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Dostoevsky's Dialectics and the Problem of Sin


Publication Year: 2010

In Dostoevsky’s Dialectics and the Problem of Sin, Ksana Blank borrows from ancient Greek, Chinese, and Christian dialectical traditions to formulate a dynamic image of Dostoevsky’s dialectics—distinct from Hegelian dialectics—as a philosophy of “compatible contradictions.”

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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pp. v-vi

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Note on the Transliteration and Sources

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pp. vii-viii

My transliteration of Russian in the main body of the text follows a modified Library of Congress system designed to make the text more readable to a general audience. I use commonly accepted anglicized versions of the Russian names and surnames, ...

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pp. ix-x

The central idea in this book—the coincidence of opposites in Dostoevsky and their reciprocal interactions—first came to me in the mid-1990s, when I was teaching courses on Dostoevsky at Hunter College in New York and taking Tai Chi classes in the evening. ...

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pp. 3-24

For Dostoevsky, the problem of sin is central, vital, and twofold. While raising the most fundamental questions about human nature, Dostoevsky tends to give contradictory sets of answers. On the one hand, his work epitomizes the idea that people are inherently good since they are created in the image of God. ...

PART I: The Dialectic of Goodness

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Chapter One: “If You Don’t Sin, You Can’t Repent; If You Don’t Repent, You Can’t Achieve Salvation”

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pp. 27-39

The Russian philosopher Sergei Askoldov observed that the works of Dostoevsky can be seen as artistic illustrations of two biblical episodes: the parable of the prodigal son and that of the adulterous woman.1 Crime and Punishment, its plot based on the progression from sin to spiritual renewal, ...

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Chapter Two: A Ray of Light in the Abyss

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pp. 40-51

The biblical epigraph to The Brothers Karamazov—“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24)—allows various interpretations: it can be seen as a strictly Christian message, ...

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Chapter Three: “The Devil Begins with Froth on the Lips of an Angel”

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pp. 52-66

Grigory Pomerants has observed that the Dostoevskian universe, like that of Dante, is a fluid system with no clear-cut borders: here characters jump from one orbit to another, and the boundary between the earthly life and the afterlife is elusive and unsteady.1 In this constantly fluctuating world, Alyosha Karamazov plays the role of a spiritual anchor. ...

Part II: The Dialectic of Beauty

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Chapter Four: The Corridor of Mirrors in The Idiot

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pp. 69-79

As publicist and editor of Vremia, in his polemics with the literary journals Russkii vestnik, Sovremennik and Otechestvennye zapiski, Dostoevsky had a strong aesthetic platform, making confident, sanguine, straightforward judgments: ...

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Chapter Five: A Grain of Eros in the Madonna, a Spark of Beauty in Sodom

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pp. 80-93

While Tolstoy argues that beauty is not genuine when its goodness is doubtful, Dostoevsky conveys the idea that the human heart has enough room for the ideal of the Madonna and that of Sodom. Mitya Karamazov’s declaration, as part of his confession to Alyosha, represents a concise formula of Dostoevsky’s dialectic of beauty: ...

Part III: The Dialectic of Truth

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Chapter Six: Dostoevsky’s Case for Contradictions

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pp. 97-110

The Russian language possesses two words for “truth.” Often considered synonyms, they differ in their etymology. The root of pravda carries moral overtones, linked as it is to the words pravyi (right or correct), pravednyi (righteous), and spravedlivost’ (justice). ...

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Chapter Seven: Antinomic Truth (Istina)

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pp. 111-120

The preceding chapters have continually focused on various opposites: good and evil, different types of beauty and various types of truth. This chapter addresses Dostoevsky’s treatment of opposite logical arguments (contradictions) and places it into a broader intellectual context.1 ...

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Concluding Notes

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pp. 121-124

As we have seen, in Dostoevsky’s dialectics, sin plays the role of a prime mover, for the writer is concerned with the dynamic nature of transgression. Akin to a microscopic virus—emerging, spreading, mutating, causing pandemics—sin is dangerous because of its ability for expansion and growth. ...


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pp. 125-150

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 151-162


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pp. 163-170

E-ISBN-13: 9780810164796
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810126930

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: New
Volume Title: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Gary Saul Morson See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794698877
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dostoevsky's Dialectics and the Problem of Sin

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Subject Headings

  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Philosophy.
  • Dialectic in literature.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, -- 1821-1881 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Sin in literature.
  • Paradox in literature.
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