7. “That Is the Whole Answer”
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192 7 “That Is the Whole Answer” Perhaps the riskiest move of Dostoevsky’s literary career, and the one he “trembled” most over, was the use of the conventions of faith-based hagiography for the purposes of refuting the powerfully rendered “nihilist” arguments of “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” in Book V and pronouncing his own “new word.” Dostoevsky’s anxiety about the form, themes, “realism,” and ultimate success of his refutation pervades his correspondence at the time. If the critical consensus is correct, then Dostoevsky, the inveterate gambler, lost the riskiest artistic gamble of his literary career, in Part VI “The Russian Monk.” The reasons for this failure are multiple, and first among them is certainly the fact that Dostoevsky does not attempt a direct refutation of Ivan’s arguments or a conversion from his view: the persuasiveness of Zosima’s answer depends to a large extent on a preexisting faith. Instead , Ivan’s horrifying “little pictures” as well as the Grand Inquisitor’s monumental canvas of a depraved and weak humanity are countered only by the very personal epiphany of Zosima’s dying brother, Markel, who attests that “life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we do not want to know it, and if we did want to know it, tomorrow there would be paradise the world over.”1 This vision of “life as paradise” does not entail the dawning of a new and universal Golden Age, but may only be realized and transmitted “That Is the Whole Answer” 193 from one individual to another by the example of word and deed. Dostoevsky’s most striking departure in Book VI from the traditional Orthodox saint’s life (zhitie) is its lack of focus on the single saint and his holy works. Nowhere, in fact, does Dostoevsky realize his intention to portray “a pure ideal Christian . . . as a tangible and real possibility appearing before our own eyes”;2 no such image of Zosima materializes in Book VI.3 Instead of the traditional saint’s life, or even the prosaic life of a saint (such as Victor Hugo’s portrayal of Bishop Myriel in Les Misérables), Dostoevsky gives us a series of imitative acts performed by different, decidedly unsaintly, individuals.4 First it is Markel, who relates to his bewildered mother his epiphany “that each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I more than everyone.”5 Later, after the passage of many rowdy and dissipated years, Markel’s teachings reverberate in his brother, the officer Zinovyi (the young Zosima), who throws down his weapon in the middle of a duel that he had provoked and declares to his opponent “for it is my own fault that I offended you and have now made you shoot at me. I am ten times worse than you, if not more.”6 Finally, the stern and righteous “mysterious stranger,” Mikhail, is captivated by talk of Zinovyi’s deed and himself impelled to commit a similarly daring act of public confession for a long-ago crime. The prototype for these acts can be traced to Crime and Punishment, where Sonya demands that Raskolnikov bow down to the earth in the middle of Haymarket square to confess his guilt before God, Man, and all the earth—or even further, to Dostoevsky’s deranged clerk who confesses before his highness to “being Garibaldi.” It is also developed in the suppressed chapter containing Stavrogin’s written confession in Demons and the monk Tikhon’s request that Stavrogin forgive him “for my sins both voluntary and involuntary.” Yet the act evolves so that the emphasis falls on its aesthetic form and public rather than private and interpersonal nature.7 These are deeds performed before an involuntary audience in public places (in the square, at the dueling ground, at large social gatherings) and addressed to the community as a whole. The initial reception of the act is unfailingly negative—uncomprehending or mocking—and its repercussions are unpredictable and sometimes devastating. In The Brothers Karamazov, the first such act occurs at the beginning of the novel in the elder’s cell, before the assembled Kara­ mazov family and assorted witnesses. “The elder stepped towards Dmitry Fyodorovich and, having come close to him, knelt before him. Alyosha thought for a moment that he had fallen from weakness, but it 194 Part Three: “The Little Devil Sitting in Your Heart” wasn’t that. Kneeling in front of Dmitry Fyodorovich, the elder bowed down at his feet...


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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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