My Plan of Concentration is a cohesive exposition of the way in which Dostoevsky complicates suffering and the concept of the Other in his work. I open with a succinct paper on Eastern Orthodox Theology, which is intended not to question the foundation of suffering within Orthodoxy but rather familiarize myself and the reader of the differences in the perception of suffering found in the religion itself and the way in which Dostoevsky draws from and complicates aspects of his faith. My second paper is on The Idiot, the thesis of which is predicated on Sarah Young’s use of the term “scripting” and the way the creation of scripts influences and deters Myshkin’s ability to behave with active love to alleviate the suffering of the Other in the Petersburg social setting. My final paper is on The Brothers Karamazov and looks at the repetition of phrases and gestures in that book as they exemplify Dostoevsky’s views. Entitled “Suffering, Brotherhood, and Repetition in The Brothers Karamazov,” the paper explores Dostoevsky’s conception of brotherhood, which presents a Slavophilic and Orthodox-centered conception of equality and union.
To understand suffering in a Biblical perspective one must come to terms with the idea that one cannot use an intellectualized human system of morality and justice to judge God. As human – thus imperfect reflections of God and Christ – people must understand Him, and the extent that we cannot, to be beyond understanding. The Book of Job paints this image of God as unknowable in his actions in a cleverly set up dialogue between Job, his friends, and ultimately God. Job, the “perfect and upright” (Job 1.1) man, becomes the victim of God’s conversation with the devil. For the purpose of this paper I will look at the devil as serving a literary role, as a foil for God right now, his role as the accuser, the adversary, and functioning in a parallel fashion to the adversities faced in life.
Dostoevsky does not provide an explanation for suffering. Rather, he claims that suffering can be alleviated and accepted more readily through active love and participation in the brotherhood and unity of all the Russian people. Active love and brotherhood are hampered by our own nature as human beings. Father/son relations, so important in the novel, if absent, lead to great suffering. He deeply complicates this ideal form of living through his use of broken father/son relations and the insect-angel dichotomy found in the vacillations of Ivan and Dmitri.
As pointed out and disliked by Nabokov, the overuse and emphasis on the pathetic, of situations built upon pathos, creates an atmosphere in the novel where the break from those pathetic situations affects the reader far stronger and emphasizes the thematic thrust of the novel in a more direct fashion. This break from the pathetic into a movement of grace is evident through the repetition of bows in the novel, as some come in the form of the pathetic and others as a heartfelt union with the Other in brotherly love.
Although I intended to study political philosophy at Marlboro, I took a course co-taught by Geraldine Pittman de Batlle and Tom Toleno titled “Dreams, Dickens, and Dostoevsky.” In that class I decided I wanted to work on Russian literature with Geraldine.
I have a few very studious anecdotes but I think the best experience I had in tutorial was at Geraldine’s house. The snow was just beginning to melt with spring, I was trying to edit my 78-page paper on The Brothers Karamazov while Louis played the piano in the background and Geraldine sat at the other table reading each new page as I handed it off to her.