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Братья Карамазовы (by Dostoevskiy)

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Posted

This is a topic in which we can discuss Dusty's B.K, one of the greatest novels ever written, and a complex, allegorical masterpiece. I'm going to get the ball rolling with a brief post discussing some of the observations I made while reading it.

The most important theme of the novel, to me, is children, and their fathers. The Karamazov father is a bad one. Callous, uncaring, cruel, dishonourable. He is, according to Fetyukovich, not even a father. Therefore, two of his sons fall very low. One (Mitya) is almost lost, and it is only through his pang of guilt when he thinks he has murdered Grigory, combined with the love of Grushenka, and the result of his dishonorable conduct (particularly towards the muzhiks) being that he is found guilty of a crime he didn't commit that his inner self, his soul, so to speak, is revealed. For Mitya, his life is like dying and going to Purgatory: he is flawed, but we see as the novel progresses that he is a good man; however, his "father" has caused him to fall, becoming something of a base and desperate character.

In spite of this, Mitya is not the one for whom we should perhaps pity the most, for one other brother has fallen yet further. Ivan has gone beyond Purgatory, and come face-to-face with the Devil himself. Through his meeting with сатана, and his near-death state at the end of the book, Ivan shows that he is in extreme danger, with little hope of salvation, in both the material and the spiritual realms. Since Dusty planned a sequel, my suspicion is that Ivan will recover. Mitya says in his final chapter that Ivan must survive more than the other two, and hints that he is the strongest of the brothers. Would Ivan be rescued from his seemingly Hellish doom, or would he fall into darkness, as Smerdyakov did, his ultimate victory being his ultimate destruction?

As Mitya believes, Ivan is very clever; however, to Dusty, the atheist Ivan is an intellectual who is, in his cleverness, blind to the truth of God; he is learned, but from the wrong books, one could say. This is summarised best in The Grand Inquisitor and by the fact that it is Ivan who is, through his theories and ideals, responsible for the death of F. Karamazov. The former event (an oral poema is Ivan's ideas before they are acted upon, whereas the latter is the result of Smerdyakov (the bastard half-brother of the K trio) acting upon Alyosha's notions of a godless society. Thus with Ivan does Dusty warn us that without the morality of God, the greatest evils and the lowest wretches are unstoppable. It is thus that Ivan is the Karamazov who sinks the lowest; he exists without the guiding hand of any father, whether it be his corporeal, human father, or the divine Father in whom Dusty believed.

As regards the youngest son, one might ask why Alyosha, at least in this first novel, has not fallen by the wayside, has experienced neither Purgatory nor Hell; afterall, he is also a Fyodorvich Karamazov, so he also suffers the curse of the (very) bad father.The explanation, I believe, can be found in the chapter, An Adulterer of Thought. which, though seemingly sentimental, is one of the most important chapters of the novel, which Dostoevskiy said was about children when he was writing it.

The explanation for Alyosha is this: Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov was not Alyosha's father. It is undeniable that he beget the lad, but, according to the essential speech made by Fetyukovich, the man who begets is not necessarily the father, and Dusty gave this speech such an ovation that it is difficult for me to conclude he did not believe it himself, but going back to the point at hand, Alyosha's father was the Elder Zosima, who loved (and was loved by) Alyosha, cared for him, taught him, and nurtured him. Like Alyosha, Zosima began in baseness (with the baseness of the former being the prick that caused him to exist), but became a good and saintly man.

Next we come to Smerdyakov, born of the Stinking Lizaveta, and therefore a stinker himself -his name suggests as much. He is a bastard, without a known father even in the biological sense (although F.K is the main suspect), and so he falls so low as to actually become lost and destroyed. By the end of the 11th book, Smerdyakov's wicked victory is assured, and Mitya's temporary fate is sealed. This was not, however, as great a victory as Smerdyakov thought. Perhaps he was, as were all atheists to Dusty, blind and naive. Whatever the reason, Smerdyakov's final act, the act in which he seems to best his half brothers is to destroy himself, and go to Hell. As for Mitya, the verdict may have been guilty, but Smerdyakov, in murdering his suspected father (to use the word in the biological, not the Dostoevskiyan, sense) sets in motion a change of events that give Mitya the strongest chance he has to save his soul. Consequently, Ivan's soul is also in hope of salvation, if only his madness does not make this impossible.

As B.K is about children, and their fathers, I must say a little about Illyushechka, the sick boy who's story becomes a secondary, though essential, plot in the story. When we first meet Illyusha, his father is disgraced, and he is fighting with other boys with whom he goes to school; he even bites Alyosha on the hand hard enough to draw blood!

In spite of Illyusha's situation when we first meet him, however, and his character, he is the character with the greatest hope for happiness, for he is the only character in the entire novel who, as far as the reader is made aware, has a biological father who truly loves and cares for him. So, what happens to Illyusha in the end? Well, he dies, but not in the way Smerdyakov does. Illyusha dies surrounded by his friends, the children he once fought crying for him, and promising to honour him the rest of their lives. He is loved by many different characters, and is happy, peaceful, and content with his fate. After he passes away, even the sparrows keep him company and sing to him (albeit with prompting from Snegiryov). Ultimately, Illyusha goes to Heaven.

Compare Illyusha's death with that of the Stinker, and one can see that they are polar opposites. The one dies loved, surrounded by friends and family, is mourned, and his soul goes to Paradise. In contrast, the latter commits suicide, dies alone, is reviled before and after his death, and goes to Hell. Ivan may have seen the Devil in a vision, in a fit of madness, but Smerdyakov gets to meet the real deal.

I shall finish this post by alluding to the dream Mitya has during the initial proceedings after his arrest. During these proceedings, Mitya falls asleep, and dreams he is amongst muzhik dwellings that are burnt-out ruins. There are people there, and a bairn is held by its mother, whose breasts are dry, shriveled, and useless. The bairn is bawling, and Mitya asks (among other questions) why is it crying? Besides showing us, for the first time, that there is great compassion within Mitya, perhaps the question can be answered best with another question: Where is the father? Perhaps the dream also conveys Mitya's guilt at the way he treats the muzhiks before his downfall. If it does, it shows that even at his worst, Mitya felt guilt, inwardly repented, and so that is why, even after being declared guilty, he has a chance of salvation. As for the bairn, the father is nowhere to be seen, and so the bairn cries with no home, no warmth, no milk, no comfort.

The Brothers Karamazov is a near-1,000-word warning to all men: don't be a dick-head to your children.

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Posted

Great essay.

Then again, I wouldn't be too sure of formulating metaphysical or ethical systems from Dostoeyvsky, despite the wealth of evidence. Looking at the history of ideas is the wrong perspective to analyze any of Dostoyevsky's works because it requires a choice from all angles -- except for existence -- the unknown factor.

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Posted

As I have learnt from many an English teacher, when analysing a novel, it's best to claim that the author has written what you have read into the novel, rather than trying to read into what the author has written.

Seriously, though, I realise the complexity of the work, so my intention with this thread was for me to go at it at one angle, and hope that others would make a flanking manoeuvre for me. :yup:

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Posted

Great post, dave.

I can't say more now because I am a :zombi: But, yeah, that's a fine essay, and a good launching point for discussion.

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Here is the full text of Brothers Karamazov.

I will try to make a thoughtful reply tomorrow. Today is Saturday, which means, lab rat as I am for my Corporate Overmasters, I am being subject to their weekly experiments in sleep deprivation for me; I start work on Friday at three in the afternoon, and on Saturday at ten in the morning. Thanks, Corporate Overmasters! :thumb: As a result I am too tired to make an extended, coherent post

I'll say this quickly. Yes, indeed, this is a book about having a shitty father, and what follows from that! It's about many other things, besides, but could that not be the core of the book? I would like to call attention to this: The Grand Inquisitor chapter is one of the most famous in all of literature, but right before that, there is Ivan's extended disquisition on "I return the ticket": He does not want to go to heaven, even if he gets an invite from God himself, because of the suffering of little children on earth. This is the problem of evil writ large. Could this chapter be greater than the Grand Inquisitor chapter? Ivan is saying, even if there is a good reason for the suffering of children, I reject it. So one of (or the?) main themes of this book is: what happens when you have a shitty father? Is Dusty, through Ivan, implying that the shittiest Father of all is He who rules the world? Just a thought.

Anyway, keep going, Brothers Karamazov is certainly one of the greatest novels ever written and perhaps the greatest.

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Posted (edited)

The Brothers Karamazov demonstrates that 'progression' is not linear. On Charlie Rose, I remember a novelist stating that this work will not and cannot be surpassed. It's the end of history. It may be the end of the multiverse.

On rejecting the ticket: One begins to wonder if one's existence, continued existence, in itself constitutes a crime. How, given that at this very moment in time a child, or multitude children, are undergoing those fates so painfully detailed by Ivan, can one go back to watching television, enjoying a good fuck, reading a good novel? It may be that Dostoyevsky is implementing the reader.

It's unfortunate Ivan didn't know about eternalism: the child being ripped apart by the General's dogs, in front of the child's mother, is ETERNALLY being ripped apart by dogs? It's too much to bear. Too much to stomach.

Ivan may have jumped ship immediately.

Edited by DeadCanDance

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Posted

Thanks for the posts, guys. Mutiny, if we go on the paradigm that BK is (among other things) about children, is certainly a very important chapter, if not the most important chapter in the novel. Indeed, one could likely learn and understand Dusty's main moral message in the novel by reading just Mutiny and An Adulterer of Thought.

In my next post I'll try to say a bit more about Mutiny, though I don't have time now. I remember when I read it that I'd like to say something about it, and it is one of my favourite parts of the novel.

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Amazingly enough, BK is an unfinished work. Dusty planned to go on and on and on, evidently with the objective of a fallen Ayosha -- becoming in the end a great sinner like the other Karamazovs, and then with the object (possibly) of redemption in mind. All of this never occurred because one day Dusty died. :sadcheer:

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Due to Dusty's demise, should we (for the purpose of the thread) treat B.K as though it were a finished work, or make assumptions based on what Dusty might have written later, had he survived to do so?

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I think we should treat it as a finished work.

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In Mutiny, Ivan begins by telling Alyosha a story about a certain saint who, when faced with a cold and hungry traveller, did so much to keep him warm the he risked catching some foul disease. Ivan is convinced that this saint is like the man who carries travellers across the river in that Aesop fable - he does the kind and charitable act not out of love or kindness, but a blind duty. The saint doesn't love or care about the itinerant; he keeps him warm because he believes that, for some reason, he has to do it; he acts not out of love, but instinct.

But is there not a chance that this saint was acting out of compassion? Perhaps he saw this cold, hungry stranger, and felt pity, or maybe guilt or shame. It is true that, especially with the second two feelings, were the saint feeling these emotions, his charitable act would include a significant degree of selfishness, and would thus be therefore a means to ease his own pain as much as it were to ease the pain of his companion. One could, of course, consider the possibility that the saint's guilt/shame compelled him to feel deserved to suffer for mankind, even though he may not realise it, but that would explain a sense of unerring duty more than true feelings of love and compassion.

Perhaps because of his own intellectual pursuits, perhaps because of his situation in life, perhaps because of a lack of a true, caring, loving father figure, whether corporeal or ethereal, material or spiritual, Ivan is convinced that this saint is a hypocrite: he cannot possibly love this itinerant, for, as Ivan believes, it is impossible to love one's neighbour, while those one can really love are far away. To offer an example, Ivan describes how people offer money to beggars through alms via the newspapers, but actually giving one's spare change when those beggars accost one in the street is a much less agreeable task. Again, to Ivan, this sort of charity is done not out of compassion, but a sense of duty, either to placate some form of God who, they believe, wants them to give alms, or to alleviate a sense of guilt. Either way, love, compassion, actually giving a darn about the unfortunate is not a motive.

More on Ivan's discourse with Alyosha in a bit, but first we must ask how far Ivan's paradigm is up to now in relation to the society and events the Karamazovs face during the novel's events. My initial reading of the work has lead me to conclude that Dostoevskiy thought Ivan had a point that one could find arguments for if one looked, but, ultimately, he was making a generalised falsehood.

The strongest arguments for and against Ivan's theory of love come from Mitya and his trial. Mitya, after the dream described earlier in this thread, feels compelled to sacrifice himself somehow to save the less fortunate, or at least to be a better man once he is found innocent. While it would be tempting to see Mitya as the blind martyr -towards the end of the novel, even Alyosha expresses his doubt that self-sacrifice is not for Mitya, and Mitya is prepared to attempt to escape from his subterranean Siberian incarceration- who proves Ivan's point, it ignores an important detail: Mitya's change of heart, even of character, came about because he, maybe for the first time in his life, stopped to look at the plight of the poor; rather than mistreating the muzhiks, or simply beating them away or insulting them in some tavern, he looked upon the lowest family he had encountered, and he was moved. Mitya may be just a slave to some inexplicable sense of duty, but it is a duty born out of compassion, for it wasn't conceived as a result of some newspaper columnist or a preacher telling Mitya it is his duty to help others, but from Mitya doing the one thing Ivan believed would make him turn away in disgust.

So far, then, Ivan is wrong, but in some aspects, his theory is grounded in truth.

Another character one could use to argue against Ivan's point is Fetyukovich. Like the typical human being in Ivan's paradigm, Fetyukovich decides to help Mitya after reading about his trial and the crime in the newspaper. So far Ivan is correct, because picking up an interesting, yet seemingly hopeless, case is easy when one doesn't have to confront one's client face-to-face is easy. One the trial begins, Fetyukovich delivers several fantastic speeches that show he is determined to win the case. At this point, one could speculate whether Fetyukovich's attempts are motivated by his own pride -he does not want to lose a case- by a feeling of compassion for Mitya -this man for all his faults is innocent, and what a pity it would be to condemn him- or by a sense of duty -he's come to the trial, it's his job to defend the client, so defend the client he will! Whatever the reason (and I'm sure one can find convincing arguments for any of the aforementioned motivations), Fetyukovich's most significant speech borders on the emotional; it is a passionate attack on those who wrong the children in their charge without regret.

In the above case, it would be useless for Ivan to stick to his guns, for while there are many fathers (and will have been in C19th Russia) who are unworthy of such a title, such a duty, it is when Fetya is in the same room as one that he announces his belief. The fact that Mitya is surrounded by a crowd who mostly despises him, makes him seem even uglier in the eyes of society, and further tramples on Ivan's own belief.

If one is to take Fetya's speech about children and their fathers as just a way for him to appeal to the emotions of the audience, and that he doesn't really believe it himself, one has to ask how strong Fetya's beliefs in compassion are, for he certainly believes in it. Fetya is convinced that Mitya looked down on Grigory, his father's old manservant with whom he was hardly on friendly terms with, and felt pity for him. Mitya, gazing down on the body of an old, withered, helpless, ugly, bleeding man (in the same way one would look down upon a dirty beggar) wanted to help him. There is more than enough evidence in the novel to suggest that Fetya's suspicion is the correct one, so it looks as though Ivan is, once again, proven wrong.

Perhaps, to Dostoevskiy, it was not so much that everybody was the same, and how much care and love one received depended on how far away one was from one's potential benefactor/s, but one a range of factors, including the nature of the benefactor/s, all of whom might or may react differently to the same charity case, regardless of distance or circumstance. It may be that in each of the charity cases already mentioned, it was the helplessness of the victim that moved the benefactor. Would Mitya's dream have had the same effect on him had it not included the starving child sucking for milk and desperation and futility, but was just a bunch of peasants who were cold and starving, but had the strength and equipment to make enough grain to only just feed themselves at a push? If the society attending the trial were not so much against Mitya, would Fetya have made such a passionate and heartfelt appeal to the emotions towards the end of the case? Would Mitya have stopped for Grigory if the latter had been a younger man who was likely to be able to take a good smack with a pestle? The text gives no indication of any answers to these questions, which leads one to wonder if Ivan, while being wrong about it being impossible to love one's neighbour except when s/he is far away, may have been right about something else: the perception of the victim by the potential benefactor can determine how much help the victim gets.

More later...

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NIce post, Dave, I'll need a bit of time to work up some of my own thoughts. Keep going. :)

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Posted (edited)

The discussion about the beggar is a preamble to the longer discussion by Ivan about the suffering of children and the meaning of that, and is one of the greatest chapters in the book in my judgment, a cutting exploration of the problem of evil. And it precedes the classic Grand Inquisitor story.

If Ivan thinks that acts of compassion or charity are really just done out of a sense of religious duty, perhaps fearing the wrath of God, or just arise from guilt (a form of selfishness) than he is suggesting that truth compassion doesn’t exit. Possibly this is true for Ivan, and he is projecting his own inner feelings on everyone else. But it doesn’t follow that it’s true for everyone. What Ivan, cold, cynical and cerebral individual that he is, seems to lack is compassion and empathy. We could say that people who have true compassion and empathy really would help a beggar or some other unfortunate out of pure motives, not out of a sense of guilt or a sense of begrudging duty. And one such, clearly (if they exist) would by Alyosha, to whom he is speaking. Alyosha seems the living embodiment of empathy and compassion. So he already stands as a rebuke to Ivan’s claims.

But what if Ivan really has no compassion, no empathy? What if most people are really like that? Is it is his fault, or did God (if He exists) make him that way? In that case, isn’t God at least indirectly responsible for Ivan’s feelings and perhaps his behavior as well? It should be noted that although Ivan has had no proper “father figure” (his own father being a scoundrel and the Godly father of dubious provenance to him) he’s really no different from Alyosha. Alyosha also had a rotten father, because it’s the same father and, although he acquired perhaps a “father figure” in Zossima, all that is to come later. That is, Alyosha was “good,” a person of compassion and empathy, right from boyhood, despite having the same miserable upbringing. What can explain that? If we suppose that God exists (his existence or lack of being of course a central idea of the novel) then it seems God made Alyosha one way and Ivan another way and Mitya still another way, and that’s all there is to it. How can they be blamed for being persons they never asked to be, whether good or bad?

But then he goes on to speak of the suffering of children. And for children he seems to have great and genuine compassion, not feigned compassion out of duty or guilt or convoluted cerebral considerations. Perhaps this is because he regards them as a “different species” and “innocent.” He wants to know why children must suffer horribly. Why must the innocent suffer, children being exemplars of innocence? He recounts examples of their suffering. Does it follow, then, that God does not exist? This is the problem of evil. Suffering among children, in the presence of a perfectly good and all-powerful deity? What explains it? Ivan’s answer seems novel to me. He does not deny the existence of God. He does not even reject God or hate God or maintain that God lacks moral perfection because of the suffering of children. He does not even deny that this suffering may be part of some overarching cosmic plan in which ultimately good outweighs evil. He simply, as he puts it, “returns the ticket.” He wants no part of the plan because, in his eyes, the plan cannot be justified, even if it is God’s plan. Thus while not repudiating God or suggesting that God lacks moral perfection, he places his own moral intuitions over those of God and thinks for himself. It is this devotion to his own intellectual convictions that Alyosha brands “mutiny” or “rebellion,” depending on the translation.

Something else appears to be unstated here, or a couple things. Maybe what seems to be Ivan’s genuine concern for children arises from the memory of his own abused childhood? So maybe it is kind of selfish after all. But more, implicit in his monologue is the idea that if humans are supposed to show genuine compassion for other humans, as for the beggar, and not merely help out of a sense of duty or selfish guilt, what ought to be expected out of a morally perfect God with respect to the suffering of the beggar, the suffering of children, and the suffering of humanity in general? Where is God’s compassion? Shouldn’t He be the ultimate source of compassion and succor? All we are left in response is the rather tired old idea that Man stole “the fire from heaven” by his rebellion in the Garden and thus made his own suffering. Well, maybe the beggar made his own suffering too, by poor choices, yet humans are expected to show compassion for him but from God, in the face of suffering (even that of children) is only Divine Hiddenness and Silence.

After this section comes the Grand Inquisitor, and the lengthy sections involving Father Zossima, as Dostoevsky, as he indicated in his journals, seeks through Zossima and by other means to rebut his own indictment of God. He doubted that he succeeded, as do I.

Edited by davidm

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