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MONADOLOGY OF 7HE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Michael Wreen THE WORLD AND THOUGHT of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov are not easily entered into. There is something, some barrier, which seems to hinder, if not prevent, a feeling of belonging, a feeling of ease, citizenship, and camaraderie. What is it diat holds die reader back, what makes him feel particularly Ul-at-ease in the world of The Brothers Karamazov, and especially in die presence of the Karamazovs? The answer is that the world of the novel resembles the world of Leibniz's Monadology, a world so different from the world of our everyday conceptions, and so different from the world of most novels, that the reader is left "freefloating ," so to speak, until he, as a spirit, has been accommodated and then assimilated by it. To begin with, there is the matter of setting. There are practically no landscapes in The Brothers Karamazov and no extended descriptions of nature. Secondly, buildings, both their interiors and exteriors, are barely sketched, and when described at all, it is usually the psychological state that the human design excites ("It was an odd arrangement ofrooms") that is important, and not the design or structure itself. Objects existing in their own right and "pure surfaces" are not to be found. The one building (with grounds) that is described at length is the monastery, but even here description is used symbolically, as a reflection ofthe spiritual states ofthe monks and The Elder. Similarly, clothing exists only as a clue to the psychological or spiritual state of its wearer. Dmitri's rag with the 1,500 roubles is the analogue of his condition, just as Smerdyakov's hoped-for foppish apparel is of his. 318 Michael Wreen319 Still more unusual is the infrequent mention of two of the biological necessities of life, food and sleep. Food seems to be something that the characters can take or leave, but more often than not, simply forget about; the stomach does not seem to exist for any except one of them. Once or twice the characters do eat, but eating seems to be an accidental side-effect of spending time with, a spiritual infection caught from, the thoroughly carnal Fyodor. The monks, it must be admitted, are concerned with food — though it would be more accurate to say diat they are concerned with die lack of it, or even more strongly, widi maintaining the lack of it. As for sleep, collapse from complete exhaustion (from sustained physical exertion and/or emotional excitement, or from orgiastic debauchery), sickness, and brain fever seem to be preferred to normal sleep. Days are long— so long, in fact, that night is more like an extension of day dian night. Another descriptive element which warrants notice is the physical appearances and personal histories of die dramatic personae. The truth, as far as physical appearances are concerned, is clear and simple: everyone, with the exception ofIvan, is described once and briefly. In the first thirtyfive pages or so, most of the major personages are introduced, "outfitted" with noses, eyes, ears, bearings, statures, mannerisms, traits, etc., and — here we come to the second aspect noted above — then given summary histories . After that, diey are set in dramatic motion. The opening chapters are descriptive and expository, a report of what was and is the case as far as mise en scene and physical equipage are concerned; and except for brief moments when the never-named narrator indulges in short "sermons" about man or God, the mode of narration never returns to descriptive exposition , but remains dramatic and focused on the interplay and clash of personality. Characters do act and think for themselves, and we see diem directly in the acting out of dieir lives. A bit of background information having been provided, we don't have to be told anydiing more; we can observe for ourselves, from the inside. The catalogue offacts is discarded, and in its place is put the experience of events and feelings. The objective, external perspective yields to the internal, subjective perspective, and the reader crosses over from the familiar and cozy world of Dickensian externality to the strange and disconcerting world ofDostoyevskian intemality...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 318-324
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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