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. 

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.


This interview is part of a new feature on The Bloggers Karamazov. If you have recently published work on Dostoevsky and would like to be interviewed on our blog, please let us know!