Tag Archives: Dostoevsky

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

An Atheist’s Blasphemy

Cliff Final

Will the veiled sister pray
For the children at the gate
who will not go away and cannot pray

When I first read these lines of Eliot in Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, I was amazed. These lines convey the depth of any non-believer’s most guarded fears as aesthetically as possible. Since then, I have wondered very often if spreading the idea of non-belief is really desirable.

The existential arguments that I have come to identify with have left the question whether god is or not, irrelevant for me. Probably, it was on reading reading Camus and Sartre that they deleted God from the syllabus of my life. However, it does not rush me into concluding that faith in itself is undesirable and evil.

For me, it would be intellectual dishonesty if I prayed or pretended to have faith in any form of almighty. Like Ivan in Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov, I could say: “It’s not God I don’t accept, Alyosha – only that I most respectfully return him the entrance ticket.” In some of my previous posts, I have made it clear that I have refused the ticket to eternity. However, I have failed to convince myself, despite all the ‘faith-head’ calling atheists in the world, that any one else who accepts it is either an idiot or a crook.

Faith has for most people served as a pacifying force and a place where they find solace and peace. Despite all the logical arguments that I or anyone else can think of, is faith (even if it might just be an illusion) evil or even undesirable? I must clarify that I do not consider faith and religion as synonymous and maintain thatreligion (each one of them) have in more ways than not proved to be destructive, counter-productive and evil. I consider faith, on the other hand, a matter of personal choice, not meant to be communized.

Many might refuse to accept, but those of us who are non-believers by logic know how gloomy the world appears when all pretensions of immortality, eternity, and after-life have been washed away. We learn to deal with it, but it takes some really serious ‘dealing with’. For an existential atheist alone, there is the painful angst and what I choose to call the beginner’s hangover. Most succinctly put again in Eliot’s words:

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender…

In wake of all this, my mind might disagree but my heart seems to go out and agree with the following words of Miguel de Unamuno in Saint Manuel Neuno, Martyr:

“And they, the people, do you think they really believe?”
“…They probably believe without trying, from force of habit, tradition. The important thing is not to stir them up. To let them live on the thin diet of their emotions rather than acquiring the torments of luxury. Blessed are the poor in spirit!”

Dostoevsky’s Masterpieces

I am called a psychologist; it’s not true. I am only a realist in the highest sense – I depict all the depths of the human soul.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Around a couple of months back, I finished the two masterpieces by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment and TheFyodor Dostoevsky Brothers Karamazov. My first interaction with Mr. Dostoevsky was through the ‘sick and spiteful man’ from the underground. Later, I read a couple of his short stories and I knew that this was an author beyond the defines and limits of literature. A master philosopher, a story teller by instinct and a critic of human condition and social relations by accident – Dostoevsky is an important, unique and essential figure in human history.

I had both of Mr. Dostoevsky’s masterpieces on my unread pile for quite sometime. In the meanwhile, I discovered and read The Outsiderby Colin Wilson. Before I could finish and put down this extraordinay book by Wilson, I ws already itching to visit Raskalnikov and Ivan respectively.

I am not going to attempt a review or critique of these two works; in my opinion they deserve to be read and re-read and that’s all. Dostoevsky’s insight into human psyche, particularly into those of the troubled ones, is unprecedented and accurate. Rasalkalnikov’s total failure to live with his crime never makes him doubt the theoretical validity of the ‘idea’ that made him committ that crime. Ivan’s act of returning the ticket causes insanity, but never once does he contemplate religion as an escape route. These are not instances of ‘heroism’ or glorification of atheism. It is sheer intellectual honesty. Dostoevsky knows that a man who has limitless access to logic can never committ himself to an illogical conclusion even if it is a matter of life and death. I doubt if Dostoevsky meant this as a compliment – he meant this more as a psychological and social problem of such men to which he never found an answer, neither has anyone else.
There is more to these two books than can ever be visited in a blog post. With the vitality of Brothers.. and asthetics of Crime.., between these two books, Mr. Dostoevsky has probably travelled the ‘whole nine yards’ of literature.

Don’t believe it then, what’s the good of believing against your will? Besides, proofs are of no help to beleiving, especially material proofs. Thomas beleived not because he saw Christ risen, but because he wanted to beleive, before he saw…And if you come to that, does proving there’s a devil prove that there’s God?
Devil to Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov

Russian Reading Challenge 2008

I have loved Russian literature, at least of whatever little I Crime and Punishmenthave read. Reading Challenges generally limit your choices and therefore I skip them in general. However this one was irresistible and offered no excuses to let go. So, here I am. Since I have the liberty to change the titles, I shall list out the ones that I have always wanted to read in the recent past and probably will now, thanks to the this challenge. Here’s the list:

1. Fathers and Sons – Ivan Tugenev
2. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
3. Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
4. Confessions – Leo Tolstoy
5. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch -Alexander Solzhenitsyn

6. The Kiss – Anton Chekov

Notes from the underground

Notes from the UndergroundThis short novel by the celebrated Russiona author Dostoyevsky is a must read for anyone interested in the basic questions of life. I have never read a book that is so disgustingly true yet honest about the human psyche. The narrator of Notes…, who starts off his story with the statement, “I am a spiteful man”, maynot be a man-next-door character, but shades of him can be found everywhere; and if you look carefully enough, you may not have to look beyond yourself. I would say Dostoeyvsky’s strength lies in the ability to put before you, in white and black, all those dark thoughts that so often cross human mind, even if for a fleeting moment, with unprecedented clarity. It is both awe-inspiring and scary at the same time. What you may not be able to tell yourself, he tells in print, with no apologies.