Part Six, Chapter One
by Dennis Abrams
Raskolnikov’s dim consciousness. Convinced of his mistakes. “He would, for example, confuse one event with another; he would consider something to be the consequence of an event that existed only in his imagination. His morbidly painful anxiety, panic fear. Apathy, “an apathy resembling the morbidly indifferent state of some dying people. Anxiousness about Svidrigailov, ‘one might even say he had become stuck, as it were, on Svidrigailov.” Raskolnikov alone, “in a remote and solitary part of the city, in some wretched tavern, alone at a table, pondering…” Asleep in the bushes. Brief meetings with Svidrigailov: Katerina Ivanovna’s orphan children are taken care of. “‘But what is it, Rodion Romanych? You’re not yourself at all! Really! You listen and look, but it’s as if you don’t understand. You must cheer up. Let’s do have a talk, only it’s a pity there are so many things to be done, other people’s and my own…Ehh, Rodion Romanych’ he suddenly added, ‘what ever man of needs is air, air, air, sir…That first of all!'” Memorial services for Marmeladov, paid for by Svidrigailov. “After the service, Raskolnikov went up to Sonya. She suddenly took both his hands and leaned her head on his shoulder. this brief gesture even struck Raskolnikov as puzzling; it was even strange: what, not the least loathing for him, not the least revulsion, not the least tremor in her hand? Here was some sort of boundlessness of one’s own humiliation…Had it been possible to go somewhere that minute and remain utterly alone, even for the whole hif life, he would have counted himself happy.” Sleeping through Katerina Ivanovna’s funeral. While eating in his room, he’s visited by Razumikhin. Razumikhin’s narration: “Reveal everything, now, all your secrets., and maybe I won’t even listen, I’ll just spit and walk away…is it true that you’re mad?” If Raskolnikov’s not mad, Razumikhin says that he’s a monster and scoundrel, based on the way he treats his mother and sister. Avdoyta Romanovana, believing he’s sick and going mad, went to visit him — finding that he wasn’t there, “If he can go out, and is therefore well and has simply forgotten his mother, then it’s indecent and shameful for a mother to stand on his doorstep and beg for affection as for a handout.” Her illness — is Sonya her son’s fiancee or mistress? Raskolnikov tells Razumikhin that his sister had come to visit him two days earlier, she knows that Razumikhin is in love with her, and his wish that Razumikhin will “remain [his mother and sister’s] providence.” Razumikhin tells Raskolnikov that he has seen Porfiry, who explains that “psychologically, in his own way,” that the workman is guilty of the pawnbroker’s murder. Razumikhin seems to no longer think that Raskolnikov is involved in the murder, he’s convinced that Raskolnikov and his sister are political conspirators. Razumikhin leaves, Raskolnikov does not believe that Porfiry thinks the workman is guilty, “He must have something in mind; there’s an intention here, but what?” Porfiry, softly, like a cat, appears at Raskolnikov’s doorway, and is calmly invited in, “Thus a man will sometimes suffer half an hour of moral fear with a robber, but once the knife is finally at his throat, even fear vanishes.”
I’m guessing that Svidrigailov’s “what every man needs is air, air air, sir…that first of all!” means…freedom? Escape? Raskolnikov doesn’t seem to know what it means, Razumikhin thinks it means political conspiracy…any thoughts?
And for another view of Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment, an excerpt from Colin Wilson’s seminal work, The Outsider
“There are number of events in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s life that were ‘turning points,’ sudden, violent experiences that raked across his mental habits and placed him in the Outsider’s position of seeing himself as a stranger. This gives him a peculiar value in our study, as combining the characteristics of the Van Gogh Outsider and the Herman Hesse type: men who write about their problems, and the men who live them.
Dostoevsky’s father was murdered by his peasants; they attacked him one day when he was drunk, and killed him by the strange method of crushing his testicles. They succeeded so well in hiding the fact that he had died by violence that they were never brought to justice. Dostoevsky learned of the death of his father while he was an engineering student in Petersburg.
Fame broke on him suddenly when he was only twenty-four; his short novel Poor Folk was hailed by the foremost Russian critics as the most outstanding novel since Dead Souls The unknown engineering student was acclaimed as a great writer. Three years later, the reversal came when he was arrested for being involved in a nihilistic plot. The story of the fake ‘execution’ in the Semyonovsky Square is well known (Dostoevsky makes Prince Myshkin retell it in The Idiot. by the time the ‘pardon’ arrived at the last moment, one of the condemned men had gone insane, and never recovered. Dostoevsky spent the next ten years in exile in Siberia.
His later life is equally a story of brilliant successes, and catastrophes that fell on him without warning. In his dealings with people, especially women, he often showed revolting weakness and stupidity; in his recovery from disasters and in the writing of his books he revealed extraordinary spiritual strength. It is the same with his books. The Brothers Karamazov, The Devils [Demons], The Idiot are surely the sloppiest great novels ever written; this must be qualified by adding that they are also among the greatest novels ever written.
The Outsider theme is present in everything that Dostoevsky ever wrote; his five major novels represent an increasingly complex attack on it…the novels that are most important for our purpose are Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov
Notes from Underground is the first major treatment of the Outsider theme in modern literature. With Hesse’s Steppenwolf. it can be considered as one of the most important expositions of the Outsider’s problems that we shall deal with in this study. Written sixty-four years before Hesse’s…when no other ‘Outsider’ literature existed, it stands as a uniquely great monument of Existentialist thought.
It’s title in Russian, Notes from Under the Floorboards, carries the suggestion that its hero is not a man, but a beetle. This is just what he makes himself out to be; his first words are: ‘I am sick, I am full of spleen and repellent…’
And the character-analysis that follows shows us why he considers himself a beetle. He has been like this, he says, for twenty years, living alone in his room, seldom going out, nursing his dyspepsia and ill-temper, and thinking, thinking…For fifty pages he rambles on, expounding his ideas. He is neurotically over-sensitive: ‘No hunchback, no dwarf, could be more prone to resentment and offence than I…’
Yet all this rings false; we begin to grow impatient of the beetle-man’s word-spinning, when suddenly we become aware that, in spite of the longwindedness, he is really trying to define something important. He is full of fantastic illustrations of his ‘complicated state of mind.’ Here is an example (greatly abridged): ‘People who are able to wreak vengeance on an assailant, and in general to stand up for themselves — how do they do it? It can only be supposed that momentarily their whole being is possessed by a desire for revenge, and no other element is…in them. A man of that sort goes straight to his goal as a mad bull charges…I do not consider a man of that type to be the ‘normal’, as his mother Nature — would have him be. Yet, I envy him with all the power of my spleen…'”
We are reminded of T.E. Lawrence’s envy of the soldier with a girl or a man caressing a dog. Yes, we know all about this aspect of the beetle-man. He thinks too much. Thinking has thinned his blood and made him incapable of spontaneous enjoyment. He envies simpler, stupider people because they are undivided. that is nothing new. What more has the beetle-man to tell us?
Well, there is the odd fact that he likes suffering:
‘…it is just this same cold, loathsome semi-mania, this same half-belief in oneself…this same poison of unsatisfied wishes…that there lies the essence of the strange delight I have spoken of.’
And this ‘strange delight’ is the center of the beetle-man’s dialectic. For upon it pivots the whole question of freedom. Is man really incapable of absolute evil, as Boethius (following Plato) asserts? Does he always strive for what he instinctively apprehends as the Good? The arguments for it are strong. For the criminal, crime is a response to the complexities of his social life. In that case, is the soul, then, governed by natural laws like Einstein’s formulae?…
And suddenly, Dostoevsky’s beetle-man starts up, with his bad teeth and beady eyes, and shorts, ‘To hell with your system. I demand the right to behave as I like. I demand the right to regard myself as utterly unique‘
And now we can see what the beetle-man is really getting at, with his nasty leers and shrill giggles. His belligerence is a reaction against something, and that ‘something’ is rational humanism. And before long we recognize the Nietzchean note:
‘To maintain theories of renovating the human race through Systems…is about the same thing as to maintain that man grows milder with civilization. Logically, perhaps, this is so; yet he is so prone to Systems and abstract deductions that he is for ever ready to mutilate the truth, to be blind to what he sees or deaf as to what he hears, so long as he can succeed in vindicating his logic…Civilization develops in man nothing but an added capacity to receive impressions — that is all. And the growth of that capacity increases his tendency to seek pleasure in spilling blood. You may have noticed that the most enthusiastic blood-letters have always been the most civilised of men…’
…Notes from Underground is an unpleasant story, so unnecessarily unpleasant as to be barely readable. What it does convey, more than any other work we have quoted, is the tortured, self-divided nature of the Outsider. The nasty taste it leaves in the mouth is due to its failure as a work of art, its obsessive caterwauling about the weakness of human nature, etc. A lot of Dostoevsky’s work leaves the same taste, his ‘Eternal Husband’ and many of the short-stories arouse a mixed feeling of boredom and disgust, the sort of irritation one feels in watching Mr. Aldous Huxley’s systematic butchery of all his characters. If we were to judge Dostoevsky by such work, the final verdict would be the same as Shaw’s on Shakespeare — that he understands human weakness without understanding human strength.
In point of fact, this is not true; Dostoevsky’s evolution as a novelist is a slow development of understanding of human strength. The heroes of the early books are in very sense ‘Godless’; then little by little, they cease to be vain and trivial. Raskolnikov is followed by Prince Myshkin, then by Kirlov and Shatov, finally by the Karamazov Brothers, who are giants compared to the beetle-man”
Tomorrow…Wilson’s unique take on Crime and Punishment
Part Six, Chapter Two