2009-07-27

The Brothers Karamazov


It's astonishing in The Brothers Karamazov (published in 1880) how up-to-date Dotoevsky is with scientific ideas. To whit:
  • Ivan's demon visitor talks of the 10 minutes it takes for light to travel from the sun to the earth.
  • In the same conversation, he talks of the low temperature of space.
  • Ivan mentions non-euclidean geometry.
  • While in custody awaiting trial, Dimitri talks of mind being the product of the activity of nerve cells in the brain, not a soul.
I tweeted my impressions as I read the book. I knew Dostoevsky was an epileptic, but I wondered if he was a schizophrenic as well. The 'brain fever' that Ivan suffers is described so vividly he must have had some first hand experience of it.

In Chapter 6, the pivotal dialogue between Ivan Fyodorovich and Smerdyakov is brilliant. For me, it is one of the great dialogues, up there with Jesus and Pilate in The Master And Margarita.

I like how Dostoevsky zooms in and explains the mundane details of how a great event comes about. It reminds me of Daniel Dennet's discussions of free will.

In the Life Of The Elder Zosima, there's a captivating story of the guilt of a 'mysterious visitor'. In fact I think the overriding theme of Dostoevsky's work is guilt. I feel guilt pretty heavily, and maybe that's why I'm attracted to these books.

Well, another great skill of Dostoevsky is to have high drama and passion, without it being farcical. I did find myself laughing at times though, wondering to myself if his characters were 'emotionally incontinent'.

Kolya Krasotkin: the most insufferably precocious child in all literature? Okay, only when we first meet him. Alyosha does have a moderating effect thereafter.

At the end I shed a few tears. Well, I did.

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