Paradoxical Dostoevsky by Gary Saul Morson

If Dostoevsky has ever flashed through your mind as an interest, I highly recommend giving the article Paradoxical Dostoevsky by Gary Saul Morson; one of the most eloquent and illustrative pieces I have read written about Dostoevsky. And for my own purposes, it creates a phenomenal stepping stone for comparing Dostoevsky and Nietzsche in a new and playful manner.

To any reader of Dostoevsky’s the presence of paradox is difficult to miss. As Morson notes, a great deal of the time Dostoevsky will narrate what happens by articulating what does not happen, or by listing all the potential possibilities because he himself had not planned how the story would end, so he set himself up for as many possibilities as he could.

It’s almost as though Dostoevsky was playing chess with language whenever he wrote. At the beginning of the text/game, there are many potential moves, and as good chess players know, it’s important to go through all of these potential moves in one’s mind in order to be prepared for whatever your opponent offers. And in this case, Dostoevsky is merely playing chess against himself.

The paradoxes in Dostoevsky are the diving board from which Nietzsche will dive into the abyss, only to find that Dostoevsky is already down there. (Morson even relates the notion of eternal recurrence to Dostoevsky) The humor in Dostoevsky is not as easily found as it is in Nietzsche (although the laughter and pity in Nietzsche have been overlooked until recently). Whether or not it has to do with translations and differing cultural humor is unclear, but if anything the paradoxes should be the first to send the reader into a chuckle.

The most important point which I think Morson makes is in regards to intentionality. Intentionality and the misunderstanding of it (in addition to the misunderstanding of cause and effect) is what Dostoevsky stresses in his works, especially in Crime and Punishment. The link between the two, the and, the misunderstanding of that and is what Dostoevsky wishes to bring to the surface and insist that it is alright that one negates the other. The chain of order that humans profess is just as much of an illusion/surface as anything else. (Tolstoy makes a similar attempt to rewrite the understanding of cause and effect in War and Peace; I am currently in the process of writing essays exploring the similarities between the two works)

Dostoevsky reveled in the world of paradoxes, because he realized that all the world is made up of paradoxes because we insisted upon setting up dichotomies which in fact bear no true statement upon the world. And his works, at least in my experience, participated in underlining to my eyes the significance of paradoxes and their usefulness in play.


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