The Brothers Karamazov, Part 2

New Warhorn Media post by Nathan Alberson:

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Is this meant to cover part 2 of the book, or is it simply the second part of your analysis?

It is the latter.

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I liked Alyosha. I didn’t think of him as a Christ figure. I thought of him an weak Christian who can’t answer his “sophisticated” brother or some of his other harassers but still plods on as best he can.

And again I just never got the impression that Dmitri or Ivan were being romanticized. Although I can see how the inability of Dostoevsky (and Alyosha) to adequately answer Dmitri (and the GI) would serve to confirm depraved readers in their depravity. It just didn’t seem like that was the author’s intent.

Unfortunately I can’t request a name change to “Jay and Katie who are cold and love cheese and Alyosha” because Katie’s slogging through C & P right now so probably won’t get to the Brothers K… ever.

BTW I hope “large Russian novel in January” is a permanent fixture.

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Another thought: I remember ND Wilson talking about how much harder it is to illustrate virtue than vice because we know the latter so much better. Maybe Dostoevsky (and Alyosha by extension) just isn’t capable of “answering the fool.”

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A few thoughts:

  1. I agree that Dostoevsky’s ‘Christ-like models’ are incomplete and ultimately fail. Neither Alyosha nor Prince Myshkin are men I would like my boys to grow up to be like. But here’s the thing: I don’t think Dostoevsky thinks they are complete either! Prince Myshkin fails to bring redemption/prevent murder, he fails to bring reconciliation, and he ultimately fails to keep himself from going insane. If the intention is for him to be a “full” character or a representative of Christ, he is an absolute and utter failure by any standard. Likewise, but to a lesser degree, with Alyosha. He is a comfort to his brothers and he brings reconciliation to the boys, but he is not fully developed and Dostoevsky no doubt planned to have him develop over the next two of his intended novels.

  2. When comparing the development of Tolstoy’s characters with Dostoevsky’s I think it is parament to remember that Tolstoy’s novel’s take place over years if not decades while the main action in Dostoevsky’s two greatest novels (Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov) take place in a matter of days. Dostoevsky is trying to do something different than Tolstoy. He is taking a deep look into people at a critical juncture, at times of intense psychological stress and distress, while Tolstoy is telling a fuller story. It is like the development of Macbeth v. Prometheus—Shakespeare tells us his story, whereas Aeschylus gives us a moment in his life.

  3. Dostoevsky’s psychology isn’t as simplistic as it often appears. While Dostoevsky believes that ideas are important, even critical, he is not saying we have idea A that leads to action B. Fyodor Karamazov isn’t murdered because Ivan believes that ‘If God is dead, everything is permissible’ and he teaches it to his half-brother; Fyodor Karamazov is murdered because he abandoned his kids and did not recognize one of his own children as his son and his boys are filled with contempt towards him and insecurity. Raskolnikov does not murder because of his theory of ‘The Superior Man’, but because his fiancé died and his mom and sister, whom he loves, are poor and he feels helpless to help them. Granted, these are subtle readings, but this is all in the texts.

  4. Alyosha does not respond to his brother’s doubt with an intellectual argument because sometimes an intellectual doubt is a cover for moral rebellion that has arisen in response to emotional pain. Ivan is not confused about God’s goodness, he is a rebel against God. His argument is not intellectual, but emotive. I am sure we have all had conversations wherein we answer an intellectual argument soundly but fail to convince our interlocuter. This is because often intellectual doubts are smokescreens and not the real issue that needs to be addressed. For all his focus on ideas, I think Dostoevsky realizes this (e.g. in Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov is not argued into repentance, but is moved by the story of Lazarus, the love of Sonia, the care of Porfiry, witnessing the death/damnation of Katerina Ivanovna, etc.) We can argue whether or not Dostoevsky’s conversions are full or clear enough, etc. but I think he is right in recognizing the limits of apologetics–we cannot simply argue a man into believing the truth. (Though we can also argue that apologetics play more importance that Dostoevsky thinks…)

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This is one of the best episodes in a while, hearing Jake take on the despair in his work. The future is certainly full of promise and Dostoevsky just can’t see it.

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