Thursday, October 11, 2007

Kafka and Dostoevsky as "Blood Relatives"

Roman S. Struc, The University of Calgary.

The romance of German literature with the giants of Russian letters is an affair of long standing. Its inception reaches back to the mid-eighteenth century, though the most intensive involvement of German writers has been with Russian authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Unlike the other countries of the West, Germany's interest in Russian letters had not been limited to the "classics" of Russian literature. The German reading public is conversant with all the major figures of Russian literature from Pushkin to Leskov, Merezhkovskij, Bunin, Gorkij, Majakovskij, Pasternak, and Bulgakov, as well as contemporary Soviet writers. This interest has at no time decreased; the romance still goes on. (1)

If in passing only, it should be pointed out that the affair had not been one-sided: the influence of German Idealism, especially in its Hegelian forms, and of German Romanticism (Schelling, Herder-Belinskij, Schiller-Dostoevsky, Goethe-Bulgakov must suffice as random examples) is a well-documented chapter in the intellectual history of Russia. (2) Thomas Mann claimed that it was Germany's central position in Europe which made her a natural and eager recipient, mediator and disseminator between East and West in all matters of spiritual culture. This speculative view is surely not without considerable merit.

The broad span of German interests in Russian matters notwithstanding, it can be safely claimed that Dostoevsky has been the focal point of that curiosity and fascination. Such luminaries as Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Rilke, Döblin, Werfel, Bergengrün, and the somewhat unjustly forgotten Jakob Wassermann stood under the spell of the Russian writer. The preceptor of modern German thought, Nietzsche, acknowledged his affinity with Dostoevsky's analysis of the modern predicament which he found in his "Notes from Underground", as have many others who concerned themselves with the crisis of European consciousness.

Franz Kafka has been considered in all respects an exception. He entered the consciousness of both the European and North American reading public as a great loner, a man thoroughly alienated from his environment and tradition, the original inimitable genius. (3) Even in his own assessement of his situation, Kafka thought of himself as either the beginning or the end. Still, even early in his posthumous career Kafka's name had been linked with men such as Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky as thinkers and hоmines religiоsi. In those early studies Kafka had been viewed as one of their company. Notwithstanding some virtue of this perception, these studies had been ahistorical and often impressionistic, seeing Kafka primarily if not exclusively as a purveyor of ideas, a prophet of doom rather than a man of letters; their tone was one of homage rather than of historically accurate assessments. Only in the late fifties and especially quite recently Kafka scholarship began shaking off certain hasty and unwarranted claims on behalf of its hero and, as an example, his affinity with Kierkegaard has been subjected to close critical scrutiny resulting in a more sober and objective view of the Dane's influence on Kafka's thought. The same has occurred with other figures frequently linked with Kafka. In this process of discriminating reassessment, however, Kafka's affinity with Dostoevsky gained in currency. In the last decade some very creditable ground work has been accomplished, and one can now safely speak of more than either very general or incidental connection between those two, at least at first glance, diverse figures.

In what follows, an attempt will be made to summarize these foci of affinity or even influence, as the case may be, in a systematic fashion.

1. Kafka's private library, unfortunately recorded a decade after his death, contained Dostoevsky's "Letters", "The Brothers Karamazov", "Crime and Punishment", and a one volume collection of shorter works with the title "The Gambler". (4) In 1914 a German translation of Dostoevsky's "Complete Works" had become available. On the basis of Kafka's Letters and Diaries we know that he read many other works besides those in his library, including Nina Hoffmann's Dostoevsky biography and Strachov's introductory essay to Dostoevsky's "Collected Works". Further it will become obvious that, although unmentioned, Kafka was familiar with "The Double". As early as 1913, in a letter to his fiance Kafka wrote: "the four men, Grillparzer, Dostoevsky, Kleist and Flaubert, I consider to be my true blood-relations". (5) This statement expresses not only his affinity with those men as writers, but also an identification with their existential complexion. In the one case, Kafka might have had in mind Dostoevsky's epilepsy, paralleled in his own life by tuberculosis and, perhaps even more so, the complex and ambiguous relationship with their respective fathers. In their writings this culminated for Dostoevsky in "The Brothers Karamazov", for Kafka in "The Judgment" and the notorious "Letter to His Father". As for their illness, both viewed it as release and punishment, both were aware of the complex and secret workings of mind and body, both cursing and blessing it at the same time.

2. For the sake of this discussion only, I will deal separately with ideas, themes and motifs on the one hand, and on the other, with the more formal aspects of their respective works.

Dostoevsky's and Kafka's views of man are predicated on the notion of a basic ineffability of man. As an example I would like to refer to the discussion surrounding Raskolnikov's motives for his crime. To this day, as we know, there is no consensus on this matter. In effect, therefore, Raskolnikov remains in a certain sense a mystery and, in all likelihood, consciously or not, Dostoevsky wanted it this way. No two studies on "Crime and Punishment" are in agreement on either the motives or the exact nature of Raskolnikov's conversion at the end of the novel. The same holds true for Joseph K. in "The Trial": has K. committed a crime? If he has, does he consider it a crime? If not, why does he voluntarily subject himself to the harassment of the authorities and finally accept his execution as if he deserved it? If, for the present purposes, we leave out the contentious "Epilogue" in "Crime and Punishment", we are left in similar perplexity. Does Raskolnikov consider his deed a crime? If not, why does he play into the hands of the police and with relief accept the judgment? Conventional psychology does not supply unequivocal answers. Yet both writers are acute psychologists - Dostoevsky as a precursor of depth psychology, Kafka well-versed in its Freudian variety; still both recognize its limitations. Dostoevsky ironically calls psychology a stick with two ends - in "The Brothers Karamazov" - and most vociferously denounces it in "Notes from Underground", and Kafka angrily records in his "Meditations" "I am through with psychology!" (6) Nonetheless both go on exploring the mystery of man, frequently delving into the mythic dimensions of the human condition. The curious relationship between Prince Myshkin and Nastasia Filipovna in "The Idiot", for instance, can be seen as a variety of masochistic behaviour but also, as Mochulski ingeniously shows, a re-enactment of the Amor - Psyche myth. Kafka's "The Judgment" is both an exemplary paradigm for the Oedipal complex as well as a retelling Man remains for both authors an irreducible mystery.of Job's struggle with a cruel God. Man remains for both authors an irreducable mystery.

3. The problem of human culpability is shared by both authors. The summa of Dostoevsky's thought on this is set forth in "The Brothers Karamazov": all men are responsible, all are guilty. The acceptance of responsibility and guilt leads to suffering and potentially to redemption. In short, the problem of guilt emerges as a kind of felix culpa.

All protagonists of Kafka's feel guilty. Their guilt feelings are the fountainhead of their actions and suffering, of their meekness as well as their aggressiveness and, ultimately, of their failure as functioning human beings. While Dostoevsky places universal culpability in a comprehensive metaphysical and religious context, Kafka's protagonists reject the notion in seemingly uncompromising terms. K. says in "The Trial": "How can anyone be guilty at all; we are all men here, one as much as the other". (7) Kafka's protagonists act out their destinies denying the reality of guilt, yet they are all guilt-ridden. Martin Buber (8), in a contrastive study on guilt and guilt feelings using Dostoevsky and Kafka as his crown witnesses, perceptively distinguished between guilt and a conscious acceptance of responsibility - a concept so prominent in Dostoevsky - and the predicament of Kafka's characters who exhibit merely the residue of a guilt morality though in entirely negative terms, namely, as crippling guilt feelings. In Dostoevsky the realization of guilt is a first step toward redemption; in Kafka guilt feelings lead only to despair. To be sure, Dostoevsky's gallery of characters contains persons - like the protagonist of "Notes from Underground" - who seem to be beyond rehabilitation; yet even those are capable of momentary dreams of the genuine "Crystal Palace", holding out hope and relief from the torment of relentless questioning and self-doubt. Kafka denies his characters even the luxury of such dreams. His own situation as well of that of his protagonists is an unrelieved "sea sickness on firm land". (9)

4. Dostoevsky studies man by placing him in extreme situations. Goljadkin is studied through his paranoia and schizophrenia. Raskolnikov takes the search for his identity into his own hands, as it were, by committing a capital crime. In his pursuits "for the man in man" Dostoevsky resorts to the confrontation of the hero with his "double". Thus he proceeds from a relatively simple relationship in "The Double", to infinitely more sophisticated contrastive correspondences: Raskolnikov-Svidrigajlov-Sonja; Myshkin and Rogozhin; Ivan Karamazov and his cheesy understudy, Smerdjakov, as well as the shabby devil. Kafka's uses of the double are not unlike those of the Russian. The emergence of the insect in Kafka's "Metamorphosis" allows him to explore the hidden aspects of Gregor Samsa's personality. To put it simply, through the insect Kafka dramatizes the unknown and secret life of his protagonist. In "The Judgment", for instance, the protagonist's willingness - almost enthusiasm - to carry out his father's death sentence can best be grasped by the role his double, the elusive friend in St. Petersburg, plays in the story. The two cases I am quoting are by no means isolated occurrences.

The most striking similarity in the use of the double occurs in "The Metamorphosis" in comparison with Dostoevsky's "The Double". It has been shown that the respective openings of both works are quite similar. (10) Both Goljadkin and Samsa awaken from uneasy dreams, both are reluctant to enter the humdrum reality of their everyday lives, both confuse dream and reality, both are trying to opt out of their pedestrian existence. A study of both texts, (Dostoevsky's in the German translation) leads to an incontrovertible conclusion that Kafka used parts of "The Double" to write his story. Even the structure of the story supports this conclusion. Both narratives come to an end in a tragicomic catastrophe: in "The Double" it is the banquet at Olsufij Ivanovich's, in "The Metamorphosis" a party at which the family entertains the three boarders. These events in both works serve as tragic denouements for the respective protagonists.

5. Moving on to the formal aspects of Kafka's writing, it can be noted that one of the devices used by him is the reification of metaphor. What it amounts to is a kind of retranslation of ordinary circumlocutions containing a simile or metaphor into its original components. (11) For example, the German phrase "We come to learn it with our own body", reappears in the story "In the Penal Colony" when the criminal sentenced to death is not told of his punishment verbally: it is inscribed on his back with needles. "To live in the public eye", is an idiom for lack of privacy: in "The Castle", while K. is making love to Frieda, the villagers stand around them passing comments. The reader of Russian literature will be familiar with a similar technique in Gogol, especially in "Dead Souls". It is not out of the question that Kafka, who knew Gogol well, modelled his technique on Gogol's grotesque practice. (12) As far as Dostoevsky is concerned it has been noted that he uses insect imagery to emphasize the unsavory, ugly, and morally depraved. Not infrequent are such idioms used as "Am I a man or a louse?" or "Many times I have tried to become an insect". It can be said that Kafka draws his radical consequences by translating the metaphorical insect into a real one. Kafka's "Metamorphosis" as a symbolic statement seems to be saying: "I am an insect". Dostoevsky's metaphor becomes Kafka's reality.

6. Since the republication of Bakhtin's book it has become impossible to speak of Dostoevsky's narrative techniques without referring to it. One of the relatively recent major insights of Kafka scholarship has become the discovery that Kafka's narratives are not genuine third person stories or novels but rather they are told from a single point of view, not that of a fictitious or real narrator, but one totally identical with that of the protagonist. Everything conveyed in those narratives is negotiated exclusively through the protagonist's consciousness, though presented in a conventional third person manner.

Even though I am not always convinced by Bakhtin, I do see that much of what Dostoevsky does is to let his characters engage in a kind of interior monologue, without making it entirely obvious to the reader that this is the case. Thus Dostoevsky creates perceptions of the external world and persons, without being explicit that those are perceptions of one character's consciousness. Nor does he correct such impressions, but allows them to stand as they are. This creates, according to Bakhtin, a kind of open-endedness which by and large remains unresolved. If one accepts this view, Kafka's practice of the so-called "Einsinnigkeit" or "one-sighted-ness" shows some distinct similarity with Dostoevsky's. I would like to pursue this speculation a little further. Although the first part of "Notes from Underground" is technically a monologue, Bakhtin claims that its solitary anti-hero is endowed with an ability to enter into dialogue with other consciousnesses. For this reason and purpose he creates such characters as the man of action or the romantic idealist with whom he conducts his polemic. These self-made characters, or rather mental attitudes, retain their intellectual and psychological independence. The result, as Bakhtin sees it, is not a dialectical resolution but a polyphony of unresolved voices.

"Notes", both as a thematic and technical construct, can be profitably compared with Kafka's last and bleakest story "The Burrow". There, an unidentified animal, who voluntarily banishes himself underground, describes in a monologue of some forty pages his efforts to construct a perfectly secure burrow. His monologue, unlike that of the Underground Man's, remains technically and literally a single voice of a single consciousness. It is a cry of fear and total isolation. He does not enter into an intercourse with even an imaginary world or audience. If the Man from Underground is isolated, Kafka's protagonist's isolation is absolute: there is no dialogue, no other consciousness, no other world but that of anguish and fear within. The end of the story is neither a symphony nor polyphony but monotony.

7. In the early forties, a well-meaning but somewhat naive champion of Kafka's bestowed in his hero the honorific appellation of "Dostoevsky of the West". Notwithstanding a substantial affinity and a number of quite specific similarities that show definite influence, such a claim shows a misunderstanding of both authors. A witty critic once remarked that Kafka's writing could be compared to a violin concerto played by a master, but only on the deep G-string. The view that Kafka's writings offer is a view of the world seen through a key hole, as it were. He shows the reader the adventures of a totally unhinged consciousness, thoroughly isolated from the others, a kind of windowless monad. Even though Dostoevsky has such similar characters in his repertory, they are never as isolated as the characters created by Kafka. Dostoevsky without exception supplies many other dimensions of the human condition. The social, political, historical, metaphysical, and religious dimensions of man's existence are explicit in his anthropology. Dostoevsky's world is infinitely richer than Kafka's. This is not a judgment, this is a statement for which it is easy to adduce historical reasons. Man of the twentieth century is certainly more alienated than his ancestors in the 19th. Dostoevsky's unhinged monomaniacs did not make up the core of the social fabric; they were still hiding out in the basements of the underground. In Kafka the unhinged man has become less of an exception and more of a rule; Kafka's K.'s are our mutual acquaintances.

Can the affinity between Dostoevsky and Kafka be reduced to a single valid formula? Hardly. Most of the points I have tried to make stress certain similarities, in a number of cases Kafka's indebtedness is unmistakable. But, if by implication only, I have tried to point to rather essential differences.

In conclusion, however, I would like to quote from a letter Kafka wrote in reply to a friend.

"If the book we are reading does not wake us like a blow of a fist on the skull, why do we read the book? So that it shall make us happy, as you tell me? My God, we would be happy even if we had no books, and such books that make us happy we could write ourselves if need be. But what we need are books that affect us like ill-fortune causing pain, like the death of someone we loved more that ourselves, like being exiled in a deep forest away from all men, like a suicide; a book must be an axe to break the frozen sea in us. This I believe."

Both Dostoevsky and Kafka have created such books. Both possessed the cruel talent and the ruthlessness of vision necessary to write them. This, I think, is the background against which Kafka's relationship with Dostoevsky must be seen: the similarity of their spiritual complexion.

Dostoevsky and Spiritualism

Thomas E. Berry, University of Maryland.

From the reign of Catherine the Great to the Revolution of 1917, Russian society and literature were affected by the relationship between Western spiritualism with its seances and mediums and an ancient folk tradition with its superstitions and fancifulness. The common Russian belief in spirits, combined with the Western occult science, brought charlatans into the highest court circles throughout the last hundred and fifty years of the Romanov's rule. Cagliostro drew the attention of Catherine II; the Baroness Krudener instructed Alexander I; D.D. Home had the patronage of Alexander II; and Rasputin and Dr. Philippe had a close relationship with Nicholas II. The Cars were the inheritors of two strong social forces: a folk tradition based on the mystical and the miraculous dating back hundreds of years and a fervent search for historical and spiritual meaning among the Russian intelligentsia. Only Nicholas I failed to understand the popularity of spiritualism in Russia and his Jack of interest separated him from the mainstream of Russian life. Most Russian monarchs were greatly influenced by the spread of spiritualistic forces. It was as if folk superstitions and Western spiritualism were destined to blend together and contribute to the fall of the Russian Empire.

Dostoevsky began writing during the reign of Nicholas I, the Car who "had a horror of mysticism." (1) The literature of the time, however, was filled with psychic phenomena. Literary censorship during the 1840s encouraged parody and suggestive literature. European literary trends, such as Byronism and Hoffmannism, greatly influenced the writers in Russia official restraints hindered the free development of their artistic Spirits and spiritualism were popular in the tales of Odoevskij, Gogol and other writers. In "Something about Spectres" in 1848, V.A. Zhukovskij discussed society's interest in spirits as if the question of spiritualistic phenomena was a major concern of the time. (2) Dostoevsky was aware of the literary tastes of the period and his own writing reflected his effort to appeal to the public's taste for the esoteric.

In "The Double" (1846), Dostoevsky explained the hero's talking with his own image as a case of mental imbalance. In "The Landlady" (1847), the heroine gave the impression of being possessed by the devil, but the author again explained her problems as an example of psychological imbalance. In "Netochka Nezvanova" (1848), a clarinetist inherited a remarkable violin and became obsessed by the power the devil had over him when he played. The evil powers of these early stories by Dostoevsky were based on the folkloric devils of Russian fables and Western short stories. Had the writer not been imprisoned at the end of the decade, he might have created more demonical tales. Literature and society, however, had undergone considerable change when he did return to his writing.

Dostoevsky wrote his major novels during the reign of Alexander II, a period when seances and mediums were extremely popular in society. The Car welcomed the spiritualist D.D. Home into the royal palaces as a guest for weeks at a time. Seances of an incredulous nature were held with the monarch and other notables such as Count A.K. Tolstoj and Miss V.F. Tjutchev in attendance. The latter reported the fascination of the ruler with the occult science. (3) The popularity of seances among upperclass society gave new dimensions to belles-lettres and spiritualism gave Russian literature a leitmotif: the medium. (4) Dostoevsky's works show the dual nature of Russian spiritualism from the folkloric devils in many of his works to the sophisticated devilish phantom of Ivan's dream in "The Brothers Karamazov." The writer's interest in spiritualism was undoubtedly sparked by the tremendous popular regard for the occult science during the reign of Alexander II.

In his personal life, Dostoevsky gave evidence of his curiosity about psychic phenomena. Doctor Janovskij, who treated the author, reported that Dostoevsky believed in premonitions and related the following incident. During the second year of their acquaintance, the doctor lived in Pavlovsk, returning to St. Petersburg three times a week for his medical practice. One day a strange urge convinced him of the necessity of returning to the city for an unscheduled visit. In a remote area he accidentally ran into Dostoevsky who had no money to pay a petty debt demanded of him by some military clerk. When the writer saw the doctor, he shouted, "See! See who will save me!" Later Dostoevsky called the incident remarkable and every time he would remember it, he would say, "Well, after that, how could one not believe in premonitions!" (5)

Dostoevsky often discussed spiritualism with friends, (6) and in 1876, he published his thoughts about spirits in "The Diary of a Writer:" (7)

...I think that a person who wants to believe in spiritualism cannot be hindered by anything, neither by lectures nor by entire commissions: and the disbeliever, if he really does not wish to believe, cannot be persuaded by anything. That is exactly the sort of persuasion I overcame at the February seance at A.N. Aksakov's, at least during the first strong impression. Since then, I have simply denied spiritualism, that is, in essence I have been indignant over the mystical aspect of its doctrine. (After reading the report of the academic commission's study of spiritualism, I could never be in a position to deny the spiritual phenomena which I have been acquainted with even before the seance with the medium and now, especially now.) But after that remarkable seance I suddenly guessed, or more so, suddenly realized, that it's not enough that I don't believe in spiritualism, but besides that, I don't want to believe - so no sort of proof will ever shake my position...

Books in Dostoevsky's private library give further evidence of the author's interest in the occult science: (8) for instance, "Experimental Researches on Spiritualism," by Professor R. Cera (1866); and "Spiritualism and Science: Experimental Researches on the Psychic Force," by William Crookes(1872).

In 1863 Dostoevsky attended a seance when the medium L.N. Livchak did a rope trick which caused several noted scientists considerable embarrassment. (9) The botanist V.I. Butlerov wrote that the event was the result of an "enormous technical operation that required significant mental power." Later the medium admitted that his great "technical operation" was done simply by "breaking a circled rope. Then, after tying the knots together, the broken parts were mended." (10) Evidently he Substituted the knotted rope for the unknotted when nobody observed. Dostoevsky himself said that there was probably a logical explanation. (11)

During the early 1860s, Dostoevsky showed his interest in the esoteric by his publication of stories by Edgar Allen Poe in the journal "Vremja" (Time) and in articles about the American writer's literary style. Dostoevsky was intrigued by Poe's technique of presenting the outward possibility of an unnatural event while proceeding to relate a realistic tale. In the issue of "Vremja" that contained the stories "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," and "The Devil in the Belfry," there is an unsigned piece entitled "St. Petersburg Dreams in Verse and Prose." The work was by Dostoevsky as it is an autobiographical account of a writer which parallels the Russian author's life. An imprisonment in Siberia is referred to as a "journey to the moon, " which could indicate just how much Dostoevsky made Poe's images his own. (12)

Dostoevsky, like Poe, often intermingled naturalistic and irrational elements. The Russian author's earlier works used folkloric devils, as was pointed out above, and he continued using them in his major prose writings; for instance, Father Ferapont's multiple devils in "The Brothers Karamazov." However, the influence of spiritualism is also evident in the esoteric aspects of the great novels. In "Crime and Punishment" there is a discussion of ghosts between Svidrigajlov and Raskolnikov (Part IV, Chapter I) which could have been inspired by Dostoevsky's knowledge of seances. When Svidrigajlov tells Raskolnikov about his dead wife's visitations, the descriptions are similar to the spiritualistic visits during a seance. Marfa Petrovna appears only briefly and speaks a few trifling remarks. Her oral utterances are similar to the phrases in thousands of seances recorded in the nineteenth century. They are pointless and disappointing to the listener. The same is true of the appearance of Svidrigajlov's dead serf Filka: a momentary visitation and pointless comments. Dostoevsky could have remembered his own experiences at seances while writing the scene.

In the novel "The Devils", Dostoevsky referred to the book "From New York to San Francisco and Back to Russia" by P.I. Ogorodnikov. When Shatov in "The Devils" mentioned his experiences in America, he implied that spiritualism was part of the American way of life. (13) Ogorodnikov's book was published in 1872 and contained a conversation between two Russians who accidentally met in America and traveled together. Ogorodni-kov and a student named A.E. Ja...v discussed American spiritualism while on their way to Chicago: (14)

... Ia...v related that Chicago, except for an abundance of Germans, is remarkable because most of the population is in intercourse with the next world and they are therefore somewhat strange.

"And the practical American makes peace with that rubbish called the study of "spirits'?" involuntarily tore from my throat.

"In America, as in a country with wide freedom of conscience, thought and speech, spiritualism, similarly to a majority of other studies, has found an abundance of fertile soil. There are up to four million followers of spiritualism in that country, and hundreds of remarkable people are in charge of it: lawyers, men of letters and scholars. They have their own special schools, their own religious service, their own festivals, picnics and meetings; they publish many books about spiritualism, their catechism and papers; they have more than just a few male and female prophets, clairvoyants, and mediums; their doctors, especially medics, can cure by means of spirits any disease of the body or the soul, and for that they charge only two or three dollars. Several of them are so gifted they can speak all dead and living languages and create miracles."

Having received such an account of the Chicago spiritualists, I reproached my acquaintance for not realizing that I truly doubt everything about the charlatans and exploiters of easily convinced fools.

"but not all spiritualists belong to the category of rascals," Ja...v interrupted.

I proposed to Ja...v that we go together to a seance of one of the mediums, but the hour was late, and probably all magicians were busy with beer by that time...
Dostoevsky referred to Ogorodnikov's book because he agreed with the traveler's low opinion of spiritualism. Another reference to the travel book was made in "The Devils" when Shatov discussed labor conditions in America. (15) The writer's mentioning of spiritualism in the novel is unusual because the occult science is rare in his prose writings. He usually expressed the fantastic through dreams.

One of the most famous dreams in Dostoevsky's novels is in "The Brothers Karamazov:" "The Devil: Ivan's Nightmare." There are references to spiritualism in the dream, which takes place in candlelight with a demon dressed possibly like a medium. The devil's statements about spiritualism refer to the Western occult science which was so popular in the country. The devil speaks of himself as a spirit and jokes that Ivan seems to think that he is dreaming. At various times Ivan himself calls the demonic visitor a phantom, a hallucination and a ghost. In his "Diary of a Writer" (Jan. 1876, Ch.3), Dostoevsky associated devils with spiritualism:

I should like to bring my January diary to a close with something more joyful. There is a humorous theme, and it is important; it is in vogue; namely, the topic of devils, of spiritism... Clergymen are raising their voices; they are instructing science itself not to bother with magic, not to investigate "that witchery." And if the clergy have raised their voices, it means that the thing has reached momentous proportions... But the trouble is: are there devils?... My trouble is that I do not believe in devils and it is a pity since I have formed a clear and remarkable theory about spiritism, but one based exclusively on devils: without them my theory is valueless...

Dostoevsky goes into detail in a humorous manner to explain his theory. He states that the basis of the devils' kingdom is discord and that their purpose is to sow discord among us. His definition could well have been taken from Chulkov's eighteenth-century "Dictionary of Russian Superstitions" (16) which maintains that discord is the raison d'etre of devils. Dostoevsky concludes that evil spirits had already caused much trouble in the new science of spiritualism. Many people had already been persecuted because of their belief in the popular science. The writer referred to the Scientific Committee on Spiritistic Phenomena in St. Petersburg which was formed to study spiritualism. (17) He claimed that devils had already caused much discord in the committee's work. Instead of fighting back, the devils had surrendered and had done nothing. Consequently, the people who believed that tables could fly had been ridiculed. Then, when the committee turned its back in disgust, the devils did something else that again convinced the adherents of spiritualism that they were correct after all. Of course, such an event caused the proceedings to start all over again. Seances, failure and ridicule, Dostoevsky claimed that it was all working just the way the devils wanted it. He ended his remarks with the following:

...Of course, I have been jesting and laughing from the first to the last word; however, here is what I wish to say in conclusion: if one is to consider spiritualism as something which has a new creed (and almost all spiritualists, even the sanest among them, are somewhat inclined toward such a view) several of the above remarks could be accepted as true... For this reason, may God bring a hasty success to an open investigation by both sides; that alone will eradicate as soon as possible the stench that is going around, and it might enrich science with new discoveries. But the shouting, defaming and expulsion of each other from society because of spiritualism ...that, in my opinion, ... is intolerance and persecution. And that is precisely what the devils want!
Dostoevsky must have been satisfied when the official governmental committee investigating spiritualism under the supervision of the noted chemist D.N. Mendeleev announced that it did not find a basis for the claims made by spiritualists. (18)

Devils played a considerable role in Dostoevsky's works. It has been pointed out by Robert Belknap that those evil forces form a veritable subtext in "The Brothers Karamazov." (19) Dostoevsky's interest in devils and spirits is especially evident in the short story "Bobok," which was written toward the end of his career and included in his "Diary of a Writer" in 1873. "Bobok" is a critic's delight. It has Poe's blending of the irrational with the realistic: the hero overhears the conversation of the dead in a cemetery; it has Hoffmann's exaggerations: noises coming from graves, etc.; it has the decadence of Baudelaire: the dying dead romp in a final orgy of debauchery; and the story has Gogol's mixture of fantasy and morality: the dead question the purpose of their lives and discuss the nature of morality itself. "Bobok" has even been compared stylistically to Gogol's "The Dream of a Madman." (20) There is also reason to believe that Dostoevsky's attendance at seances influenced his writing of the tale. He went to mediumistic meetings during the 1860s and several seances from that period were recorded by Miss Tjutchev, the lady-in-waiting at the court of Alexander II mentioned above. (21) Certain aspects of Dostoevsky's story are similar to Miss Tjutchev's descriptions. In both, sounds are muffled. The hero of "Bobok" has trouble discerning the voices from the graves and Miss Tjutchev speaks of the faint sounds of the various phenomena she witnessed. More important is the pointlessness and stupidity of the communication of the spirits. One character in "Bobok" comments that "You can't imagine what an absence of wit there is here;" and a philosopher is noted for muttering a few irrelevant words each week. Other characters use the words "stupid" and "nonsensical" to describe their conversations. Miss Tjutchev concludes that the spirit world is indeed dull because of the absurdity of the spirits' comments. She found the "voices from the other world" to be abusive, foolish and senseless. For her, spiritualism was fascinating, but fatuous. Dostoevsky, it appears, agreed. In fact, "Bobok" could be interpreted as a parody of a seance where the absurd is placed on a par with empirical reality.

Dostoevsky's interest in spiritualism is evident in his life and literature. Father Ferapont's devils in "The Brothers Karamazov" indicate the author's knowledge of the Russian folkloric tradition and aspects of "Bobok" and "Crime and Punishment" show the writer's familiarity with mediums and seances. Dostoevsky did not believe in spiritualism, but the occult science did have an influence on his writings.

Bakhtin's view of Dostoevsky: “Polyphony” and “Carnivalesque”

René Wellek, Princeton University.

Mikhail Bakhtin's "Problems of Dostoevsky's Creation" (1929), renamed "Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics" in the second, considerably revised and enlarged edition in 19631 is rightly considered one of the most stimulating and original books of the enormous literature on Dostoevsky. It comes to grips with a central task of criticism: it asks what is peculiar to Dostoevsky's art, how and why it differs from that of other novelists. Bakhtin's book has nothing to say about the biography of Dostoevsky, and very little about the ideological content of his works or of its setting in time and place. It deliberately focuses on a few questions: the role of the hero in Dostoevsky's novels, the way ideas are presented in the novels, the question of the genre tradition to which Dostoevsky was indebted or is supposed to belong and finally the special use of language and dialogue in the novels. It would be a mistake to call these questions simply formalist. As early as 1924 Bakhtin rejected the approach of the Russian formalists as "material aesthetics,"2 and in Pavel Medvedev's "Formal Method in Literary Scholarship" (1928), of which Bakhtin is supposed to be the author or at least the dominant co-author, we find a sharp criticism of the early Formalists from a point of view which is outwardly Marxist but actually phenomenological in its rejection of the mechanistic presuppositions of the early Formalists.

Bakhtin has, mainly since his death, acquired a great reputation as a literary theorist and early semiotician. He is now considered to be the author of Valentin Voloshinov's "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language" (1928). Medvedev's "Formal Method" is clearly inspired by him though his exact share in the text seems to me debatable. Bakhtin's book on "Rabelais" (1965) has attracted international attention for the way he derived Rabelais from the tradition of medieval folk humor playing down his affiliations with scholasticism and humanism. A new collection of Bakhtin's articles, "Questions of Literature and Aesthetics" (1975), published in the year of his death, is now accessible to readers ignorant of Russian in French translation (1978) and, I hope, soon also in English thanks to the efforts of Michael Holquist who is also working on a biography of Bakhtin.

Let me say at the outset that I admire Bakhtin's acumen, analytical power and historical erudition but that here, in the time at my disposal, I want to voice my misgivings about two points of Bakhtin's interpretation: the polyphony and the carnivalesque. I shall leave his "metalinguistics" severely alone» partly because I do not feel competent to discuss matters requiring a native knowledge of Russian and partly because a proper discussion would lead me far afield into questions of linguistics and semiotics.

Bakhtin asserts that Dostoevsky created a totally new kind of novel he calls "polyphonic": i. e., it consists of independent voices which are fully equal, become subjects of their own right and do not serve the ideological position of the author. He is undoubtedly right in emphasizing the dramatic nature of Dostoevsky's novels, the sense of conflict Dostoevsky created, the power of empathy he shows with the most diverse ideological points of view and attitudes to life but, I think, Bakhtin is simply wrong if he pushes this view so far as to deny the authorial voice of Dostoevsky, his personal angle of vision. ""Polyphony" is, after all, only a metaphor, an analogy when applied to the novel, as it is in the nature of a literary work to occur in a linear time sequence. The application to literature is quite old. It occurs, as far as I know, first in the reflections of Otto Ludwig sometime before 1865 which contains a whole section called "Polyphoner Dialog,"3 Bakhtin himself refers to V. Komarovich (28) using the term and to "counterpoint" used by Leonid Grossman, which says much the same thing with a slightly different metaphor. But these terms, "polyphony" and "counterpoint" (59), as well as the comparisons with the symphonies of Gustav Mahler and what not, merely refer to the indubitable fact that Dostoevsky's novels are "scenic" rather than "panoramic," to use the terminology common since Percy Lubbock's "Craft of Fiction" (1920). Dostoevsky probably went further than anybody I can recall before him in building his novels around scenes in dialogue, on conversations, debates and arguments between three or more persons. Nobody would want to deny the general impression of richness, density and multiplicity of conflicting voices. He represents the trend toward the drama in the novel, toward "objectivity" and "impersonality," toward the doctrine of "exit author." Writers quite independent of Dostoevsky such as Henry James in "The Awkward Age" (1899) or less clearly Conrad Ferdinand Meyer demonstrate this. In Spain Perez Galdos wrote completely dialogized novels appealing to the precedence of the late 15th-century "La Celestina". His "Realidad" (1890) is an extreme example. Stories such as Hemingway's "The Killers" are practically all dialogue. Dostoevsky has not gone so far (and there is no reason why he should have). There are long stretches of expository and panoramic narration in his novels, for instance, in the beginnings of "The Possessed" and "The Brothers Karamazov", and there is plenty of direct authorial comment sometimes put into the mouth of a chronicler or narrator. In some cases such as the epistolary novel, "Poor People", or the first-person narration as in "The Raw Youth", the very form precludes an overt interference of the author. Bakhtin does not seem to see that the problem of independent voices arises in these forms as it does in any drama. But who can mistake the voice of Racine, Schiller, Kleist and Ibsen, or even that of Shakespeare? Bakhtin quotes Chernyshevskij with apparent approval: "Othello says 'yes,' Iago 'no.' Shakespeare says nothing" (89). But Shakespeare said "no" to Iago very clearly.

The true observation made by Bakhtin and others that Dostoevsky allows "each of the contending viewpoints to develop to its maximum strength and depth, to the maximum of plausibility" (93) does not refute the fact that Dostoevsky makes a clear judgment about the values of the points of view presented by the speakers. He is "objective" in the sense that he knows how to expound ideas of which he disapproves (as every dramatist must) but there cannot be any doubt that, for instance, in "Crime and Punishment" we know what Dostoevsky considers good and what evil, that he agrees with the Biblical command: "Thou shalt not kill" even a "louse," even an old useless and even harmful usurer. Dostoevsky would not be an artist if he merely stated his ideas; he enacts, embodies them in characters and situations. We should acknowledge that novelists before and after him did exactly the same, maybe less well and with ideas of less pertinence today. To give an example: Dickens in "Hard Times" (1854) presents the points of view and arguments of Utilitarianism and "rugged individualism" in the pronouncements and behavior of his characters, Gradgrind and Bounderby, and subverts them with the figure of the girl Louisa and the scenes with the travelling circus. He falls far short of Dostoevsky in dramatising these ideas: he is, in this book at least, far more schematic and overtly didactic, but the aesthetic problem is exactly the same.

There may be doubts in detail, but in general the relations of Dostoevsky to his characters and their ideas are clear enough. Bakhtin admits that Dostoevsky wrote articles in which he "expressed his own approved ideas in monological form" (122) but he tries to make the difference between an overt statement in an article and the presentation of the same ideas in a novel so radical that he can deny any definite point of view or even any definite angle of vision to Dostoevsky as novelist. The argument that in an article in "The Diary of a Writer," "Milieu" ("Sreda," 1873), which Bakhtin quotes at length (125-6), Dostoevsky uses dialogues, questions and answers, imaginary conversations and debates speaks, on the contrary, strongly against a strict division. The evidence is overwhelming that Dostoevsky thought of his novels as serving the ideological struggles of his time. "Crime and Punishment" and "The Possessed" are anti-nihilistic novels of the kind described by Charles Moser,4 however far their artistic value exceeds the ephemeral products of the other writers. Bakhtin actually admits "a certain partiality sometimes felt in the novels" (123), for instance, in the "monological" epilogue to "Crime and Punishment" which he considers a blemish on the book. But this "partiality" is by no means confined to such extra chapters or appendices: it determines, as has been shown in detail,5 even the choice of adjectives about Myshkin and Zosima. As an artist Dostoevsky knows the difference between a philosophical statement and a dramatic enactment and therefore often avoided a too overt or blunt commitment. But this avoidance, defended in a letter to Pobedonoscev quoted by Bakhtin (129), is only a strategy of indirection in order to bring home his lesson or message more strongly and persuasively. Bakhtin is right in insisting on Dostoevsky's dramaticity or simply artistry and in his disapproval of reducing his work to a system of stated ideas and propositions, but he is wrong in denying him an authorial voice and personal angle of vision.

If we examine Bakhtin's arguments in detail it becomes obvious that he exaggerates the tendency toward drama unduly. Is it, for instance, true that Dostoevsky "does not retain for himself, that is exclusively for his own field of vision, a single essential definition, a single characteristic, a single trait of the hero" (62)? Many of Dostoevsky's heroes are highly self-conscious and self-reflexive but to take only one example, Myshkin is presented mostly from outside. There are traits of his behavior which are not clear to him and the same is true of Dmitrij Karamazov or of Alesha. I would even argue that this is a special feature of Dostoevsky's art that we often do not know what is going on inside of his characters and that we are left in the dark about their motivations. Bakhtin himself speaks of this lack of "finality" in Dostoevsky's heroes. Dostoevsky keeps plenty to himself. A study of the Notebooks, most recently and most fully that of Jacques Catteaux,6 shows how Dostoevsky meditated precisely on this issue: what to say and what to withhold, and that he never lost control over his figures.

I doubt also whether one can say that Dostoevsky's hero is a "pure voice; we do not see him, we hear him" (71). This seems to revive Merezhkovskij's contrast between Dostoevsky, the "seer of the spirit," and Tolstoj, "the seer of the flesh." Still, there are plenty of figures in Dostoevsky which are visualised. We all remember the Adam's apple of Fedor Karamazov, the curves of Grushenka, and we know roughly how Raskolnikov, Sonja, Myshkin, Kirilov and Nastasja looked. They are, of course, fictional figures, schemata, with "spots of indeterminacy" as Roman Ingarden would say, and we might be offended by concretizations in illustrations and films. But so would we with ail fictional figures. It is true that Dostoevsky is less concerned with the physical world and nature compared to many other novelists. But to say as Bakhtin does that in Dostoevsky there is "no objective representation of milieu, of manners and customs, of nature, of things" (133) is an exaggeration if we think of the image of Petersburg emerging from his writings, not only in the mind of his dreamers or of Raskolnikov, or think of the house of Rogozhin or even of the occasional landscapes or individual pictures objectively described by the author, not only seen through the mind of a figure. Similarly the statement that "Dostoevsky's hero is a man of an idea; not a character or temperament, not a social or psychological type" (133) is open to many exceptions. After all, we are told by Dostoevsky in his "Author's Note" that the Underground Man is "one of the representatives of a generation still living." Stefan Trofimovich is expressly called a man of the sixties and his son, Petr, a representative of a new generation of nihilists who descended from their fathers, the Liberals. The Raw Youth is presented as a social type. Dostoevsky even held an elaborate theory of literary typology. Nor is it true that in the novels of Dostoevsky there is "no causality, no genesis, no explications drawn from the past, no influences from surroundings or education" (40). It is sufficient to point to the careful chronology worked out in "The Possessed" to see that this is not always so. One need not accept a simple-minded "reflection of reality" view of art and one cannot deny that he was deeply involved in his place and time, however far he transcended it as an artist of universal appeal.

Bakhtin's assertion that Dostoevsky composes in a way never before attempted by "not speaking about the hero but with him" (86), by "removing the hero from his own field of vision," is belied by the evidence of "The Notebooks" and expressly rejected by Dostoevsky in his review of a play by D. Kishenskij, "Pit' do dna, ne vidat' dobra: "It appears to me," said Dostoevsky, "that it is too little to display all the given qualities of character; rather one should resolutely illuminate it by one's own personal artistic point of view. An artist must not remain on the same level with the characters he depicts."7

It is disconcerting to think that Bakhtin propounded a theory which renders Dostoevsky somehow harmless, neutralizes his teaching, makes him a relativist. Bakhtin even appeals explicitly to Einstein's theory of relativity (361). We know that Bakhtin embraced religion, at least, late in his life and suffered for it. But I don't think that Bakhtin's view of polyphony was motivated by a desire to render Dostoevsky harmless and possibly therefore more acceptable to the authorities when Dostoevsky was under an official cloud. Bakhtin's view rather follows from his commitment to the dogma of "objectivity." It is a mere unargued assumption of his that "if the umbilical cord binding the hero to the creator is not cut then we have before us not a work of art, but a personal document" (68). If you believe that, as Bakhtin apparently does, Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu" is not a work of art, nor are dozens of great novels, not to speak of most lyrical poetry. The umbilical cord is not cut between Pierre Bezukhov and Konstantin Levin and their author and who would deny that "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" are great works of art? The dogma also contradicts Bakhtin's own insistence on the tradition of "Menippean satire" into which he wants to fit Dostoevsky's novels. All the great examples he mentions - Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot - know nothing of the dogma "exit author" nor does Dostoevsky, in spite of his efforts to enhance illusion by the devices of drama.

It was Bakhtin's feat of scholarship to trace the early history of fiction since antiquity (most fully in a paper published in "Questions"8) to show how the different types and genres such as the Socratic dialogue and the Menippean satire continued through the Middle Ages up to Rabelais, constituting an art-form which Northrop Frye much later, quite independently of Bakhtin, called "Anatomy" and claimed as one of the four basic modes of literature.9 Bakhtin's particular contribution was the way he linked this genre or combination of genres not simply with the rise of fiction or with the breakdown of the three levels of style (as Erich Auerbach did in "Mimesis") but with the carnival, the whole unofficial folk culture of the Middle Ages. Bakhtin shows that carnival or rather the attitude implied in the carnival exercised a deep influence on higher literature, a phenomenon he calls "carnivalization."

Dostoevsky, Bakhtin argues, revived the tradition of the "Menippean satire" which had gone underground since the 17th century. He singles out a sketch of Dostoevsky published in 1873 in "The Diary of a Writer", "Bobok," as "one of the greatest menippeas in all world literature" (184) and asserts that "the menippea takes root in all of Dostoevsky's larger works and sets the tone for Dostoevsky's entire work" (ibid.) Bakhtin shows very deftly that this scene in a cemetery with the dead talking underground to each other contains many central motifs of Dostoevsky's writings: the relativity and ambivalence of reason and insanity; the theme of the final moments of consciousness; the theme of sensuality which penetrates the loftiest sphere of consciousness and thought; the theme of the total 'impropriety' and 'unseemliness' of a life cast off from its folk roots and from faith, and so on. "Bobok," Bakhtin proclaims, is "one of Dostoevsky's key works, nearly a microcosm of his entire work" (193). This seems to me, however, an indefensible thesis: the sketch strikes me as a by-product, as a jeu d'esprit quite exceptional in tone and technique, setting and mood in Dostoevsky's work. If it uses themes common in Dostoevsky's other novels, they are, for obvious chronological reasons, rather echoes, repetitions of Dostoevsky's ideas formulated long before 1873. I have not found any evidence that Dostoevsky actually knew Lucian or Seneca or any "Menippean satire" in the strict sense 10 but one can grant that "Bobok" belongs vaguely to the genre of the "dialogues of the dead" though those Dostoevsky may have known, Fenelon's and Fontenelle's, are colorless and dull debates in the underworld which in no way anticipate the black humor and macabre atmosphere of Dostoevsky's sketch.

Bakhtin's second example of the "menippea" in Dostoevsky is "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (1877) which is utterly different from "Bobok" and can be assimilated to "Menippean satire" only by declaring that Utopia and dream visions are parts of menippea. It seems to me quite arbitrary to include a dream vision (a device, as Bakhtin knows, used in the most different contexts, in all times and places as dreaming is a universal activity of man) and a Utopia of a golden age in the category "Menippean satire." Bakhtin finds "menippea" everywhere. Raskolnikov's first visit to Sonja is called "an almost perfect Christianised menippea" (208). The dream of Svidrigajlov before his suicide, Ippolit's confession, Stavrogin's confession are all menippeas. The conversation between Ivan and Alesha in the tavern is called a "wonderful menippea." Into this "menippean satire" a second satire, "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor," is inserted and Ivan's conversation with the devil is another menippea. "All of Dostoevsky's work has elements of menippea: the Socratic dialogue, the diatribe, the soliloquy, the confession, and so on" (209). But if dialogue, soliloquy and confession are or belong to menippea, almost every work of literature can be said to belong to it. Obviously we must not take Bakhtin's term literally: it is an all-inclusive, all-absorbing genre, as Bakhtin's historical survey shows. We are treated to a long list of themes and tones supposedly belonging to the Menippean satire: comic elements, fantasy, symbolism, adventures, philosophical debate, moral experimentation, scandalous scenes, oxymoric combinations, topical references, etc. (152-8) buttressed by an almost as inclusive roster of authors. At the same time the Menippean satire is supposed to combine with the carnivalesque which Bakhtin uses again so loosely that he speaks of the Socratic dialogue (which had no connection with a folk festivity) (176) or even the scene in the Gospels of the crowning of Jesus Christ as King of Jews as "carnivalesque" (181). The carnivalesque is found in almost any author: in Cervantes' "Don Quixote," called "one of the most carnivalesque novels of world literature" (171), in Rabelais, Scarron, Le Sage, Voltaire, Diderot, Sterne, Goethe, E. T. A. Hoffmann, E. A. Poe and others. Bakhtin finally claims that Balzac, George Sand and Hugo "had a profounder carnivalesque attitude toward the world" (213). He seems not to remember that Dostoevsky called "Don Quixote" "the saddest of all books" which can bring man to despair and excites not laughter but tears. 11

It is easy, then, for Bakhtin to find the carnivalesque all over Dostoevsky, as any scandal scene, any mass scene is considered "carnivalesque." Let us grant the carnival tone of the scene in "Uncle's Dream" of the exposure of the decrepit old Prince. We may agree that Dmitrij's orgy at Mokroe has elements of the carnival and so has the feast in "The Possessed." But the term seems to lose all definite meaning applied to the general tone and attitude of Dostoevsky. Bakhtin himself says that "Carnival belongs to the whole people; it liberates from fear, brings the world close to man and man to his fellow man" (214). Almost nothing in Dostoevsky implies a collective rapture or resembles the "joyous relativity" (166) Bakhtin finds in the "carnivalesque." He ignores the deep seriousness, the somber colors of a Dostoevsky novel, even if we grant that there is a bright Utopian hope at the end of the rainbow. But there is nothing in Dostoevsky of Rabelais' corporality, of the lust for life in the ancient saturnalia or the commedia dell'arte.In every way Dostoevsky seems to me to represent the opposite of the carnivalesque spirit. He was a man of deep commitment, profound seriousness, spirituality, and strict ethics whatever his lapses were in his own life.

The trouble with Bakhtin's theories is that he is committed to an almost Platonic or at least "realist" conception of genre. He seems to assume that there is such a thing he calls "menippea" or "the carnivalesque" which enters into all kinds of relationships, transforms itself, combines with other genres but stays the same throughout history. He says, e. g., that the "menippea lives in such dialogized and carnivalized medieval genres as 'arguments, debates', morality and miracle plays and later in the mystery and s o t i e " (182). He believes in the "essence" of a genre (183). He can say that Dostoevsky was working in "the objective memory of the genre" (162), whatever that may mean, and that "the Menippean satire has the capacity of insinuating itself into larger genres" (161) and that it "absorbed the diatribe, the soliloquy and the symposium" (160). I do not agree with the nominalism of Croce but cannot believe in the realism of Bakhtin: "realism" here is used in the medieval sense. Genres, as I have argued long ago, are like institutions; they are conventions, challenges to form, stylistic traditions, but they cannot be anything like an "essence" which subsists, transforms itself, revives and lives in the objective memory. All these reifications in which Bakhtin indulges can be defended only on the grounds of a theory which believes in universalia ante res, instead of what I and most others think of as universalia in rebus.

If we look at Dostoevsky's major novels from the point of view of the novelistic tradition we have to come to the conclusion that he cannot be taken out of the main stream of the Western novel, out of the company of Balzac and Dickens, with Gogol the early master. This tradition differs from the other line of the Russian novel: Turgenev, Goncharov, Tolstoj and Chekhov. One can describe Dostoevsky's difference from his immediate predecessors and contemporaries but one cannot isolate him and claim for him an absolute innovation called "the polyphonic novel" nor put him into the continuity of the remote "Menippean satire" or ascribe to him a "carnivalesque" attitude to life. Bakhtin's book has the merit of raising the question of Dostoevsky's dramaticity in a radical manner and suggesting contacts with older genres. But in both cases, he grossly overstated his case.