9.16.2010

Oh, wild, wild! Incomprehension! Implausibility! Impossibility!


PictureI was first introduced to Dostoevsky senior year of high school through a distance learning AP English course. We'd meet in Mrs. Hunt's class and watch recorded videos of a grandma-ish lady from Virginia broadcasting in front of a sky blue back drop. While Crime and Punishment looked daunting (we joked that it was 200 pages of crime and 600 pages of punishment) the pace and depth of Fyodor's writing quickly befriended me. Shortly after that I read The Idiot on my own with great pleasure. Lately I've been inspired by the literary sharpness of Shostakovich as well as by book worm sister who's just finished War and Peace over the summer. (Yes I know that's Tolstoy, but I have them grouped in my mind.)
The Eternal Husband and Other Stories contains five short stories which in a way span his artistic career, as well as a killer Preface. (I love prefaces!) I feel ill-qualified to comment in depth on each story one by one. Indeed it is the very subject of depth which creates this amazing atmosphere which I love. Depth is something I love in MacDonald fairy tales, a quality of complexity and simplicity and that allows the imagination to flourish. Dosty does something different, however. His is, for the most part, dark and psychological and paradoxical. His characters' minds are a hidden land, a fervid battleground. It is very T.S. Eliot in the way they slog through words to find meaning and yet it is by words that they continue their absurdity. They are prideful and humiliated simultaneously.
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Klodt
So what's the draw? Why go through that? I find that in these short tragedies and satires Dosty leaves such opportunity for hope. Self-absorbency has not the last word. Time and again they are brought low, to the "underground" and given this opportunity to begin again. The gravity of forgiveness is so much more tangible and powerful given the depravity of his characters. And the bottom line is that purity and innocence is essentially not of this world. Pride is the haunting ghoul of the living and the dead. Love with hate continue to seep into our lives. Yet there is something more and chances today to try and fail and try again. I think I love this writing so much because it speaks a lot to my personality and bouts with depression. Dosty does not balk from the darkness and that makes the glints of light that much more wonderful.
Here's a wonderful C.S. Lewis-ish account of a people untainted by the Fall from The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.
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Vrubel

Oh, I at once understood, even then, that in many ways I would never understand them; to me, a modern Russian progressive and vile Petersburger, it seemed insoluble, for instance, that they, while knowing so much, did not have our science. Bit I soon realized that their knowledge was fulfilled and nourished by different insights that on our earth, and that their aspirations were also quite different. They did not wish for anything and were at peace, they did not aspire to a knowledge of life, as we do, because their life was fulfilled. But their knowledge was deeper and loftier than our science; for our science seeks to explain what life is, it aspires to comprehend it, in order to teach others to live; but they knew how to live even without science, and I understood that, but I could not understand their knowledge. They pointed out their trees to me, and I could not understand the extent of the love which which they looked at them: as if they were talking with creatures of their own kind. And you know, perhaps I wouldn't be mistaken if I said that they did talk to them! Yes, they had found their language, and I'm convinced that the trees understood them. They looked at the whole of nature in the same way - at the animals, who lived in peace with them, did not attack them, and loved them, won over by their love. They pointed out the stars to me and talked of them with me about something I couldn't understand, but I'm convinced that they had some contact, as it were, with the heavenly stars, not just in throught, but in some living way. Oh, these people did not even try to make me understand them, they loved me even without that...

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