Dostoevsky was my earliest literary love. His name was for me synonymous with literature itself, literature was synonymous with religion, and religion was inseparable from the conviction that politics was a matter of ethical rather than pragmatic action. To read Dostoevsky as I first did, naively, was to be inhabited by the voices of his characters, by their ideas and their passions. These voices elicited the widest spectrum of emotional-intellectual response: I felt the full, craven hilarity of the Underground Man's preparations to walk down the street without yielding his place to other passers-by; I was stunned by the crisis of forgiveness contained in Ivan Karamazov's story of a landowner's brutal murder of a peasant child. In the interim between my adolescent reading and my writing of this book, Bakhtin has made the Dostoevskian voice a familiar concept even to those who have never read Dostoevsky. But I was fortunate to have encountered this body of literature without the theoretical armature with which we learn to shield our naked minds from the power of verbal art. The experience of carrying Dostoevsky's voices as I did over so long a time was deeply formative. The opportunity to write Dostoevsky's Democracy has been, first and foremost, an attempt to reflect on that experience.
I've been extremely grateful for the support of Hanne Winarsky, my editor at Princeton University Press. Friends and colleagues who had worked with her had encouraged high expectations, all of which she has exceeded. Rita Bernhard has been a considerate and patient copyeditor whose suggestions have improved the manuscript. I've been very fortunate, too, in my readers for the Press: one who has remained anonymous, and the other, Caryl Emerson, who revealed herself as a Press reader by initiating a remarkable conversation about Dostoevsky that I hope will continue.
Dostoevsky's Democracy began as a lengthy dissertation chapter that was then set aside while I pursued its ideas in the context of American colonial through antebellum literature and culture. Thanks to the excellent mentoring of my dissertation directors, William Mills Todd III, the late Jay Fliegelman, and René Girard, my Russian chapter stood me in good stead when I returned to it years after it was written. I wish I could have presented this book to Jay Fliegelman to show him how much of what he taught me carried over to the Russian side of my work.
I'm grateful to my colleagues in the Department of Comparative Literature for the generosity they've shown me since I came to NYU in 2001,