More on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s writing

DostoevskyFyodor Pavlovich (FP): ‘…I’d put an end to that little monastery of yours. Take all this mysticism and abolish it at once all over the Russian land, and finally bring all the fools to reason. And think how much silver, how much gold would come into the mint!

Ivan: ‘But why abolish it?

FP: ‘To let the truth shine forth sooner, that’s why‘.

Ivan: ‘But if the truth shines forth , you will be the first to be robbed and then……abolished‘.

FP: ‘Bah! You’re probably right. Ah, what an ass I am.

Fyodor Pavlovich suddenly cried, slapping himself lightly on the forehead.

FP: ‘ Well then, Alyoshka, in that case let your little monastery stand. And we intelligent people will keep warm and sip cognac.’

The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky

The only way I could describe reading Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky it is like putting a mirror up to your soul. I often find when people refer to the soul it often has a dualistic emphasis and interpreted with rose-tinted glasses. Rather your soul which Dostoevsky’s writing probes is scarred beyond recognition and malevolent at its core, but their remaining a spark of goodness therein.

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in – Leonard Cohen – Anthem

It is the realisation of when you see yourself in one or more of the characters, and you don’t like what it says about you. This kind of exposure to one’s self can be very painful and extremely humbling. It is often these uncomfortable journeys into the murky waters of our souls which can serve as opportune times to make reassessments about truly what drives us and how we approach life’s inevitable challenges. Our worldviews, in fact our entire direction in life, can shift as a result of this experience.

As I alluded to in a previous post – The Art of Disagreeing, Jordan Peterson summed up so powerfully why Dostoevsky is the absolute model of a true intellectual:

‘(Dostoevsky) when he sets up two ideas to go to war he embodies both sets of ideas and the most powerful characters he can imagine. You can see two parts of Dostoevsky fighting it out in the book. So he was at war inside and he put those parts of him in those characters and let them just go at it’.

In the playing out of this war in his mind (and our minds) Dostoevsky seems to be tackling the fundamental question of human existence–how best to live one’s life–in a truly engaging way. As one Good Read‘s reviewer Rawley put it about The Brothers Karamazov:

Dostoevsky articulates, better than anyone, how human beings really are what I would call “walking contradictions”. Perhaps all of our struggles in life boil down to the reality that we desire contradictory things, simultaneously. If you like your novels with good character development, this is the masterwork. Dostoevsky’s characters are more real, more human, than any other. At different points along the way, you will identify with them, sympathize with them, curse them, agonize over them, celebrate them. You will be moved.

After having devoured Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I am now well into his other epic masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov which not unlike the former I am floored by this dense philosophical work. It won’t be the first and last time I have read these books. I will be coming back to them often I suspect.

To conclude this post, I feel it most befitting to present the following video of why you should read Crime and Punishment:

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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27 comments on “More on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s writing
  1. ashok says:

    I was so fond of him as a young man. Both these were my favourites: Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment

    • I wish I had been exposed to him as a younger man like you. They have already become two of my favourite books. I cannot help, but be hanging on his every word. Although some parts are very challenging in the sense of their morbidity, especially when Ivan opens up with his younger brother about why he rejects God in the Grand Inquisitor story. Thanks for commenting.

      • ashok says:

        Sometimes it is good to read some books at an older age. If I find some time one day I might read these again.

      • I know what you mean. Even so, when I read some books as good as Dostoevsky’s I regret not having read them much younger where I could have put them to better use. Basically I wish I had read more of the classics when I was younger. I’m only catching up on them now, but I’m a bit late to the races. Haha

      • ashok says:

        It is never too late my friend. And my regret was that I read all the classics when I was too young 😊 those were the only books we had at home. It is later that I began to read popular books. Such is life …

      • That is true. I went out recently and found a great book shop with a vast array of second-hand literary classics in English. And believe me, that is not an easy thing to do in Colombia. So I ended up buying a whole bunch of literary classics, some of which I had already read on my now irreparable e-reader (kindle). I’m delighted I now own books like ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘The Stranger’ in paperback. I also bought the Oscar Wilde book you recommended – ‘Picture of Dorian Grey’. I will read it after I have ‘Brothers Karamazov’ and let you know what I think. Actually, I’ll probably end up writing a post about it. The only literary classics I recall having read in my youth were Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird and Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn.

      • ashok says:

        Wow. Am sure you will like Picture of Dorian Grey.
        Am so glad you have found a good book store.

      • I’m going through this experience with Marcus Aurelius right now. Wishing I’d discovered him sooner. Great post! 👍

      • I was just listening to an audio book of Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’. Moreover, I have been becoming more intrigued by Stoicism. Thank you for contributing to the discussion.

      • Stoicism does what psychology cannot. Thanks for having me. Cool blog.

      • I would say the same about Dostoevsky and Judeo-Christian theology.
        Thanks, speaking of cool blogs, I’m just looking at yours now. I look forward to keeping abreast of your thoughts at your blog. Thank you so much for getting in touch. I hope we stay in contact from time to time. Cheers.

      • I can see that position. Talk about dodging a bullet, though… 😉

      • Hehe. To me at least, Dostoevsky’s writing can cause a huge paradigm shift in traditional religious thought regarding the practical application of the Bible and the metaphorical significance of the archetypes (meta-heroes) and stories (meta-truths) on ‘Judea-Christian’ culture.

      • Extremely well put. Amazing that this discussion is and I think will always be timeless. I try to imagine how the next several generations of apologists, theorists, philosophers, and theologians will interpret these works as technology continues to separate us.

        There is a theory floating around that within three generations, humans will not even need human touch.

      • I hope all stories of that nature (the meta-narratives inherent in culture) whether it be from the Bible, Aurelius, Socrates, Tibetan Book of the Dead etc will indeed remain current. For that reason you always need the dogmatists (the monastery as it were in Dostoevsky’s little narrative in my post) in the debate as the liberals and progressives update the interpretation. Coming back to your post I just hope they continue slugging it out and no one becomes victor. Because in my estimation, a victor in that fight would wreak havoc.

      • Oh, for sure….but some think the human race is devolving anyway…so a victor in this context seems inevitable….or at the very least, imaginable, sadly. Fun chatting, sir. I must go but, I’ll be back to see your blog. Intelligent and profound on some very useful topics that not many wish to delve into. And yet you do so adroitly. Take care and thanks again.

      • It was so refreshing having this chat with you. I hope you have a wonderful day! Yes, with the advent of AI, virtual reality and skepticism (materialist-rationalism) more broadly it is difficult to foresee a future where those human traits and meta-narratives are not threatened if they haven’t been already. Certainly in Stalin’s USSR and Maoist China we saw evidence of what can happen. Thank you for your kind words. We’ll keep in touch. Cheers.

  2. Self-awareness and reflection are crucial in anyone’s development. I would love to read this book!

    • Thanks for commenting. I would definitely recommend you read ‘Crime and Punishment’ as a precursor to ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. Both books take about 100 pages to set the stage, so it can be a bit laboursome in the early going, but once the story and characters hit stride, they are utterly engrossing and psychologically challenging.

  3. David Davis says:

    Excellent short stories too.

    • Thanks for the heads-up. I’m still in the early stages of my exploration of Dostoevsky literary works. I endeavor to procure as much as I can and I hope that includes his short stories. Is there a book in particular you can recommend which contain these ‘excellent’ short stories?

  4. David Davis says:

    “A Nasty Story” is the short story that comes to my mind. It’s in different anthologies.

  5. Saania2806 says:

    Hi there, thank you for visiting my blog 🤗❤️

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