Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground (7)

My understanding of Notes from Underground and its context has developed since I finished reading it. There are a number of factors to consider, among them: (1) Dostoevsky's opposition to Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? and the radical, Westernizing Russian intelligentsia, (2) criticism of the "bookishness" and formulaic expressions of the intelligentsia in relation to real life, (3) the Underground Man's indictment of his social milieu and himself, (4) the Underground Man as unreliable narrator, (5) the divergence between the Underground Man and Dostoevsky, (6) the philosophy of the Underground Man (and of Dostoevsky) in part 1, (7) the relationship of the actions in part 2 to the philosophical position of part 1.

I had equated the Underground Man with Dostoevsky himself, whereas the relationship between the two, as well as the relationship between the stated philosophy and lived reality is more complex in the work. The Underground Man's rebellion against rationalism is a failure, though some self-awareness is achieved where his narrative is broken off, and the entire Russian intelligentsia stands accused along with his self-accusation. Dostoevsky himself has an agenda for attacking rationalism and the intelligentsia. Where does it lead? His alienation leads to authoritarianism, reaction, and Christian apologetics, his torment to the justification of torment.

The reception of Dostoevsky's work, not only in Russia and the Soviet Union but abroad in very different contexts, is also eye-opening.

From this rush of research I compiled the following bibliography, with web links where feasible:

Dostoevsky’s Underground, Ideology, Reception: A Very Select Bibliography

I note briefly the relevance of these references to my projects. Joseph Frank is especially useful for mapping the conceptual structure of the novel. Let me call attention to two other references, which branch out into the big picture:

Carroll, John. Break-Out from the Crystal Palace: The Anarcho-Psychological Critique: Stirner, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge, 2010. (Orig. pub. 1974.)

I loathe anarchists, and I prefer Paul Thomas's Karl Marx and the Anarchists, but this book embarks upon a detailed analysis of Dostoevsky's irrationalism, his relationship to Stirner and Nietzsche, and the opposition to the rationalist "crystal palace" utopia celebrated in Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done?.

Jacoby, Russell. Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. See esp. Introduction.

Jacoby says nothing about Dostoevsky here, but his book is relevant to the issues, as Jacoby highlights the 'defeated' perspectives of dissident Marxists and reactionary thinkers who analyzed modernity’s underbelly obscured by the scientistic orientation of orthodox Marxism. The Introduction lays out his perspective.

All of this is to fit into the historical puzzle of the interlocking struggle and inseparability of the contradictions of the modern world, the capitalist world (which includes Stalinism), abstractly designated by positivism vs. irrationalism, or scientism vs Romanticism.

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