Revisiting the Magic of Dostoevsky (TSS)

After almost a year and a half, I have finally picked up another Dostoevsky. People all over have recommended the company of Prince Myshkin and I think it was high time I finally delved into The Idiot, which I have been intending to read for a really long time now.

While I still have around two-thirds of the book left to finish, I can confidently recommend it to anyone as another masterpiece from my favourite author. After reading his three most famous works – Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov, I had the choice between The Idiot and The Possessed. Since I was more inclined to visit Dostoevsky’s inquiry into an innocent mind than his take on the political upheavals in Russia, I fell for Myshkin.

Of what I have read till now, I am thankful to the good sense having prevailed over me to revisit the magical world of Dostoevsky, where gripping stories are not eternally divorced from substantive psychological or philosophical discussion. Starting with White Tiger last year, my reading trend had slowly shifted more towards ‘contemporary fiction’, a genre I had for queer reasons stayed away from earlier. However, in due course the realization has dawned upon me that no reading should be guided by the ‘genre logic’. While the beauty of a Kundera or the relevance of an Adiga deserves all the attention, the omnipotence of a Dostoevsky can be ignored at no cost.

There are very few characters in literature that live with the reader for its impact on his psyche. This is apart from those that become a part, in some ways, of the folklore. Raskalnikov, Ivan, and Alyosha are the kind of characters that will never become as famous as literary characters can be. But for most people who have read and appreciated Dostoevsky’s themes, these live with them eternally; not as people, but as questions. Dostoevsky has the uncanny ability to turn ideas that trouble him or the ones that he contemplates without an answer, into his characters. It is this ‘answerlessness’ that gives Raskalnikov, Ivan, Alyosha, and the like their luster, their opulence. Vision stops at them, the mind is forced to look beyond.

Looking beyond, however, is to be an excercise in comprehension. In the last one and a half years that I have known these three questions, every new round of contemplation has brought fresh insights. These insights in turn serve as clues for those eternally unanswerable questions whose impotrance always lie in the act of the attempt to a solution, and never the solution itself. Maybe, that is why Dostoevsky has always been a very ‘involving’ read.

The way the Prince is going, I am sure at the end of it all, I would have added one more to the question bank. I also have an inclination that these characters of Dostoevsky talk across books. In many ways Rakalnikov challenges Alyosha and Prince, while the Prince has a lot to say to Ivan. That, I guess, is something to investigate.

Posted as a part of the Sunday Salon

18 responses to “Revisiting the Magic of Dostoevsky (TSS)

  1. Pingback: Revisiting the Magic of Dostoevsky (TSS) « magic blod

  2. Love Dostoevsky too! Although I’ve only read The Brothers Karamazov and his short stories (including Notes from the Underground). My fave by him is White Nights. Thanks for this excellent post.. which means I will have to pick up The Idiot sometime in the near future. And that cover looks great, by the way. Also, I just found you through the Sunday Salon.. your blog is wonderful. 🙂

  3. We have The Idiot which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. You just sold me on reading it sooner than later. Thanks.

  4. That talking between books were an interesting comment. I also have to think about that, i haven’t though in that way before myself. The Idiot and Crime and Punishment are my favorite Dostoyevsky stories above all. The psyche is all there as well a clear purpose of the books. In ‘Crime and Punishment’ (as you know) the fight aganisnt the nihilsitic Ideology as such anarchists as Nachaev, and in the idiot a declaration of the author’s ideal man: the prince Myschkin. Like your blog. Keep reading! /Johan from Sweden

  5. Claire – Thanks a lot! I am sure you will love Crime and Punishment and The Idiot as and when you pick them up.

    Johan – Thanks. The talking between books, am sure, is not something Dostoevsky schemed at. It’s just that once an author creates different characters, they are bound to interact in the author’s head. In Dostoevsky’s case, the interaction seems to be very prominent.

  6. I’ve had The Idiot on my bookshelf ever since reading Brothers Karamazov. I keep putting it off because reading Dostoevsky demands so much involvement which I just don’t have to give right now. I’m glad you are reading it!

    Have you seen Akira Kurosawa’s film, The Idiot? I’d be interested to know what you think of it once you have finished Dostoevsky’s novel. It’s one of my favorite Kurosawa films.

    Incidentally, just saw Kurasawa’s Red Beard. Several scenes in this movie were taken literally from The Insulted and Injured.

  7. Hi Laura!
    You are right about Dostoevsky being a involving read. I have not seen the Akira Kurasawa movies, which I will be on an alert now to find. You see, it’s not that easy to get foreign language movies here, though I have my sources 🙂

  8. I am a huge Dostoevsky fan. In college I read all of his works and recently re-read Crime and Punishment for the third time. Each time I read it, I’m at a different stafe in life and I see the book from a different light, for me that’s part of the definition of a classic. Dostoevsky’s characters aren’t as well known in the general reading public as say Austen’s characters, but I’ve found that they pop up over and over again in literature. I have written in the margins of several books “Raskalnikov,” most recently in a Pamuk novel, because his issues and ways of dealing with them are universal.

  9. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    Are you tension? panic?

  10. I’ve just finished Crime and Punishment and I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to read it. What an intense but marvelous read.

  11. The story under this link contains unexpected historical facts behind Dostoevsky’s novel “Idiot” (”PROTOTYPE OF PRINCE MYSHKIN”):

  12. Thanks “GL” …short piece from netmox…

    (extract from the script):

    ”mox the Recorder: Weighed on the scales of research! I realized quickly that the researchers have been researching each others’ research. In the light of everything that I’ve seen written, I can say that Grishka is unavoidably the model for the “Idiot;” of course researchers operating during the Soviet time had to conclude that… but at the same time it must be said that this archetype-theme is not so important, instead everything that lay hidden, which has remained concealed and which then sought the light via the most narrow of paths… and what about all the side roads? I want to say that in my opinion Dostoyevsky did not just use Grishka as a model, he outright declared it! Everyone knew, and kept silent. ”

  13. surprisinc recitation, that netmox. too much large and peliuliar to be nonsense.

  14. Classic Russian literature has never failed to surprise me every time I read them. I enjoyed reading your book review on Crime and Punishment. It’s written in Russian but there are available perfectly translated version that will let readers read easily without actually losing its original content.
    Fascinating book review by the way. Keep it up!

  15. Somehow I could never finish Crime & Punishment!!

  16. A real crimes:
    Why we never totally eliminate an idiot? We speak shit when we say that we love goodness. Human carry a big theater on back.

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