Dostoevsky

I've read and reread Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground"; it's one of the most psychologically profound books I know of. I've also read "Crime and Punishment" and some of "The Gambler". He's been classified as an existentialist, nihilist, and Christian thinker. What are your thoughts about him and his contribution to literature?

Dostoyevsky is one of the most brilliant writers in history. I can think of no English writer who even approaches his skill at blending philosophical insight with characterization that captures the reader's interest.

He was described in such a variety of ways because he created characters with different moral and spiritual points of view that were authentic, and not just strawmen that made his favourite philosophy look good. He wasn't afraid to address problems in Christianity and the church, while also clearly pointing out the shortcomings of nihilism and philosophical apathy. He also wrote some of the earliest psychological novels, recognizing that one's mental state has a tremendous impact on one's life.

In the richness of his characters each philosophical and spiritual movement can find something they can relate to and thus try to claim him as theirs.

He was surpassed only by the author who served as his primary inspiration, Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin spent less time on religious matters due to the period in which he lived, but was incredibly insightful into human nature, the role of conscience in ones life and what it means to be authentically human. Both authors will provide hours of enjoyment and reflection to those who make the effort to read them.

Thanks for the reply. I agree with you about how he's claimed by so many. Sometimes people claim him to confirm their own convictions, but his characters pull you in so many different directions that his deepest spiritual beliefs appear to be inconclusive. I suspect that the character closest to him was the "underground man".

Dostoevsky plumbed the depths of atheism and nihilism. No one has expressed the spiritual void like he has, or pegged the problem that modern man confronts as powerfully. I think you are correct that he was like the underground man, but he was also like Raskalnikov, and found redemption in our Lord.

Take Dr. Feodor’s medicine. It will cure you!

It has been over 25 years since i last read Notes from Underground but I will never forget that story and how it opened..."I am a sick man, my liver hurts", etc..

The other story I loved by Dostoyevsky was The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.

Very intense, and had such a long lasting effect on me as I was an existentialist at the time. Right up there with the book of Ecclesiastes which eventually led me back to God some 25 years later :)

I also remember learning that his father was drowned by his own hired hands in vodka. I always imagined he must have had much to be nihlistic about after that.

Dostoevsky is actually my favorite writer, in case my username didn't give that away. He was quite instrumental in my own sort of reversion to Christianity. I frst read "The Idiot" about five years ago, and have since most of the rest of his novels and short stories. I agree with Non Serviam that no English writer can compare to him.

I've never heard him classified as a nihilist, though many of his books are concerned with nihilism and materialism. I know many atheists and existentialists like him, but I can't really understand why. Dostoevsky was likely an atheist or agnostic early in his life, but had a conversion experience while serving time in a prison camp as a political criminal. The short story based on a dream he had that catalyzed his conversion, "The Peasant Marey" is actually one of my favorite short stories. His book "Demons" was basically a polemic in the form of a novel against the materialism he saw consuming Russia at the time. And of course the recurrent theme of "The Brothers Karamazov" was without God all things are permissable. And the theme of redemption in Christ is unmistakable in "Crime and Punishment."

I think Dostoevsky's beliefs became more conclusive as he got older. I've never read a biography of him, but from what I do know, while he continued to struggle with doubts throughout his lif, he grew more in the direction of Russian Orthodox Christianity from his conversion onward. I personally think that "Notes From the Underground" was at least in part a critique of nihilism, perhaps a critique of his early self. Most of his novels, however, have certain common themes, like the absurdity of materialism. His last novel (Brothers Karamazov) I think was a great example of the general message of his work. The protagonist, the saintly Christian Alyosha, and a sort of antagonist, his atheist brother Ivan, seem to engage in a subtle war over the soul of their other brother, the good but fickle Dimitry, or "Mitya." Possibly my favorite work ever written. It's hard to choose between that and Crime and Punishment.

I agree.

I know many atheists and existentialists like him, but I can’t really understand why.

You answer your own question when you wrote:

And of course the recurrent theme of “The Brothers Karamazov” was without God all things are permissable

.

Dosteovsky also wrote that “If there is no God, then I am God,” in The Possessed. The atheists and existentialists love this - they just don’t have the bottle that Raskolnikov had, so they ignore that part. What would you expect from cowardice?

Mind you, I am not critisizing them for their cowardice, but merely observing the effect of atheism on the non believer.

And the theme of redemption in Christ is unmistakable in “Crime and Punishment.”

And to be redeemed, Dostoevsky tells us, we must suffer. And that, my brother, is where he shows his brilliance as an intellect of the highest calibre. No modern artist dares embrace the idea of penance like he did.

It’s hard to choose between [Brothers K]hat and Crime and Punishment.

It is, indeed. Brothers K is like a running a marathon - it takes endurance, it’s painful, and it wears one out. There is just so much philosophy there. Especially for the Catholic, it forces a re-evaluation of our principles and methods. Crime and Punishment, on the other hand, is a tour de force. The first time I read it, I felt like I had been hit on the forehead with a baseball. It sears the imagination.

The thing about Dostoevsky is that he is writing for a purpose, not merely to entertain. With every chapter, he is almost screaming at us: “Choose one path or choose the other!”

Dostoevsky finds us in our lukewarm faith, or our comfortable agnosticism, or our polite atheism, grabs us by the collar, and shouts, “I dare you!”

“I do believe, O Lord. Help mine unbelief!”

[quote=Warrenton]Dosteovsky also wrote that “If there is no God, then I am God,” in The Possessed. The atheists and existentialists love this - they just don’t have the bottle that Raskolnikov had, so they ignore that part. What would you expect from cowardice?

Mind you, I am not critisizing them for their cowardice, but merely observing the effect of atheism on the non believer.
[/quote]

True, though I’ve always habitually thought of everything being permissible being a bad thing. I figure those who delight in the idea generally only apply it to things like sexual morality, conveniently forgetting things like rape and murder. Of course Ivan’s revelation in the end, that he himself was guilty of patricide, and the havoc wreaked by his own “everything is permissible” mentality, not to mention the fact that even he can’t deal with what he did and breaks down, should’ve proven problematic for those who took his side as the theme.

And to be redeemed, Dostoevsky tells us, we must suffer. And that, my brother, is where he shows his brilliance as an intellect of the highest calibre. No modern artist dares embrace the idea of penance like he did.

Absolutely, and as a man who knew more than a bit about suffering in his own life, Dostoevsky certainly has credibility in that respect. I honestly haven’t read much modern literature (I find the older writers are better, and more often than not the tastes I get of the moderns reaffirm this). I agree, though, that the modern era has dispensed with the idea of trials and tribulations. Some even seem to think they have a right not to suffer. I think of that JFK quote, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.” Too many people seem to subscribe to the opposite mentality.

I don’t read much modern literature, either. I read enough of it to try to keep my finger on the pulse of what is current, but I find it tendentious, generally.

The various “liberation literatures” seem, to my thinking, schizophrenic about suffering. On the one hand, their plots go on and on about the victimization of the protagonists, either through racism, or more frequently, being sexually abused in one way or another. The reader clearly is meant to have a moral response to the protagonists’ plight.

But - the suffering the protagonist endures serves an existential purpose: it gives the protagonist “street cred.” It permits the protagonist, usually the mouthpiece of a discrete group (either ethnic or sexual) to say, in essence: “I know from prejudice!” Then, the work proceeds to the main point, which is usually further deconstruction of the “status quo.”

The protagonist never views the suffering as necessary atonement for his or her own sin; indeed, the assumption is that there is no sin apart from the prejudice which “causes” the victimization. There is certainly no salvation, apart from the realization that the dominant class can be deconstructed or subverted.

This is not Christian, to be sure, and insofar as no real people (other than intellectuals) order their lives this way, it is not even a realistic interpretation of life as it is lived.

But, who among our rulers wants to admit that for all the technical innovation of the regime, they have failed to produce art?

So the charade continues. But Feodor speaks as loudly as ever to the contrary!

I know many atheists and existentialists like him, but I can't really understand why.

Because I find a kindred spiritual attitude in his works. Notes from Underground for example, I agree with almost everything the protagonist says in there.

[quote="bri89, post:1, topic:232525"]
I've read and reread Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground"; it's one of the most psychologically profound books I know of. I've also read "Crime and Punishment" and some of "The Gambler". He's been classified as an existentialist, nihilist, and Christian thinker. What are your thoughts about him and his contribution to literature?

[/quote]

Looks like you haven't yet read, "The Bro's K"?

Do yourself a favor and read it...

Perhaps I will do myself a favor and re-read that and Crime+.

The last time I read these was when I was depressed in college in the throes of drugs and wanna-be nihilism (of the college sort).

Might be cool for me to read them again after coming back to the Church.

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