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Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia 
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Post Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
The introductory note on the author says that to Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov embodied the quintessence of Russian character, in all its exaltation, compassion and profligacy.

This assessment seems to me to capture how this novel deliberately seeks to describe the actual Russian character in its complex diversity and unity. It is a psychological portrait, as though Dostoyevsky thought to himself he wished to write the great Russian novel, placing a mirror up to the people. It is not a pretty sight. In my reading of Russian history, for example the work of Alexandr Solzenhitzyn and Robert Conquest, I have been utterly appalled at the degradation of the Stalin epoch. Reading Dostoyevsky, there is an eerie sense of premonition of the communist catastrophe, a sense that there is something so wrong about the culture that it is naively vulnerable to wicked despots of the most extreme character.

The father, Fyodor Karamazov, is intended in my view to symbolise the dominant character of the Russian people. This is a horrendous thought, because he is a horrendous man. He owns taverns, he is an ignorant and disgusting buffoon, he rapes an idiot, rejects wives and children, treats holy men with utter disrespect, and lives in a scattered town called den of beasts. In the very first sentence Dostoyevsky tells us he will describe the gloomy and tragic death of Fyodor Karamazov. And so he establishes a sense of foreboding about how, where, when and by whose hand the monster will die.

Each character is a typical part of the Russian national character. The psychological portraits are finely and acutely drawn. The four sons, Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha and Smelly, and all the other characters, represent whole cultural norms, some of which people normally prefer to ignore or deny.

Does this make sense to you? I will try to find a few passages that exemplify this reading.



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Wed Mar 02, 2011 6:36 am
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
I also had the same feeling with respect to the sense of political momentum expressed in the book mingled with the character of the Russian people as portrayed by various characters- this book almost forecasts what is to come. The deep seated vanity, the protection of pride, the lines about how some Russians absolutely needed to be flogged regularly, and the socialistic agenda are all present. None of it mixes. It's as if it's all water and oil. What I mean by that is, if you read between the lines, readers will see that the Russians want socialism and human benevolence but their personalities would never allow that and something like the government the world saw during the cold war was almost inevitable.

I also believe that D. meant Fyodor to represent a type of personality or character flaw of certain Russians and is someone that D. wants to see die. I haven't read the entire book but I'm hoping that his death, if he is the type of man D. believes hurts Russia the most, brings about a happy ending and a chance for positive change.



Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:33 am
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
Robert Tulip wrote:
The father, Fyodor Karamazov, is intended in my view to symbolise the dominant character of the Russian people.


As I read BK I am keeping this in mind. I am at the point in the book where Fyodor has been killed. In an earlier post, Robert mentioned that the sons represent qualities, such as reason, emotion and faith. If the sons are all suspects, this is interesting, because one of these qualities actually killed Russia.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The four sons, Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha and Smelly, and all the other characters, represent whole cultural norms, some of which people normally prefer to ignore or deny.


Actually, the mother of the illegitimate son was considered smelly. The son takes great pride in his appearance. He pomades his hair, and curls his hair, he is very self centered. The illegitimate son may represent pride.

The characters are somewhat like caricatures, they don't feel real to me.



Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:32 am
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
Pg. 366 Most of what Zosimo has to say sums up the political and religious agenda of the book. The rest is said by Ivan. It's funny that in reality it was the government which got rid of the church and not the other way around. It happened exactly the opposite way intended... materials were scarce but that did nothing to curb the want or need of them, religion was squashed and replaced by hero worship, neighbor informed on neighbor which made everyone more suspicious of everyone else, people became more untrustworthy and distrustful, human rights were never even considered. What a complete disaster.

I think that's what's missing in all this. They want a quick fix for updating their backwards ways into something resembling equal rights and enlightenment but haven't stumbled onto mutual respect and human rights. Maybe this was the missing ingredient. They just couldn't let go of their feudal way of thinking. Remember what Ivan was saying about being close to his fellow man? How it bred almost instantaneous contempt and such an intense hatred. Anyone who gets familiar in the book with someone of a 'lower class' gets full of murderous rage and they don't even know it's happened until it overcomes them. Flogging and beatings are perfectly fine, while saying a disparaging comment about someone who outranks you is quite illegal.

I think in some respects, it's not made clear whether he's an illegitimate son or not, Smerdy may be the next generation commoner in want of better things and waiting for their time to strike and take down the upper class. He may also represent foreign influence on Russia.



Thu Mar 03, 2011 11:21 am
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
I'm only up to book three, where Smerdy is born. Fyodor swaggers with a bunch of drunks and threatens to rape Smerdy's mother, which all the other drunks find a completely disgusting prospect as she is such a pathetically ugly and helpless stinking idiot. Fyodor then denies he is the father when she gets pregnant. Yet everyone in the town knows that he is the father, and Smerdy is called "Fyodorovitch" (son of Fyodor).



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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
I seem to be between Robert and Pres. as far as my page count.

I love the way this story is being told. FD is a master at seamlessly moving back and forth in time, and back and forth between characters. He also makes the story very personal. The narrator is a character in this story as well, in fact, the narrator is the most real of all the characters. The narrator often stops and will talk about "his" town and makes statements about where he is in the narrative. I tend to believe this narrator. But, who is he?

Robert: have you thought about the thematic threads? You made a post about your thoughts on this and the threads sounded really good.



Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:26 pm
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
This idea that The Brothers Karamazov is a parable for Russia is explained by Dostoyevsky himself in the introductory note titled From The Author.

This short two page note is such a masterful piece of riddling brilliance as to be worthy of the Sphinx itself. But can we deconstruct and decode what Dostoyevsky deprecates as his ‘eternally uninteresting and confused explanations’? Deconstruction means to find the real hidden meaning behind the surface appearance. If we deconstruct the author’s note, perhaps we will be well on the way to understanding the real meaning of the novel.

Dostoyevsky opens by asking what is so remarkable about his hero Alyosha, the holy son, despite his oddness and eccentricity. His answer is that such a person “carries within himself the heart of the universal.” This is a hint at the broad intent of The Brothers Karamazov to use each character as a type, which in the case of Alyosha is the heroic representation of universal truth. So far it is fairly clear, no real riddles yet.

But next Dostoyevsky says “the trouble is that I have two tales, and only one life story. The main narrative is the second, it is the action of my hero in our day, at the very present time. The first tale takes place thirteen years ago, and it is hardly even a novel, but only a period in my hero’s early youth. I cannot do without this first tale, because much in the second tale would be incomprehensible without it.”

A quick perusal of the table of contents shows that there are not two tales, there is one, and it is divided in four sections, not two. Dostoyevsky is talking in riddles with his claim that he has two tales. What can this riddling gibberish possibly mean?

The answer to the riddle is that the first tale is the fictional account of the Karamazov family and its travails, while the second tale, "the main narrative", is the metaphorical parable whereby the book is an intimate and acute psychological portrait of the Russian culture, in all its flaws, risks and contradictions. This action of the second tale that Dostoyevsky says happens “at the very present time” is the meaning of the book for the social conflicts of the nation. The second tale is woven into the first. Without the national analysis, the family story is “hardly even a novel”. The family story, in its narrative of the identity and relations of the main characters, serves to make the deeper story comprehensible, the story of Russia.

This use of riddle illustrates how a great novelist such as Dostoyevsky starts with a unifying purpose, in this case a plan to describe the character of Russia, and then systematically fictionalizes it, artfully covering his tracks so his purpose hits the reader like a vague intuition, while in reality it provides the unifying architecture of the novel. The concealment also serves to deflect the attention of the censor, who might not be keen on these messages if they were stated explicitly, as Dostoyevsky had already found out to his great personal cost. But Dostoyevsky couldn’t let go with just burying the riddle in the novel, he had to tell the reader in his preface that he was presenting a riddle, knowing almost everyone would skip over his bizarre words as an incomprehensible trifle. But this trifle is the intentional hidden key to the grand theme of this great novel.



Fri Mar 04, 2011 6:12 pm
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
I don't know. My version of the book says that the second tale was never finished. It made it sound like there was actually another piece in the works. I like your idea, though.



Fri Mar 04, 2011 7:14 pm
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
But what evidence is there for such an actual second tale? The author's note seems to have been written after the book, as is common with prefaces, and is quite clear that the book we have in our hand already contains the second tale, and moreover that the second tale is "the main narrative" and that it is set in the present.

The explanation you read sounds dumb. Some one with no ear for allegory just assumed that Dostoyevsky was talking literally. Claims about an actual unwritten second tale fail to understand the book and ignore what Dostoyevsky actually said. I read a similarly thick commentary that said Smerdy's questions about Genesis showed his stupidity. It is easy to miss what Dostoyevsky is on about.

It reminds me of the riddle of the Sphinx. The story we have from Oedipus is very simple, and seems to hint at hidden depths, a genuine riddle with some powerful message. The exciting thing about great literature is plumbing the hidden depths.

I remember when I saw Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and completely missed the main plot about how their relationship failure is about their inability to have children. As a result the play came across to me as dull and lifeless. If you miss the author's intent, whole realms of humour and innuendo go outuendo without being digested. Brothers Karamazov is hilarious.

Dostoyevsky is toying with us, as he says, "out of shrewdness". "The astute reader" already knows the book is about Russia, and sees this preamble as laboring the point. He certainly has forewarned us of something - that his book is a parable for Russia. You need to read the story to start thinking about the meaning, what Dostoyevsky calls "the essential unity of the whole" arising from how the "book has of itself split into two narratives." This last comment is utterly incompatible with plans for an unrealised sequel.

Here is the preface From the Author - which I have corrected for surprisingly numerous typos is such a short piece from http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~hdreyfus/ ... eamble.pdf

Quote:
FROM THE AUTHOR
In beginning the life story of my hero, Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov, I find myself in somewhat of a quandary. Namely, though I call Alexey Fyodorovich my hero, I myself know that he is by no means a great man, and hence I foresee such unavoidable questions as these: “What is so remarkable about your Alexey Fyodorovich, that you have chosen him as your hero? What has he accomplished? What is he known for, and by whom? Why should I, the reader, spend time learning the facts of his life?”

The last question is the most fateful, for to it I can only answer: “Perhaps you will see for yourself from the novel.” Well, suppose you read the novel, and fail to see, and so do not agree to the remarkability of my Alexey Fyodorovich? I say this because unhappily I anticipate it. For me he is remarkable, but I doubt strongly whether I shall succeed in proving this to the reader. The fact is, if you please, that he is a protagonist, but a protagonist vague and undefined. And, in truth, in times such as ours it would be strange to require clarity of people. One thing, I dare say, is fairly certain: this man is odd, even eccentric. But oddness and eccentricity interfere with rather than help in the uniting of the strands and in the finding of some sort of common meaning in the general confusion. In most cases the eccentric is a particularity, a separate element. Isn’t that so?

Now if you do not agree with this last thesis, and answer, “It isn’t so,” or “It isn’t always so,” then I, if you please, might become encouraged about the significance of my hero, Alexey Fyodorovich. For not only is an eccentric “not always” a particularity and a separate element, but, on the contrary, it happens sometimes that such a person, I dare say, carries within himself the very heart of the universal, and the rest of the men of his epoch have for some reason been temporarily torn from it, as if by a gust of wind . . .

Still, I should not have plunged into these eternally uninteresting and confused explanations and should have begun quite simply, without introduction: “ If they like it, they will read it”; but the trouble is that I have two tales, and only one life story. The main narrative is the second—it is the action of my hero in our day, at the very present time. The first tale takes place thirteen years ago, and it is hardly even a novel, but only a period in my hero’s early youth. I cannot do witout this first tale, because much in the second tale would be unintelligible without it. But in this way my original difficulty is rendered still more complicated: if I, that is, the biographer himself, find that even one tale would perhaps be superfluous for such a modest and undefined hero, how ever can I appear with two, and how from my point of view can I justify such presumption?

Finding myself lost in the solution of these questions, I decide to by-pass them with no solution at all. Of course, the astute reader has long since guessed that from the very first I was leading up to this, and was vexed with me for wasting fruitless words and precious time. To this, I shall answer explicitly: I was spending fruitless words and precious time, first, out of courtesy, and second, out of shrewdness: “Still,” the reader might say, “he has forewarned us of something.” Indeed, I am actually glad that my book has of itself split into two narratives, “with essential unity of the whole”: having become acquainted with the first tale, the reader will then decide for himself whether it is worth his while to attempt the second. Of course, one is not bound by anything—the book can be abandoned at the second page of the first tale, never to be opened again. But then, you know, there are those considerate readers who have a compulsion to read to the end, so as not te be mistaken in ther impartial judgment; such, for example, are all the Russian critics. It is before this type of person that my heart somehow becomes lighter: despite all their careful exactness and conscientiousness, I nevertheless give them a perfectly legitimate pretext to abandon the tale at the novel’s first episode. Well, there is the whole foreword. I completely agree that it is needless, but since it has already been written, let it stand.

And now to the matter at hand.



Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Mar 04, 2011 11:14 pm, edited 6 times in total.



Fri Mar 04, 2011 10:21 pm
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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
Interesting that the son characters represent characteristics of Russian society. As we know characteristics are not as simple or easily defined as presented in the book.


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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
LadySera wrote:
Interesting that the son characters represent characteristics of Russian society. As we know characteristics are not as simple or easily defined as presented in the book.


I think all the characters represent characteristics of Russian society. A society is very hard to describe, but my feeling, only having visited Russia twice but having read a lot about it, is that Dostoyevsky does a good job. The events and personalities are parables, meaning that they simplify and allegorise the essence of the hidden meaning. So you are absolutely right that characteristics of a society are not easy to define, The point here is that Dostoyevsky asks us to read with a hidden meaning in mind. As I explained the other day, he says he has written two books in one, and the second one, set in the present, is the more important. Now if you do not have ears to hear, this is just cryptic rubbish. But if you can tune in to the depths of the Russian soul, you start to see a higher purpose. As Novalis translated Heraklitus, character is fate.

I read some commentaries before venturing on the novel itself, and I think that was worth doing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brothers_Karamazov is a good introduction. It includes a surprising gem from Heidegger.



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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
I'm about a third in and now that I realize it is a parable about Russia I can see the future to come. Fyodor, does he represent the flaws in the general population or the flaws of Russian leaders?


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Post Re: Brothers Karamazov as parable for Russia
LadySera wrote:
I'm about a third in and now that I realize it is a parable about Russia I can see the future to come. Fyodor, does he represent the flaws in the general population or the flaws of Russian leaders?
Both, I think, but he also represents a primal strength in Russia. Where ever Dostoyevsky uses 'Karamazov', it helps to read 'Russia'. Fyodor is parent of four streams of Russian life, the passionate sensual seen in Dmitri, the rational modern seen in Ivan, the spiritual ascetic seen in Alyosha, and the degraded corruption seen in Pavel. The denial of the identity of Pavel (Smerdy) indicates the systematic avoidance practiced by the society, whereby there is a secret degradation that all know of but all connive in hiding.

Fyodor is rich, capable, fecund, deluded and passionate. In this he is a parable for Russian identity, the society as a whole. His bad relation with Dmitri, his eldest son, indicates the inherent tensions between the old and the new, when both the old and the new are driven primarily by emotion and instinct. Both Fyodor and Dmitri are compared to insects, which seems very pointed in its description of the passionate element in Russian character as driven by ruthless instinct.

Quote:
Fyodor Pavlovitch was an obstinate and cunning buffoon, yet, though his will was strong enough “in some of the affairs of life,” as he expressed it, he found himself, to his surprise, extremely feeble in facing certain other emergencies. He knew his weaknesses and was afraid of them. There are positions in which one has to keep a sharp look out. And that’s not easy without a trustworthy man, and Grigory was a most trustworthy man. Many times in the course of his life Fyodor Pavlovitch had only just escaped a sound thrashing through Grigory’s intervention, and on each occasion the old servant gave him a good lecture. But it wasn’t only thrashings that Fyodor Pavlovitch was afraid of. There were graver occasions, and very subtle and complicated ones, when Fyodor Pavlovitch could not have explained the extraordinary craving for some one faithful and devoted, which sometimes unaccountably came upon him all in a moment. It was almost a morbid condition. Corrupt and often cruel in his lust, like some noxious insect, Fyodor Pavlovitch was sometimes, in moments of drunkenness, overcome by superstitious terror and a moral convulsion which took an almost physical form. “My soul’s simply quaking in my throat at those times,” he used to say. At such moments he liked to feel that there was near at hand, in the lodge if not in the room, a strong, faithful man, virtuous and unlike himself, who had seen all his debauchery and knew all his secrets, but was ready in his devotion to overlook all that, not to oppose him, above all, not to reproach him or threaten him with anything, either in this world or in the next, and, in case of need, to defend him—from whom? From somebody unknown, but terrible and dangerous.


The poem of Dmitri to Alyosha:
Quote:
everything in the world is a riddle! And whenever I’ve happened to sink into the vilest degradation (and it’s always been happening) I always read that poem about Ceres and man. Has it reformed me? Never! For I’m a Karamazov. For when I do leap into the pit, I go headlong with my heels up, and am pleased to be falling in that degrading attitude, and pride myself upon it. And in the very depths of that degradation I begin a hymn of praise. Let me be accursed. Let me be vile and base, only let me kiss the hem of the veil in which my God is shrouded. Though I may be following the devil, I am Thy son, O Lord, and I love Thee, and I feel the joy without which the world cannot stand.

Eternal joy fosters the soul of all creation. Her secret ferment fires the cup of life with flame. Joy beckons the grass to turn each blade towards the light. Solar systems have evolved from chaos and dark night, filling the realms of boundless space beyond the sage’s sight. All things that breathe drink joy from provident nature’s gracious breast. Birds and beasts and creeping things follow where she leads. Joy gives to man the delight in victory and passion, to angels—vision of God’s throne, to insects—sensual lust.

But enough poetry! I am in tears; let me cry. It may be foolishness that every one would laugh at. But you won’t laugh. Your eyes are shining, too. Enough poetry. I want to tell you now about the insects to whom God gave “sensual lust.” To insects—sensual lust. I am that insect, brother, and it is said of me specially. All we Karamazovs are such insects, and, angel as you are, that insect lives in you, too, and will stir up a tempest in your blood. Tempests, because sensual lust is a tempest—worse than a tempest! Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I am not a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s terrible what mysteries there are! Too many riddles weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water. Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man. But a man always talks of his own ache. Listen, now to come to facts.”



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