Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dostoevsky's Demons

I have greatly anticipated the opportunity to begin reading Dostoevsky's Demons. It usually takes D. a few hundred pages to establish the basic setting and character relations and now after 250 pages I am beginning to come across the type of dialogue I was waiting for. Nikolai, having been gone for a number of years, returns to his home village where is confronted with Shatov an ardent admirer of Nikolai's ideology. Shatov experiences something which begins to shake his view of Nikolai. In a "feverish" rant Shatov confronts Nikolai with how he understood Nikolai's own teaching. I have little commentary on the following quote but it seemed to relate to some of the thoughts being expressed in Jason's Notes on the Future

Its a little long but I think it flows well.

"Do you remember your expression:'An atheist cannot be Russian, an atheist immediately ceases to be Russian' - remember that?"
"Really?" Nikolai Vsevolodovich seemed to want the question repeated.
"You ask? You've forgotten? And yet this one of the most precise indications of one of the main peculiarities of the Russian spirit, which you figured out. You can't have forgotten it? I'll remind you of more - you said at the same time: 'He who is not Orthodox cannot be Russian.'"
"A Slavophil notion, I suppose."
"No, the Slavophils nowadays disavow it. People have grown smarter nowadays. But you went even further: you believed that Roman Catholicism was no longer Christianity; you affirmed that Rome proclaimed a Christ who had succumbed to the third temptation of the devil, and that, having announced to the whole world that Christ cannot stand on earth without an earthly kingdom, Catholicism thereby proclaimed the Antichrist, thus ruining the whole Western world. You precisely pointed out that if France is suffering, Catholicism alone is to blame, for she rejected the foul Roman God but has found a new one. That is what you were able to say then! I remember our conversations."
"If I had belief, I would no doubt repeat it now as well; I wasn't lying, speaking as a believer," Nikolai said very seriously. "But I assure you that this repetition of my past thoughts produces an all too unpleasant impression on me. Couldn't you stop?"
"If you had belief?" Shatov cried, paying not the slightest attention to the request. "But wasn't it you who told me that if someone proved mathematically that the truth is outside Christ, you would better agree to stay with Christ than with the truth? Did you say that? Did you?"
"But allow me also to ask, finally, " Nikolai raised his voice, "what this whole impatient and . . . spiteful examination is leading to?"
"This examination will end forever and you will never be reminded of it."
"You keep insisting that we are outside space and time . . ."
"Be silent!" Shatov suddenly shouted. "I'm stupid and clumsy, but let my name perish in ridiculousness! Will you permit me to repeat before you your main thought of that time . . . Oh, only ten lines, just the conclusion . . ."
Shatov again leaned forward a little on his chair, and even raised his finger again for a moment.
"Not one nation," he began, as if reciting line by line, and at the same still looking menacingly at Nikolai, "not one nation has ever set itself up on the principles of science and reason; there has never been an example of it, unless perhaps only for a moment, out of foolishness. Socialism by its very essence must be atheism, because it has precisely declared, from the very first line, that it is an atheistic order, and intends to set itself up on the principles of science and reason exclusively. Reason and science always, now, and from the beginning of the ages, have performed only a secondary and auxiliary task in the life of nations; and so they will to the end of the ages. Nations are formed and moved by another ruling and dominating force, whose origin is unknown and inexplicable. This force is the force of unquenchable desire to get to the end, while at the same time denying the end. It is the force of a ceaseless and tireless confirmation of its own being and a denial of death.

I will end this quote here but I will likely add at least two others of similar length that continue and conclude this "feverish" rant. I know this is so grossly out of context and may make no impact on you. But I am a convert and I am seeking others to join. I find that making significant social and philosophical commentary in a narrative context so powerful. I will save my own commentary for now.

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