Can something that has no image appear as an image?
[Mozhet li mereshchit'sia v obraze to, chto ne imeet obraza?]
—F. M. Dostoevskii, The Idiot1

The Image of the Beast

Just as he was preparing to write the penultimate book of his last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, and suffering from poor health, F. M. Dostoevsky received an invitation to address the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature at their June 1880 celebration of the poet Alexander Pushkin. The significance of this three-day event was by no means confined to what it purported to be: an occasion to bring together the nation's most prominent writers, artists, actors, journalists, editors, and intellectuals to pay tribute to a celebrated poet of an earlier generation. Instead, as with all such events in nineteenth-century Russia where there was no question of freedom of expression, the literary fête would also provide a platform for public discussion of urgent social and political matters in the guise of literary commentary and interpretation. This occasion, however, was distinctive from its inception for making participants feel, as one expressed it, like “citizens enjoying a fullness of rights.”2 Speakers were not made to submit their addresses to the censor for advance review; indeed, the government of Alexander II, which had offered to pay the expenses of invited guests, made no attempt to control the planning, execution, or reception of the festivities. One journalist enthused that “in these festivities everything was the public's: public initiative, public participation, public thought, and public glory.” The boldness of the planning and acquiescence of the authorities testified to a collective desire for “freedom of thought, freedom of the press, a greater scope for society's independent activity in the name of the state and the public good,” proving, when all was said and done,

that Russian society does not exist only in the imagination but in living real-
ity; that there is cement in it that connects it all together into one inspired
mass; that it has matured and grown into manhood; that it thinks, and can
grieve, and be conscious of itself; that it counts freedom of expression as one
of its natural, inborn needs; and that, via its literature, it has earned itself
its diploma.3


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Dostoevsky's Democracy


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