Retelling Dostoyevsky: Literary Responses and Other Observations

By Gary Adelman | Go to book overview

6
The Brothers Karamazov

BASHING IVAN

READINGKARAMAZOVANEW,IAMSTRUCKBYTHE CONTINUOUS BATtering Ivan takes, so relentless as to seem at times almost funny—almost as bizarre and darkly comic as Raskolnikov's nightmare, in which he repeatedly smashes his axe against the head of the murdered pawnbroker, who is doubled up with laughter. He cannot finish her off. The extent of active authorial undermining of Ivan often is not consciously processed by the reader. Here Dostoyevsky is anything but a neutral stage manager of his material. Yet, our identification with Ivan, our allegiance to his ideas, tends to mute or override authorial “sabotage”; for even in the face of it, despite it, most readers remain allied to Ivan, which has changed the way Karamazov is read. It permits an ideological reading in favor of Ivan, and the supposition that Dostoyevsky's emotions are with Ivan rather than with Zossima. The extent of the attack, and the way the reader interprets it, inevitably shielding Ivan by surmising Dostoyevsky's “real” intentions, have been little noticed.

Dostoyevsky's device for finishing off Ivan in book 6 is the saintly life of Zossima and his teaching of love as the moral force able to reform human nature. As an argument, a Zossima contra Ivan, “The Russian Monk” demonstrates that progress is a spiritual, psychological process. Beginning with an analysis of the current “reign of freedom,” which is shown to be a reign of negation and spiritual suicide, Zossima concludes that a nonbelieving reformer, even if he is a genius and sincere, will end by flooding the earth with blood.

Ivan will bring blood, but love wins over force. Only by making oneself responsible for the sins of all can the burden be

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Retelling Dostoyevsky: Literary Responses and Other Observations
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 4
  • Contents 7
  • Acknowledgments 9
  • Preface 11
  • I - Digging for the Creative Personality 15
  • 1: The Growth of the Poet's Mind 17
  • II - Novelistic Responses 79
  • 2: Crime and Punishment 83
  • 3: Crime and Punishment Continued 109
  • 4: The Idiot 125
  • 5: The Possessed: Coetzee's the Master of Petersburg 143
  • 6: The Brothers Karamazov 151
  • 7: A Commentary on the Retellings 183
  • III - Reading Dostoyevsky Post-Holocaust 191
  • 8: A Dostoyevskian Fantasy 193
  • Notes 229
  • Bibliography 250
  • Index 267
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