Archetypes from Underground

Notes on the Dostoevskian Self
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
  • 1. Auflage
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  • erschienen am 17. Mai 2016
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  • 372 Seiten
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978-1-77112-206-1 (ISBN)
Archetypes from Underground: Notes on the Dostoevskian Self uncovers archetypal imagery in Dostoevsky's stories and novels and argues that archetypes bring a new dimension to our understanding and appreciation of his works. In this interdisciplinary study, Harrison analyzes selected texts in light of fresh research in Dostoevsky studies, cultural history, comparative mythology, and depth psychology. He argues that one of Dostoevsky's chief concerns is the crisis of modernity, and that he dramatizes the conflicts of the modern self by depicting the dynamic, transformative nature of the psyche. Harrison finds the language and imagery of archetypes in Dostoevsky's characters, symbols, and themes, and shows how these resonate in remarkable ways with the archetypes of self, persona, and the shadow. He demonstrates that major themes in Dostoevsky coincide with Western esotericism, such as the complementarity of opposites, transformation, and the symbolism of death and resurrection. These arguments inform a close reading of several of Dostoevsky's texts, including The Double, Notes from Underground, and The Brothers Karamazov. Archetypes inform these works and others, bringing vitality to Dostoevsky's major characters and themes. This research represents a departure from the religious and philosophical questions that have dominated Dostoevsky studies. This work is the first sustained analysis of Dostoevsky's work in light of archetypes, framing a topic that calls for further investigation. Archetypes illumine the author's ideas about Russian national identity and its faith traditions and help us redefine our understanding of Russian realism and the prominent place Dostoevsky occupies within it.

Lonny Harrison is an assistant professor of Russian at the University of Texas at Arlington. His research, published in Slavic and East European Journal, Canadian Slavonic Papers, and other venues, takes an interdisciplinary approach to the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, incorporating Russian and European trends in intellectual history and philosophy. Other research interests include Russian cinema, translation, and technology-enhanced language learning.
  • Englisch
  • 0,52 MB
978-1-77112-206-1 (9781771122061)


Foundations of the Dostoevskian Self

I tell you, I am a child of my century, a child of unbelief and doubt up to this very moment, and I am certain that I will remain so to the grave.

- Dostoevsky, letter of January-February 1854, Omsk

Soon we shall contrive to be born somehow from an idea.

- Notes from Underground

The iconic image of Dostoevsky is many-sided. In his own biography and as author, Dostoevsky inhabits the roles of oracular bard, revolutionary conspirator, Siberian-exile-turned-monarchist, philosopher of suffering and redemption, Russian mystic, and novelist-seer who predicted that Western socialism would be the cause of unlimited despotism in Russia and "the lopping off of a hundred million heads" (per Shigalev in The Devils). We are fascinated by the man and his extraordinary life, by the author and his sensational works, and by the engrossing times in which he wrote them. We are captivated most of all by the exhilarating works themselves.

But why do those works hold us so much in thrall? I venture that the reason we read Dostoevsky again and again is to plumb the souls of his enigmatic characters. As types they occupy the most variegated spectrum: the downtrodden and abused; the dreamers, criminals, murderers and thieves; amoral nihilists and visionary prophets; holy fools and sage elders; the petty and avaricious; the wretched and despairing; the perfectly beautiful amid the morally bankrupt and outright evil. The almost mythical parade of agitated, fever-addled heroes and anti-heroes entangled in Dostoevsky's nightmarish urban dramas has become emblematic of his work. His great and remarkable talent is his facility to dramatize the emotional and psychological lives of such a diverse cast along with their weighty psychic loads. We are tantalized by the same questions that seem to tantalize and haunt them: What drives them? What do they believe? Who are they? And where is their soul?

In this chapter I ask: What is the Dostoevskian self? I'll ask what Dostoevsky meant when he referred to the self, and I begin to search for the origins of the notions that emerge from my analysis. I examine developments that separate the modern self from its ancient precursors and describe how Dostoevsky responds to the advent of the modern self in the themes that he dramatizes in his uniquely complex and multivalent manner. It is critical to understand the considerable extent to which Dostoevsky conceived of a special, uniquely Russian self as well as, in particular, the mystical folk ethos and other national and religious overtones that he attributed to it.

Put another way: What, judging by Dostoevsky's accounts, is the self made of? What do Dostoevsky's characters mean when they say "I," and what does Dostoevsky the writer mean when he uses the first-person pronoun "?" [ya]? I mean this in the everyday, purely indexical sense as well as in the conscious or one might say self-conscious sense of "I" that Dostoevsky uses when he talks about the nature of the conscious mind, the human psyche, and its place in the cosmos. This is a broad topic and a large question that brings up several others that need to be addressed in turn, and these considerations lay the groundwork for my study of archetypes in Dostoevsky. I proceed with the understanding that "self" is also an archetype, and the historical development of the Western notion of self and its Russian counterpart can be seen as an unfolding of personality along archetypal lines.

'They Call Me a Psychologist'

In a letter of February 1878 Dostoevsky wrote explicitly on the type of question I am asking. It is late in his life, and he is writing to an admirer of his work, Nikolai Ozmidov, after speculating on the question of sensory experience and consciousness:

If it has been conscious of all this . . . then, therefore, my self is higher than all this . . . [it] stands to the side, as it were, above all this, judges and is conscious of it. But, in that case, this self not only is not subject to the earthly axiom, to earthly law, but goes beyond them and has a law higher than them. Where is that law? Not on earth, where all come to an end and all die without a trace and without resurrection. Isn't this a hint at the immortality of the soul? If not, would you, Nikolay Lukich, take to worrying about it, writing letters, looking for it? This means that you can't cope with your self: it doesn't fit into the earthly order but seeks something else, besides the earth, to which it also belongs.1

Here Dostoevsky describes a category of self that must be seen as transcendent and noumenal. It is the self that is "higher than all this," the self that "goes beyond," that stands to the side, that has a higher law than the earthly.

Reading Dostoevsky's polyphonic novels, one is involved in a chorus of Bakhtinian double-edged discourse, engaged in the process of finding who the self is. Who is this dialogic "I" that defines itself pre-emptively with every utterance? Who introduces himself with "I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man"? Who reasons himself into becoming an axe murderer? Who imagines a Grand Inquisitor who "corrects" Christ's teachings by replacing absolute freedom with absolute tyranny? These questions ask whether there is an integral being whom we associate with the Underground Man, with Raskolnikov, or Ivan Karamazov. In each of these, and among the array of Dostoevsky's characters, how do questions of faith, reason, freedom, society, free will, historicity, consciousness, and moral responsibility contribute to the formation of personality and identity? What do personality and identity mean to Dostoevsky? Within the polyphonic range of types and antitypes that inhabit Dostoevsky's works-his narratives of the grotesque distortions of personality wrought by moral depravity and suffering-does the storyteller reveal the inviolable core of the self or is he a poet of naught but chaos and disorder?

To get at these questions we encounter inherent difficulties in reading Dostoevsky from a religious, psychological, historical, or nationalist point of view, but these perspectives often converge on common insights. Here I consider each viewpoint in turn. First, the psychological.

While some have succeeded in reading Dostoevsky from a psychological perspective, doing so is fraught with pitfalls. Traditional approaches to Dostoevsky-as-psychologist run the risk of diminishing and compartmentalizing the author's works. Yet a tradition of psychoanalytic studies has grown up around them and proven to be a fruitful branch of Dostoevsky scholarship. Ivan Ermakov, a founder of the Russian psychoanalytic school, wrote books on Pushkin (1923) and Gogol (1924) as well as an unpublished monograph on Dostoevsky.2 The pioneering Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, which took a great interest in Dostoevsky, between 1906 and 1920 would produce Otto Rank's famous paper on the doppelgänger motif in The Double as well as Freud's classic study of parricide in The Brothers Karamazov.3 Freud and his colleagues took a biographical approach, endeavouring to link the writer's themes and obsessions, among other complexes, to his epileptic condition, "the baneful influence of his father," and the trauma of the father's murder by his own serfs.4

Dostoevsky-as-psychoanalyst has occupied a host of studies, the most recent being Bernard Paris's Dostoevsky's Greatest Characters.5 Paris uses a theoretical framework adapted from the psychoanalyst Karen Horney to produce remarkable insight into the complexity of Dostoevsky's multi-faceted characters. Finding, for example, the Underground Man's theories inadequate as an expression of his personality, Paris regards the views of the protagonist of Notes from Underground to be the expression of his personality, and his personality a result of his early life. Like some other purely psychological studies, however, its drawback is its excessively clinical approach, casting Dostoevsky's characters as patients in rehabilitative therapy. Clinical psychoanalysis, while compelling, is too hermetic to serve as an interpretive framework for Dostoevsky's works. A notable exception is René Girard's Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure (1965), which gives a prominent place to Dostoevsky's work in an incisive examination of literary texts that exemplify the psychological need for transcendence or "metaphysical desire." Girard's analysis of The Double is discussed in my case study of that book in the following chapter.

Paris sees that "the complexity of the underground man's motivations cannot be adequately accounted for in thematic terms," and that "in his effort to understand his lack of a stable identity, the underground man attributes his condition to the 'fundamental laws of over-acute consciousness,' but this explanation . . . seems inadequate to the complexity of his behavior." More insights of a similar variety are offered:

Like the Russian romantics he describes, he is a "broad" nature, a "many-sided" man who is full of contradictory elements. His problem is that because he contains everything, he feels that...

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