Dostoevsky

Aiming the arrow–why write

The other morning I started filling in/out an application. It never occurred to me that both those directions would be appropriate. Regardless.

The application was for a writing mentorship. I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but I started filling it with the thought that, “Hey, if I finish it, I might as well turn it in”. I rattled off a few paragraphs for each question, but then I went back to the first question, which I had intentionally skipped to begin with because it put me on edge;

“What do you hope to achieve as a writer?”

First of all, the word achieve puts me on edge. The most in my head that I hope to achieve is to be a writer. If I were to set up goals for my writing to accomplish, then my writing would be steered towards that accomplishment. The track would be laid out and we all know how difficult it is (though not impossible) for trains to jump tracks.

However, this did bring up some thought and concern. Why do I want to write? I’ve wanted to write poetry ever since the second grade when I entered one of those scam poetry.com contests, but that’s probably/mostly because I enjoyed writing poetry. Since then my writing passes between poetry and literary criticism and philosophical sprinkling. My manuscript attempted to emphasize the relationship between text and the reader. But if the reader were to notice this relationship that I am pointing at, so what? If I go on and on about the different interpretations of a few lines in The Master and Margarita, so what? Will it be useful to anyone?

This notion of usefulness is something that I try not to think of in my writing. Because whatever I deem useful may be entirely overlooked, and the most useless words may be highlighted and examined for days on end. It betrays the idea of what a text is to try to emphasize what is useful, what should be noticed, what should be achieved through the reading.

George Steiner begins his text Tolstoy or Dostoevsky with the line, “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love” and the first page ends with “Through some primary instinct of communion we seek to convey to others the quality and force of our experience. We would persuade them to lay themselves open to it. In this attempt at persuasion originate the truest insights criticism can offer”.

“Debt of love” and “lay themselves open to it” I believe are two of the most important phrases in those lines. Because that is not only what a text is aiming to do, but that is what one’s own writing, whether it be creative or criticism, should aim for as well. The achievement should lie not in hitting the bullseye, but being able to aim the arrow at all, for yourself or for another.

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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.

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under what definition shall we call these lines?

the levels of apathy are at astronomical levels. it’s almost as though the alliteration makes it tolerable. oops. there went the alliteration.

asking three times. it’s always three times. sometimes the going back and forth is the most frustrating thing. but then again, i’ve spent so much time in absolutes, that it only makes sense that the movement is inherently frustrating. the difficulty part is something that is not only difficult, but is difficult to articulate and difficult to know what to do with such a difficulty. it’d be nice to sleep for a few weeks.

sailors fighting in the dance hall.
take a look at the law man beating up the wrong guy

those lines always make me think of clockwork orange. not entirely sure why.

we know failures aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be. we know that we must relish the failures in lieu of successes. but what do we do with these failures? where do we put them? how do we juggle them? do we throw them up into the air and let them drop like cannonballs upon our skulls one by one?

smile when there is no reaction, when there is no idea of what the reaction should be.

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