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.

Against Nihilism: Nietzsche Meets Dostoevsky

This summer we sat down with Maïa Stepenberg to talk about her new book, Against Nihilism: Nietzsche Meets Dostoevsky, which is forthcoming in September 2018 from Black Rose Books

Against_Nihilism_Front_Cover_JPG_mediumQ1.How would you describe what Dostoevsky and Nietzsche have most in common?

They`re God-obsessed:  they`re both obsessed by the idea of God.  It`s a tormenting or all-consuming concern for them, whether God is there or not.

The most interesting part is not where they coincide, but where they diverge.  It`s actually like a labyrinth of concerns:  the more you read each of them, the more you realize they would have probably profoundly agreed on practically everything – everything that really matters.  That`s what`s really interesting.  But where they begin to diverge is just as irrevocable as a train going down the tracks:  there`s no turning back at that point:  and so Dostoevsky ultimately chooses to believe (like St. Paul says, “Lord, help my unbelief”), whereas Nietzsche ultimately chooses to reject all legitimacy of faith.

Q2.What questions compelled these two thinkers and writers?

Beauty, truth, goodness – it`s basically these three eternal enigmas that drive their writings.  So I`ve tried to organize them as large overarching themes in the book.  There`s the liberating allure of criminality, for one (a very big one!) – and then there`s the existentialist crisis of meaning (because both men are certainly two of the most influential fathers of existentialism); then there`s the tension between paganism and Christianity (actually an argument between aesthetics and morality), and finally there`s the terrible disease or cultural malaise of nihilism.  It`s the last issue that remains especially urgent and timely, so it appears in the title of the book.

Q3.Why do you think nihilism is so urgent for today’s world?

Nihilism is the number one concern in our world today.  Nihilism is the spectre of nothingness haunting our society.  As I began to teach Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, I could see the rise of the very thing that they both had predicted with such dread:  nihilism indeed, in virtually every expression or experience of modern life.  Technology and globalization have removed all boundaries and reduced and flattened everything that matters, in human terms.

Q4.Do Dostoevsky and Nietzsche provide a remedy for nihilism?

I`d say that each of them definitely do.  They identify the same problem, but they come up with different solutions.  One could say that Nietzsche`s way out of the problem has been tried, but misunderstood or misapplied:  the fascist appropriations of Nietzsche`s “will to power” or “aristocratic radicalism” point to a failure to bring to life his cherished ideal of the individual overcoming “the herd” (or the mediocre majority), alone and untrammelled.  On the other hand, one could say that Dostoevsky`s solution has neither been tried nor understood since it`s all there in his last great novel The Brothers Karamazov – a way to overcome the world while loving it, “watering the earth with your tears,” as he had one character put it – something akin to what Chesterton said about Christianity being the greatest ideal in the world, still not fully tried.

I`d like to add that there is something undeniably hideous about the way the world is turning:  something deeply wrong and sick in our failure to inculcate true values, support living institutions, nourish each other in true fellowship.  There is so much that is wrong in the world today that no one can fail to recognize it.  The question is, can anyone still feel enough love or energy to change it?  For the flip side of nihilism is always apathy and despair.

But the point of reading and thinking alongside Dostoevsky and Nietzsche is that they were anything but apathetic.  They cared deeply and passionately about everything they wrote, and that is surely why fresh readers flock to them generation after generation:  Dostoevsky and Nietzsche wrote with a palpable love and energy, and they each proposed vital solutions that demand individual effort, awareness, and spiritual work.

Q5.Should we take this nineteenth-century remedy just as seriously today?

Well, Nietzsche once thought he`d provided a remedy to the perils of nihilism (or at least been on the road towards providing such a remedy).  But only time can tell whether we can apply it correctly.  Nietzscheans of every imaginable stripe have not in fact moved the world forward:  the cataclysms of the twentieth century all somehow bear the palimpsest of Nietzsche`s signature.  And it`s equally true that a Dostoevskian future has yet to be fulfilled in accordance with Dostoevsky`s own vision.  Will beauty save the world?  Can we ever set ourselves aside long enough to feel truly “responsible to all for all”?  This is all still in potentia:  the truly momentous imitation of Christ en masse has yet to pass.  Clearly, if neither man`s vision has yet succeeded in positively transforming the world, that does not mean it is irrelevant.  Quite the contrary.

Q6.What value lies in reading Dostoevsky and Nietzsche in dialogue?

The beginning of philosophy is defined by dialogue.  You have two of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century whose writings still exist, and they seem meant to be read together because they so naturally complement each other`s voices and amplify each other`s points.  So the actual debate they might have had never happened in time or space, but it can happen for the reader today.

In addition, my own understanding has been infinitely enhanced by approaching Dostoevsky and Nietzsche in tandem.  For me, it started in graduate school.  Nietzsche was the focus of my doctoral dissertation, and Dostoevsky was the focus of the doctoral dissertation of my best friend.  We consequently spent many wonderful hours discussing each other`s chapters together as study buddies.  So the seeds for the book were planted for me back then.

Once I started teaching I thought of combining Dostoevsky and Nietzsche in an original course, and I was immediately struck by the excitement that these two thinkers generated in students when they were presented together, rather than separately.  The success of the course from the very beginning told me that there was a book that needed to be written, not only for the benefit of the students (since a book we could use did not exist in any library), but as a tribute to the students` generosity of involvement with both Dostoevsky`s and Nietzsche`s ideas.

A research essay topic that I regularly assign in this course asks students to imagine a sustained and serious dialogue between Dostoevsky and Nietzsche based on assigned readings from each.  Most students excel at this exercise.  Since so many student scripts of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche turned out to be so refreshing and delightful, a shortlist of ten excerpts are showcased in an appendix to the book. Here’s one example:

I always tell my students that if I could ever go back in time and talk with anyone from the past, there is no one I could imagine wanting to converse with more than Dostoevsky and Nietzsche.  They are without a doubt my two favourite men of all time (with the exception of my husband and three sons, of course!).

Here’s a video my sons made that imagines a conversation between them:

Dostoevsky and Nietzsche could have only talked together in French, by the way – since that was the only language they had in common.

Q7.At the end of your introduction you state that in today`s world there are only two choices:  Dostoevsky`s path or Nietzsche`s path.  What would draw a person to one over the other?

You know, it`s a funny thing:  I`ve noticed in my classes that a lot of young women are drawn to Nietzsche (an irony that he would have found delightful, I`m sure!), just as a lot of young men are impressed by Dostoevsky.  There`s also the factor of religion:  those who are comfortable with religious structure often prefer Dostoevsky.  And then people who like the idea of rebellion tend to find themselves attracted to Nietzsche.  There are all kinds of things that can incline a person more one way than another, and then inclinations can change over time too.

It comes down to a very old divide, I think:  before Socrates there was Parmenides (a philosopher who asserted that changeless being is the one binding law of the universe) as opposed to Heraclitus (a philosopher who claimed that change is the only constant we can know).  Nietzsche and Dostoevsky are like that:  one playing Heraclitus to the other`s Parmenides.  It`s a never-ending argument about what came first and why.

With this book I have sought to infect others with my own enthusiasm for Dostoevsky and Nietzsche because I am convinced that they are deeply good for the world and our possibilities of improving it.  They ask us to confront the hardest questions about ourselves, and we are better for struggling to honestly face and answer those questions.  Whichever one you prefer, there`s no doubt that both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky will speak to you, either together or in turn, about all of life`s most unanswerable preoccupations and questions.


Maïa Stepenberg is Professor of Humanities at Dawson College in Montreal. Her book Against Nihilism:  Nietzsche Meets Dostoevsky is published by Black Rose Books.

Approaches to Teaching Crime & Punishment

We would like to invite all Dostoevsky scholars to complete a survey that is designed to gather information about instructors’ methods and materials for teaching Crime and Punishment. We will use these results for a new volume on the novel that we are proposing for the MLA series Approaches to Teaching World Literature. Please answer the questions at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5TJHPVC and click Done when you are finished. All respondents to the survey will be acknowledged in the published volume, and the editors may quote anonymously from your responses in their introduction. Please indicate in your answers if you do not give permission to be acknowledged or quoted.

We are also soliciting proposals for contributions to the volume. If you wish to submit an essay proposal (see item 12 for requirements), please send it by e-mail to mkatz@middlebury.edu or burry.7@osu.edu. You may also send queries, comments, or supplemental materials such as course descriptions, syllabi, assignments, and bibliographies as attachments (doc, docx, rtf or pdf required). Surface mail submissions may be sent to Professor Michael Katz, 1712 Sperry Road, Cornwall, VT 05753 or Professor Alexander Burry, 400 Hagerty Hall, 1775 College Road, Columbus OH 43210].

Proposals and survey responses are due by 1 August 2018, after which the survey will no longer be available online.

Michael R. Katz, Middlebury College

Alexander Burry, The Ohio State University


Image credit: Panda with Oar on Deviant Art

Outstanding Graduate Student Essay Contest

The Readers’ Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society is celebrating graduate students! We invite members of NADS in good standing to nominate an outstanding graduate-student essay on a Dostoevsky-related topic. (If you are not a member of NADS, you can join at https://dostoevsky.org). Current M.A. and PhD students are also welcome to nominate their own work, NADS membership not required. The winner of the contest will receive: 1) Free membership in NADS for one year, 2) Free registration at the International Dostoevsky Society Symposium in Boston, July 15-19, 2019, and 3) a guaranteed spot as a presenter on the NADS-sponsored panel at AATSEEL, 2020.

To submit a nomination, please send an email containing the student’s name, email address, and institutional affiliation, along with a .doc file of the essay (which should be no more than 8000 words in length and contain no identifying information about the author) to Greta Matzner-Gore at matzner at usc dot edu by [updated!] October 1, 2018.

We are looking forward to reading your work!

Another Round of Theme Songs

by Albert Ho, Greta Matzner-Gore, Carlota Rodriguez-Benito, and Sarah Russell

The personalities of the brothers Karamazov reflect their time and place (late nineteenth-century Russia), but they are also to some degree universal. One can imagine meeting some like Dmitry (the passionate profligate), Ivan (the tortured intellectual), Alyosha (the would-be saint), or Smerdyakov (the angry reject) in the United States today. Last year, I asked my students to choose one of the brothers Karamazov and find a “theme song” for him, i.e. a contemporary song or piece of music that captures his personality. This year, we did it again! My students posted links to their “theme songs” to our course’s discussion board, alongside short explanations of how their song captures their chosen character’s personality. In class, we put it to a vote. Here are the “theme songs” we voted best for the brothers, introduced by our student winners.

ALYOSHA

Student: Carlota Rodriguez-Benito

Theme Song: Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”

Explanation: I chose Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” for Alyosha. I think that this song represents the saint-like aspect Alyosha has of helping people. This song is about getting a message from a higher power. In this context, it is a reggae song and Bob Marley sings “Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is going to be alright.” I feel that this is the same message that Alyosha tries to convey many times, being a spiritual son and the peacemaker. Father Zosima helps him see the word as it is in this song, with good and no worrying, all will be just fine.

IVAN

Student: Albert Ho

Theme Song: Adam Lambert’s Cover of “Mad World”

Explanation: I find this song to fit Ivan well – it’s melancholic, insecure, doubtful, and lonely. Throughout much of the book, especially when Ivan argues, whether in “Rebellion”, “The Grand Inquisitor”, or against Zosima and others – Ivan crafts logically impeccable arguments which is in deep contrast with his wavering heart. He wants there to be a God, for religion to be just and true, he craves it, as he finds partial resolution in Alyosha’s kiss mirroring Jesus in “The Grand Inquisitor.” However, his overwhelming need for things to make sense makes it impossible for Ivan to ever be truly reconciled. Thus, being as cerebral as he is, Ivan sees a Mad World where religion doesn’t make sense, people’s actions don’t make sense, and being intellectually superior to everyone only creates further isolation and the inability to empathize and be empathized with, which is a key element of religion in Dostoevsky’s works.

True, in much of the book Ivan is proud, direct, and dismissive – but underneath the armor I believe he is the Grand Inquisitor waiting to be kissed by Jesus.

“I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very
Mad world, mad world”

SMERDYAKOV

Student: Sarah Russell

Theme Song: Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” 

Explanation: Smerdyakov is a character surrounded by death. Stinking Lizaveta died giving birth to him, he killed cats as a child, and he played an important, if not the most important, role in Fyodor’s death. In addition, his name means stinking which is associated with decay. This song has a disturbed, creepy sound to it and is all about welcoming death. “Let the bodies hit the floor” is exactly how Smerdyakov feels about Fyodor. Additionally, the song says “Beaten Why For, Can’t Take Much More” which describes Smerdyakov’s motivations for wanting Fyodor dead. He has been beaten and abused his whole life and is thus resentful towards everyone.


This is the second installment of “The Brothers’ Theme Songs” and you can read the first here. The activity is brought to you by Dr Greta Matzner-Gore and her students at the University of Southern California. 

The Dostoevsky Games: A New Tobacco Road Rivalry

Readers of The Bloggers Karamazov do not need to be convinced that time spent alone with Dostoevsky is time well spent. But we live in an age when reading itself, and engagement in the humanities generally, is under attack from all sides. Demonic forces, toxins and temptations abound, even (or especially) within institutions of higher education: careerism, pre-professionalism and utility; transient titillations and instant gratification; ephemeral and flashy things; insidious technological tools; and social media outlets like, ahem, this blog. In the face of all this chaos, the quiet, dark, brilliant, reader can use a little company.

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Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have long engaged in the fiercest rivalry in college sports. This year’s March Madness expanded the field of competition beyond the basketball court into Duke’s Rubenstein Library, where on 26 March 2017 elite teams from both institutions clashed in The Dostoevsky Games. Students clad in UNC light blue and Duke royal blue, coached by UNC’s Radislav Lapushin and Duke’s Carol Apollonio, respectively, met in a series of epic battles around Jeopardy, Taboo, “Name the Quote,” Dostoevsky Debate, and the performing arts.

The program is now available exclusively on The Bloggers Karamazov, and you can view it here!

The Games were well attended, with scores of competitors and spectators. Passions ran high, and the teams ran neck and neck through the afternoon, trading lead changes and ties. UNC presented a short film and a series of skits and mock interviews with Dostoevsky characters that, despite the high seriousness of the subject matter, sparked hilarity in the hall. For its part, Duke moved heartstrings and brought tears to many eyes with a soulful musical performance. The extremes of emotion thus inspired were worthy of the Master. One look at the UNC team’s winning video “The Fresh Prince of ‘To Dare'” will convince the readers of The Bloggers Karamazov of the overall quality of The Games. Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 11.07.56 PMUltimately, in a close race that seemed to come down to an edge in the performing arts, the workings of fate, and possibly a sheer numerical advantage, UNC edged past the hosting team and took possession of a well-deserved freshly 3D-printed Dostoevsky Games 2017 trophy. (Radislav Lapushin waves with the trophy in the image to the right)

The Dostoevsky Games benefitted from the intellect, stamina and energy of a world-class team of scholars, ranging from newly minted to well seasoned. Doctors Michael Marsh-Soloway (Master of Bobble-Heads and Busts), Denis Mickiewicz, and Ambassador Jack Matlock lent dignity and excitement to the occasion; Professors Irene Masing-Delic and Ilya Kliger served valiantly and with ruthless fairness as celebrity judges; and Professor Eric Naiman delivered an impressive keynote address.

The teams were so carried away by the intellectual ferment in the room that they remained on the field of battle through the Games’ culminating event: small-group discussions of Crime and Punishment over dinner led by the celebrity guests and judges. True to the spirit of Dostoevsky, groups at two of the tables carried on their frenzied debates even as tables and chairs were cleared from the room, throats were cleared, and doors were slammed more loudly than would normally be warranted. It is to the UNC team’s credit that its members remained on the scene with only the faintest of defections (though with some furtive gleams of cell-phone screens), even after 5:00 p.m. when their men’s basketball team began play in the Elite Eight. Skill, luck, dedication, passion, fate…this year they paid off for both UNC teams. But even a national basketball championship is a transient thing when you take home a Dostoevsky Bobble Head, a 3D printed trophy, and the World Championship in the first, and possibly only ever, Dostoevsky Games.

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Players and coaches on both sides are still in recovery. But should additional teams desire to take up the tradition or issue a challenge, we are available for consulting, and may even rise to compete again.

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The Dostoevsky Games were fueled by Duke University’s Humanities Futures program (The Franklin Humanities Institute) and the David L. Paletz Course Enhancements fund, with contributions from the Duke Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies.

Respectfully submitted,
Carol Apollonio


Carol Apollonio is the President of the North American 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 Virtual Visit to the Robarts Library, part 2

University of Toronto professor Kate Holland asked her SLA314 Dostoevsky undergraduate students to visit the Robarts Library exhibit Crime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts and write up their reflections on one exhibit item. Their writing, collected here, reflects not only the global spread of Dostoevsky’s influence, but also the diversity of media used to engage with his 1866 novel. To learn more about the exhibit, read curator and Toronto PhD student Barnabas Kirk’s blog post from last month. To read the first group of students’ posts, see A Virtual Visit to the Robarts Library, part 1.


Pickpocket

Rory McCreight

pickpocketAfter checking out the 150th anniversary exhibit of Crime and Punishment at Robarts library, I was interested to see the film Pickpocket by Robert Bresson among the artifacts. I had seen two of the esteemed French director’s works: Au Hasard Balthazar and A Man Escaped, and thought his style would make for a unique take on Dostoevsky’s work. Stylistically, the two auteurs are quite different. Bresson’s works have a cold, muted feel, where characters interact dispassionately towards one another and emotions are buried deep behind blank expressions. On the other hand, Dostoevsky’s characters spark with life, and given Raskolnikov’s feverish internality, it seemed like a tough character to represent on screen.

That being said, the thematic undercurrent of Bresson’s and Dostoevsky’s works are highly spiritual, this reveals the common area Bresson sought to explore in Pickpocket. Raskolnikov’s counterpart in Pickpocket, Michel, is less obviously haunted by his crimes; in this case he is a serial pickpocket. However, he, his friends and family respect the moral corruption of the crime, but, like the murder, it was a crime somewhat brought about by poverty. Pickpocket is a lean 70 minute version of Dostoevsky’s novel and it cherry picks the ideas it wants. It leaves out a large part of the extra characters, keeping only Raskolnikov, Razumikhin, Sonya, and Porfiry, it also keeps Raskolnikov’s Napoleonic vision of crime as well as his final redemption in prison through Jeanne, Pickpocket’s Sonya surrogate.

Dostoevsky and Bresson’s fixation on spirituality meant that both artists wanted to include the controversial redemption epilogue in their works. Bresson’s may work better because the film has Michel fail once at becoming honest and finding redemption, but he falters and finds redemption in prisonthrough Jeanne’s forgiveness. He had earlier told her that he could quit stealing and her forgiveness of his faults redeems Michel, just as Sonya’s love redeemed Raskolnikov.

 


Max Burchartz’s lithographs

Brodie McLeod

burchartz_max-zu_raskolnikoff-om457300-10678_20140531_27449_1049When browsing the Crime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts exhibit, Max Burchartz 1887-1961: Kunstler, Typograf, Padagoge (Berlini Jovis, 2010) stood out to me almost right away. The imagery portrays a distorted Raskolnikov along with some of the people in his life. I found this imagery to be an almost perfect symbol of how I imagined Raskolnikov’s mind to be while reading Crime and Punishment: a very active one caught up in its own distorted version of reality. Amid the intended chaos, the imagery draws attention to the characters’ faces, something I found particularly interesting. Amid the chaos of the lines, they all portray very strong and distinct expressions. With Raskolnikov specifically, one can see expressions ranging from distrustful annoyance, to panic, to what appears to be genuine remorse or sorrow. While likely unintentional and just a component of the medium, the lack of colour helped to highlight this.

On to the painter, Max Burchartz: he created the featured lithographs in 1919 upon his return from World War I. Following this, Burchartz went on to work in advertising, creating new methods of typography. He once again enlisted in the military in World War II. Following the end of the war, he went on to cement hisprominence in early modern art and design.

 


Sabine Meier’s Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov: Portrait of a Man

Matthew Reid

In the display case Sabine Meier’s Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov: Portrait of a Man, captures the eye in its sharp angles and vivid intensity. The face of Raskolnikov is entirely exposed as every angle is shown over two pages of a photograph in the book. This imposing portrait allows for nothing to be hidden on the face of Raskolnikov. In relation to the novel a clear connection between the many faces and many angles to the same face of Raskolnikov emerges from the display photograph. In the novel the reader as well as the characters in the novel never find out who Raskolnikov is in his entirety. The question of his motive to murder, his sanity, his faith, and love are covered by authorial silence or only brief glimpses into each of these facets of Raskolnikov’s life. Like the novel, this picture only shows small portions of Raskolnikov’s face at a single time. The viewer is forced to piece together the fragments in order to fully see his portrait. It is this schismatic representation of Raskolnikov that stays true to the novel even in a modern urban setting. Meier chose to use New York and le Havre as the setting of her photos[i]. A selection of Meier’s photos have been printed and are being displayed as an exhibit at the Knockdown Center in New York. The exhibit attempts to “capture the inner workings” of Raskolnikov. Meier’s use of dark colours and shadows in many of the images reflects the novel’s fixation on night time and darkness especially surrounding Raskolnikov’s ventures around Petersburg at night.

 


Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View by Roberta Rubenstein

Kaitlan Sooknanan

220px-roger_fry_-_virginia_woolfThe item that I found most interesting within the Dostoevsky exhibit was Roberta Rubenstein’s Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View. Virginia Woolf has always been one of my favourite authors and so it was extremely interesting to discover that she was inspired by Dostoevsky and to connect her writing to the writing and ideas of the literature we have been working with in class. Before researching the actual book, I thought it would be helpful to verse myself first on the subject matter, and what I learned was that while the text was written about the way in which Russian authors influenced Virginia Woolf’s creative process and subsequent writing, Dostoevsky was the one who appealed most to her. She thought “Dostoevsky’s novels seem to have “permeated” the realms of both literature and psychology, and she viewed readers as having somehow internalized the significance of his novels.”[ii] That sentence show the profound effect Dostoevsky had on Woolf and it is analyzed in Rubenstein’s book, “It’s like peaking over the shoulder of a great writer reading.”[iii] The book shows the connecting themes of the two writers, and how they “sought to open up the world within.”[iv] The biggest take away the book gives is “prodding a reader to go back and reread Woolf in the company of these Russians,”[v] and that is what resonated most with me; to be able to go back and read her work with new significance, and to fully realize the scope of Dostoevsky’s influence.

 


“The Russian Messenger” (Русский Вестник)

Tara Subotic

I chose to write about the Русский Вестник item because I found it the most intriguing one. My main reason was because I wanted to know where Dostoevski first published his stories. I was always curious as to where famous writers initially started publishing their stories, and how it helped them gain recognition for their work. I found it interesting that not only did the Русский Вестник publish several stories of Dostoevski that are considered to be one of the most popular ones in today’s world, but also several other notable and famous work from Russian authors. I was surprised to see that the stories of Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Leskov were also published in the Русский Вестник in the 19th century. Some notable stories which I consider to be outstanding are Ana Karenina, War and Peace by Tolstoy, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, At Daggers Drawn, and The Sealed Angel by Leskov, and of course Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevski. Another interesting fact is that the newspapers motto is ‘Кто любит Царя и Россию, тот любит Бога’, a motto I personally agree with and support. Some of the main topics that the Русский Вестник concerns itself with are the rebirth of Orthodoxy in Russian, Cossacks, the history, economics, health, science, school and education, army, and politics in Russia. One of the most interesting topics they also deal with is Slavic brotherhood, a theme I am personally interested in. A rather controversial topic they also dealt with were reunions with ‘Little Russia’ which would be Ukraine and Belarus, given the argument it would be a ‘legitimate union of unjustly separated people’. Since 1991 Русский Вестник is funded by a charity foundation called “International Fund for Slavic Literature and Culture”, and the editor in chief from 1991 to 2013 was Aleksei Senin. The current publisher is Oleg Platonov who resides in Moscow. The original location of Русский Вестник was St. Petersburg, the hometown of Dostoevski, however now the journal has moved to Moscow.

 

 


C&P-RasCrime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts was on display at the Robarts Library in Toronto in the fall of 2016. It was co-curated by Ksenya Kiebuzinski, Barnabas Kirk, and Kate Holland. The exhibit was part of the 2016 global outreach program Crime and Punishment at 150. For more information, visit the CP150 project website.

 

 


Notes:

[i]  There’s an explanation of the exhibit here.

[ii] Ashley Dolan. “The Influence of Fyodor Dostoevsky on E. M Forster and Virginia Woolf” (Masters Thesis, University of Missouri- Columbia, 2011), p. 35.

[iii] Jane Costlow. “Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View by Roberta Rubenstein.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2010, p. 482.

[iv] Claire Davidson-Pegon. “Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View.” Woolf Studies Annual, 18. 2012, p. 158.

[v] Costlow, p. 484.