Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It is time...


to re-read The Brothers Karamazov. My friend Jared mentioned this epic novel to me today over lunch, and then my friend & colleague (another Matthew) passed along this article from First Things. Blasted First Things! and its substantial prose. I've been wrestling with this other article from First Things for two days now... David Hart is on to something, about the responsibility of Christianity, even better, the Gospel, for this strange modern world it helped to form. I think that Brandon Gallaher is writing about this too, from another angle.

With several people mentiong The Brothers Karamazov today alone, I realized that it has been a few years since I worked through its pathos and glory. But my thinking is slow these days, it seems. Though it wasn't it my mind on the weekend, conversations with Krista and Derek and Mike about family and faith have also got me brooding about the dislocation of meaning in our modern world. It is amazing how things like books acquire new, personal meaning at different seasons of life. I first read Brothers in 1995, in High School, and was exhilarated by its language and emotion. For Mr. Moore's acting class, I staged a reading of Alyosha's scene of exultation after "the odour of corruption" and "the wedding at cana."

Filled with rapture, his soul yearned for freedom, space, vastness. Over him the heavenly dome, full of quiet, shining stars, hung boundlessly. From the zenith to the horizon the still–dim Milky Way stretched its double strand. Night, fresh and quiet, almost unstirring, enveloped the earth. The white towers and golden domes of the church gleamed in the sapphire sky. The luxuriant autumn flowers in the flowerbeds near the house had fallen asleep until morning. The silence of the earth seemed to merge with the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the earth to be touched by the mystery of the stars. . . . Alyosha stood gazing and suddenly, as if he had been cut down, he threw himself to the earth. . . .
It was as if threads from all those innumerable worlds of God all came together in his soul, and it was trembling all over, "touching other worlds." He wanted to forgive everyone for everything, and to ask forgiveness, oh, not for himself! but for all and for everything, "as others are asking for me," rang in his soul.


I've always understood that scene, and not "The Grand Inquisitor," to be the centre and heart of the narrative.

I read it again in the Manchester rain of the year 2000, and in the summer heat of 2003. It is time again...

10 Comments:

Blogger gabriel said...

I just heard a lecture from Ralph Wood last week on P.D. James, which was fascinating.

I get a little antsy in the summer where FT becomes bimonthly.

4:00 PM  
Blogger kimberley said...

I like how that edition (that you have imaged) feels in the hand. It's pages are the weight of fine cotton.

I remember Ramona handing me a copy of her Community and Growth one time and it felt similarly.

Enjoy the re-read Matty.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

I just re-read it during Lent, I look forward to your thoughts.

My version has a very boring cover, it's the one from my Russian class.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Browler said...

Yikes. BK? For pleasure?

It never fails: every time, when I get to the blood libel bit, Alesha's "I don't know" kills me (and not in the Holden Caulfield sense).

It undermines almost the entire novel.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Yes, in that moment A. totally compromises his integrity. Derek, how do you account for D's choice here? Is he attempting to show A.'s weakness?

2:20 PM  
Blogger Browler said...

No, I don't think so. Alas, I think this is simply inexcusable anti-Semitism.

It's a big topic, but there are several interesting articles and books -- most of them written by (secular and practising) Jews about Dostoevskii's complex relationship with Jews and the Jewish question. (David Goldstein has written a whole book about it; Joseph Frank has a chapter devoted to it in the final volume of his biography; and in a book I'm reviewing for one of the Slavic journals there is a chapter by a chap whose name I forget. It's very good. There are lots of others who have written about it, too.)

At the time he was writing BK, he'd come under the influence of some rather unsavoury literature and friends. That partly explains it. And mainstream European culture, including Russian, was fairly anti-Semitic at the time. If I weren't afraid of being lynched, given the surroundings, ;) I'd also venture down a road that some literary scholars have explored, discussing Orthodoxy and anti-Semitism. Dostoevskii's racism certainly wasn't unusual in Russia (and still isn't, I'm sad to say).

In the Alesha part, it simply reads far too badly to be believably. There is no conceivable way in which Alesha would allow the blood libel charge to stand -- even if he didn't thing Jews were altogether excellent.

When we see each other, I'll give you a fascinating defence of the passage.

Incidentally, "some of Dostoevskii's best friends", etc.

He had a number of Jewish correspondents. Some of the most heart-breaking letters you could read are from a Russian Jew in the Pale, asking D how he could express such horrible sentiments. D's answers are very interesting.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Browler said...

That defence of the passage is: The Jewish Question and The Brothers Karamazov, by Maxim d Shrayer, in A New Word on the Brothers Karamazov, ed Robert Louis Jackson, Northwestern, 2004

8:14 PM  
Blogger RW said...

This book has crept forward into my conscious this past month...the last time I read it I was living in Switzerland... very long ago.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Yes, the antisemitic aspect is undeniable, but revolting coming from Alesha. I would be interested to read that correspondence.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Simply Victoria said...

*sigh* another book to add to the list.
I've only read it once. it truly deserves a re-read though.
after____ and ________ and ______ and _____.

5:58 PM  

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