June 04, 2007


Caption: This man is now portraying the impetuous and occasionally violent Dmitri Karamazov. The character of Snegiryov is played by the toy monkey.

El Cabrero is still on something of a Russian literature jag. There's no telling at this point how long it will last, although I do promise to try to keep it shorter than The Brothers Karamazov.

I haven't seen a lot of Woody Allen films, but did get a kick out of his spoof of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in Love and Death, both of which are, after all, their major themes.

For Dostoevsky, the two were intertwined. He was haunted by death long before it finally caught up with him. When he was still a teenager, his father died suddenly amid rumors that he had been killed by his serfs.

As a young man, he fell in with a group of radicals and was arrested and sentenced to death. As William Hubben puts it in Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka (how's that for a lineup?), after several months in prison, he was one of a group of 21 prisoners scheduled to be executed at 7:00 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 22, 1849:

They were led out into the prison yard to stand on the scaffold, and the officer in charge read to each the fatal words of the verdict, "Sentenced to be shot!" The prisoners' clothes had been taken off, and for twenty minutes they waited in the ice-cold temperature for the final moment to come. Dostoevsky embraced two of his friends in a last farewell. He wrote later of this "last" moment, "I kept staring at a church with a gilt dome reflecting the sunbeams and I suddenly felt as if these beams came from the region where I myself was going to be in a few minutes."

Suddenly an officer came galloping across the square, signalling with a handkerchief to announce that Tsar Nicholas I, "in his infinite mercy," had commuted the death sentence to prison terms in Siberia...

That ought to do it, huh?

Unbeknownst to the prisoners at the time, the "rescue" was staged, a pure example of the theater of power. Siberia probably wasn't' much of a picnic either.

It's probably no wonder that he delved the dark side like few other writers, pondering the problem of evil, guilt, and suffering. But he is also the writer of redemption, compassion, and love in the face of death.

Here's Father Zossima's advice on his deathbed in the Brothers K:

Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

Alas, it's easier said than done. Good, though.

DEMOCRACY AND/OR GROWTH. Jonathan Chait in the June 4 New Republic discusses a column by an American Enterprise Institute economist who

points out that, over the last decade and a half, free-market dictatorships had faster economic growth than free-market democracies. The obvious explanation would be that dictatorships tend to be poorer countries (e.g., China) that can grow more quickly by catching up with modern technology. But Hassett offers up a different interpretation: Unlike democracies, dictatorships "are not hamstrung by the preferences of voters for, say, a pervasive welfare state." In other words, while Western democracies are held back by voters--with their pesky demands that citizens get health care and old people not be left to starve in the streets--autocracies march nobly toward a free-market paradise.

This reminds me of a passage in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment where a character says that

compassion is forbidden nowadays by science itself, and that that's what is done now in England, where there is political economy.

Back to the future indeed...

GOATS TO THE RESCUE. Finally, the title of this Times article tells it all: "In Tennessee, goats eat the vine that ate the South." The ones around here would probably refuse to eat the kudzu out of spite...



Juanuchis said...

As William Hubben puts it in Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka ...

Gawd, I don't know if I'd suffer a narcoleptic seizure with those four, or commit myself to Weston State in abject despair!

Fr. Zossima is spot on; too bad this can't be the entirety of TBK. :)

Interesting view of free market economies vis-a-vis dictatorships or democracy. I will have to read further on that. Keep your eye on Hugo Chavez.

El Cabrero said...

Nietzsche and Kafka are kind of lively, although the state hospital might still be in order. I just wish Fyodor would have used a new paragraph every now and then. But I guess we have to allow for the shortcomings of non Episcopalians given their lack of exposure to the BCP and all...

Juanuchis said...

Hey, I have a friend that did his Masters at the Joint Military Intelligence College. He had me proof his papers. Mind, my friend is one of the most intelligent people I know. But ... DAMN! "Can ya use a VERB every now and again?" I said I needed an honorary degree for proofing his stuff.

Kafka is bizarre which excuses him. Nietzsche is just ... well ... dead.

... and I got interrupted in the midst of a great thought. Hate it when that happens.

Brecht said...

I'm pleased to see you writing about the soul-touching F.D. who, as you put it, "delved the dark side like few other writers...But he is also the writer of redemption, compassion, and love in the face of death", which is to me the heart of his magic.

Reading 'The Idiot' was like walking through a cathedral of the human spirit. Dante also showed the darkest and brightest in the human spirit. But Dante's darkness (like Milton's) is more convincing than his light.

Considering F.D.'s own problems with heartbreak, oppression, gambling and epilepsy, he must have had a strong spirit to keep so much light in his work - or perhaps he had to keep it in his work, because there was nowhere else in his life for it.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Thanks for reminding me of what I read long ago and have filed in the deepest parts of my mind.

It seems that capitalism and the market are not tied intrinsically to democracy as the Bushites would have us (and the world) believe.

El Cabrero said...

Brecht, Thanks for the comment. FD did have resilience, didn't he? I'd have to place Dante, Homer, and Shakespeare in the highest firmament with him just below.

Juanuchis, I'd like to think of Nietzsche as gone but not forgotten...

Nick, I think if the Bushies had to pick between democracy and capitalism I know which would win. In the spirit of Fyodor, are you a betting man?