Sunshine Recorder

You ask yourself: where are your dreams now? And you shake your head and say how swiftly the years fly by! And ask yourself again: what have you done with your best years, then? Where have you buried the best days of your life? Have you lived or not? Look, you tell yourself, look how cold the world is becoming. The years will pass and after them will come grim loneliness, and old age, quaking on its stick, and after them misery and despair. Your fantasy world will grow pale, your dreams will fade and die, falling away like the yellow leaves from the trees …
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights 

(Source: dubbelliefde, via dostoyevsky)

We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner—and that’s all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
But man is a fickle and disreputable creature and perhaps, like a chess-player, is interested in the process of attaining his goal rather than the goal itself.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

(Source: cereal-chiller, via dostoyevsky)

Link: "The Grand Inquisitor" from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov"

The Grand Inquisitor is a parable told by Ivan to Alyosha in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan and Alyosha are brothers; Ivan is a committed atheist and Alyosha is a novice monk. The Grand Inquisitor is an important part of the novel and also one of the best-known passages in modern literature because of its ideas about human nature and freedom. 

"Quite impossible, as you see, to start without an introduction," laughed Ivan. "Well, then, I mean to place the event described in the poem in the sixteenth century, an age—as you must have been told at school—when it was the great fashion among poets to make the denizens and powers of higher worlds descend on earth and mix freely with mortals… In France all the notaries’ clerks, and the monks in the cloisters as well, used to give grand performances, dramatic plays in which long scenes were enacted by the Madonna, the angels, the saints, Christ, and even by God Himself. In those days, everything was very artless and primitive. An instance of it may be found in Victor Hugo’s drama, Notre Dame de Paris, where, at the Municipal Hall, a play called Le Bon Jugement de la Tres-sainte et Gracièuse Vierge Marie, is enacted in honour of Louis XI, in which the Virgin appears personally to pronounce her ‘good judgment.’ In Moscow, during the prepetrean period, performances of nearly the same character, chosen especially from the Old Testament, were also in great favour. Apart from such plays, the world was overflooded with mystical writings, ‘verses’—the heroes of which were always selected from the ranks of angels, saints and other heavenly citizens answering to the devotional purposes of the age. The recluses of our monasteries, like the Roman Catholic monks, passed their time in translating, copying, and even producing original compositions upon such subjects, and that, remember, during the Tarter period!… In this connection, I am reminded of a poem compiled in a convent—a translation from the Greek, of course—called, ‘The Travels of the Mother of God among the Damned,’ with fitting illustrations and a boldness of conception inferior nowise to that of Dante. The ‘Mother of God’ visits hell, in company with the archangel Michael as her cicerone to guide her through the legions of the ‘damned.’ She sees them all, and is witness to their multifarious tortures. Among the many other exceedingly remarkably varieties of torments—every category of sinners having its own—there is one especially worthy of notice, namely a class of the ‘damned’ sentenced to gradually sink in a burning lake of brimstone and fire. Those whose sins cause them to sink so low that they no longer can rise to the surface are for ever forgotten by God, i.e., they fade out from the omniscient memory, says the poem—an expression, by the way, of an extraordinary profundity of thought, when closely analysed. The Virgin is terribly shocked, and falling down upon her knees in tears before the throne of God, begs that all she has seen in hell—all, all without exception, should have their sentences remitted to them. Her dialogue with God is colossally interesting. She supplicates, she will not leave Him. And when God, pointing to the pierced hands and feet of her Son, cries, ‘How can I forgive His executioners?’ She then commands that all the saints, martyrs, angels and archangels, should prostrate themselves with her before the Immutable and Changeless One and implore Him to change His wrath into mercy and—forgive them all. The poem closes upon her obtaining from God a compromise, a kind of yearly respite of tortures between Good Friday and Trinity, a chorus of the ‘damned’ singing loud praises to God from their ‘bottomless pit,’ thanking and telling Him:

Thou art right, O Lord, very right,
Thou hast condemned us justly.

"My poem is of the same character.

"In it, it is Christ who appears on the scene. True, He says nothing, but only appears and passes out of sight. Fifteen centuries have elapsed since He left the world with the distinct promise to return ‘with power and great glory’; fifteen long centuries since His prophet cried, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’ since He Himself had foretold, while yet on earth, ‘Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven but my Father only.’ But Christendom expects Him still. …

"It waits for Him with the same old faith and the same emotion; aye, with a far greater faith, for fifteen centuries have rolled away since the last sign from heaven was sent to man,

And blind faith remained alone
To lull the trusting heart,
As heav’n would send a sign no more.

"True, again, we have all heard of miracles being wrought ever since the ‘age of miracles’ passed away to return no more. We had, and still have, our saints credited with performing the most miraculous cures; and, if we can believe their biographers, there have been those among them who have been personally visited by the Queen of Heaven. But Satan sleepeth not, and the first germs of doubt, and ever-increasing unbelief in such wonders, already had begun to sprout in Christendom as early as the sixteenth century. It was just at that time that a new and terrible heresy first made its appearance in the north of Germany.* [*Luther’s reform] A great star ‘shining as it were a lamp… fell upon the fountains waters’… and ‘they were made bitter.’ This ‘heresy’ blasphemously denied ‘miracles.’ But those who had remained faithful believed all the more ardently, the tears of mankind ascended to Him as heretofore, and the Christian world was expecting Him as confidently as ever; they loved Him and hoped in Him, thirsted and hungered to suffer and die for Him just as many of them had done before…. So many centuries had weak, trusting humanity implored Him, crying with ardent faith and fervour: ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not come!’ So many long centuries hath it vainly appealed to Him, that at last, in His inexhaustible compassion, He consenteth to answer the prayer…. He decideth that once more, if it were but for one short hour, the people—His long-suffering, tortured, fatally sinful, his loving and child-like, trusting people—shall behold Him again. The scene of action is placed by me in Spain, at Seville, during that terrible period of the Inquisition, when, for the greater glory of God, stakes were flaming all over the country.

Burning wicked heretics,
In grand auto-da-fes.

"This particular visit has, of course, nothing to do with the promised Advent, when, according to the programme, ‘after the tribulation of those days,’ He will appear ‘coming in the clouds of heaven.’ For, that ‘coming of the Son of Man,’ as we are informed, will take place as suddenly ‘as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west.’ No; this once, He desired to come unknown, and appear among His children, just when the bones of the heretics, sentenced to be burnt alive, had commenced crackling at the flaming stakes. Owing to His limitless mercy, He mixes once more with mortals and in the same form in which He was wont to appear fifteen centuries ago. He descends, just at the very moment when before king, courtiers, knights, cardinals, and the fairest dames of court, before the whole population of Seville, upwards of a hundred wicked heretics are being roasted, in a magnificent auto-da-fe ad majorem Dei gloriam, by the order of the powerful Cardinal Grand Inquisitor.

"He comes silently and unannounced; yet all—how strange—yea, all recognize Him, at once! The population rushes towards Him as if propelled by some irresistible force; it surrounds, throngs, and presses around, it follows Him…. Silently, and with a smile of boundless compassion upon His lips, He crosses the dense crowd, and moves softly on. The Sun of Love burns in His heart, and warm rays of Light, Wisdom and Power beam forth from His eyes, and pour down their waves upon the swarming multitudes of the rabble assembled around, making their hearts vibrate with returning love. He extends His hands over their heads, blesses them, and from mere contact with Him, aye, even with His garments, a healing power goes forth. An old man, blind from his birth, cries, ‘Lord, heal me, that I may see Thee!’ and the scales falling off the closed eyes, the blind man beholds Him… The crowd weeps for joy, and kisses the ground upon which He treads. Children strew flowers along His path and sing to Him, ‘Hosanna!’ It is He, it is Himself, they say to each other, it must be He, it can be none other but He! He pauses at the portal of the old cathedral, just as a wee white coffin is carried in, with tears and great lamentations. The lid is off, and in the coffin lies the body of a fair-child, seven years old, the only child of an eminent citizen of the city. The little corpse lies buried in flowers. ‘He will raise the child to life!’ confidently shouts the crowd to the weeping mother. The officiating priest who had come to meet the funeral procession, looks perplexed, and frowns. A loud cry is suddenly heard, and the bereaved mother prostrates herself at His feet. ‘If it be Thou, then bring back my child to life!’ she cries beseechingly. The procession halts, and the little coffin is gently lowered at his feet. Divine compassion beams forth from His eyes, and as He looks at the child, His lips are heard to whisper once more, ‘Talitha Cumi’—and ‘straightway the damsel arose.’ The child rises in her coffin. Her little hands still hold the nosegay of white roses which after death was placed in them, and, looking round with large astonished eyes she smiles sweetly …. The crowd is violently excited. A terrible commotion rages among them, the populace shouts and loudly weeps, when suddenly, before the cathedral door, appears the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor himself…. He is tall, gaunt-looking old man of nearly four-score years and ten, with a stern, withered face, and deeply sunken eyes, from the cavity of which glitter two fiery sparks. He has laid aside his gorgeous cardinal’s robes in which he had appeared before the people at the auto da-fe of the enemies of the Romish Church, and is now clad in his old, rough, monkish cassock. His sullen assistants and slaves of the ‘holy guard’ are following at a distance. He pauses before the crowd and observes. He has seen all. He has witnessed the placing of the little coffin at His feet, the calling back to life. And now, his dark, grim face has grown still darker; his bushy grey eyebrows nearly meet, and his sunken eye flashes with sinister light. Slowly raising his finger, he commands his minions to arrest Him….

"Such is his power over the well-disciplined, submissive and now trembling people, that the thick crowds immediately give way, and scattering before the guard, amid dead silence and without one breath of protest, allow them to lay their sacrilegious hands upon the stranger and lead Him away…. That same populace, like one man, now bows its head to the ground before the old Inquisitor, who blesses it and slowly moves onward. The guards conduct their prisoner to the ancient building of the Holy Tribunal; pushing Him into a narrow, gloomy, vaulted prison-cell, they lock Him in and retire….

"The day wanes, and night—a dark, hot breathless Spanish night—creeps on and settles upon the city of Seville. The air smells of laurels and orange blossoms. In the Cimmerian darkness of the old Tribunal Hall the iron door of the cell is suddenly thrown open, and the Grand Inquisitor, holding a dark lantern, slowly stalks into the dungeon. He is alone, and, as the heavy door closes behind him, he pauses at the threshold, and, for a minute or two, silently and gloomily scrutinizes the Face before him. At last approaching with measured steps, he sets his lantern down upon the table and addresses Him in these words:

“‘It is Thou! … Thou!’ … Receiving no reply, he rapidly continues: ‘Nay, answer not; be silent! … And what couldst Thou say? … I know but too well Thy answer…. Besides, Thou hast no right to add one syllable to that which was already uttered by Thee before…. Why shouldst Thou now return, to impede us in our work? For Thou hast come but for that only, and Thou knowest it well. But art Thou as well aware of what awaits Thee in the morning? I do not know, nor do I care to know who thou mayest be: be it Thou or only thine image, to-morrow I will condemn and burn Thee on the stake, as the most wicked of all the heretics; and that same people, who to-day were kissing Thy feet, to-morrow at one bend of my finger, will rush to add fuel to Thy funeral pile… Wert Thou aware of this?’ he adds, speaking as if in solemn thought, and never for one instant taking his piercing glance off the meek Face before him.”….

"I can hardly realize the situation described—what is all this, Ivan?" suddenly interrupted Alyosha, who had remained silently listening to his brother. "Is this an extravagant fancy, or some mistake of the old man, an impossible quid pro quo?"

"Let it be the latter, if you like," laughed Ivan, "since modern realism has so perverted your taste that you feel unable to realize anything from the world of fancy…. Let it be a quid pro quo, if you so choose it. Again, the Inquisitor is ninety years old, and he might have easily gone mad with his one idee fixe of power; or, it might have as well been a delirious vision, called forth by dying fancy, overheated by the auto-da-fe of the hundred heretics in that forenoon…. But what matters for the poem, whether it was a quid pro quo or an uncontrollable fancy? The question is, that the old man has to open his heart; that he must give out his thought at last; and that the hour has come when he does speak it out, and says loudly that which for ninety years he has kept secret within his own breast."

"And his prisoner, does He never reply? Does He keep silent, looking at him, without saying a word?"

"Of course; and it could not well be otherwise," again retorted Ivan. "The Grand Inquisitor begins from his very first words by telling Him that He has no right to add one syllable to that which He had said before. To make the situation clear at once, the above preliminary monologue is intended to convey to the reader the very fundamental idea which underlies Roman Catholicism—as well as I can convey it, his words mean, in short: ‘Everything was given over by Thee to the Pope, and everything now rests with him alone; Thou hast no business to return and thus hinder us in our work.’ In this sense the Jesuits not only talk but write likewise.

“‘Hast thou the right to divulge to us a single one of the mysteries of that world whence Thou comest?’ enquires of Him my old Inquisitor, and forthwith answers for Him. ‘Nay, Thou has no such right. For, that would be adding to that which was already said by Thee before; hence depriving people of that freedom for which Thou hast so stoutly stood up while yet on earth…. Anything new that Thou would now proclaim would have to be regarded as an attempt to interfere with that freedom of choice, as it would come as a new and a miraculous revelation superseding the old revelation of fifteen hundred years ago, when Thou didst so repeatedly tell the people: “The truth shall make you free.” Behold then, Thy “free” people now!’ adds the old man with sombre irony. ‘Yea!… it has cost us dearly.’ he continues, sternly looking at his victim. ‘But we have at last accomplished our task, and—in Thy name…. For fifteen long centuries we had to toil and suffer owing to that “freedom”: but now we have prevailed and our work is done, and well and strongly it is done. ….Believest not Thou it is so very strong? … And why should Thou look at me so meekly as if I were not worthy even of Thy indignation?… Know then, that now, and only now, Thy people feel fully sure and satisfied of their freedom; and that only since they have themselves and of their own free will delivered that freedom unto our hands by placing it submissively at our feet. But then, that is what we have done. Is it that which Thou has striven for? Is this the kind of “freedom” Thou has promised them?’”

"Now again, I do not understand," interrupted Alyosha. "Does the old man mock and laugh?"

"Not in the least. He seriously regards it as a great service done by himself, his brother monks and Jesuits, to humanity, to have conquered and subjected unto their authority that freedom, and boasts that it was done but for the good of the world. ‘For only now,’ he says (speaking of the Inquisition) ‘has it become possible to us, for the first time, to give a serious thought to human happiness. Man is born a rebel, and can rebels be ever happy?… Thou has been fairly warned of it, but evidently to no use, since Thou hast rejected the only means which could make mankind happy; fortunately at Thy departure Thou hast delivered the task to us…. Thou has promised, ratifying the pledge by Thy own words, in words giving us the right to bind and unbind… and surely, Thou couldst not think of depriving us of it now!’"

"But what can he mean by the words, ‘Thou has been fairly warned’?" asked Alexis.

"These words give the key to what the old man has to say for his justification… But listen—

“‘The terrible and wise spirit, the spirit of self annihilation and non-being,’ goes on the Inquisitor, ‘the great spirit of negation conversed with Thee in the wilderness, and we are told that he “tempted” Thee… Was it so? And if it were so, then it is impossible to utter anything more truthful than what is contained in his three offers, which Thou didst reject, and which are usually called “temptations.” Yea; if ever there was on earth a genuine striking wonder produced, it was on that day of Thy three temptations, and it is precisely in these three short sentences that the marvelous miracle is contained. If it were possible that they should vanish and disappear for ever, without leaving any trace, from the record and from the memory of man, and that it should become necessary again to devise, invent, and make them reappear in Thy history once more, thinkest Thou that all the world’s sages, all the legislators, initiates, philosophers and thinkers, if called upon to frame three questions which should, like these, besides answering the magnitude of the event, express in three short sentences the whole future history of this our world and of mankind—dost Thou believe, I ask Thee, that all their combined efforts could ever create anything equal in power and depth of thought to the three propositions offered Thee by the powerful and all-wise spirit in the wilderness? Judging of them by their marvelous aptness alone, one can at once perceive that they emanated not from a finite, terrestrial intellect, but indeed, from the Eternal and the Absolute. In these three offers we find, blended into one and foretold to us, the complete subsequent history of man; we are shown three images, so to say, uniting in them all the future axiomatic, insoluble problems and contradictions of human nature, the world over. In those days, the wondrous wisdom contained in them was not made so apparent as it is now, for futurity remained still veiled; but now, when fifteen centuries have elapsed, we see that everything in these three questions is so marvelously foreseen and foretold, that to add to, or to take away from, the prophecy one jot, would be absolutely impossible!

“‘Decide then thyself.’ sternly proceeded the Inquisitor, ‘which of ye twain was right: Thou who didst reject, or he who offered? Remember the subtle meaning of question the first, which runs thus: Wouldst Thou go into the world empty-handed? Would Thou venture thither with Thy vague and undefined promise of freedom, which men, dull and unruly as they are by nature, are unable so much as to understand, which they avoid and fear?—for never was there anything more unbearable to the human race than personal freedom! Dost Thou see these stones in the desolate and glaring wilderness? Command that these stones be made bread—and mankind will run after Thee, obedient and grateful like a herd of cattle. But even then it will be ever diffident and trembling, lest Thou should take away Thy hand, and they lose thereby their bread! Thou didst refuse to accept the offer for fear of depriving men of their free choice; for where is there freedom of choice where men are bribed with bread? Man shall not live by bread alone—was Thine answer. Thou knewest not, it seems, that it was precisely in the name of that earthly bread that the terrestrial spirit would one day rise against, struggle with, and finally conquer Thee, followed by the hungry multitudes shouting: “Who is like unto that Beast, who maketh fire come down from heaven upon the earth!” Knowest Thou not that, but a few centuries hence, and the whole of mankind will have proclaimed in its wisdom and through its mouthpiece, Science, that there is no more crime, hence no more sin on earth, but only hungry people? “Feed us first and then command us to be virtuous!” will be the words written upon the banner lifted against Thee—a banner which shall destroy Thy Church to its very foundations, and in the place of Thy Temple shall raise once more the terrible Tower of Babel; and though its building be left unfinished, as was that of the first one, yet the fact will remain recorded that Thou couldst, but wouldst not, prevent the attempt to build that new tower by accepting the offer, and thus saving mankind a millennium of useless suffering on earth. And it is to us that the people will return again. They will search for us catacombs, as we shall once more be persecuted and martyred—and they will begin crying unto us: “Feed us, for they who promised us the fire from heaven have deceived us!” It is then that we will finish building their tower for them. For they alone who feed them shall finish it, and we shall feed them in Thy name, and lying to them that it is in that name. Oh, never, never, will they learn to feed themselves without our help! No science will ever give them bread so long as they remain free, so long as they refuse to lay that freedom at our feet, and say: “Enslave, but feed us!” That day must come when men will understand that freedom and daily bread enough to satisfy all are unthinkable and can never be had together, as men will never be able to fairly divide the two among themselves. And they will also learn that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, miserable nonentities born wicked and rebellious. Thou has promised to them the bread of life, the bread of heaven; but I ask Thee again, can that bread ever equal in the sight of the weak and the vicious, the ever ungrateful human race, their daily bread on earth? And even supposing that thousands and tens of thousands follow Thee in the name of, and for the sake of, Thy heavenly bread, what will become of the millions and hundreds of millions of human beings to weak to scorn the earthly for the sake of Thy heavenly bread? Or is it but those tens of thousands chosen among the great and the mighty, that are so dear to Thee, while the remaining millions, innumerable as the grains of sand in the seas, the weak and the loving, have to be used as material for the former? No, no! In our sight and for our purpose the weak and the lowly are the more dear to us. True, they are vicious and rebellious, but we will force them into obedience, and it is they who will admire us the most. They will regard us as gods, and feel grateful to those who have consented to lead the masses and bear their burden of freedom by ruling over them—so terrible will that freedom at last appear to men! Then we will tell them that it is in obedience to Thy will and in Thy name that we rule over them. We will deceive them once more and lie to them once again—for never, never more will we allow Thee to come among us. In this deception we will find our suffering, for we must needs lie eternally, and never cease to lie!

(Source: sunrec)

I will admit that reason is a good thing. No argument about that. But reason is only reason, and it only satisfies man’s rational requirements. Desire, on the other hand, is the manifestation of life itself—of all of life—and it encompasses everything from reason down to scratching oneself. And although, when we’re guided by our desires, life may often turn into a messy affair, it’s still life and not a series of extractions of square roots. I, for instance, instinctively want to live, to exercise all the aspects of life in me and not only reason, which amounts to perhaps one-twentieth of the whole. And what does reason know? It only knows what it has had time to learn. Many things will always remain unknown to it. That must be said even if there’s nothing encouraging in it.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
… A novel needs a hero, whereas here all the traits of an anti-hero have been assembled deliberately; but the most important thing is that all this produces an extremely unpleasant impression because we’ve all become estranged from life, we’re all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We’ve become so estranged that at times we feel some kind of revulsion for genuine “real life,” and therefore we can’t bear to be reminded of it. Why, we’ve reached a point where we almost regard “real life” as hard work, as a job, and we’ve all agreed in private that it’s really better in books. And why do we sometimes fuss, indulge in whims, and make demands? We don’t know ourselves. It’d be even worse if all our whimsical desires were fulfilled. Go on, try it. Give us, for example, a little more independence; untie the hands of anyone of us, broaden our sphere of activity, relax the controls, and … I can assure you, we’ll immediately ask to have the controls reinstated. I know that you may get angry at me for saying this, you may shout and stamp your feet: “Speak for yourself,” you’ll say, “and for your own miseries in the underground, but don’t you dare say ‘all of us.’” If you’ll allow me, gentlemen; after all, I’m not trying to justify myself by saying all of us. What concerns me in particular, is that in my life I have only taken to the extreme that which you haven’t even dared to take halfway; what’s more, you’ve mistaken your cowardice for good sense; and, in deceiving yourself, you’ve consoled yourself. So, in fact, I may even be “more alive” than you are. Just take a closer look! Why, we don’t even know where this “real life” lives nowadays, what it really is, and what it’s called. Leave us alone without books and we’ll get confused and lose our way at once - we won’t know what to join, what to hold on to, what to love or what to hate, what to respect or what to despise. We’re even oppressed by being men - men with real bodies and blood of our very own. We’re ashamed of it; we consider it a disgrace and we strive to become some kind of impossible “general-human-beings.” We’re stillborn; for some time now we haven’t been conceived by living fathers; we like it more and more. We’re developing a taste for it. Soon we’ll conceive of a way to be born from ideas. But enough; I don’t want to write any more “from Underground… .”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

(Source: sunrec)

Link: On Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground

Many people would say that Dostoevsky’s short novel “Notes from Underground” marks the beginning of the modernist movement in literature. (Other candidates: Diderot’s “Rameau’s Nephew,” written in the seventeen-sixties but not widely read until the eighteen-twenties, and, of course, Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary,” from 1856.) Certainly, Nietzsche’s writings, Freud’s theory of neurosis, Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” Bellow’s “Herzog,” Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” perhaps Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” and half of Woody Allen’s work wouldn’t have been the same without the existence of this ornery, unstable, unmanageable text—the fictional confession of a spiteful modern Hamlet, an inhabitant of St. Petersburg, “that most abstract and pre-meditated city,” and a man unable to act and also unable to stop humiliating himself and embarrassing others. A self-regarding, truculent, miserable, paralyzed man. As I began reading “Notes” again recently (in Andrew R. MacAndrew’s translation for Signet Classics), I wondered if it had been overwhelmed by the books and movies that it has influenced. I wondered if “Notes” would seem like a dim echo, whether it still had the shock value that I remember from long ago.

Dostoevsky worked on the text in 1863 and published it the following year inEpoch, the magazine edited by his brother Mikhail. “Notes from Underground” feels like a warmup for the colossus that came next, “Crime and Punishment,” though, in certain key ways, it’s a more uncompromising book. What the two fictions share is a solitary, restless, irritable hero and a feeling for the feverish, crowded streets and dives of St. Petersburg—an atmosphere of careless improvidence, neglect, self-neglect, cruelty, even sordidness. It is the modern city in extremis. Dostoevsky himself had recently returned from exile, and his St. Petersburg life in this period was furtive and desperate.

The text itself purports to be the writings of a retired mid-level government bureaucrat. A family bequest has allowed him to quit his job, which he hated, and he is now forty, living with a servant whom he despises in what he calls “a mousehole.” In an introductory note, Dostoevsky explains that both the character and his “notes” are fictional, but that he represents a certain Russian type the public needs to know about. The underground man (the title, in Russian, literally means “notes from under the floorboards”) addresses an imaginary audience whom he refers to as “you” or “ladies and gentlemen”—presumably a representative group of educated, Westernized Russians. He alternately teases, insults, and abases himself before them. They are people besotted, he believes, with Western ideas of progress—the ideologies of utilitarianism, socialism, evolution, the greatest good for the greatest number, and so on. They are also enamored of German idealism—”the good and the beautiful” of Schiller’s rhapsodic writing. Is the underground man Dostoevsky himself? No, but he spouts many of Dostoevsky’s ideas and antipathies; the book is certainly an appropriate introduction to Dostoevsky the Slavophile reactionary who emerged in his final years.

But “Notes” is a canny work of literature, not a tract: Dostoevsky may have put his own ideas into the mouth of a brilliant man, but he undermined him as a self-destructive mess at the same time. The text, as academics might say, is multivalent, at odds with itself. It’s not so much that the underground man’s opinions are wrong—surely Dostoevsky thought that many of them were true, however wildly phrased—but that they were inseparable, like all opinion, from personal strengths and weakness, even personal pathology. We are inevitably subjective and self-justifying—that is one of the modern elements in the book. We are also entirely inconsistent. The underground man taunts his listeners, apologizes, criticizes himself, then gets aggressive, then collapses again. On and on. He pulls the rug out from underneath his own feet; he realizes he’s trapped in the prison of his own character. Hell is myself. No one would put up with this guy in his home for more than a half hour. He’s only possible—entertaining, funny, nasty—on the page.

In the first part of the novel, the underground man, after introducing himself, complains, in his ejaculatory, stop-and-start way, about the spectacular Crystal Palace built in London (this was back in 1851). He rails against everything that the building represents—industrial capitalism, scientific rationality, and any sort of predictive, mathematical model of human behavior. Could anything be more contemporary? You can easily imagine what Dostoevsky would make of modern sociology, psychology, advertising techniques, war games, polling of any sort. What’s wrong with such techniques, in both their cynical or ameliorative uses, was simply stated by Sartre, in 1945: “All materialist philosophies create man as an object, a stone.” The underground man says that, on the contrary, human beings are unfathomable, unknowable. Given the opportunity, they may deny, for themselves, the certainty that two and two makes four. Why? Because the mere right to deny the obvious may be more important than the benefit of sheepishly acknowledging it.

Predictors of human behavior, as the underground man says, generally assume we will act in our own best interests. But do we? The same question might be asked today, when “rational-choice theory” is still a predictive model for economists and sociologists and many others. When working-class whites vote for Republican policies that will further reduce their economic power—are they voting in their best interests? What about wealthy liberals in favor of higher taxes on the rich? Do people making terrible life choices—say, poor women having children with unreliable men—act in their best interests? Do they calculate at all? What if our own interest, as we construe it, consists of refusing what others want of us? That motive can’t be measured. It can’t even be known, except by novelists like Dostoevsky. Reason is only one part of our temperament, the underground man says. Individualism as a value includes the right to screw yourself up.

Having given us a rant, the underground man offers experience. He shifts back sixteen years. He is twenty-four. He recounts some strange incidents from his social life. For years, he harbored a grievance against an officer who had casually picked him up and moved him out of the way in a tavern. The moment was nothing, but his resentment knew no bounds. In the same year, he invited himself to a dinner party thrown by old school classmates; they were unworthy, crass young men—he hated them all—but he still longed for their respect. In the event, the dinner party is a disaster for him; he makes a fool of himself, and he winds up at the end of the evening sleeping with a lonely prostitute in a brothel and then talking to her for hours. She is a smart, decent girl, in desperate straits, and he condescends to her, lectures her, fears her. Will she come to him at home, make a man out of him? He needs her a lot more than she needs him.

Bourgeois sentimentalist that I am, I wanted the two of them to save each other, even if only for a few years, but, if I wanted that to happen, I could not have been reading as carefully as I should have been. The modern element in “Notes from Underground” is Dostoevsky’s exultation in human perversity. You can read this book as a meta-fiction about creating a voice, or as a case study, but you can’t escape reading it also as an accusation of human insufficiency rendered without the slightest trace of self-righteousness. If you begin by grieving for its hero, he upsets you with so much truth of our common nature that you wind up grieving for yourself—for your own insufficiency. “Notes” is still a modern book; it still can kick.

You ask yourself: where are your dreams now? And you shake your head and say how swiftly the years fly by! And you ask yourself again: what have you done with your best years, then? Where have you buried the best days of your life? Have you lived or not? Look, you tell yourself, look how cold the world is becoming. The years will pass and after them will come grim loneliness, and old age, quaking on its stick, and after them misery and despair. Your fantasy world will grow pale, your dreams will fade and die, falling away like the yellow leaves from the trees… Ah, Nastenka! Will it not be miserable to be left alone, utterly alone, and have nothing even to regret—nothing, not a single thing… because everything I have lost was nothing, stupid, a round zero, all dreaming and no more!
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, White Nights

(Source: theblackquill, via gravity-rainbow)

When I look back at the past and think of all the time I squandered in error and idleness, lacking the knowledge I needed to live; when I think of how I sinned against my heart and my soul, then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness … Every minute could have been an eternity of happiness! If youth only knew. Now my life will change, now I will be reborn.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky in a letter to his brother after his death sentence was converted to four years of hard labor in Siberia

(Source: ludimagister, via ludimagister)

Through error you come to the truth! I am a man because I err! You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes and very likely a hundred and fourteen. And a fine thing, too, in its way; but we can’t even make mistakes on our own account! Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense, and I’ll kiss you for it. To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s. In the first case you are a man, in the second you’re no better than a bird. Truth won’t escape you, but life can be cramped.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

(Source: gentles)

Link: Dostoevsky, Inequality, and Tsarnaev€'s Humanity

It begins with a once-promising student and a number of contributing factors that could perhaps have been tolerated in isolation, but in their confluence bring about horrific crimes.

The student is “a strikingly handsome young man, with fine dark eyes, brown hair, and a slender well-knit figure, taller than the average.” He lives alone in a city of thousands, and unbeknownst to his distantly located but eminently involved mother, he has abandoned his schoolwork. His ideological commitments have become increasingly extreme and convoluted, and despite evidently having maintained at one time a rational, moderate worldview, he has “recently become superstitious.”

He is poor, disenfranchised, and angry, and he is planning cold-blooded murder. The target is a matter of concentrated rage and coincidental opportunity. Though he has meditated upon murder for some time, his plans are expedited when it becomes clear to him that the perfect set of circumstances have arisen for him to carry out his attack without detection.

His reasons are in equal measures strange and sober. They represent grotesquely extreme incarnations of “the most usual and ordinary youth talk and ideas”: a distaste for greed, a disgust with the tyranny of the powerful over the oppressed, and a general sense of personal obligation to defend the world from its infectious elements.

In a tiny apartment lodged in a building of low-income housing units, he prepares himself and his instruments to carry out murder. It is a painstaking process that he approaches meticulously, but is nonetheless sped along by chance. With all of his materials and nerve mustered, he merely awaits his chosen hour.

And he will commit bloody murder. Those who know him best –– his closest friends, his mother, his sister –– will be shocked, devastated, concerned and horrified. They will struggle to explain why a young man with such promise, who had been at some earlier point in his life well adjusted, outgoing and sociable, would so recklessly destroy human life.

This is the story of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It is not the story of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But the tales of the two young men echo one another profoundly. A former struggling student with a few revolutionary leanings, Dostoesvky was a stranger neither to the incendiary potential of youthful malcontent, nor to the host of minor indignities that can turn once well-liked and talented young men lethal. Dostoyevsky’s underlying empathy and antipathy renders Raskolnikov at different points in the novel reprehensible and sympathetic, monstrous and all-too-human, inscrutable and familiar, like, for the people who knew him, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

There is never any doubt of Raskolnikov’s guilt. Dostoevsky’s interest was not in penning a frame-job or a defense. The questions one must pose to Crime and Punishment are never “Did he do it?” or “Will he be caught?”; but “What brought him to do this?” and “How?” Dostoevsky’s answer is that some disaffected young men, even erstwhile bright, sensitive, and happily integrated ones, are only able to house so many humiliations, slights, and estrangements within their persons before unleashing them, sometimes lethally, often times with little aim.

Like pressure cookers.

Link: When Dickens met Dostoevsky

Late in 2011, Michiko Kakutani opened her New York Times review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens with “a remarkable account” she had found in its pages. In London for a few days in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky had dropped in on Dickens’s editorial offices and found the writer in an expansive mood. In a letter written by Dostoevsky to an old friend sixteen years later, the writer of so many great confession scenes depicted Dickens baring his creative soul:

“All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”

I have been teaching courses on Dostoevsky for over two decades, but I had never come across any mention of this encounter. Although Dostoevsky is known to have visited London for a week in 1862, neither his published letters nor any of the numerous biographies contain any hint of such a meeting. Dostoevsky would have been a virtual unknown to Dickens. It isn’t clear why Dickens would have opened up to his Russian colleague in this manner, and even if he had wanted to, in what language would the two men have conversed? (It could only have been French, which should lead one to wonder about the eloquence of a remembered remark filtered through two foreign tongues.) Moreover, Dostoevsky was a prickly, often rude interlocutor. He and Turgenev hated each other. He never even met Tolstoy. Would he have sought Dickens out? Would he then have been silent about the encounter for so many years, when it would have provided such wonderful fodder for his polemical journalism?

Excerpt from The Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"…What is it restrains people from suicide, do you think?” I asked.
He looked at me absent-mindedly, as though trying to remember what we were talking about.
“I … I don’t know much yet… . Two prejudices restrain them, two things; only two, one very little, the other very big.”
“What is the little thing?”
“Pain.”
“Pain? Can that be of importance at such a moment?”
“Of the greatest. There are two sorts: those who kill themselves either from great sorrow or from spite, or being mad, or no matter what … they do it suddenly. They think little about the pain, but kill themselves suddenly. But some do it from reason—they think a great deal.”
“Why, are there people who do it from reason?”
“Very many. If it were not for superstition there would be more, very many, all.”
“What, all?”
He did not answer.
“But aren’t there means of dying without pain?”
“Imagine”—he stopped before me—“ imagine a stone as big as a great house; it hangs and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head, will it hurt you?”
“A stone as big as a house? Of course it would be fearful.”
“I speak not of the fear. Will it hurt?”
“A stone as big as a mountain, weighing millions of tons? Of course it wouldn’t hurt.” 
“But really stand there and while it hangs you will fear very much that it will hurt. The most learnedman, the greatest doctor, all, all will be very much frightened. Every one will know that it won’t hurt, and every one will be afraid that it will hurt.”
“Well, and the second cause, the big one?”
“The other world!”
“You mean punishment?”
“That’s no matter. The other world; only the other world.”
“Are there no atheists, such as don’t believe in the other world at all?”
Again he did not answer.
“You judge from yourself, perhaps.”
“Every one cannot judge except from himself,” he said, reddening. “There will be full freedom when it will be just the same to live or not to live. That’s the goal for all.”
“The goal? But perhaps no one will care to live then?”
“No one,” he pronounced with decision.
“Man fears death because he loves life. That’s how I understand it,” I observed, “and that’s determined by nature.”
“That’s abject; and that’s where the deception comes in.” His eyes flashed. “Life is pain, life is terror,and man is unhappy. Now all is pain and terror. Now man loves life, because he loves pain andterror, and so they have done according. Life is given now for pain and terror, and that’s the deception. Now man is not yet what he will be. There will be a new man, happy and proud. Forwhom it will be the same to live or not to live, he will be the new man. He who will conquer painand terror will himself be a god. And this God will not be.”
“Then this God does exist according to you?”
“He does not exist, but He is. In the stone there is no pain, but in the fear of the stone is the pain.God is the pain of the fear of death. He who will conquer pain and terror will become himself a god.Then there will be a new life, a new man; everything will be new … then they will divide historyinto two parts: from the gorilla to the annihilation of God, and from the annihilation of God to …”
“To the gorilla?”
“… To the transformation of the earth, and of man physically. Man will be God, and will betransformed physically, and the world will be transformed and things will be transformed andthoughts and all feelings. What do you think: will man be changed physically then?”
“If it will be just the same living or not living, all will kill themselves, and perhaps that’s what the change will be?”
“That’s no matter. They will kill deception. Every one who wants the supreme freedom must dare to kill himself. He who dares to kill himself has found out the secret of the deception. There is no freedom beyond; that is all, and there is nothing beyond. He who dares kill himself is God. Now every one can do so that there shall be no God and shall be nothing. But no one has once done it yet.”
“There have been millions of suicides.”
“But always not for that; always with terror and not for that object. Not to kill fear. He who kills himself only to kill fear will become a god at once…”

I love mankind,” he said, “but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams,” he said, “I often went so far to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,” he said. “On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

(Source: sunrec)

Link: Arrested Development Is The Brothers Karamazov

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, unless the family consists of a morally depraved patriarch and three highly differentiated siblings who, after years out of contact with each other, convene at the family home for a slowly escalating mess made inevitable by their respective and collective dysfunctions, in which case that family is unhappy in the same way as the Karamazovs.

If the same family is subjected to a criminal prosecution after being set up by a conniving quasi-sibling, if the brothers keep trying to mooch money off the family, and if the eldest brother is brash, the middle one smart, and the youngest one saintly, then we have to consider the possibility that this family actually is the Karamazovs, even if they call themselves the Bluths and they appear in an early 2000s Fox sitcom and not a nineteenth-century Russian novel. In which case Mitch Hurwitz (who has a degree in theology from Georgetown) is Dostoevsky. That’s probably the most farfetched parallel in this comparison. The rest are uncanny.

Once you realize that Annyong is Smerdyakov, everything else falls into place. [If I need to declare a spoiler alert for a show that has been off the air for six years and a novel published in the 19th century, then for courtesy’s sake, here it is.] He exists at the fringes of a family full of awful people, sort of a member and sort of not. No one suspects him of being the one-man conspiracy behind the set-up that brings the family down, partly because no one is quite sure it was a set-up at all, since the criminal charge against the family is just the sort of thing they would have done, whether they actually committed this particular crime or not. Everyone thinks he’s a simpleton, which also deflects suspicion. And remember that “Smerdyakov” is not a surname so much as a nickname meaning “Smelly,” so in both cases our villain’s name is a bad joke.

Kitty is Katya, the woman who nurtures a grudge against the family despite (or because of) her romantic interest in two of its members, and who has in her possession evidence that would clinch the prosecution’s case if she chose to reveal it, which she may or may not do.

Lucille Austero is Lise, a woman with a medical problem that limits her mobility and who starts off making eyes at the youngest son, then successfully romances him, then reverses herself and decides she wants to do whatever she can to hurt the family.

Tobias is Rakitin, the man who manages to stay involved in everyone’s affairs despite the fact that no one likes or respects him, whose plan to enter a more romantic profession (acting/journalism) is universally regarded as both unrealistic and annoying, and whose eager embrace of fashionable ideas (self-esteem and herbal medicine/socialism and materialism) makes him look even more foolish than he otherwise would.

Uncle Oscar is Father Zosima, an unworldly man of great gentleness and inner peace who is more of a father to the youngest son than the family patriarch is. Phoenix is Moscow, where Michael/Ivan keeps trying to escape to. And Fyodor Pavlovich’s taverns are his Cornballer. Some of these parallels are less critically fruitful than others.

G.O.B. is Dmitry. He’s a slave to his impulses. He’s the angriest Bluth and also the soppiest, when he gets sentimental. He lives off handouts and is always scheming to get more free money, which he feels he is entitled to morally if not legally. His lack of self-awareness frequently crosses the line into outright delusion. (If you don’t remember Dmitry as especially delusional, think of his scramble to obtain three thousand rubles in the hours leading up to his father’s murder. It was stupid of him to ask Mrs. Khokhlakov to lend it to him, for example, but “he had suddenly become totally convinced that she would not refuse him.” As the narrator says, “In spite of all his vices, Dmitry was very naive.”) G.O.B. even comes close to killing himself out of shame, in the season 2 episode “Sad Sack.”

Michael is Ivan. He is the smartest and most self-aware Bluth, a decidedly mixed blessing considering that it makes him the only one able to grasp just how awful everyone is. Most people think of Michael as the nice brother, but that’s only half right, since on an intellectual level he believes the ethical rules he lives by are idiotic. You shouldn’t put so much work into keeping together a family that isn’t worth it, his brain keeps telling him, just as Ivan keeps telling himself that he shouldn’t love a God who doesn’t deserve it. But both of them do the right thing in the end. As Ivan’s devil predicted, “You’re going to perform an act of great virtue, and you don’t even believe in virtue—that’s what keeps eating away at you.” This internal contradiction drives Michael to exasperation; if he were Russian, it would have driven him mad.

And Buster is Alyosha, not quite a Christ figure but certainly some sort of saint, as indeed he has to be to love his family. He is never judgmental although any reasonable person in his position would be. His good humor never fails, even when Jessie the publicist tells him to stay out of the spotlight because people find him odd and alienating (“I shall be neither seen nor heard!”) or a construction worker tells him to take his head out of his bottom. In the unwritten sequel to Brothers K, Dostoevsky planned to turn Alyosha into a revolutionary who ends up killing the tsar. Buster’s Army training could have come in handy for that.

At this point I can’t tell if I’ve proven that Mitch Hurwitz was definitely inspired byThe Brothers Karamazov, or if I’ve “proven” it the same way your crazy uncle can prove that the Denver Airport is ground zero for the worldwide lizard-people conspiracy. Certainly I wouldn’t want to ruin a good joke by taking it too seriously. But if AD is an updated version of TBK, then it’s worth asking what updates Hurwitz thought necessary in order to bring the story up to date, apart from the set dressing.

Dostoevsky’s intention with The Brothers Karamazov was to persuade Russians that their instinctive love of God was a great resource, and it would bring them true happiness if they would only stop enslaving themselves to reason or sensual pleasure. In the thematic map of AD, love of family replaces love of God as the thing that every keeps gesturing toward and no one quite achieves, but unlike Dostoevsky, Hurwitz doesn’t let anybody get redeemed in the end. Maybe that means he doesn’t think love is powerful enough to redeem a fallen mankind anymore, which would be a depressing assessment of our age relative to Dostoevsky’s. Or maybe it just means Hurwitz is saving the tragic but uplifting conclusion for season 4. “On the nextArrested Development: George Senior gets murdered, Michael goes insane, G.O.B. finds God, and Buster starts a revolution.” I would watch those Netflix episodes.