1. “Again, Like Before”
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Part Two Apparitional Terrorism in Demons 105 1 “Again, Like Before” On November 25, 1869, a casual reader of The Moscow Gazette (Moskov­ skie vedomosti) might have easily overlooked the following notice: two peasants, walking through the park of the Petrov Agricultural Academy, spied a trail of blood leading to the frozen pond in the grotto. There, a corpse had floated to the surface and was visible beneath the ice.1 The brevity of the report testifies to the incident’s obscurity: the unidentified corpse was a silent cipher, discovered but as yet inscrutable. Two days later, an equally laconic notice established the identity of the victim as the auditor Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov.2 Thanks to a surfeit of forensic evidence at the crime scene, a lucky coincidence (Uspensky’s apartment was searched on the same day as the corpse’s discovery) and hasty confessions , the murderers were quickly rounded up. While the Moscow Gazette provided periodic updates on the case as new evidence became available, nearly a month-and-a-half would elapse before the full import of the conspiracy was drawn out by the paper’s editor-in-chief, Mikhail Katkov, and Russia’s true enemies finally exposed. For Dostoevsky’s novel-to-be, Demons, Katkov’s editorials would be foundational, as well as the impetus for subtle push-back (Dostoevsky, himself a former and hitherto undiscovered conspirator, was the arch anti-conspiracy theorist), but Dostoevsky’s intention in writing the novel went beyond reportage, editorializing, or even history. His goal, 106 Part Two: Apparitional Terrorism in Demons as he explained upon the completion of Demons in 1873, was to “clarify its [the Nechaev affair’s] possibility in our society, and precisely as a social event, not as an anecdote, not as a description of a particular occurrence in Moscow.”3 What interested Dostoevsky was not the “brute fact,” but the “social fact”; in other words, he wanted to explore the social preconditions for the event’s possibility and the as yet unrealized possibilities implicit in those same social preconditions. “Clarifying possibility” is the province not of history (which allows the realization of only one possibility) but of literature. It is not the prerogative of the historical actor (who makes his mark only with “real deeds” and “factual manifestations”); instead it is the privilege of the writer. Through the written word, Dostoevsky was able to surpass Nechaev’s deed in order to transform the murder of Ivanov into something that it was not, an act of revolutionary terrorism. For Demons, Dostoevsky drew unabashedly on the published details of Ivanov’s murder, so that in their particulars, the murders of Ivanov and Dostoevsky’s fictionalization, Ivan Shatov, are virtually identical.4 In his novel, however, Dostoevsky supplied a dimension that the murder did not historically possess: its reception as terrorism. “One can imagine what a hubbub arose all over town. A new ‘story,’ again [opiat’] a killing! But there was something else here now: it was becoming clear that there indeed existed a secret society of killers, of arsonist-revolutionists, of rebels. . . . One can hardly imagine what conclusions and what mental anarchy our society, frightened to the point of panic, might have reached, if everything had not suddenly been explained all at once, the very next day, thanks to Lyamshin.”5 In Shatov’s murder there is clearly something in excess of Ivanov’s, and that excess is provided by Dostoevsky’s narrative arc, which stages Shatov’s murder very near the long and architecturally complex novel’s end. The reader is well prepared for the murder, privy not only to foreshadowing on the level of the implied author, but to the planning, execution , and immediate aftermath that Dostoevsky’s first-person narrator, Lavrenty Antonovich G v (who is not a member of the conspiracy), has presumably reconstructed. If from the point of view of the reader Shatov’s murder is a fait accompli, from the point of view of the town’s “society” it has an entirely different, oxymoronic aspect: that of a shocking repetition. It follows as the last of a series, is a “new story” that is “again a killing.” In contrast to the blank presented to the police and to the Moscow Gazette’s readership by Ivanov’s corpse, Shatov’s already constitutes a “story” for the townsfolk, one that is simultaneously “Again, Like Before” 107 “new” and old (“again”). Whereas Ivanov’s murder is initially a meaningless anomaly, Shatov’s corpse has meaning—and...


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Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- Political aspects.
  • Terrorism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, 1818-1881 -- Assassination.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Political and social views.
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