across geography, time and culture.

BK: You situate your book within the emerging field of economic criticism. What is economic criticism and how does engaging with it enhance your book’s argument?

Economic criticism essentially asks whether treating a text as an object of economic exchange can generate worthwhile new critical insights. Almost all texts have an economic function in that writers ask readers to exchange their time for the writers’ creative output. This is a genuine transaction and can be considered as such.

In the 19th-century any author writing serialized installments for a periodical or newspaper becomes by default part of the publisher’s sales strategy. So, considering the publishing context is the starting point for economic criticism. The technique I find most useful is what I call ‘point of sale’ analysis. This asks what we can deduce from a text about the author’s perception of the market for which he or she was writing, based on a wide range contemporary evidence from successful (or unsuccessful) literary trends to genres and stylistic devices, from cultural evolutions or constants to the prosaic influence of pay per line of printer’s copy. Understanding how authors might have understood and addressed their markets is an underdeveloped aspect of literary criticism and a necessary element of reception theory.

If an author is indeed part of a transaction with the reader, then we can also apply forms of economic analysis to that transaction. Authors describe transactions in their works, few more so than the three I have chosen. Examining how they represent in-story deals can tell us much about how the author approaches his or her own transaction with the reader. Selling the Story also suggests that all texts fall into one of three categories: prospectus, auction or speculation. A ‘prospectus’ text implies that its value is set by its author- all religious works, for example, follow this pattern. Auction implies a value set by the recipient, in this case the reader, and highlights the importance of the iterative approach, which typifies the serialized works common to 19th-century literature, as a means of establishing value over time. Speculation, a metaphor which Dostoevsky uses repeatedly, implies transient value, and suggests that the strategy of iteration which I identify in The Brothers Karamazov is in fact a way of cumulatively increasing the chances of its success.

Historically, economic criticism has had a bad rap. Even today some scholars still argue that treating works of literature as economic commodities is unacceptable. But of course they are, and to ignore their economic context is to omit an important dimension of scholarship. Equally obviously, they are more than that: economic criticism is a useful new tool of analysis which complements, rather than challenges, aesthetic approaches.

BK: Obviously you’ve spent a long time studying these authors, their works, and their historical context. What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve learned while he researching this book?

JP: One of my investment banking colleagues, learning of my academic plans, said ‘You’ll have to learn to concentrate’. I was a bit miffed: what had I been doing, then, through all those years as a banker? But he was right. Banking meant keeping twenty balls simultaneously in the air, so little time for each. Literary scholarship meant a slow process of unpeeling an onion, layer by layer. In the process I’ve learnt to think in a completely different way. And I’ve discovered lots of new friends in the academic community who I would never have found otherwise. And, best of all, I can enjoy all the good bits of scholarship without needing to earn a career from it!


Dr. Jonathan Paine is a Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and Senior Advisor and former Managing Director at the investment bank Rothschild & Co. He serves as the treasurer of the International Dostoevsky Society. He is currently researching the art of authorship in Dostoevsky and on ways of promoting the relevance of the humanities in business.

A New Companion for Readers of Dostoevskii

Today we’re sitting down for a chat with Katia Bowers (KB), Connor Doak (CD), and Kate Holland (KH), the editors behind the volume A Dostoevskii Companion: Texts and Contexts, which is out this month with Academic Studies Press.

9781618117267_fcBK: Tell us a little about the volume. What kind of companion is it?

CD: It’s a volume for students of Dostoevskii, aimed at illuminating his works. But whereas most companion volumes—say, the Cambridge Companion series—provide a selection of new essays on different topics, our book brings together a selection of sources from Dostoevskii’s own time as well as the best critical writings, both classical and contemporary. So, for example, we have put in excerpts from Dostoevskii’s rather cranky letters about his row with Turgenev alongside the chapter in Demons where he pokes fun at Turgenev, as well as a classic critical essay from Robert Louis Jackson about how Dostoevskii and Turgenev might have more in common than either man might have wanted to admit!

KH: Near the beginning, we agreed that our volume should not advocate any one single interpretation of Dostoevskii’s works. Of course, the three of us have our own views about Dostoevskii and his worksometimes quite strong views!but we always tried to refrain from privileging one view over another. Instead we deliberately included critical voices that disagree with one another. Our goal here was to enable students to look at a critical discussion or historical evidence and form their own judgments based in their understanding of the material.

KB: We do provide a kind of introduction to each chapter of the volume, but this is to help students see the bigger picture or put together a web of themes rather than to guide students to a specific understanding. For example, in Chapter 7, called “Captivity, Free Will, and Utopia,” we collect a number of texts that are related to these themes, but students are invited to form their own judgments. (and to add to this conceptualization of a larger theme from their own explorations of Dostoevskii’s works).

BK: Tell us a little about the series the book appears in. What support did you have from the press and other sources?

KH: All three of us were already aware of the excellent Cultural Syllabus series at Academic Studies Press, and we knew they hadn’t done a Dostoevskii volume yet. The series is designed with undergraduate students in mind, for use in the classroom or for the general reader with an interest in the topic. Typically their books are collections of primary and secondary source materials on specific topics in Russian literary studies. Our book is the first in the series to focus on a nineteenth-century topic.

CD: Academic Studies Press have been wonderfully supportive of the project. They also provided part of the funding for the permission to reprint published work that isn’t out of copyright. These permissions can run into thousands of dollars for a volume like this…

KB: Outside of Academic Studies Press’s resources, the work on this volume was supported through funding from the University of British Columbia, where I’m based, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Connection Grant that Kate and I received for our project Crime and Punishment at 150.” We are also grateful to Robert Louis Jackson, Igor Volgin, and Vladimir Zakharov and the Yale Review for giving us some permissions for free. Our wonderful team of student Research Assistants did great work in producing the volume: Anton Nonin, who also did a lot of new translations for the volume; Hanna Murray; and Kristina McGuirk. This project would not have been possible without them.

BK: There’s a huge bibliography on Dostoevskii. How did you decide which works to include?

KH: All three of us have taught Dostoevskii, so first of all we put our heads together and shared our ideas about what worked with students. We also asked other colleagues to share their syllabi, and looked at how they teach Dostoevskii…

KB: …And people teach Dostoevskii not just in Slavic departments, of course, but in philosophy, political science, theology, and other fields. The theologian George Pattison, for example, used to teach a graduate seminar on Dostoevskii at Oxford, so we looked at his syllabus, too. Our own volume is written primarily with students in literary studies in mind, but we hope it will be useful for folks in all disciplines.

CD: After we had a working draft of what we wanted to include, we circulated that to some of our most trusted colleagues in Russian Studies. And we met up with them at the International Dostoevsky Society Conference in 2016, which happened to be in Granada, Spain that year… So we had lunch on a sunny summer’s afternoon, with wine aplenty, and discussed. We’re very grateful to those who participated in this initial, extremely helpful discussion: Carol Apollonio, Deborah Martinsen, Robin Feuer Miller, Bill Todd, and Sarah Young.

BK: What were the most challenging aspects of creating the volume?

KB: Striking a balance between what is often taught and what would be valuable for further study took quite a lot of thought and revision. Our survey of syllabi revealed that the most popular works taught in class are, not surprisingly, Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, and Brothers Karamazov. However, including the full text of Notes from Underground, for example, would be redundant, as it is widely available elsewhere. We also decided not to have a chapter focused on each text as we felt this would encourage siloed reading. We conceived of this volume as a companion that encourages deeper thinking and exploration, so we focused instead on broad themes or topics for our chapters. The works we include are shorter texts and excerpts that we find revealing or provocative to think about when reading these longer novels. We also made a point of including critical scholarship about these more commonly taught texts, but as an organic part of the exploration of themes or topics. The one exception to this is the inclusion of an entire issue of the Writer’s Diary (the April 1877 issue, which includes “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”). I wanted to add it because I assign it in my class and I think reading through a single issue is an important part of understanding how Dostoevskii’s journalistic fiction functions.

KH: One of my goals was to include some material from Dostoevskii’s penultimate novel, The Adolescent, which has historically been neglected by readers and critics but which engagingly articulates some of the questions of form that Dostoevskii struggled with. The novel itself, as well as its preparatory notebooks, contain some of the richest meditations on the novel and history anywhere in Dostoevskii’s works and can richly inform readings of his other works. Yet it’s hard to find manageable excerpts of this work and the criticism that deals with it. The Adolescent is a particularly messy, inconsistent work, and it’s rarely taught, yet it is narrated by a twenty-year old and I’ve found that it engages students on an emotional, visceral level even more than other of Dostoevskii’s novels. We hope that the volume might also inspire readers to go beyond the Dostoevskii of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

CD: I did most of the work on the chapter called Dostoevskii’s “Others,” which looks at his representations of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as women. I find it very challenging to deal with Dostoevskii’s xenophobia and his anti-Semitism. We didn’t shy away from including some of his most controversial works, such as his essay “The Jewish Question” from A Writer’s Diary. I find that piece repugnant: by some twisted logic, he ends up blaming the Jews for the crimes perpetrated against them. It’s a horrible piece of intellectual gymnastics, and yet it remains one of the most topical things Dostoevskii ever wrote, as it’s the same kind of victim-blaming that we see among the radical right today. Gary Saul Morson writes somewhere that he felt a sense of betrayal when he first discovered Dostoevskii’s anti-Semitic writings, as if a long-standing friend had revealed some hidden part of his nature that he couldn’t fathom. I, too, find it hard to reconcile Dostoevskii’s empathy and his preaching of forgiveness with this xenophobic side of his nature.

BK: Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you didn’t have space for?

CD: I was keen to include a section discussing the different translations of Dostoevskii. Students aren’t always aware of how much of a difference translation actually makes, and often opt for the cheapest one, or the one that happens to be available online. But whether you read Crime and Punishment in Garnett’s translation, or Ready’s, or Pasternak Slater’s, or Pevear & Volokhonsky’s, really makes a substantial difference to the reading experience. However, it proved difficult to include discussion of this issue in a succinct way: we would have had to provide extensive quotation of all the different versions, and add a lot of new commentary ourselves, as there’s not a lot of serious scholarship to draw on when it comes to comparing the translations that has been done. I think, then, the translation comparison is probably a separate project.

KH: I would have liked to have included more Russian scholarship. The story of Dostoevskii’s reception in Russia throughout the twentieth century, during the glasnost’ years, and following the fall of the Soviet Union is a fascinating one, yet it would have required significantly more space to contextualize this scholarship as well as more resources to translate it. Another fascinating topic would have been to look at “Global Dostoevskii.” Dostoevskii’s influence looks different in different parts of the world, and recent loose adaptations of his novels in literature and film have served to highlight his importance in the Philippines, in Latin American countries, in Korea and Japan, and in South Africa.

KB: One aspect of my Dostoevskii class is some engagement with contemporary approaches to the text like film adaptations and digital media. I originally wanted to include an excerpt from one of the Twitter projects that I’ve worked on, either @YakovGolyadkin or  @RodionTweets. While I do assign these, in part, to my students to read, there wasn’t space for them in the volume as they would require significant contextualizing. Similarly, adding some discussion of film adaptations of Dostoevskii would have been interesting, but this also would have required significantly more contextualization, and a dedicated section on film adaptations would have unbalanced our volume. These are valuable ways of experiencing the text, particularly for our twenty-first century students, but in the end we stuck with the text, which, in the case of Dostoevskii, is already a huge undertaking!

BK: Dostoevskii is one of the few ‘classic’ writers who can still attract significant undergraduate enrolment numbers. Why do you think he still appeals to readers today?

CD: We live in a world that can be pretty nasty. But students aren’t used to talking about that nastiness, or rather, they tend to project it onto others, and can’t recognize it in themselves. We live in an affirmative, self-help culture, in which we’re told to love ourselves for who we are… and that means we’re very reluctant to recognize the dark side of our nature, to admit just how nasty human beings can be. Reading Dostoevskii is like going into a frightening hall of mirrors, where we see ourselves reflected, but it’s an exaggerated version of ourselves, with all our faults magnified… That’s why Dostoevskii is perennially rewarding—but also frightening—I guess.

KB: The aspect of Dostoevskii my students are most drawn to is his message of compassion. The kind of ethical interactions he puts forward as an ideal but also as a possible outcome appeal to students who see injustice, suffering, and cruelty in the world and want to do something about it. That being said, this message comes, in Dostoevskii, cloaked in the most amazing, sensationalistic melodrama with larger than life characters. Reading Dostoevskii is harrowing and fantastic, but in the end the thing that sticks with students is the larger message that change is possible.

KH: Dostoevskii is a novelist of ideas, and readers and students alike are still drawn to his works for the revolutionary ways in which they express ideas, as well as for those ideas themselves, which can still shock and fascinate after almost 200 years. The ways in which his works address the power relations that foreground all human relationships, the fraught and messy nature of all emotional connections, and the divided nature of selfhood all seem to strike particular chords with students and readers at the present moment.

A Dostoevskii Companion: Texts and Contexts is available now from Academic Studies Press (20% off with code COMPANION). A sampler from the volume is available for download here.


Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature and culture, she is currently completing a monograph about gothic fiction’s influence on Russian realism. She is the editor of Bloggers Karamazov and sits on the Executive Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society. 

Connor Doak is a lecturer in Russian at the University of Bristol. He works primarily on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature, with a special interest in gender and sexuality in Russian culture. He has authored articles on authors including Dostoevskii, Chekhov, Petrushevskaia and Pushkin, and is currently working on a study of masculinity in Maiakovsky’s poetry.

Kate Holland is Associate Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Toronto. She is the author of the monograph, The Novel in the Age of Disintegration: Dostoevsky and the Problem of Genre in the 1870s (2013), as well as articles on Dostoevskii, Tolstoy, Herzen, Saltykov-Shchedrin and Veselovsky. Holland sits on the Executive Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society.