Finding Raskolnikov on the Dialogic Blog Trail

by Robin Feuer Miller

A young man succumbs to the unfinished ideas in the air; viruses travel through the world in the same way as ideas; words are germs; infections spread in the stifling urban heat; the dirty water cannot cleanse body or soul but instead becomes a breeding ground for more viruses of all kinds. So far I am the oldest person to volunteer to contribute to this blog—a space already positively radiant with postings from some of the most creative Dostoevsky scholars in the world—I am, moreover, even at my advanced age, a Twitter virgin, a Snapchat ignoramus, and an Instagram idiot. But it is abundantly clear that Dostoevsky would hungrily pursue all these forms of communication; he would be a shameless multi-tasker, and he would surely relish reading the postings on “The Bloggers Karamazov.”

Sitting down to read them from top to bottom, thus taking the most recent and reading back to the first—in a weird kind of inverse dialogue—has made Crime and Punishment come disturbingly alive in new ways. The novel has wiggled out of its words on the page and literally entered the air, permeating anew the readers of these blogs; we are re-infected and discover that we have not built up any immunities to the contagion this work can engender. Frankly, @RodionTweets and the subsequent posts are more immediate and effective in conveying the essence of the novel than any visual representations of it, which, however exciting to watch, broadcast a more unified voice than the odd and compelling multi-voiced chorus that sounds out from these virtual collections.

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Velky dialog (1966) by Karel Nepraš

In the virtual space allotted to me here, let me follow the backwards dialogic trail of these Crime and Punishment posts so far, beginning (that is ending) with Robert L. Belknap (the recently deceased and beloved teacher of many of us) and ending (that is beginning) with Katia Bowers, to whom—along with Kate Holland, Brian Armstrong, Sarah Hudspith,Sarah J. Young, Jennifer L. Wilson, and Kristina McGuirk—we and Dostoevsky owe so much. You have collectively reinvigorated (or re-infected) us; the hot summer air of those weeks in St. Petersburg one hundred and fifty years ago are reincarnated in the sweltering summer of 2016 in locales all over the map.

Through the keen lens of Deborah Martinsen’s notes and recollections of Bob Belknap we learn that Bob considered Razumikhin to be “racy, snappy, generous, arrogant, fun” and not unlike Dostoevsky himself. (These adjectives evoke Bob pretty well too.) Both Dostoevsky and his character were given to translations: Dostoevsky’s first work was a rough translation of Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet, and Razumikhin proposes to Raskolnikov that they translate part of Rousseau’s Confessions—a work important to Balzac and with which Dostoevsky polemicized for most of his life, especially within the pages of our novel at hand. Bob, in his posthumous book, Plots, considers the meaning of translation in its broadest possible sense:

Plot summaries deserve serious theoretical attention. . . Like a translation, a plot summary tries to represent a text, a set of black marks on a page . . . Indeed, some argue that the summary of a book is the plot of the book, with all the burden of significance and power that implies; others argue that the only proper summary of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the book itself, that summary is impossible (p. 7).

The same argument is frequently made about translation.

Deborah identifies the essence of what made Bob such a great classroom teacher: “He did not tell us or show us what to think, he made us think by making us experience the texts he was teaching.” In this too, Bob reflects the writer to whom he devoted most of his scholarly life. Of all Dostoevsky’s works it is perhaps Crime and Punishment which most irresistibly, most inexorably draws its readers into its vortex. All our blogs so far attest to this fact in one way or another. How many of you, like me, have had a student say that reading the novel allowed him to feel what it was like (or, in one frightening case, to want) to commit murder? We teachers of Dostoevsky’s works frequently find ourselves engaged in startling, atypical classroom discussions when his words are “in play.”

Deborah tackles Dostoevsky’s frequent use of the phrase “new word”, highlighting Porfiry’s chilling insight that Raskolnikov’s “new word” –that which “truly belongs to you alone, to my horror—is that, in the end, you permit bloodshed as a matter of conscience, and if you’ll excuse me, you’re actually quite fanatical about it.” She highlights Porfiry’s insight, but I, and perhaps others of you, have consistently glided over it, even despite repeated readings of the novel. How does Dostoevsky achieve these repeated instances of having his readers fail to notice the most significant details? Or, rather, we each notice our own significant details. Like Raskolnikov, who expresses his fear of them from the outset, we are undone by “the trifles” looming unseen before us.

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My  tiny edition of Crime and Punishment (RFM)

When Kristina McGuirk describes how twitter provides Raskolnikov a medium for talking to himself, she takes us back full circle, as do a number of the other bloggers, to Dostoevsky’s original conception of narrating his novel in the first person. The tweets she and others forge are bone-chilling, reducing the novel to a distilled new essence Dostoevsky would have savored. I am reminded of a tiny edition (summary really—with black and white drawings; image to the right) that I possess of Crime and Punishment: an edition handed out to soldiers in World War II. It slips into the front pocket of any shirt and is barely noticeable. Katia Bowers describes how she envisioned creating an ending for the twitterized version of the novel to rival another “amazing” twitter account: @MayorEmanuel. Had Dostoevsky been writing his Diary of a Writer today, we can be sure his insights, like Katia’s, would be littered with websites, twitter hashtags, and other such forays into the virtual air. Katia, like Kristina, in trying to tweet Raskolnikov, comes up against narrative truths: “it’s difficult to build narrative force without access to the 3rd person narrator’s tools and tricks.” These tweets allow in the inner experience of [re]creating Dostoevsky’s character.

And something even more significant happens: Katia tells us, as Rodion’s tweets “go out, they mingle with other tweets in readers’ feeds, become lost, are retweeted out of chronology.” A living, vibrating air-born hybrid is created that changes by the moment and becomes eerily close to some kind of . . . dare one say it . . . collective consciousness. Jennifer Wilson’s blog seems to build on Katia’s, though of course, in this inverted dialogue, it actually precedes it chronologically. She describes how poverty fractures the self, and thus Dostoevsky’s “characters rarely use words to say what they mean, but rather to express how they would like to be understood.” Her analysis of “pauper’s pride” shows us how powerfully social contexts are woven inextricably into intimate individual perception. She “shows” us this in a concrete way, because she is describing the challenge of attempting to tweet the pain of the irritating yet tragic Katerina Ivanovna. We are thus boldly and actually confronted by the myriad obstacles that Dostoevsky himself “stepped over” in creating his novel.

Brian Armstrong’s ruminations about “higher twitter realism” seem to encapsulate the experiences others have described above, but of course his post too comes before theirs. Inspired by Carol Apollonio’s address at the International Dostoevsky Symposium earlier this summer, Brian asks, “How do we know that the conversation in Porfiry’s office happens just as the narrator reports?” Or, as Carol asked more broadly in her presentation, “What happened?” The twitter modality seems to highlight these broadly ontological considerations, coaxing them out of the dark corners we generally choose not to discuss with any text.

Kate Holland’s post offers both a trenchant analysis of the challenges of tweeting Part III of the novel as well as some significant theoretical insights into the genre of twitter (if we may call it a genre) more generally.   She describes the project as requiring three different modes of translation: direct transcription, transposition of narrative voice, and creative manipulation of the story by the actual “addition of thoughts which might be conceivable ascribed to Raskolnikov.” For her—for all of us—the hardest part “to get used to was adaptation, or ‘filling in’ gaps which the text intentionally leaves opaque.” What is this but a bold, new, stark way of experiencing the novel and testing out its ideas in a way far more personal than what we do in more traditional critical writing, which is itself, like summary, a form of translation?

Our blog has the title “The Bloggers Karamazov.” How would one tweet that novel? How would we deal with its time (a narrator-chronicler in the present, events, presented somewhat out of chronology, 13 years previously in August, November), its multiplicity of primary characters, its preoccupation with evidence?   Sarah J. Young describes how these virtual projects, whether digitally mapping St. Petersburg or tweeting Raskolnikov, “force us towards completeness and to following our reading to its logical limit.” She points out that traditional forms of interpretation allow us to be less consistent and, basically, more tentative in our conclusions. So the result of this process has been for her, and for other tweeters of Raskolnikov, “closer readings” than they have ever done before. The tweets en masse have forged a new, virtual Raskolnikov, a complex, self-contradictory composite formed by all who participated. Taken as a whole, they constitute Raskolnikov’s actual words and perceptions made “new.”

Sarah Hudspith candidly expressed her excitement that the tweeting project offered her the chance to (re)write part of a novel with which she had had a life-long love affair. Her insight takes reading and writing about what we read to a whole new level. One of my favorite courses that I offer is entitled, “Chekhov’s Stories on Stage.” Students have an opportunity to recast Chekhov’s stories into a dramatic form. But the creation of Raskolnikov’s tweets offers an even more dramatic, intimate challenge and suggests that we would do well, as teachers, to engage our students in similar activities. They would then, in Belknap-fashion, experience the novel more fully. And the responses to it modelled through such a project come close to the inner heart of why we read in the first place and what reading can teach us both as individuals and as members of society.


Robin Feuer Miller is Edytha Macy Gross Professor of Humanities and Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Brandeis University. Her most recent books include Dostoevsky’s Unfinished Journey (2007) and The Brothers Karamazov: The Worlds of the Novel (2008).

Virtual Crime and Punishment film festival this August!

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In August, as part of #CP150, we will host a virtual festival of films inspired by Crime and Punishment! Join us to watch and discuss some intriguing films, and to think about ways of adapting or transposing Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel for the screen.

How it works: you watch the film and then we all discuss it together! You can discuss with us on Twitter, Facebook, or both!

On Twitterthe last 3 Sundays in August, at 8:30pm Eastern and 5:30pm Pacific, you’ll view the scheduled film in the comfort of your own home. You can find the copy yourself (they are available various places depending on which country you’re in: check your local or university library, or, if not, the various online options for rental Netflix, HuluPlus, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, etc.), and queue it up to start at the designated time. Then, join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag  #cp150filmfest. We’ll live tweet the films together!

On FacebookIf you can’t make the designated screening time, or you’re not on Twitter, or you’d like to discuss again, the following Monday, we can discuss the films in the North American Dostoevsky Society FB discussion group (join by clicking on it and requesting to join!).

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Schedule:

Sun, Aug 14, 2016 – Robert Bresson’s The Pickpocket (1959)

Sun, Aug 21, 2016 – Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Sun, Aug 28, 2016 – Woody Allen’s Match Point (2005)

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This film festival is part of the #cp150 celebrations, and is in the spirit of preparation for our October conference, where we will have a screening of a new adaptation of Crime and Punishment (Apocalypse Films, 2015), as well as several panels on adaptation/transposition (one devoted to Woody Allen!).

To see what a live-tweeted film is like, you can check out the Storify of the North American Dostoevsky Society’s previous virtual film screening here, part of #TheDoubleEvent that took place in November 2015!

(This has been cross-posted from the #CP150 website)

 

Behind the @RodionTweets Curtain: the Nuts and Bolts of Twitterifying Dostoevsky

by Kristina McGuirk

Kristina McGuirk is a Master’s student in Library Studies and Archival Studies at the University of British Columbia and the #CP150 project Research Assistant. She previously worked as a writer and editor for Better Homes and Gardens special interest magazines. You can find her on Twitter at @kkmcguirk.

As the #CP150 research assistant, I provided social media and editing support for @RodionTweets. What this means in practice is that I collected the tweets from each scholar for their parts of the book, edited the tweets for consistency, voice, and style (more on that below), returned them with queries, and ultimately scheduled the section using Tweetdeck (Twitter’s free tweet management platform).

In the beginning, while the literary savvy people worked out who would tackle which parts of C&P, I put together a general “Twitter Style Guide” for the crew. This was largely to help those less comfortable with Twitter and to make sure we were all on the same page. Selfishly, it was also to make sure I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time on the more time-consuming/less impactful parts of editing tweets, such as cutting down the number of characters because of a photo, or turning long passages into multiple, numbered tweets (we learned on @YakovGolyadkin that style of conveyance was not particularly successful).

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@RodionTweets official style guide

While working on the project, I’ve talked about being true to the nature of Twitter a lot. It was probably annoying. But I’m going to give it one last go here. As Sarah Hudspith discussed in her post, I struggled with the idea of revealing the murder on Twitter. There’s no practicality to it. (Does everyone remember the drug dealer’s Twitter woes on season one of Mr. Robot?). But Sarah’s rationale that Twitter provides Raskolnikov a medium for talking to himself, however, was spot on, and, I was convinced. If you looked back at my own tweets in the month leading up to our July 7 launch, I was pretty much live-tweeting what annoyed me while working in coffee shops and libraries—not all that different from Rodion or the rest of Twitter (except that most of us aren’t plotting to #murder a #louse).

Suspending my disbelief, I moved on to really editing the tweets. Tweets coming from six different people resulted in six different products that had to turn into one person’s thoughts… on Twitter. It wasn’t easy, but luckily almost everyone enjoyed directly quoting the book when possible, so the tenor of the writing was not wildly different (thanks again, Dostoevsky, Oliver Ready, and Penguin!). The biggest differences were in how many tweets each person produced for their parts, and how they chose to convey the thoughts. Some of the scholars were more succinct in their tweets, while others offered pages and pages of tweets for their sections. My job wasn’t to really worry about the how or why of what was included, but to make sure that the tweets were telling Rodion’s story in an engaging way that felt like Twitter.

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Often Twitter is about randomly sharing what you’re thinking/seeing/doing; Rodion is great at cryptically oversharing!

I started by playing with punctuation, varying ?!?! and … and ? and . and sometimes—gasp—not even ending a tweet with anything, because Twitter is fast and loose like that.

I then made every effort to combine tweets. Repetition is a big part of C&P’s storytelling and Rodion’s thoughts, but using a lot of synonyms or adjectives in one sentence isn’t the most efficient way to get a tweet out. I was able to remove superfluous words and phrases pretty easily. (This was my journalism degree in action, while my English degree quietly stares at the wallpaper ignoring me.) Even certain tweets or parts of the novel were just disconnected enough from Rodion’s own narrative that I didn’t need to include them. The rest was a battle with between the 140-character limit on each tweet and the details and phrasing.

I also got tweets that were more narrative (natural as we were working from a novel): this happened, and then he said this, but what about that, and now he’s doing this, and I’m wondering about that. However, in Twitter, the direct narrative had to go away and the story had to be told through Rodion’s reactions. One way to do this was to edit for passive voice and narrative phrasing—Twitter is very much in-the-moment social media, so it definitely works for storytelling, but since each tweet comes at a different time, on a different line, you don’t need the textual cues. Sure, he was still tweeting some of what happened to give his interjections context, but we’re offering more of his thoughts than his retelling of what’s happening.

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This is an altered text that I felt worked particularly well transitioning to Twitter.

Something I wish I would have tried earlier in the editing processes was modernizing the text a bit. While I did add gifs and a silly hashtag here and there (as did Katia Bowers), there was definitely a limit to what was too contemporary. At one point, Sarah Hudspith said she had to fight the urge to write “Sh*t! Got blood on my iPhone! #murderproblems” But… I wish we had done that! I wish I’d suggested early on using Twitter for the platform it is–#trending hashtags, feuds, and cat gifs. Sarah Young is right that an epic trolling session at the Crystal Palace would have been hilarious, but I also understand that this would have been a different way of engaging than we’d planned. I think if I were to do it again, I’d give myself more time for reimagining.

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A missed opportunity! I desperately wanted to use this in Part 3, but it wasn’t appropriate for how we’d been using Twitter.

There are a couple lessons I learned regarding timing and characters (wouldn’t it have been more practical to refer to ‘Raz’ instead of Razumikhin the whole time?) but, ultimately, @RodionTweets was a success and really got me to think differently about a classic I hadn’t read since high school. It was such a creative way to engage with a text and I would encourage everyone to wonder what their favourite literary character’s Twitter looks like… except maybe Dickens’s Gong-Donkey, because I don’t know how to convey drunk braying with Twitter.


This is the last 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 6 or here to go all the way back to Part 1. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

Raskolnikov in the Fog: Time and the Crime and Punishment End Game

by Katherine Bowers

Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is working on a book about the influence of gothic fiction on Russian realism and is one of the #CP150 co-organizers. She tweets about books, writers, and other interesting things @kab3d.

“The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled round, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture,” wrote Virginia Woolf in “The Russian Point of View.” For me, this exactly describes how I feel reading Crime and Punishment Part 6. The tension between Raskolnikov’s two paths—Sonya’s way out (resurrection through repentance) and Svidrigailov’s (suicide)—builds to a fever pitch and I get consumed.

I had a vision that I’d create an ending for our Twitterized version of the novel to rival that of Dan Sinker’s amazing @MayorEmanuel, which began as a parody account tweeting coverage of the 2011 Chicago mayoral election, took on a life of its own, and ended up with a narrative arc that was decidedly epic in nature. The feed was even later sold as a standalone novel, and was just as riveting to read in book format as it had been in real time tweets over the course of that year. Following @MayorEmanuel in 2011 showed me what Twitter narratives are capable of doing, and I was eager to see whether I could reproduce Dostoevsky’s taut novel ending in the medium. I excitedly sat down to read and work on the tweets…

… and, well, I wasn’t exhilarated.

This came as something of a surprise to me. For those following the Twitter feed, Parts 3, 4, and 5 of the novel follow closely one after the other, all within the space of about 48 hours. Part 5 takes place entirely during a 2-hour window and ends with an incredibly tense moment when Svidrigailov reveals that he’s overheard Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya. Dostoevsky leaves us with a cliffhanger… but Part 6 doesn’t pick up that loose end. Instead, the tension drops off, and Part 6 begins the next day… or the day after. As a tweeter, I was confounded by a couple of lines I had never paid that much attention to while reading the novel before:

For Raskolnikov a strange time had begun: it was as if a fog had suddenly descended, trapping him in hopeless, oppressive isolation. Recalling this time much later, he surmised that he’d experienced, now and then, a dimming of his consciousness, and that this had continued, with a few intervals, right up to the final catastrophe. (trans. Ready, p. 527)

Brian Armstrong talked about the reader not knowing what was real or not in his blog post. But, in the beginning of Part 6, one difficulty is that Raskolnikov doesn’t know what’s real. The first pages of Part 6 are confused and confusing as Raskolnikov navigates St Petersburg, trapped in a mental fog that doesn’t lift. My task was figuring out how to express this in Twitter. Would Raskolnikov go completely silent, as he had during July 10-14 when he was ill? I didn’t think so. After all, in the narrative, he’s out and about around town, going places, doing things, trying to meet up with Svidrigailov, actually meeting up with Sonya. Events happen during this foggy period and the novel goes on.

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I hadn’t noticed before that the beginning of Part 6 is told in retrospect, after Raskolnikov has figured out what’s real and what’s not. Some events—like one of the services over Katerina Ivanovna’s body in the Marmeladovs’ apartment, or waking up under a bush—are relatively lucidly described, but others—planned meetings with Marmeladov, visits to some Petersburg locations—blur into his mental fog. Still, if Raskolnikov was tweeting them all along, and unable to distinguish between waking and dreaming, between real and unreal, would the twitter record of this time have the same lucid quality all the time? Or only some of the time? Closely following Dostoevsky’s text meant that only the lucid events feel real, but adding images or Google Street View links lends more of a sense of the real to the tweets that are less concretely sketched out.

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The Part 6 opening period of fogginess seems at first to undermine the narrative arc that has been building up through Parts 3-5; it signals a change in style in the text, a turn to a less fevered, more retrospective voice. In terms of the @RodionTweets project, this shift naturally corresponds to a sudden diminishing of tweet frequency. Part 5, taking place over the course of a 2 or 3-hour period on July 16, includes an intense 80+ tweets, but July 17, the first day of Part 6, has only 8. One would guess that this drop off would result in a less well-defined sense of narrative, as in the text’s described fogginess. Intriguingly, though, through the prism of Twitter, there is no such shift. The small 140-character-or-less snippets of Dostoevskian psyche are published and appear to their audience out of context in most cases. Only through a site like Storify, which allows for curation and preservation of a Twitter story tied to a specified chronology, can the narrative be reconstituted. As @RodionTweets’s anxious, confused, or dreaming thoughts go out, they mingle with other tweets in readers’ feeds, become lost, are retweeted out of chronology (sometimes days later); the result for those following is more a sense of Dostoevskian atmosphere than a tightly narrated retelling of the novel that sucks one into a Woolfian whirlpool.

Partially, this lack of narrative force in Twitter is due to the fact that Part 6’s riveting timeline comes apart at the seams when broken into 140 character bites and set to a Twitter feed’s unyielding schedule. Reading the novel, time seems to contract and expand with the narrative’s excitement level. The four days of fogginess seem to take place instantaneously—we zip by them in just a few pages, and coming off of the rush of the Part 5 ending, they hardly register. They serve merely to slow us down slightly, to give us a moment to catch our breath. We are further slowed, then, by dialogue, and interactions with other characters—in Part 6 various characters’ stories resolve, but these endings take place outside of Raskolnikov’s consciousness. Finally, on July 21st, the fog lifts and the novel concludes. Raskolnikov confesses, but the lead up to the confession takes place over just an hour. Before that hour, Raskolnikov himself doesn’t know whether he will confess (!)

Tweeting Part 6 has taught me that it’s difficult to build narrative force without access to the 3rd person narrator’s tools and tricks for, for example, making the novel time contract and expand in ways that tantalize readers and spur them on to read more. Being tied to a text that’s already written ties our hands in some ways. But, nonetheless, in the final tweets there’s a sense of urgency and purpose that comes through. Where does this come from, then, if not the narrator? It’s through Raskolnikov finally making a decision, putting a plan in motion, and following through in a way we haven’t seen him do on Twitter before, and haven’t seen in the novel since Part 1. In the spirit of that, and closure, I, too, like Brian, indulged in #steppingover and broke one of the cardinal rules of @RodionTweets Club (laid out by Sarah Hudspith in her Part 1 blogpost: Raskolnikov wouldn’t live tweet dialogue, but only report it after): I tweeted the confession. This spoils the realism, but in terms of the narrative, it adds a sense of conclusion that, I think, Dostoevsky, always in tune with what works on a narrative level, would have endorsed.

Once Raskolnikov confesses, then what happens? Like the novel, @RodionTweets will also have an Epilogue. Unlike the novel, which wraps things up in some thirty pages, it’ll be drawn out… the tweets will keep going, scheduled in and spread out over the next 18 months… until Raskolnikov has faded away.


This is part 6 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 5 or here to go on to the final post in the series. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

The illustrations above are from Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s “Imaginary Prisons” series of etchings (1745-1750) and are in the public domain. 

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

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.

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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.

On Golyadkin, Raskolnikov, and the Search for Empathy

by Brian Armstrong

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.

As I begin to write this post about @RodionTweets, I realize that the details of the origin of the project are a bit murky. It emerged from one of many brainstorming sessions that Katia Bowers and I had at the start of the Fall 2015 semester for social and digital media projects for The North American Dostoevsky Society. We were interested in creating an event related to Richard Ayoade’s The Double, an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s 1846 novel of the same name. We were planning a simultaneous viewing on multiple campuses, and Twitter would play a key role in promoting the event and enabling viewers to communicate during it. Our brainstorming also kept looking ahead to #CP150 and the idea of tweeting Crime and Punishment arose. I’d always been interested in what the novel would’ve looked like if Dostoevsky had stuck to his original idea of writing it from the first-person and tweeting the novel might give us some sense of that. We decided that tweeting The Double would be a good test run: it’s much shorter and almost entirely centered on its central character, Yakov Golyadkin. Katia, her RA Kristina McGuirk, and I set it up so that the tweeting ran for four days in November – as in the novel – and then, on the fifth day, the film viewing took place, with Yakov tweeting from his own account.

The project was valuable for many reasons. Firstly, it promoted awareness of Dostoevsky and of the Society (which exists to further study of Dostoevsky). From a scholarly perspective, the extremely careful reading that the process required gave rise to new insights on the work. Sarah Young noted this in her earlier post: “The result of that process, for me, has been closer readings than I have ever done before, and these have revealed all sorts of details that I have never previously noticed.” I certainly found this to be the case with The Double, too. I would imagine that some of my insights are not new – they’ve been noted somewhere in the vast secondary literature – but that doesn’t make them less important for the individual reader, whether a student or scholar. I’m also still sorting out to what extent any of the insights are connected to the use of Twitter as a hermeneutic tool: the act of converting a fictional voice into Twitter clearly seems to shed a unique light on the original text, but how does it do that?

One of the things that especially struck me with respect to tweeting The Double was a certain lightness and vivacity in Yakov that I’d always missed before. He seemed wittier, more earnest – more like he saw himself and like he maybe was (granting that he really isn’t at all but is, rather, a literary construct). I have my own theory of why this is, and it’s twofold. First, it seems to me that Yakov was struggling with the reality of trying to move up in a meritocratic world that wasn’t really, it turned out, so meritocratic (a struggle that makes him a bit more relatable for the modern reader than his slide into dementia). Second, the narrator, who is not Yakov but like another double, is always there watching over his shoulder, observing and commenting and making inferences about what Yakov is feeing, but is not entirely empathetic. Thus, in stripping away the narrator, a greater possibility for empathy opens up. If this is so, I’m not entirely sure yet why it is so, although I suspect that it’s because of how the narrator navigates his presentation of Yakov with his presentation of others, who seem to judge Yakov. The narrative voice also leaves us in a state of intense epistemological uncertainty, so that we end up suspicious of Yakov. Once that suspicion is gone, we can more authentically draw nigh.

In order to see how things would compare in the case of Rodion and Crime and Punishment, I wanted to keep things the same. This meant that I, um, broke one of the @RodionTweets rules: as Sarah noted in her post, “the general consensus […] was that he probably wouldn’t tweet during conversations, but would give his thoughts on them after the event.” But is not the first rule of @RodionTweets Club that one must #stepover the rules? In any case, I did assume that Rodion tweeted during conversations, as this was what we did with Yakov. It seemed to make sense for Yakov; who knows what’s really happening with him, right? And one can imagine the seemingly socially awkward Yakov tweeting as he talks (or tweeting talks that are not actually happening). But with CP, things are different. The narrative voice is not fully centered on Rodion – and this was very much by design for Dostoevsky. We might well ask what purpose those strategic shifts from Rodion have. And, ideally, Twitter should help us to answer that question. I believe that it was Gary Rosenshield who first began tackling this question back in the 1970s; perhaps we can meaningfully extend his insights with this new tool.

In order to justify my approach a bit more fully, I gave it a name: “higher twitter realism,” intended to echo Dostoevsky’s claim that his own writing is a form of “higher realism.” Whether or not it’s at all an appropriate label, I nonetheless operated with the assumption that Rodion’s tweeting was like an extension of his thoughts, including his perceptions of what others are saying. Could he possibly tweet things discretely as he’s talking to another person? I would assume not. But “live tweeting” these conversations did serve the purpose of providing a faithful version of the narrative that’s stripped of a narrative voice, including a third-person account of what others are doing and saying.

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Naftali Rakuzin’s illustration of Crime and Punishment (used with permission)

Part IV seems like an appropriate Part for this. Sarah Young’s note on Part IV in her Mapping St. Petersburg shows why: “An even greater contraction is evident here. The entire part consists of conversations and interviews, and there is notably no reference, beyond stating that movement between one building and another took place, to anything happening en route. Even though one of the interviews is located in a public office, the police station, Petersburg as a public city and a landscape seems to have all but disappeared here.” Thus, we find that, although Raskolnikov is moving about the city, one would hardly realize it: we’re almost always in the midst of conversations. And, interestingly, Rodion’s failure to register the city around him was not because, as we see at other times, he’s lost in thought; rather, it’s because he’s almost always talking to someone in Part IV: Svidrigailov, Razumikhin, his family, Sonya, and then Luzhin. It’s an intensely discursive section of the novel, and the key players in his transformation are all there.

So what results? A few things stand out for me at present. First, Rodion seems more unmoored, more locked in his own head. This seems especially the case in the final two chapters of Part IV. Granted, this is likely the effect of having Rodion tweet not just his own thoughts but also what others are saying. At times, and especially at first, I tried to have him demarcate his thoughts from his speech and his speech from the speech of others by having him tweet “I said x” or “S/he said x.” But this grew tiresome, and it seemed to me, as I moved along, that there’d be no real need from him to make these distinctions: whether he said it or thought it, or whether he or another said it, would be less important that the thoughts – the propositions expressed or those that he can infer (and often does) from what’s expressed. (He’s highly inferential.) The result is that, at times, one might not be able to tell in the Twitter feed what is said versus thought, or what is uttered by him versus uttered by another like Svidrigailov or Porfiry.

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Naftali Rakuzin’s illustration to Crime and Punishment (used with permission)

This leads to the second point, one that I didn’t really think about until, a few days after finishing my portion of the project, I heard Dr. Carol Apollonio’s keynote at the June 2016 International Dostoevsky Symposium. She raised the question of the ontological status of the other characters, asking: granted that the text is words and not real, why do we attribute the ontolgocial status to aspects of the text as we do? Carol noted that Raskolnikov slips invisibly about while inside his head but surrounded by others, and we, as readers, enter this suspended state. Transposing Raskolnikov’s voice into Twitter, I think, heightens our awareness of this state. Carol also asked us how, for instance, we really know that Rodion really overheard a student and an officer in a tavern. In The Double, it would have been much more clear that the ontological status of the event should be questioned by the reader; Twitter brings out this ontological tension that Carol notes. Carol noted that deciding what is actually happening in “interpretation in the indicative mode,” and she urged us to remain in the uncertainty as we engage in our interpretive activity.

Extending Carol’s insight raises new questions. How do we know that the conversation in Porfiry’s office happens just as the narrator reports? Why do we not question whether it’s all in R’s head? Stripped of any certainty that Porfiry’s there, it seems like it really could be an internal debate of the sort that plagues Rodion. He arrives at the station and no one notices him; we watch as his thoughts and feeling shift, until suddenly he decides that he’s ready to face Porfiry. The next two sentences might make an uncertain reader suspicious: “At that very moment he was called in to see Porfiry Petrovich. Porfiry Petrovich, it turned out, was alone [был у себя в кабинете один]” (310). This emphasis on the ‘lone’ drives the next two chapters (and I’d never noticed how frequently words with the root одн- [one, lone] occur in Part IV, Chapter 5 alone).

While I’m inclined to think that, within the fictive reality of the novel, the conversation really did take place, it’s certainly interesting to wonder if the reason people look at him differently after he leaves the office is that he just entered an empty office, freaked out, and is now leaving.

But now we have another question: What in particular gives Porfiry ontological weight beyond just being another voice woven dialogically into Rodion’s thought? I think that that’s an actual question that Dostoevsky sought to raise, and – to offer another suspicion – I suspect that it’s part of what he’s after in his move toward wider-ranging POVs in his novel. It’s as if, having worked to build the tools by which to more fully articulate the consciousness of another person, he now needs to give weight back to the realities outside the consciousness of those individuals.

It also seems to me that Rodion in Twitter form would draw less empathy than Yakov in Twitter form. So where did the empathy go? It’s almost as if it left with those others who are cut out of Twitter – with those “real” people who seem to truly value Rodion, to see something good in him, to fight for him. If we are left only inside Rodion’s head, we can lose sight of that – of a potential and value in Rodion that Rodion himself can’t quite see. As Kate Holland put it in her post on Part III, “We are trapped instead in Raskolnikov’s monomania. While we trace the vacillations of his self-deception and self-revelation, those psychological developments are never embedded into a broader moral or social context.” If I combine my question with Kate’s observation, a possible inference is that the reality that is left out of an exclusive focus on Rodion’s consciousness is the one to which others seek to open him and is this source of their empathy for him: the moral, which, for Dostoevsky, is also real.


This is part 4 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 3, and here to go on to Part 5. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

The illustrations are by Naftali Rakuzin, and appear with his kind permission. He has also given permission to use an image of one of his illustrations for @RodionTweets. More of his illustrations of Crime and Punishment can be found on his website.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

Rethinking the narrative structure of Crime and Punishment through Twitter

by Kate Holland

Kate Holland is an Associate Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto. Her book, The Novel in the Age of Disintegration: Dostoevsky and the Problem of Genre in the 1870s, was published in 2013. She is a founding member of the North American Dostoevsky Society’s Reader’s Advisory Board and tweets on @fyodor76.

Before the #CP150 Twitter project, I was a Twitter lurker, but when I was offered the opportunity to join a group of international Dostoevsky scholars tweeting Crime and Punishment from Raskolnikov’s point of view, I could not resist the temptation. I teach the novel almost every year, in a Dostoevsky course, a survey, and a first-year seminar called “The Criminal Mind,” and this seemed like a great opportunity to look at it anew, and to go outside my scholarly comfort zone in the process. I opted to tweet Part III, a key section of the novel. It includes Raskolnikov’s first meeting with the detective Porfiry Petrovich and the disclosure of his article “On Crime,” through which Dostoevsky reveals Raskolnikov’s “extraordinary man theory” for the first time. Here Dostoevsky seems to break with the ideas about Raskolnikov’s motives for the murder which he has been building throughout the first two sections of the novel and reveals the outlines of what ends up being his true motive. At the end of the section Raskolnikov begins to realize the nature of the “louse” that he has killed and the significance of his failure to take “the next step.” This section of the novel includes a lot of dialogue, some of which Raskolnikov is not present for, as well as a scene in which he is in a delirious state, which posed special challenges for the Twitter medium.

Raskolnikov-Svidrigailov

Crime and Punishment doodles

This Twitter project required three different modes of translation from the text: the most straightforward was direct transcription of Raskolnikov’s thoughts as conveyed by Dostoevsky and translated by Oliver Ready; the second mode was transposition of the text from third to first person in order to convey Raskolnikov’s thoughts as the context required; and the third was creative manipulation of the story by the addition of thoughts which might be conceivably ascribed to Raskolnikov. For a literary scholar like myself, fidelity to the text is second nature, thus the process of direct transcription posed no real problems. Transposition was also fairly easy; I am so used to teaching this text that I have an internal commentary on it in my mind which was easy to follow. The hardest part to get used to was adaptation, or “filling in” gaps which the text intentionally leaves opaque. Given that this novel was first conceived of in the first person and contains many passages which can be seen as “stream of consciousness” avant-la-lettre, it is a rich environment to be mined for tweets. At the same time, though a novice to the Twitter form, I was also aware of the great gap between “stream of consciousness,” where thoughts are conveyed in as unfiltered a way as possible, and tweeting, which involves a whole series of formal and social filters.

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Crime and Punishment doodles 2

My biggest quandary was how to treat the conversation between Raskolnikov and Porfiry. Although we had agreed that our collective approach to the tweeting should be broadly consistent, and that Raskolnikov should only tweet what would be practically possible (that is, he would not be able to tweet during a conversation, for instance), the extraordinary man theory is so central to the Crime and Punishment’s ideological structure that it seemed important to include it in our Twitter translation of the novel. Raskolnikov’s idea that extraordinary men can “step over” the law for the sake of a great idea is key to his process of self-realization, and there was no question in my mind that it had to be tweeted in order to give ideological and philosophical coherence to our project. In this scene Raskolnikov’s tweets reflect his dialogue with Porfiry; he is presenting his ideas for a second time in the Twitter mode after they have been recited back to him by Porfiry with a new intonation. In the delirium scene at the end of Part III, it begins to dawn on Raskolnikov how far he has fallen short from the goal he set himself, how miserably his own squalid crime compares to the crimes of his hero Napoleon. Here I found that hashtags, one of the basic units of the Twitter toolkit, served to express his self-disgust quite appropriately in shorthand; I particularly liked #napoleoncomplex, #epicfail, and #lousenotnapoleon.

Our #CP150 Twitter project gave me a fresh perspective on Dostoevsky’s novel. The combination of the three modes of Twitter translation reminded me of the extraordinary complexity of Crime and Punishment’s narrative structure; I found myself constantly jumping between my three tasks as the narrative perspective moved in and out of Raskolnikov’s consciousness. It also revealed how much gets lost if we translate the novel entirely into Raskolnikov’s point of view and suggests some of the reasons why Dostoevsky may have rejected his original idea for first person narration in favor of a third person narrator. Here we lose Razumikhin as a moral counterweight to Raskolnikov, never guess at his burgeoning feelings for Dunya, and bypass Dunya and Pulkheria Alexandrovna’s response to their sudden meeting with Sonya. We are trapped instead in Raskolnikov’s monomania. While we trace the vacillations of his self-deception and self-revelation, those psychological developments are never embedded into a broader moral or social context. Followers of @Rodiontweets will find themselves trapped in Raskolnikov’s perspective with no narrative respite. In this format the novel’s psychological claims emerge more clearly than its moral or ideological ones. In our Western cultural context this is perhaps quite appropriate, since the novel is best known for its psychological portrait of a criminal which influenced philosophers, writers and film directors from Nietzsche and Freud to Hitchcock and Cronenberg, rather than its moral and spiritual redemption narrative.


This is part 3 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 2, or here to go on to Part 4. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

To learn more about the manuscript doodles pictured here, read the article on Open Culture here: Dostoevsky Draws Doodles. These images are borrowed from that post.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.