Twitter, Criticism, Dialogue: Dostoevsky and a Call to Action

by Tomi Haxhi

cvzxbh6usaa96lcBy now, you have no doubt heard about the @RodionTweets project (still ongoing!), whereby an ambitious team of Dostoevsky scholars brought Crime and Punishment into the twenty-first century, tweeting the events of the novel from Raskolnikov’s point of view to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the novel. As Professor Carol Apollonio put it during her keynote address at the Crime and Punishment at 150 conference this past fall, criticism is “nothing but long, smart tweets.” She went on to say that, “in this hasty, impatient age, there is a whole lot to be said for short, smart tweets.” Her absorbing address, handily performed and very witty throughout, began with one of the primary concerns of the Twitter project and of the conference at large: how to update the text (indeed, any text) for the contemporary reader—or “non-reader”—, whose attention has become the site of a continuous battle between various media. Academics must not point fingers, Apollonio warned us, but must rather step up to the plate and do the greatest kindness, that is, initiate a conversation.

Bakhtin tells us that “to be means to communicate dialogically,” that “two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum for existence.” (Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics 1984 p. 252). Thus, the importance of any novel, not least of all of Crime and Punishment, lies in our discussion of it, irrespective of the medium. Literature comes to life in dialogue—not only in dialogue between author and reader, but between the readers themselves, thereby enriching our understanding of both self and other. It is in dialogue that the human subject is born, for the subject does not stand alone: we live in the world—and through the word—of the other. In Bakhtin’s words, “only in communion, in the interaction of one person with another can the ‘man in man’ be revealed, for others as well as for oneself” (Ibid.).

With this in mind, throughout her talk Apollonio encouraged her audience to participate, right then and there, in an ongoing, live Twitter discussion under the hashtag #CP150, transforming each audience member from a passive listener into an active participant (granted, of course, that they are active on Twitter).

What gets Raskolnikov into trouble, according to Apollonio, is exactly his lack of communion, i.e. communication. He reads, and reads, and reads, but he keeps his thoughts bottled up, denying himself the dialogue so necessary to life. As such, Raskolnikov remains to a degree unformed, incomplete—in cutting himself off from the world, he cuts himself off from his self. Despite the fact that the bulk of Crime and Punishment is composed of his thoughts, they are rarely in reality voiced. Apollonio noted that, even in the novel’s most famous dialogues, Raskolnikov is mostly silent, be it with Marmeladov, Porfiry Petrovich, or Svidrigailov.

To prove her point, Apollonio did the kind of thing which, admittedly, “non-academics mock academics for doing”—that is, she took advantage of the ‘find’ function on a Word-document version of the entire novel, searching for each and every quotation mark in the text to find where, exactly, Raskolnikov is speaking, and on the other hand, where he is thinking. Unlike in English translation, where dialogue and thought are both marked by quotation marks and differentiated by quotation words (“he said” vs. “he thought”), in the Russian original, dialogue is marked by long dashes at the beginning of utterances, and thoughts by quotation marks. Here, however, she came up against some trouble, noting that serious slippages occur throughout the novel. In fact, Raskolnikov appears to think his thoughts aloud time and again, directed toward no one in particular.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-11-03-58-pmFor Apollonio, this presents one of the central problems of the novel: what is dialogue without an other? “Does it matter if he speaks aloud if no one seems to hear him,” she asked her audience, deeming this this the classic ‘tree falling in the forest’ dilemma, presented anew throughout Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky blurs the boundaries between the speaking and the thinking subject in much the same way as he blurs the boundaries between his protagonist’s inner life and the outside world. According to Apollonio, Dostoevsky thereby brings us back to the problem of “the isolated individual’s uncertain ontological grounding,” again reminding me of Bakhtin’s emphasis on dialogue. In isolation, the subject does not exist in full capacity—if at all. And this could not be truer of the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. Ultimately, the reader witnesses Raskolnikov move from “mute isolation” to “speaking his guilt” and finding new life in the world of the other.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-11-04-40-pmToward the beginning of her talk, Apollonio suggested the following, which touched me greatly. “Tweeting does not assume anyone is listening,” she said, “but it does convey our yearning for conversation, for someone to listen and respond. It is a free leap, full of trust and hope, into an invisible community.” I now see that this leap of faith is related directly to Raskolnikov himself—it is the leap which he denied himself throughout the novel, too frightened to act on this basic human need, and which he finally learns to take, born again, in its last pages.

 


Tomi Haxhi is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Columbia University. He received an MA in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Toronto in 2016. His talk at CP150 was entitled “Schismatic Temporalities: Raskolnikov and the Raskolniki.”

 

The Brothers’ Theme Songs

by Johnathon Huizar, Greta Matzner-Gore, Kelsey Steele, and Zhiqing Tan

tumblr_mxhrvmadig1sgk9e0o1_1280The personalities of the brothers Karamazov reflect their time and place (late nineteenth-century Russia), but they are also universal, at least to some degree. One can imagine meeting some like Dmitry (the passionate profligate), Ivan (the tortured intellectual), or Alyosha (the would-be saint) in the United States today. With that in mind, 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. They posted links to their “theme songs” on our course’s discussion board, alongside short explanations of how their song captures their character’s personality. In class we put it to a vote. Here are the “theme songs” we voted best for each brother, introduced by our student winners!

DMITRY

Student: Johnathon Huizar

Theme Song: “Jesus and Jones” by Trace Adkins

Explanation: Trace Adkins’s song, titled “Jesus and Jones,” allowed fans to look into his life and see the struggle between sin and the righteous path and finding an equilibrium. I feel Dmitry struggles with this urge to spend money on drinking and women as he did with Grushenka, and much like Trace Adkins he is remorseful for it. The frantic state Dmitry is in when he is searching for 3,000 rubles shows he wants to be at peace with Katerina and that he understands this struggle between good and evil, but he cannot control it. Dmitry struggles with sin and seems to spend a large portion of the book attempting to overcome it and seek spiritual recovery.

 

IVAN

Student: Kelsey Steele

Theme Song: “You Found Me” by The Fray

Explanation: It was hard to find a song that represents Ivan accurately. I believe that “You Found Me” by The Fray is indicative of the anger, resentment, and confusion Ivan demonstrates towards God. As we see in “The Grand Inquisitor,” even if he is able to reconcile his thoughts enough to fully believe in a higher power, Ivan cannot justify worshiping a God that allows so much unnecessary suffering to go on. While I think the entire song applies to him (including his relationship with Katerina), I particularly like the chorus, because I think it perfectly captures Ivan’s internal state. As I listened to the song, I could envision Ivan shouting the words to the sky, to God.

 

ALYOSHA

Student: Zhiqing Tan

Theme Song: “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens

Explanation: I picked “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens. This song shows that God created a beautiful world where people love each other and people can get along with animals. Alyosha loves God, and he believes that because of God’s mercy, people can love each other and live in happiness and peace. When I listen to this song, I feel very warm and sweet because it brings us a positive feeling and lets us know this world is full of miracles. Even a beautiful scene or a wet garden can make us feel happy. This song is full of love which is the same as Alyosha. Alyosha always loves and helps other people and makes them happy.

 

What theme songs would you give to the Karamazovs or other Dostoevsky characters?

 

Ivan Karamazov reviews Crime and Punishment

by Ivan Karamazov, with help from Brian Armstrong

For my thirtieth birthday, my brother gave me a novel called Crime and Punishment by a well-known Russian author. The novel was published back in 1866, but I was unaware of it at the time; that was an unusually difficult year for me. I’d since heard of it, but I’d never gotten around to reading it. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve not even touched my copy of War and Peace yet!

Those of you who are aware of my family history, however, can likely ascertain why I quickly read my gift. I’d heard that I bear some similarities to the central character, and that while the novel was being serialized in The Russian Messenger, some of its most important themes were being played out in my own life. And while I cannot but acknowledge those similarities, I must admit that I was unimpressed with the young man.

First, given that everyone who is anyone has already read the novel, I hope you won’t think me a scoundrel if I openly discuss the fact that the central character, Raskolnikov, murdered a couple of people and stole from them and then eventually – and rather pathetically – confessed first to a woman whom he barely knew and then to the authorities. There is supposedly a great mystery as to why he did it, but, honestly, I believe that the former gambler Svidrigailov summed up the central character and his motivations quite well: he sought to rob the older sister, and he did it in order to see if he was an exceptional “man of genius.”

The idea of the exceptional person of genius is part of a theory he had, in which people are divided into two groups according to a law of nature: the mere “material” and those who, due “to their lofty status, are outside the law, and not only that, who themselves write the law for the others – for the material, I mean . . . the rubbish” (462). Svidrigailov rightly notes that there’s nothing really special about this theory. He also rightly notes that what follows from Raskolnikov’s criminal act is simply a matter of his being “greatly pained” by the thought this this lofty status was beyond him. In other words, “What could be more demeaning for a young man with a high opinion of himself, especially in our day and age … ?’ (462) Apparently there is nothing more demeaning.

raskolnikov 3But that’s not the end of the story. It’s not just that this young man, with his confusions and his inflated sense of himself, committed some mundane crimes. We’re also supposed to believe that a process occurred – especially with the young woman whom he barely knew – that led to his redemption, and we’re told by the narrator that some great future deed awaits him. I’m aware that there is debate over how “true” this process and this future deed is to “reality” – meaning to psychological reality, since the book is, of course, a fiction made up by the author (a fact that many readers seem to forget!). There is also debate over whether this process and future deed work from an aesthetic perspective. In my opinion, it is true to reality and it is done beautifully. I was ready to weep for joy. Except…

Except that I couldn’t help but wonder: at what cost did this young man’s redemption come? The death of two innocent women. Yes, yes: perhaps the pawnbroker really did deserve to die. And even if she didn’t deserve to die, it seems clear that the young man does not feel remorse for having killed her. Rather, it’s the second murder, which even the narrator rarely mentions, that seems to eat away at the young man. And I see that this second murder is essential: the young man hardly ever mentions her, but the guilt he seems to feel is what converts his act into something redemptive.

But why should I approve of such redemption? Does the author mean to say that we should approve of young men killing innocent strangers (and females in particular) in order to redeem these men? That seems a steep cost to pay. Too steep. And what of the innocent young woman who is sacrificed so horribly in this mechanism of grace? It is right or just that her life is the cost of his ticket to redemption?

But my thoughts on this issue are likely well-known. Year in and year out, I have these same sorts of conversations with those around me (and often with the same people). My interlocutors are constantly pointing out flaws in my logic and my rhetoric and my choice of facts and figures of speech and examples. And I’m constantly being accused of irony and atheism, so that the points I make are fully misunderstood. But I’ll say it again: I believe in God and in the immortality of the soul and in Heaven and Hell. And I still refuse my ticket.


Brian Armstrong is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Augusta University. He works on the intersection of philosophy and literature, and his current project focuses on the philosophical implications of Dostoevsky’s fiction. He masterminded @YakovGolyadkin last fall during #TheDoubleEvent. You can find him on Twitter under the handle @wittstrong.

This post appears as part of the #CP150 project. For more information about the project, click here.

The Four Raskolnikovs and the Confessional Dream

by Amy D. Ronner

I am a law professor who teaches criminal procedure, a course which covers the constitutional protections for those accused of or charged with crimes. One of the burning questions in the text books is why do so many suspects waive their Miranda rights and confess? Typical conjectures blame the overbearing and devious tactics of law enforcement or the suspects’ hubristic confidence in their own skill at talking their way out of trouble. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s perspective in Crime and Punishment is far more astute. In essence, there are four Raskolnikovs and they quadriphonically divulge confessional truth.

At least unconsciously, Raskolnikov knows what he needs to sire his own deliverance. Shortly before the crime, Raskolnikov experiences what has become famous in world literature – – his dream of the suffering horse. Dostoevsky underscores the momentousness of “dreams, morbid dreams, [that] always live long in the memory and have a powerful effect on disturbed and already excited organisms.”[1] It is this “palpable and vivid” dream that predicts the future and prescribes the cure (Pt. 1, Ch. 5: 51).

In the dream, Raskolnikov is a boy visiting the countryside with his father and passing a tavern, loaded with drunken partyers. Mikolka, the owner of a large wagon, hitched to a skinny old horse, invites the rowdies to pile in and go for a ride. Although it is obvious that the horse cannot drag the overloaded wagon, Mikolka savagely beats the horse to a pulp. The incident turns into a self-defeating vicious cycle: the more Mikolka delivers lashes, the less the horse can budge and the less the horse can budge, the more the enraged Mikolka delivers the lashes. When spectators voice objections, Mikolka yells, “I’ll do what I like.” According to Mikolka, the mare is his “property,” which after being senselessly bludgeoned on the spine, “sighs heavily” and expires (Pt. 1, Ch. 5:54, 55).

Child Raskolnikov, traumatized and dashing out from the crowd, makes a futile attempt to save the horse. Eventually, he lunges at the murderer:

He yells and squeezes his way through the crowd to the sorrel, throws his arms around     her dead bloodied muzzle and kisses her, kisses her on her eyes, her lips. . . Then he        suddenly jumps up and charges at Mikolka with his little fists. At that very moment his father, who’s been chasing after him in vain, finally grabs him and hauls him out of the crowd (Pt. 1, Ch. 5: 55).

When Raskolnikov awakens, he instantly annexes his dream to the very murder he has been contemplating:

“My God!” he exclaimed. “Will I really – – I mean, really – – actually take an axe, start bashing her on the head, smash her skull to pieces? . . . Will I really slip in sticky, warm        blood, force the lock, steal, tremble, hide, all soaked in blood. . . axe in hand? . . . Lord,will I really?” (Pt. 1, Ch. 5: 56).

Psychoanalyst Louis Breger points out that in Raskolnikov’s “own interpretation he sees himself as Mikolka, the dream portraying his plan to kill the aged and useless old pawnbroker.”[2] While the dream does mirror the atrocity that Raskolnikov is about to commit, it also prefigures regeneration and prescribes what he needs to do to even begin to get there.

Crime and Punishment back cover: the horse dream

There are four Raskolnikovs in this dream: one, the Mikolka-Raskolnikov who seeks to assert power over and ownership of others through the irrational extinguishment of human life; two, the mare-Raskolnikov who feels helplessly trapped and beaten down; three, the boy-Raskolnikov, who compassionately leaps forth to try to spare a life; and four, the father-Raskolnikov, who swoops in to squelch the child’s heartfelt, heroic benevolence.

Here the most important Raskolnikov in the quadrille is, of course, the boy, who speaks, comes forth, takes responsibility, and tries (albeit in futility) to right a wrong. He is, after all, the antidote to a Mikolka-esque murderous tantrum, and he is, like the spirit of confession, a courageous personification of what can potentially become best in human nature. In an allusion to Nekrasov’s poem “Till Twilight” (Do sumerek, 1859), the boy kisses the mare “on the eyes” and “on the lips,” compassionate acts which extol both vision and speech as faculties that can assist heartfelt redemption (Pt. 1, Ch. 5:55). As Deborah Martinsen has pointed out in her superb blog (“Dostoevsky and Raskolnikov’s ‘New Word’”), it “matters which ‘word’ we follow.” In essence, Raskolnikov’s soul and psyche desperately need to hear and heed this little boy’s word and thus, let him “squeeze[] his way” out (Pt. 1, Ch. 5:55). The dream tells Raskolnikov, even before he has committed the offense, that what he must do to just begin to change his life is to come forth, confront that internecine Mikolka, and confess.

The dream is conterminously prophetic because it is the fourth Raskolnikov, the suppressive patriarch, who prevails by banishing the boy, by rendering him invisible, by silencing the inception of the symbolic confession, and by curtailing the heartfelt outburst. It is only after the dream-father has trumped the dream-boy that Raskolnikov opens his eyes to the realization that he is heading down the Mikolka path and might actually “take an axe” to bring his horrific project to fruition. The dream, however, is even more of a prescription than it is prognostication: it admonishes Raskolnikov to confront his own Mikolka-like instincts, to come clean, to ultimately “hug the knees” of and accept love (Epilogue, Ch. 2: 516). As such, even before he bashes Alyona Ivanovna over the head, Raskolnikov craves confession and deep inside desperately wants to join the human race.

Notes:

[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, trans. Oliver Ready (New York: Penguin Books, 2014): 51. Hereinafter, I will include the Part and Chapter number, as well as the page number from the Ready translation, in parentheses in the text.

[2] Louis Breger, Dostoevsky: The Author as Psychoanalyst (New York: New York University Press, 1989); 31.


Amy D. Ronner, who holds both a law degree and an M.A. and Ph.D in literature, is a Professor of Law at St. Thomas University School of Law, where she teaches Constitutional Law, Wills and Trusts, Sexual Identity and the Law, and Criminal Procedure. She is the author of five books, including Dostoevsky and the Law (2015) and Law, Literature, and Therapeutic Jurisprudence (2010). This blog is a rough adaptation of a section of her article, “Dostoevsky and the Therapeutic Jurisprudence Confession,” which appeared in The John Marshall Law Review, 40 (2006): 41.

The image that accompanies this post is from the back cover of the US deluxe edition of Oliver Ready’s translation of Crime and Punishment, available from Penguin Books. 

On teaching Crime and Punishment

by Robert Belknap, with introduction by Deborah A. Martinsen

Introduction

Bob Belknap was not only one of the world’s greatest Dostoevsky scholars, but also one of the world’s greatest teachers. He held that while some writers tell us what happen and some show us what happen, the Russians make us experience what happened. And that’s what Belknap did in the classroom. He did not tell us or show us what to think, he made us think by making us experience the texts he was teaching. For instance, he argued that Dostoevsky works physically upon us: when Raskolnikov is behind the pawnbroker’s door as Koch and his companion knock on it, he is holding his breath. And so are we. As Belknap points out, Dostoevsky makes us accessories after the fact: we want his axe-murderer to get away.

robertbelknap_hildehoogenboom_crop2

                               Robert L. Belknap, photo by Hilde Hoogenboom

When talking to colleagues who were teaching Crime and Punishment in Columbia’s great books course, Literature Humanities, Belknap always stressed two things: Dostoevsky was not Raskolnikov (he was more like Razumikhin) and Dostoevsky was an extraordinary literary craftsman, who studied the trade at the feet of the best yet continued to innovate. Belknap’s chapter on Dostoevsky’s omnivorous reading in The Genesis of “The Brothers Karamazov” is itself a fun read. He stresses that Dostoevsky read everything from the classics to the latest best sellers. He loved Homer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Schiller, and Pushkin (among many, many others), avidly read Ann Radcliffe and the Gothic novelists, and introduced Edgar Allan Poe to the Russian reading public.

Belknap held that Crime and Punishment was a novel about rehearsals: Book I is a rehearsal for the murder (think of the dream of the horse) and the next five books are rehearsals for confession (make your own list!). He held that Porfiry had a theory of crime: it is a disease with two symptoms – the crime itself and the need to get caught. Raskolnikov’s behavior betrays his guilt: he revisits the scene of the crime, ostentatiously throws money around, and talks as though he were guilty.

At the XVI International Dostoevsky Symposium in Granada this year, our Russian colleagues argued about whether or not Raskolnikov truly repents by the end of the novel. Belknap had an answer: Raskolnikov’s dream in the Epilogue is a magnificent repentance. His subconscious recognizes that nihilism and Napoleonism are diseases of individualism and pride.

The following post comes from April 2010, the last year Belknap taught Crime and Punishment as part of Columbia’s Core Curriculum. For more vintage Belknap on the novel, see his posthumously published masterpiece Plots (2016).

Crime and Punishment discussion for Lit Hum staff, April 5, 2010

Dostoevsky was very much a part of European culture, wrote with immense admiration about Homer, Dante, and especially Don Quixote, learned his trade from Balzac, Dickens, Poe, and many others, and considered Les Misérables a better novel than Crime and Punishment, though he considered Razumikhin and Dunia a better pair of lovers than Cosette and Marius.

That is to say, he was a pro, and not a mysterious Asian phenomenon, or an alienated misfit. If he resembled any character in Crime and Punishment, it was Razumikhin, racy, snappy, generous, arrogant, fun. Here’s a letter he wrote to his brother at the same age:

As to translations, I’m not sure whether I’ll fuss around all summer trying to get one. We had an idiot in Petersburg, Furmann, (He’s abroad right now) and he receives 20,000 a year from translations alone! If you could get just one year provided for, you should definitely come. You’re young; you could even make a career in lit. They’re all doing that now. In ten years, you could forget about translations.

Dostoevsky was a professional journalist as well as a writer of fiction. He edited four important journals and was centrally involved in the political and ideological controversies of the 1840s, 60s, and 70s. The nihilism of Turgenev’s Bazarov (Fathers and Children) had become the central concern of the intellectual world. It was not the belief in nothing, as Bazarov had suggested, but the adherence to a fixed list of doctrines – atheism, scientism, socialism, feminism, sometimes self-interest, and a few others – over against the three official doctrines of the government – Orthodox Christianity, Official Nationalism, and the Sovereignty of the Tsar.

Raskolnikov is infected with this disease of nihilism. His conscious being is drawn to the mathematical, the calculating, the economic, the burdensome, the suicidal, the social, the scientific, the cynical, the murderous doctrines about great men that had appeared in Napoleon III’s Life of Julius Caesar. His unconscious impulses remain generous, kind, liberating, and involved with confession, resurrection, and faith.

This split between the conscious calculations and the unconscious impulses lets Raskolnikov shift, usually suddenly, between the two identities. He confesses his crime, silently, horribly, to Sonia, and then suddenly shifts to the social benefit that flows from it, saying he has only killed a vicious insect. He gives money to the Marmeladovs, to the girl wandering on the boulevard, and he regrets it for socially rational reasons in each case.

After the dream of the horse, he wakes liberated from the burden of the murderous plan, but returns to that plan because he happens to learn that it is possible. This weird reversal of intent comes not from what he learns, but from the way he learns it – by coincidence. This coincidence reaches his sense of superstition, and Dostoevsky links superstition with the scientific sense of total control that emerges at the end of the novel in the dream of the plague that makes the madmen feel supremely sane.


Robert Belknap (1929-2014) was a Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and a former Dean of Columbia University. His work on Dostoevsky includes the books The Structure of “The Brothers Karamazov” (1989), Genesis of “The Brothers Karamazov”: The Aesthetics, Ideology, and Psychology of Making a Text (1990), and Plots (2016). 

We are grateful to Deborah Martinsen for giving us access to her notes from Professor Belknap’s discussion of teaching Crime and Punishment in 2010 as well as her introduction to this piece. Deborah Martinsen is Associate Dean of Alumni Education and Adj. Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. 

The photograph of Robert L. Belknap was taken at a conference held in his honor in February 2010 and appears with the kind permission of the photographer, Hilde Hoogenboom, Associate Professor of Russian at Arizona State University.

This post appears as part of the #CP150 project. For more information about the project, click here.

 

Regarding the Pain of Others: Tweeting Book V of Crime & Punishment

by Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer L. Wilson is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently working on her first book, Radical Chastity: Abstinence and the Political Imagination in 19th Century Russian Literature. You can find her on Twitter on @JenLouiseWilson.

I can’t think of anyone who better articulates how the forces of crushing poverty fractures the self than Dostoevsky. His characters rarely use words to say what they mean, but rather to express how they would like to be understood. And they want to be understood as anything but who they really are, which are people who have been humiliated and debased by poverty. I was reminded of this by, of all things, Twitter.

As part of the #CP150 Twitter project, I was tasked with tweeting Book V of Crime and Punishment. Aside from Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya, this book contains the Marmeladov funeral banquet. Organized by Katerina Ivanovna, this banquet is a ridiculous waste of money by a family who has none to spend, let alone squander; it’s an act of what Dostoevsky labels “pauper’s pride,” wherein:

[C]ertain social rituals, deemed obligatory for all and sundry in our country, lead many to stretch their resources to the limit and spend what few copecks they’ve saved merely in order to be “no worse than the other.

Eichenberg-Marmeladov-funeral

The funeral banquet. Woodcut illustration of the novel by Fritz Eichenberg (1938).

In other words, the banquet scene is a display of things done and said for the sake of appearances that run wholly counter to reality. This presented a serious challenge for me—how could I convey (in 140 characters no less) the duality of meaning in what the characters were saying at this banquet. For instance, I couldn’t just write “Katerina Ivanovna discusses her plans to open a boarding schools for noble girls in #T__________.” This boarding school was an obvious lie from the moment it came out of her mouth, and had no other function than to (unsuccessfully) mask her abject poverty. As a result, I found myself wondering—how do you tweet “pauper’s pride”?

It occurred to me that this wasn’t a silly question given how important a platform Twitter has become within social movements and in relaying affective solidarity with different human struggles. While this project, as I understood it, started off as a way of understanding how Twitter could serve Crime and Punishment, for me it became more a question of how reading Dostoevsky can benefit our understanding of Twitter and other social media platforms where powerful emotions borne out of pain are expressed.

When it came to tweeting Book V, I am not proud of how I responded to Katerina Ivanovna’s pain. I inserted a number of tweets in which I call Katerina Ivanovna a superficial social climber; I knew this was harsh at the time, but I wanted to make it clear to anyone following on Twitter who hadn’t read the novel that her statements about having money and social standing were to be read as false. I wish I could have come up with a more empathetic way to convey these ideas that could have situated Katerina’s lies within the emotional context of poverty. I tried to make it up by including tweets where Raskolnikov looks upon Katerina with sympathy, particularly after Sonya has been falsely accused by Pyotr Petrovich of stealing money: “I watch as Katerina Ivanovna leaves this drunk and disorderly throng, weeping/ She wanders into the street, with the vague intention of finding justice somewhere.”

In the end, what I was reminded of by this project was the importance of situating a person’s words, particularly the ones they express when they are at their worst, within the context of their social position and the emotions that such a position might bear out. I also learned that this is much easier said than done in a world limited by 140 character utterances, and that maybe we could all give one another a break when we fail to be perfect allies online.


This is part 5 of a series of posts on the experience of creating @RodionTweets. You can follow the Twitter account here. The introduction to the series is here. Click here to read Part 4 or here to go on to Part 6. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

The illustration above is a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg, part of a series illustrating the novel for the 1938 The Heritage Press edition. The photograph is from the personal collection of Scott Lindberg, proprietor of New Documents, and we are grateful to him for permission to include it. Lindberg has also kindly given permission to use another photo from the series for one of the @RodionTweets tweets.

This post is cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

A chat with Lonny Harrison on his new book about the Dostoevskian psyche

Lonny Harrison is an incoming Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. His book, Archetypes from Underground: Notes on the Dostoevskian Self, was published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press in May 2016.

Harrison cover (f).inddQ. Archetypes from Underground gives its readers a new way of understanding Dostoevsky’s characters. Why do you think we need a new way of reading them?

There are so many ways of reading and understanding Dostoevsky. Like many others, I am interested in the psychology of his characters: the dreamers, criminals, murderers, thieves, the downtrodden and abused, visionary prophets and amoral nihilists, the list goes on… Dostoevsky’s great talent was his facility to dramatize the emotional and psychological lives of such a diverse cast along with their weighty psychic load. But I have always been unsatisfied with the clinical approach, that is, treating them like patients in therapy. From the Vienna school—Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, and others—to more recent studies, there is a whole industry that thrives on analyzing Dostoevsky-as-psychologist. While that can be productive, I prefer the classic studies by Nikolai Berdiaev and Vyacheslav Ivanov, who treated Dostoevsky’s writing in mythic terms, which is more the way I see them. We should remember that Dostoevsky wrote, “They call me a psychologist: it is not true, I am only a realist in a higher sense,” and also, “My idealism is more real than their realism.” One of the things I do in this book is bring a new definition of Dostoevsky’s underground. In brief, the underground is the realm of the unconscious, or it can be “conscious inertia” as the Underground Man calls it. I write about the underground as a transformative principle. It is the nexus where the unconscious meets the conscious mind, causing friction that erupts into clusters of ideas, or patterns of action and behavior. These patterns that emerge are the archetypes themselves. So reading Dostoevsky from an archetypal perspective opens his works to a better understanding of the dynamic qualities of his characters and situations, all responding to the crisis of modernity and the problem of the modern self.

Q. What exactly do you mean by archetypes? What are Dostoevsky’s main archetypes?

Dostoevsky stated on several occasions that he was interested in creating character types. He thought Mr. Golyadkin in The Double was his first and most important underground type; later in the preface to Notes from Underground, he said, “types such as the creator of these notes not only could, but are bound to exist in our society.” Already in these works, however, it is apparent that he means something more than social-cultural types. Even in his earliest writing in the 1840s, that is what sets him apart from the Natural School. As a realist writer, he worked with social-cultural types, but as a “realist in a higher sense,” he worked in the realm of archetypes. From the underground type to the Karamazovan nature, Dostoevsky’s types are archetypes. In fact his final novel is the culmination of a whole cluster of archetypes he had been writing about all through his works. In the preface to The Brothers Karamazov, the hero Alyosha Karamazov is called an “odd man out”—an atypical hero, indeterminate, undefined—yet one who bears within himself the heart of the whole. Looking at the archetypes in characters like the Underground Man and Alyosha and his brothers brings to light the fact that, contrary to popular belief, archetypes are not fixed patterns, but very dynamic expressions of the ever- evolving psyche in its myriad forms. Dostoevsky’s stories are embodiments of the cycles of myth that code the experiences of the average human psyche in its dialectical phases of development. All archetypes have a positive and favorable side that points upward as well as a partly negative and unfavorable, partly chthonic side that points downward. Dostoevsky’s underground is the territory of this downward-pointing dimension, the subterranean, the unconscious. Its opposite is the upward-pointing process of transformation, numinous experience, and discovery of authentic self, which is also his terrain.

Q. Is this binary ever overcome?

Yes, in a sense it is, inasmuch as it works as a catalyst for the coincidence of opposites that produces transformation. We have to recognize that the idea of ego transcendence is so important in Dostoevsky. One doesn’t always think so when we read about the doubles, devils, criminals, etc., that are so frequently met. There are no perfect saints either, of course. Prince Myshkin is not the Christ figure some have made him out to be, and Alyosha confesses that he, too, possesses the earthy Karamazovan nature. But what sets them apart is that Dostoevsky makes them vehicles of the transformative process of the psyche. More than others, they overcome the qualities of egotism that bring chaos to the lives of most of the characters around them. You might ask, so what is ego transcendence, what does it look like? Well it is a variety of things; for one, it is the moment of epiphany, a sudden insight, or fleeting, ecstatic vision. These moments abound in Dostoevsky. The story “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” is based on just such a transformative vision in a dream (although the lived experience in the dream seemed to occur over a span of eons). It also relates to the concepts of direct experience, spontaneity, and “living life” [zhivaia zhizn’], terms Dostoevsky frequently employed. It is probably encapsulated best in the sermons of Alyosha’s spiritual mentor, the elder Zosima, which give the experience of inner illumination of authentic self its most direct expression. Actually the passage where Zosima is lying in state and Alyosha, holding vigil, has his dream about the miracles at the Wedding at Cana, simply abounds with archetypal imagery, symbols of alchemy, and mystical transformation.

Q. What question(s) first inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been interested in the idea of doubles in Dostoevsky for a long time. It led me to the principle of the complementarity of opposites, which harkens back to ancient and medieval sources like Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, and Western esotericism. Berdiaev was the first to write about it in Dostoevsky. Following the thread, I found that Dostoevsky’s doubles, and many of his themes more broadly have a lot in common with the work of C.G. Jung. In fact they shared several common sources. Both Jung and Dostoevsky drew on German Romanticism, especially Schelling and Carus, for whom the psychology of the unconscious resonated deeply. I also became interested in the idea of the modern self, especially reading Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self, and A Genealogy of the Modern Self by Alina Clej. I was intrigued by the idea that the self as we know it is not a static thing, that it has an evolutionary heritage, and I saw Dostoevsky’s writing as occupying an important place in that heritage. I wanted to write about the notion of self in Dostoevsky in order to help in our understanding of the modern self in all its fascinating complexity. I was tantalized by the same questions that seem to tantalize and taunt his characters: What drives them? What do they believe? Who are they? Where is their soul? So I began to think to myself, what is the Dostoevskian self?

Q. Dostoevsky’s books are riddled with doubles. Can we be sure that a single Dostoevskian self exists?

That’s exactly it. There is no monological self in Dostoevsky. That’s why I see the Dostoevskian self as an archetypal patterning. The double is the principle of the unconscious mind meeting the conscious mind. It’s a catalyst for transformation. So I’m mostly interested in how Dostoevsky’s fiction signifies the archetypal source of self, residing in the unconscious. It has potential to inhibit self-awareness and cause personal destruction—in characters like Mr. Golyadkin, the Underground Man, or Stavrogin, but also to enhance self-knowledge and achieve self-integration, as Myshkin, Alyosha, or the Ridiculous Man begin to do.

Q. What were your favorite parts of this research?

I really enjoyed working on Chapter 3 “Dostoevsky’s Underground,” and Chapter 4 “Dostoevsky and the Shadow.” They get to the heart of the matter. They combine several of the most interesting ideas that I was researching, like Dostoevsky’s efforts to revise The Double in the 1860s, which he abandoned in favor of writing Notes from Underground. Moving from Dostoevsky’s underground to the notion of the shadow, I study his trademark archetype Karamazovshchina, which translates roughly as “Karamazovism.” I also examine feminine archetypes such as the Earth Mother and femme fatale for these chapters. Other topics are the epidemic of moral and psycho-ideological illness that Dostoevsky believed had infected the Russian intelligentsia, a travesty he paints with apocalyptic imagery, but also countered with the so-called “Russian idea”. The essential point regarding Dostoevsky’s later writing is its nation-centeredness. He locates the ideal of brotherhood and transcendent, unifying love, and harmony in the Russian narod—a subject he writes extensively about in Diary of a Writer. I also like some of the creepier imagery he uses to represent the underground, like spiders and insects, or the decomposition of consciousness that goes on in the post-mortem socializing of Dostoevsky’s macabre tale “Bobok”. I always have to laugh when I read it. As a literary study of the mind and consciousness, Dostoevsky is at his best, using the fantastic and grotesque to stage his “higher realism.” It just doesn’t get any better than that.

To learn more about Lonny Harrison’s research, check out his faculty profile page. You can also follow him on Twitter @lonnyharrison

This interview has been cross-posted on the UT Arlington liberal arts news website.


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