This struck me as the revelation that changed the protagonist's perspective. And Dostoyevsky presents this using the irrational, symbolic language of dreams: a vision of human dignity. He concludes by quoting Christ's commandment... showing that this isn't new knowledge. It's been known for a very long time, but one must experience suffering and a spiritual death before the full significance of the commandment can be understood.
Kierkegaard's book on Christian love provides an in-depth (and sometimes tedious) discussion of the necessity of love of ones neighbor. Recommend checking it out if you're curious to read why one could come to view such love as necessary for life.
So from these excerpts, his profound writing reminds me of another great writer I admire the most; Poe.
Poe’s writing has had a profound effect on me and so has this story by Dostoyesvky.
I see the similarity in the sense that both of these writers seem to distill such great truths about life and translate them into poetical and lyrical writing.
The conventional plot is barebones in their stories but their focus lies on the inner turmoil, revolving intensely around a lonesome nihilistic character musing about the existence, human desires and the consequent suffering that results thereafter.
I’m a fan now and will definitely be reading more of Dostoyesvky.
It was supposed to be the first part of two books but he died before he wrote the second. Which is why I think there was much more to the plot and there may have been some more twists beside what was already revealed in the first.
Some writers may have some truth that they want to convey in their book and so they create characters that are simply vehicles for these ideas and not much more (ie Ayn Rand). Dostoyevsky's characters are not simply posterboys for some moral agenda but are more like personality archetypes that you would actually come across, that's what makes his writing so relatable and believable, and the interactions between these characters so lifelike.
Some of it does get lost in translation, there's something about Russian dialogue that it translates very awkwardly to English.
PS: Another example where his insight was pretty accurate was his book The Possessed. It was published over 40 years before the communist revolution in Russia but it definitely offered some very on-point commentary about the nature of the people who lead these kinds of movements. It was prescient in many ways, really. It's a lesser known book but I highly recommend it, in many ways I think it's relevant to what's (still) happening in politics today.
I bought a copy of it, so I could make up my own mind. Peterson brought it to my attention and it was timely as I read Man's Search For Meaning this year. That book is very widely read.
I had never even heard of The Gulag Archipelago. Peterson points out that it's severely under-read in the West compared to how significant it is. He's saying you should at least read it and judge for yourself and not let only the ideology itself be the basis on which you judge the ideology.
That seems reasonably sensible to me.
I guess to that end it's one data point among many.
As I've grown ever more curious about history and have started to dive into more and more parts of it I find that really reading through things deeply yourself is a much richer experience than a crude surface level analysis or taking someone's word for it. I had never heard of it prior to him bringing it up and it's like holy moly here looks like the exact kind of thing I find quite engrossing to read.
I think HN book recommendation thread from recently mentioned An Era of Darkness which I haven't bought yet because I implement a moratorium on buying books until I get through another 50, but I did add it to my list. That one is an account of British Rule in India.
Id rather do my best to learn the lessons of history. I think it's a lost art these days.
Russian classical literature
New man | Odd man | Small man
I thought that cycle was the nutshell of Russia. Then again I only know Russia through her authors. Holy S*^% they’re brilliant!
The picture was made by William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse:
As the point in the sky what we today call the "Whirlpool galaxy" was discovered in 1773 by Charles Messier and "in 1845, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, employing a 72-inch (1.8 m) reflecting telescope at Birr Castle, Ireland, found the Whirlpool possessed a spiral structure."
Only during the last 100 years we have obtained proofs that a lot of these objects that what were before called "nebulas" are the galaxies with many billions of the stars in each of them, and that the Whirlpool galaxy is a galaxy.
It seems that just the author of the mentioned book from 2014 claims that that 1845 picture inspired Van Gogh. While it's true that the picture was published in the books at the times when Van Gogh could have seen it, it seems it's still not proven, and I'm surely not convinced: in the painting of Van Gogh we can't actually see any spiral star, all shine circularly, and the spiral shapes are something else (air movements?):
so, beware of internets bearing gifts.
On another side, the awareness of the planets being planets and of comparable size to Earth existed of course much longer, so Dostoyevsky's hero could write in 1877 something that the readers would even then easily understand (as quoted in the article):
"If I had previously lived on the moon or in Mars, and I had there been dishonored and disgraced so utterly that one can only imagine it sometimes in a dream or a nightmare, and if I afterwards found myself on earth and still preserved a consciousness of what I had done on the other planet, and if I knew besides that I would never by any chance return, then, if I were to look at the moon from the earth — would it be all the same to me or not?"
Perhaps D. is the exact opposite of a self-help book at the airport. It’s hard to read and emotionally devastating. You go into the depths of human depravity. Sin is real. Modernity is fraught with contradictions, with danger. Modernity offers mechanical band aids for what are sicknesses of our souls. For Doestoyevsky the greatest man is Christ but he is what we would consider an Idiot.
In the end you are offered catharsis. accept it and you are changed.
I'm off to celebrate Christmas with family but I don't think you can be honest with yourself about who you are unless you appreciate the depths of human depravity, with that understanding you can build a truer foundation for your personal convictions about life.
I have never read Dostoyevsky before. Any recommendations on where else to start?
The motif of the nihilistic, disaffected young man is something Fyodor gets a lot of mileage out of, but he's the master of that genre. Notes From Underground is similar, but a lot shorter. It's one of the few Dostoevsky novels I haven't read, so I can't say much more than that. Its opening is his most famous line: "I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased."
To go against the grain of most recommendations, I'll say that "Notes from a Dead House" (the name differs depending on translation) is a good place to start too. It's essentially his prison memoirs, slightly fictionalized to avoid censors. There are a lot of little details that stood out and affected me deeply. e.g: He recalls a small dog that was often abused by the other prisoners, and was so timid that it would "sink to the ground on all fours and start trembling all over" when he petted it. The book has so many small, human details that really show the personal history that influenced his later books. He has an eye for those details that most people would gloss over.
The thing to keep in mind is that, across Dostoyevsky's novels, there are a lot of scenes where people stand around discussing philosophy. It's great and engaging if you're into it, but it will kill your enjoyment if it's not your thing. The Brothers Karamazov and Demons are books to avoid for your first attempt; they include a lot of that. Fyodor is really preachy in general, but this increases over time in his career, so his earlier books are more plot-focused. And he's all about symbolism, like the hypothetical author in the famous "curtains are blue" meme.
Finally, don't worry too much about translation. Pevear and Volokhonsky are always the most recommended, but that is more due to current trends in translation than their objective superiority. That's not to say they're bad, but any modern translation is going to be fine. Constance Garnett is the only one who's not so great, but I had a fine experience with her translation of C&P as my first Dostoyesvky novel, so it's hardly unreadable.
*not a spoiler, this happens in the opening
In fact the Russian authors are amazing. It’s a shame I discovered them when I was in grad school and not earlier.
It was the best class I took in undergrad, it was so interesting to read and discuss. I think I needed to be in that class, though, to really get what I got out of it - so perhaps it is ok to come across them later in life. They almost require experience.
I'd recommend this first, then Notes from the Underground, for a gentle introduction.
And also: Chekhov, Nabokov. Of course: Tolstoy for those super-sized tomes that give you a free workout.