Monday, December 5, 2016

Dorin Popa writes

no one else in the world has been born
since Napoleon, Stavroghin and Mîşkin
disabled, we hold the book in our hands
and soil the pages
with our tears

come, sing for me that old song
so I forget my weakness,
so I forget the pits where
I have humbly entered
as if in sacred monasteries!

sing for me that old song
so I forget my lawlessness
so I forget once and for all
that I was not born!

Dostoevsky by GriliopoulosDostoevsky -- Daniel C. Griliopoulos


  1. "no one else in the world has been born / since Napoleon, Stavroghin and Mîşkin" -- by this, Dorin laments that no writer since the Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky has been able to create characters of such living depth, particularly in three of his 11 novels, "Crime and Punishment" (1866), "The Idiot" (1869), and "Demons" (1872). These were all written after his exile in Siberia. He had associated with a literary discussion group named after erstwhile social reformer Mikhail Petrashevsky; he used the circle's library on weekends and occasionally participated in their discussions on freedom from censorship and other liberal reforms. (The anarchist Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin described the group as "the most innocent and harmless company" and its members as "systematic opponents of all revolutionary goals and means.") Arrested in 1849, he was charged with reading and disseminating a banned accusatory letter by one writer, Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky, to another, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, in which he claimed that the public “is always ready to forgive a writer for a bad book, but never for a pernicious one" and called for an end to serfdom. He was held for four months in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, where the most dangerous criminals were held, before being sentenced to death by firing squad. The prisoners were taken to Semyonov Place and divided into groups of three. Dostoyevsky was the third in the second row, but he was saved at the last minute by a commutation to four years' incarceration with hard labor at a prison camp in Omsk, Siberia, followed by a term of compulsory military service. Classified as "one of the most dangerous convicts," he had his hands and feet shackled until his release, was only permitted to read his New Testament, and suffered from hemorrhoids and epileptic seizures. As he described his experience, "In summer, intolerable closeness; in winter, unendurable cold. All the floors were rotten. Filth on the floors an inch thick; one could slip and fall.... We were packed like herrings in a barrel.... There was no room to turn around. From dusk to dawn it was impossible not to behave like pigs.... Fleas, lice, and black beetles by the bushel...." The 200 prisoners shared one privy.

  2. The third of his great novels after his release was "Bésy" ("Demons," though sometimes translated as "The Possessed" or "The Devils"). The central character was Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin; in an originally censored chapter (titled "At Tikhon's" in modern editions) he claimed "that I neither know nor feel good and evil and that I have not only lost any sense of it, but that there is neither good nor evil.... and that it is just a prejudice." In a written confession to the monk Tikhon he told of a number of crimes, including raping an 11-year-old girl and driving her to suicide, and described in detail the profound inner pleasure he experienced in shameful situations. He was also comlicit in his wife's murder. One of the novel's characters described him thus: "If Stavrogin believes, then he doesn't believe that he believes. But if he doesn't believe, then he doesn't believe that he doesn't believe." The enormity of his crimes, his indifffernce to them and his guilt in committing them, and the desolation of his inner being led him to kill himself at the end of the novel. Many commentators believed that Stavrogin was modeled after Nikolai Alexandrovich Speshnev, the founder and leader of the radical cell within the Petrashevsky Circle.
    Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin was the protagonist and subject of the middle novel, "The Idiot." Instead of serving a harsh prison sentenc in Siberia, he had spent the last four years at a sanitorium in Switzerland for treatment of his epilepsy. Nonjudgmental and without social snobbery, his insight, compassion, sincerity, candor, incisive intellect, deep emotional intelligence, and wisdom made him seem like an idiot to others. Eventually, of course, he is driven insane by the cruelty and passion of the other characters in the novel.
    "Crime and Punishment" was the 2nd of the novels Dostoyevsky wrote after Siberia, and the first of his great mature works. It focused on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg murdered an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash, rationalizing his action by claimng her money could be better used for good purposes, as well as to test his theory that some people are naturally capable of such actions and even have the right to perform them. Why, then, did Dorin include Napoleon rather than Raskolnikov in his trinity? Because several times throughout the novel, Raskolnikov explicitly compared himself with Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor who had devastated Russia early in the 19th century but nevertheless was extolled as a champion of liberty and progress. For instance, he justified his actions to himself thus: “I wanted to become a Napoleon, that is why I killed her.… It was like this: I asked myself one day this question—what if Napoleon, for instance, had happened to be in my place, and if he had not had Toulon nor Egypt nor the passage of Mont Blanc to begin his career with, but instead of all those picturesque and monumental things, there had simply been some ridiculous old hag, a pawnbroker, who had to be murdered too to get money from her trunk (for his career, you understand). Well, would he have brought himself to that, if there had been no other means? Wouldn’t he have felt a pang at its being so far from monumental and … and sinful, too? Well, I must tell you that I worried myself fearfully over that ‘question’ so that I was awfully ashamed when I guessed at last (all of a sudden, somehow) that it would not have given him the least pang, that it would not even have struck him that it was not monumental … that he would not have seen that there was anything in it to pause over, and that, if he had had no other way, he would have strangled her in a minute without thinking about it! Well, I too … left off thinking about it … murdered her, following his example. And that’s exactly how it was!"

  3. Disquieting - like the world stopped at some point and we're just carrying on in a dream?

  4. Sometimes literature, including Dostoyevksy's and Popa's, needs to be disquieting. Of course, literary truth is not necessarily factual.


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