Monday, August 31, 2015

Reading Dostoyevsky: Thoughts on his novel "Demons" translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky

As I read and reread Dostoyevsky, I finished reading his novel called "Demons" also sometimes titled "The Possessed." The book is an especially fascinating read in light of later works such as Solzhenitsyn's Gulag, First Circle and Cancer Ward, as well as Orwell's classics Animal Farm and 1984, as it's clear that Dostoyevsky saw the fatal flaws at the core of the socialist movement beginning in Russia in the late nineteenth century. However, Dostoyevsky's treatment of the movement stands the test of time as it speaks in relevant and powerful tones regarding modern political movements from both the right and the left that subscribe to societal programming, communal initiatives and social revolution to bring meaning and order to life. Dostoyevsky argues that in these movements lurk demons which destroy movements and societies by ordering their desires and efforts toward self, thereby disordering their aims toward debauchery and licentious behavior. Instead, Dostoyevsky believes that Jesus must cast the demons out of humanity and free them to live into the wholeness God has created within them.

Though it is long, the novel is well worth the read, full of humor, intrigue, intellect, and even some horror. I can't help but wonder how different Russia might have looked had they taken the warnings Dostoyevsky penned to heart, and I also wonder how his words might be applied to our various political fads of today.

Some notable quotes from the novel follow (note that these are quotes from the perspective of characters in the novel, and do not necessarily reflect Dostoyevsky's views or main points):
"You may be sure that all those who cease to understand their people and lose their connection with them, at once, in the same measure, also lose the faith of their fathers, and become either atheists or indifferent." - p. 38

"The more socialist a man is, the further he goes, the more he loves property. ...Why is that?" - p. 77

"God is the pain of the fear of death. He who overcomes pain and fear will himself become God. ...He who only kills himself to kill fear will at once become God." - p. 115-116

"They must find out that they're good, then they'll all become good at once, all, to a man." - p. 238

"Nations are formed and move by another ruling and dominating force, whose origin is unknown and inexplicable. This force is the force of the unquenchable desire to get to the end, while at the same time denying the end. It is the force of a ceaseless and tireless confirmation of its own being and a denial of death." - p. 250

"Acquire God by labor. The whole essence is there, or else you'll disappear like vile mildew." - p. 255

"Every man is worth an umbrella." - p. 270

"If your God found it necessary to offer a reward for love, it means your God is immoral." - p. 397

"Desire and suffering are for us; for our slaves there will be no desires." - p. 418

"Mankind can live without the Englishman, it can live without Germany, it can live only too well without the Russian man, it can live without science, without bread, and it only cannot live without beauty, for then there would be nothing at all to do in the world!" - p. 486

"It has always seemed to me that you would bring me to some place where there lives a huge, evil spider, as big as a man, and we would spend our whole life there looking at him and being afraid. That's how our mutual love would pass." - p. 525

"Something unusual, altogether unexpected, trembled in his soul. Three years of separation, three years of broken marriage, had dislodged nothing from his heart. And perhaps every day of those three years he had dreamed of her, the dear being who had once said to him: 'I love you.'" - p. 569

"God, when he was creating the world, said at the end of each day of creation: 'Yes, this is true, this is good.' This... this is not tenderheartedness, but simply joy. You don't forgive anything, because there's no longer anything to forgive. You don't really love - oh, what is here is higher than love! What's most frightening is that it's so terribly clear, and there's such joy. If it were longer than five seconds - the soul couldn't endure it, and would vanish. In those five seconds I live my life through, and for them I would give my life, because it's worth it. To endure ten seconds one would have to change physically." - p. 590

On Children: "There were two, and suddenly, there's a third human being, a new spirit, whole, finished, such as doesn't come from human hands; a new thought and a new love, it's even frightening... and there's nothing higher in the world!" - p. 593

"This generation must be re-educated to make it worthy of freedom. There are still many thousands of Shatovs [innocent murder victims] ahead of us." - p. 607

"Without Christ, the whole planet with everything on it is madness only. There has not been one like Him before or since, not ever, even to the point of miracle. This is the miracle, that there has not been and never will be such a one. And if so, if the laws of nature did not pity even This One, did not pity even their own miracle,  but made Him to live amidst a lie and die for a lie, then the whole planet is a lie, and stands upon a lie and a stupid mockery." - p. 618

"For years I have been searching for the attribute of my divinity, and I have found it: the attribute of my divinity is - Self-will! ...I kill myself to show my insubordination and my new fearsome freedom." - p. 619

"God is necessary for me if only because He is the one being who can be loved, eternally..." - p. 663

"Even if you do not attain to reconciliation with yourself and forgiveness of yourself, even then He will forgive you for your intention and for your great suffering... for there are no words or thoughts in human language to express all the ways and reasons of the Lamb 'until his ways are openly revealed to us.' Who can embrace Him who is unembraceable, who can grasp the whole of Him who is infinite?" - p. 711

Monday, August 10, 2015

Reading Dostoyesky: Thoughts and quotes from "Notes from a Dead House" (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky)

One of Dostoyevsky's earlier novels, "Notes from a Dead House" was recently released in a new translation by a husband and wife couple who have been steadily and heroically working through Dostoyevsky's works for us English-speaking readers. The novel is a fictional reflection on the four years the author himself spent in a Siberian prison camp. As with all Dostoyevsky works, it is brilliant and filled with heart and incredible insight into the human condition and the spiritual depths that flood every moment of our existence. The following are some of my favorite quotes from the novel:

"I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that you can know a person by his laughter, and if from some first encounter you like the laughter of some completely unknown person, you may boldly say that he is a good man." - p. 38

About a Muslim prisoner: "Nurra came up to me and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder. Then again and again, and so it went on for three days. On his part, I guessed and later learned, this meant that he was sorry for me, that he felt how hard this first acquaintance with prison was for me, that he wanted to show me his friendship, cheer me up, and assure me of his protection. Kind and naive Nurra!" - p. 60

"Whenever I came back from work, the first thing I did before going anywhere, was to hurry behind the barracks with Sharik the dog leaping ahead of me and squealing for joy, to hug his head, to kiss it, kiss it, with some sort of sweet and at the same time tormentingly bitter feeling wringing my heart. And I remember it was even pleasant for me to think, as if flaunting my own hurt to myself, that now I had one being left in the world who loved me and was attached to me, my friend, my only friend - my faithful dog Sharik." - p. 94

"Every convict feels that he is not at home, but as if on a visit." - p. 96

"Chekunov twisted it somehow strangely, bared his teeth, and nodding quickly, as if accidentally , towards the dead man, said to the sergeant: "He had a mother, too!" - and walked away. I remember it was as if those words pierced me... and what made him speak them and how did they enter his head?" - p. 180

"To acknowledge one's guilt and ancestral sin is little, very little; it is necessary to break with them completely. And that cannot be done quickly." - p. 197

"He was of an ardent and rapturous character, like all puppies, who from joy at seeing their master would squeal, bark, come to lick his face, and are ready to lose control of all their other feelings in front of you: 'Proprieties mean nothing, if only you see my rapture!'" - p. 243

"Here in prison everyone was a dreamer - and that jumped into your eyes." - p. 250

The book ends with the appendix "The Peasant Marey" in which Dostoyevsky tells the story of being a child and running away from the fear of a wolf in the woods and being comforted by Marey, one of his father's peasant workers, who showed a deep compassion and regard for the comfort and spiritual well-being of a child for whom he very well might have felt resentment. This appendix wraps up the message of the novel nicely - the house may be dead, but, inside, each of us is painfully, inexorably, unalterably alive. Those who live out of an inward source of true compassion and love-filled hope shine out as lights to all of us looking for the day when our visit ends and we find ourselves finally back home.