Notes from the House of the Dead
The Other Isay Fomich: Subversion
and the Revenge of the Stereotype
In this chapter I shall argue a somewhat counterintuitive thesis: that the text of Notes from the House of the Dead does not completely enclose Isay Fomich, inextricably tying him to the ridiculous role for which he was ostensibly conceived; but that there is a creditable deconstructive alternative for Dostoevsky's Isay Fomich similar to the one I proposed for Gogol's Jewish characters. I show that the novel includes details that can justify an interpretation of Isay Fomich that is not only different from the one I have presented so far (the intentional text) but one that undercuts the rhetorical strategies of the novel itself, casting into doubt the narrator's possibility for resurrection from the dead. For this other Isay Fomich, not as Tsypkin had reimagined him, but as the narrator himself presents him, resembles no one in the novel as much as the narrator himself, an identification that the narrator repeatedly and anxiously resists.
I do not have in mind a different Isay Fomich similar to the imaginatively recreated Isay Fomich explored in Leonid Tsypkin's Summer in BadenBaden. Nor do I have in mind how a “real” Isay Fomich might have played the buffoon as a means of defending himself in a hostile environment: that