Archive for the ‘Crime and Punishment’ Tag

The Extraordinary & Religion in Crime and Punishment   Leave a comment

This is from The Mackayan:

Dostoyevksy’s novel is the culmination of grey morality

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is not only the most famous novel in Russian literature, but one of the most renown in world fiction. It tells the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, a twenty-three year old peculiar, student who leaves law school prematurely due to financial burdens and lives in a small, destitute flat in Russia’s then-capital Saint Petersburg.

Raskolnikov hatches a plan to murder Alyona Ivanovna, an old pawn-broker hag for her money. However, despite all his planning and internal moral justification for the impending crime, he isn’t prepared for the mental anguish that follows when he realises it isn’t all black and white, but dirty shades of grey.

Crime and Punishment exceeds the linearity of being a murder-mystery and actually peaks as a novel with its focus on philosophical notions instead. To truly appreciate Dostoyevsky’s work, it’s imperative to understand this philosophy behind it. In 19th century Russia, nihilism was growing, equating to a notion of people no longer believing in God. With the disregard of this upper-being’s existence, someone more powerful than mortal humans that’d shape their ethics and morals with a religious code, it left an unanswered question; who would replace this creed? The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche provided a solution in his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, with the concept of an “Übermensch” – which, in English, translates to ‘superman’ and ‘overman’.

Nietzsche believed that in the wake of these new revelations about God and what ethical tenets humans should abide by, it’s now the task of extraordinary ‘super’ men to take up the mantle and create the new values that humanity would follow – i.e. they become someone who shapes society so drastically they’re God-like consequently. Dostoyevsky, being religiously conservative, stuck by the conventional view that there was still an existing God who shaped human morals. Whilst Nietzsche wrote that “God is dead”, Dostoyevsky instead stated that “If there is no God, everything is permitted”. Much of Dostoyevsky’s strong religious faith can be linked back to the time he was almost executed, and his following years in a Siberian labour camp:

Having been sentenced to death by Tsar Nicholas I for being part of an underground group of intellectuals, Dostoyevsky was taken along with twenty-one others to Semyonovsky Square to be shot. However, as he was third in line, new orders were issued by the Tsar: he stated that as opposed to execution, all prisoners were instead to be sentenced to Siberia for four years hard labour. The trauma behind this near-death experience was so severe that a prisoner, Grigoryev, lost his mind and never recovered. This brush with death and his duration in Siberia made Dostoyevsky believe that it gave his existence a purpose. He began to see the need for a thing that exceeds the common person, a thing that humanity should strive for and zealously praise, but never fully obtain. In a sense, he was so convinced in the belief of a God, that he wrote Crime and Punishment as a testament to his disregard of Neitzsche’s nihilistic Übermensch theory and to religion’s power in the path of redemption.

Raskolnikov epitomises Dostoyevsky’s perception of the flaw in Nietzsche’s theory. This is done so in many ways, most notably by Raskolnikov’s hubris and disdain for society, whom he deems as sheep following the herd. Raskolnikov himself believes that he is an Übermensch destined for greatness and the novel mentions that he had even previously written an article about this idea – this acting as Crime and Punishment’s way of relaying it to the reader. He cites historically-extraordinary figures as templates to be inspired by and to follow, such as Napoleon:

“I simply hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right… that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep… certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity).”

“… legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Muhammad, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they did not stop short of bloodshed either, if that bloodshed – often of innocent persons fighting bravely in defence of ancient law – were of use to their cause.”

Unlike Napoleon’s campaigns of war with the French army, Raskolnikov’s test of Übermensch endurance is of course about whether or not he should murder Alyona Ivanovna. Following Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s idea of the extraordinary man – which parallels Neitzsche’s Übermensch – ‘elite Hegelian men’ are inherently good and should always try to eradicate all that is bad in society, with a quasi-Machiavellian emphasis on if the ends justifying the means (the ends, of course, only being for good and not for one’s self).

Though Hegel’s theory is perhaps fundamentally naïve, following it, all the signs of Alyona being bad for society are there: she hoards money, doesn’t give back to any charitable cause except for appearances sake and routinely abuses her disabled, half-sister, Lizaveta, who slaves away tirelessly for her. Raskolnikov also assumes Alyona’s money could be used to benefit society: for example, he could continue his law studies and thus form a career that helps humanity, or alternatively, altruistically give away to the poor and needy.

“I SIMPLY HINTED THAT AN ‘EXTRAORDINARY’ MAN HAS THE RIGHT… THAT IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RIGHT, BUT AN INNER RIGHT TO DECIDE IN HIS OWN CONSCIENCE TO OVERSTEP…

Even though these seem like individual thoughts at first, it’s not until he hears a student have an exact same hypothetical conversation with a police officer about Alyona that his resolute on the matter is complete:

“Kill her [Alyona], take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds? For one life thousands would be saved from corruption and decay. One death, and a hundred lives in exchange – it’s simple arithmetic! Besides, what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence? No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm.”

So with Hegelianism to convince himself, and the student forming society’s wider-justification, Raskolnikov is willing to commit murder. However, it is in fact these very same influencing factors that foreshadow the reality that Raskolnikov is not who he thinks he is, and it’s this hypocrisy that Dostoyevsky uses to show perhaps the transparency of the theory. This hypocrisy comes from the fact that the process of becoming ‘extraordinary’ includes a complete mental dissociation/independence from the will of others, and to be able to do what one feels is right without a need for gratification – essentially, being completely cut off from humanity. Though, the ultimate test of Raskolnikov’s will doesn’t even come until after he’s committed his crime.

Going to Alyona’s flat with a stolen axe, he brutally murders her. Half-way through the robbery, the entirely-innocent Lizaveta walks in and so is consequently also killed. Even though he escapes with the money and successfully eludes the judicial system, it’s now a matter to try to do the same for his conscience. In the days and weeks after the murders, Raskolnikov begins to enter fits of delirium, and remorse, he subconsciously maybe wants to be caught.

The guilt consequently eats at him and it’s through this that he begins to realise that he isn’t the Übermensch he’s made himself out to be. This tear away from humanity proves to be so fierce and tough for Raskolnikov that he can’t handle the disconnect, and it eventually leads him to confess to the authorities so he can be sentenced to prison. Although he fails his test to become an extraordinary man, he now is able to enact redemption for his crime in the eyes of society, and God, and importantly, can reconnect with humanity again to start anew. It’s almost symbolically a way of reinserting God into their position as the upper-being, showing that no human could replace them.

Though Raskolnikov was all about a person internally battling with their-self about trying to fulfil an idea of what they should be – and therefore the unrealistic expectation to try to be a thing that exceeds God (at least in Dostoyevsky’s eyes), it is perhaps Svidrigalov who represents an even greater flaw with the Übermensch theory. Svidrigalov is almost an exaggerated caricature of the same theory, an Über-übermensch of sorts. See, with this idea of there being no God, and thus no wider moral code, Svidrigalov knows that he can exert his will all he wants and can continue doing so as there is no greater will beyond his own.

This philosophy leads him to sexually-assault a fifteen-year old and cause the demise of one of his servants because he knows he can simply get away with it without wider, afterlife punishment. It’s a complete paradox to Hegelianism because unlike Hegelianism, which supposedly is meant to be humanity at its very best, Svidrigalov is it at its worst. It’s this lack of definitiveness that equates to the flaw that Dostoyevsky maybe wanted to point out after all.

Crime and Punishment can inherently be reduced down to a scenario: is an act of murder justifiable if the consequences will help better society? And following this, Neitzsche’s Übermensch can also be put to the same standing: essentially that there is no black and white, only shades of grey. Sure, society could create and abide by its own new doctrine themselves and set out to make sure it’s only for humanity’s betterment, but with the gamble of the evil alternative, perhaps it’s a risk too big to take. This is why Dostoyevsky saw the need of a boundary, religion, that was more than humanity’s will, as it allowed it to remain in moderation consequently.

Even throughout history when we look at people who mightn’t have necessarily been familiar with Nietzsche’s theory, but had themselves similar self-illusions of grandeur, we can see that it’s not all so simple. Whilst Napoleon was successful in helping establish France as a republic and assisting in overthrowing the aristocracy, he turned into the very thing he once aimed to abolish, becoming a dictator and declaring himself the First Emperor of France. It’s examples like these that form the argument for figures like Fyodor Dostoyevsky as to why there is truly no being that can exceed God, because if there is no God, everything is permitted.

Fyodor Dostoyevksy – The Mantle of the Prophet

Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky   25 comments

Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910

Dreams from the LORD 2007-2010
16 August 2010

An excerpt from The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey:

Pages 140-142: “A.N. Wilson, a biographer of Tolstoy, remarks that Tolstoy suffered from a ‘fundamental theological inability to understand the Incarnation. His religion was ultimately a thing of Law rather than of Grace, a scheme for human betterment rather than a vision of God penetrating a fallen world.’ With crystalline clarity Tolstoy could see his own inadequacy in the light of God’s Ideal. But he could not take the further step of trusting God’s grace to overcome that inadequacy.

“Shortly after reading Tolstoy I discovered his countryman Fyodor Dostoyevsky. These two, the most famous and accomplished of all Russian writers, lived and worked during the same period of history. Oddly, they never met, and perhaps it was just as well—they were opposites in every way. Where Tolstoy wrote bright, sunny novels, Dostoyevsky wrote dark and brooding ones. Where Tolstoy worked out ascetic schemes for self-improvement, Dostoyevsky periodically squandered his health and fortune on alcohol and gambling. Dostoyevsky got many things wrong, but he got one thing right: His novels communicate grace and forgiveness with a Tolstoyan force.

“Early in his life, Dostoyevsky underwent a virtual resurrection. He had been arrested for belonging to a group judged treasonous by Tsar Nicholas I, who, to impress upon the young parlor radicals the gravity of their errors, sentenced them to death and staged a mock execution. The conspirators were dressed in white death gowns and led to a public square where a firing squad awaited them. Blindfolded, robed in white burial shrouds, hands bound tightly behind them, they were paraded before a gawking crowd and then tied to posts. At the very last instant, as the order, ‘Ready, aim!’ was heard and rifles were cocked and lifted upward, a horseman galloped up with a pre-arranged message from the tsar: he would mercifully commute their sentence to hard labor.

“Dostoyevsky never recovered from this experience. He had peered into the jaws of death, and from that moment life became for him precious beyond all calculation. ‘Now my life will change,’ he said; ‘I shall be born again in a new form.’ As he boarded the convict train toward Siberia, a devout woman handed him a New Testament, the only book allowed in prison. Believing that God had given him a second chance to fulfill his calling, Dostoyevsky pored over that New Testament during his confinement. After ten years he emerged from exile with unshakeable Christian convictions, as expressed in one famous passage, ‘If anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth . . . then I would prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth.’

“Prison offered Dostoyevsky another opportunity as well. It forced him to live at close quarters with thieves, murderers, and drunken peasants. His shared life with these people later led to unmatched characterizations in his novels, such as that of the murderer Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky’s liberal view of the inherent goodness in humanity shattered in collision with the granitic evil he found in his cellmates. Yet over time he also glimpsed the image of God in even the lowest of prisoners. He came to believe that only through being loved is a human being capable of love; ‘We love because he [God] first loved us,’ as the apostle John says.

“I encountered grace in the novels of Dostoyevsky. Crime and Punishment portrays a despicable human being who commits a despicable crime. Yet grace enters Raskolnikov’s life as well, through the person of the converted prostitute Sonia, who follows him all the way to Siberia and leads him to redemption. The Brothers Karamazov, perhaps the greatest novel ever written, draws a contrast between Ivan the brilliant agnostic and his devout brother Alyosha. Ivan can critique the failures of humankind and every political system devised to deal with those failures, but he can offer no solutions. Alyosha has no solutions for the intellectual problems Ivan raises, but he has a solution for humanity: love. ‘I do not know the answer to the problem of evil,’ said Alyosha, ‘but I do know love.’ Finally, in the magical novel The Idiot, Dostoyevsky presents a Christ figure in the form of an epileptic prince. Quietly, mysteriously, Prince Myshkin moves among the circles of Russia’s upper class, exposing their hypocrisy while also illuminating their lives with goodness and truth.

“Taken together, these two Russians became for me, at a crucial time in my Christian pilgrimage, spiritual directors. They helped me come to terms with a central paradox of the Christian life. From Tolstoy I learned the need to look inside, to the kingdom of God that is within me. I saw how miserably I had failed the high ideals of the gospel. But from Dostoyevsky I learned the full extent of grace. Not only the kingdom of God is within me; Christ himself dwells there. ‘Where sin increased, grace increased all the more,’ is how Paul expressed it in Romans.

“There is only one way for any of us to resolve the tension between the high ideals of the gospel and the grim reality of ourselves: to accept that we will never measure up, but that we do not have to. We are judged by the righteousness of the Christ who lives within, not our own. Tolstoy got it halfway right: anything that makes me feel comfort with God’s moral standard, anything that makes me feel, ‘At last I have arrived,’ is a cruel deception. But Dostoyevsky got the other half right: anything that makes me feel discomfort with God’s forgiving love is also a cruel deception. ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’: that message, Leo Tolstoy never fully grasped.”

dostoyevsky

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1821-1881

Fyodor Dostoyevsky—The Mantle of the Prophet
The Prophet by A.S. Pushkin
A Single Story of Soviet Russia
The Three Hermits
The Brothers Karamazov
Anna and Raskolnikov
Crime and Punishment: A Film by Piotr Dumala
Vintage Footage of Leo Tolstoy
The Daily Blini—Exploring Russian Culture
A Prophet’s Eyes
Russian Universe
Yasnaya Polyana // Ясная поляна
The rebirth of Christianity in post-Soviet Russia
You Should Read Some Dostoyevsky . . .Here Are Some Tips!
Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov Strikingly Illustrated by Expressionist Painter Alice Neel (1938)
The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (animated film)
The Idiot by Dostoyevsky
The Importance of the Prophetic
A Dark Road and a Bright Light
A Gift from Russia
Soviet Censorship of Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Mark Taylor’s Prophetic Word:  Russia and the United States
Dostoyevsky in Europe
How Solzhenitsyn defeated the USSR
Slavophiles vs. Westernizers and Conservatives vs. Liberals
Putin embarrasses Megyn Kelly

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“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”
–Leo Tolstoy

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.”

–Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Dostoyevsky_New_Testament

The New Testament that Dostoyevsky took with him to prison in Siberia

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“Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss.”
–Albert Einstein

“The real 19th century prophet was Dostoevsky, not Karl Marx.”
–Albert Camus

“The Darker the night, the brighter the stars, the deeper the grief, the closer is God.”
–Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment