Before having children of his own, Dostoyevsky used to regale his nieces and nephews with stories about ghosts, but the writer who peered into the abyss of the self showed that such phantoms weren’t the most frightening beings of all. His young listeners “should go into an empty room, he said, look into a mirror and stare into their own eyes for five minutes,” Birmingham writes. “It is terrifying, he told the children, and nearly impossible.”
How a Murderous Poet Inspired One of Dostoevsky’s Masterworks
The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece
He gets up abruptly from the desk he’s been leaning on and lumbers over. “All right,” he says. “Let me have one of those Pall Malls.” I offer the whole pack. He takes three, puts one behind each ear, lights the other, and French-inhales the smoke in a way I haven’t seen for twenty years. “The first thing to understand about an execution,” he says, “is that it’s a ritual. You’ve heard that before, but probably only as a truism. There’s nothing cliché about an execution. It is a modern religious ritual, sanctified in the sense that everything represents something else. The executioner’s fee is the eye for the eye. The sacrifice is implicit in the fact that only one out of every hundred or so gets killed. The blood atonement is what the prisoner’s last meal symbolizes. Notice how the exact menu always gets in the newspaper story? That’s just some AP asshole, acting out a ritual he doesn’t even know is a ritual. He’s covering a communion.”
Dennis is a middle-class northerner, a black sheep who at the age of nineteen killed a man accidentally while sowing wild oats in a barnstorming through the South in the late 1950s. He wound up in Angola and lost his eye in a knife fight in which he killed an inmate, for which he received a death sentence. Like Rideau, who taught himself to read on the row, Dennis spent the 1960s reading everything from the New Republic to Dostoevsky. Everyone in this office has read Dostoevsky, in fact, and to a man they are convinced that he murdered someone during his youth. No one, they say, could have understood the psyche of a murderer that well without having tasted blood himself.
Solotaroff, Ivan. The Last Face You’ll Ever See
from the footnotes:
8) Somebody has only to spend one term trying to teach literature in school to realize that the quickest way to kill a writer’s vitality for potential readers is to present that writer ahead of time as “great” or “classic.” Because then the author becomes for the students like medicine or vegetable, something that the authorities have declared “good for them” that they “ought to like,” and then the students’ nictitating membranes come down, and everybody’s dead. Should this surprise anybody? We could learn a lot from bored students who hate to read, in my opinion.
Whole article here:
Consequently, these laws of nature need only be discovered, and then man will no longer be answerable for his actions, and his life will become extremely easy. Needless to say, all human actions will then be calculated according to these laws, mathematically, like a table of logarithms, up to 108,000, and entered into a calendar; or, better still, some well-meaning publications will appear, like the present-day encyclopedic dictionaries, in which everything will be so precisely calculated and designated that there will no longer be any actions or adventures in the world.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground (Vintage Classics) (p. 20)
Plutarch recounts how Aristides the Just would help the illiterate record their votes for the person to be ostracized from Athens each year. Someone once asked him to write down “Aristides.” Since the man was illiterate, Aristides could have written down anything, but performed the task honestly. When he asked why the man wanted to ostracize Aristides, he replied: “Simply because: I am sick and tired of hearing him called ‘the Just.’ ”
An aside from an article on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, “The Idiot” savant by Gary Saul Morson