And where did all these sages get the idea that man needs some normal, some virtuous wanting? What made them necessarily imagine that what man needs is necessarily a reasonably profitable wanting? Man needs only independent wanting, whatever this independence may cost and wherever it may lead.
Notes from Underground · Fyodor Dostoevsky · 1864
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Vintage, 1994 · 136 pages, paperback
With Notes from Underground, first published in 1864, Fyodor Dostoevsky picked up an axe of condemnation and swung—hard. Hard against an imposed ideal, hard against a code of right and wrong in human feeling, hard against the presumption that reason could dictate desire.
Dostoevsky tells us that not only is man inherently flawed but he is flawed because he wills himself to be so. Continue reading
The backlog for reviews is…
Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
City of Glass, Paul Auster
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
A House for Mr. Biswas, V.S. Naipaul
…makes me blush.
I have, however, nearly finished my review of the Dostoevsky and plan to have it up by Sunday, late; if you can quick read Orwell’s 1984 before then it may serve you well.
Added to UFC and Irish whiskey under the category of things I never would have pegged myself for: 1930s crime novels.
The other reviews I’ve not yet started and may need a bit of time to page through each of the books, reacquaint myself with their characters, with the authors’ writing and with the feel of the books themselves.
I will tell you this, though: not one of these six disappointed. I also learned that I will eat up anything written by Raymond Chandler, whose Big Sleep led me to purchase three more of his novels. Hint: his work is like Dirty Harry-style cop drama but as 1930s crime novels!
Reviews aside…currently reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
What are you reading?
School-age grudges and backroom bargains line up the chips against ladies’ secrets and counterfeit fathers in The Adolescent, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s penultimate novel and one that built on his previous work with surprising maturity.
The Adolescent · Fyodor Dostoevsky · 1875
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Vintage, 2004 · 608 pages, paperback
Vladimir Nabokov, in his Lectures on Russian Literature, said of Dostoevsky that the man “seems to have been chosen by the destiny of Russian letters to become Russia’s greatest playwright, but he took the wrong turning and wrote novels.” Though he was talking about The Brothers Karamazov, which Nabokov called a “straggling play,” the comment holds for The Adolescent, a gossipy soap opera done in high style. Continue reading
Reading The Adolescent and gossip ain’t ever gonna die.
Orhan Pamuk’s Snow begins as a novel that had a good shot at feeding the intellect but instead contorted itself into a soap opera complete with convenient fixes for its weaknesses.
Snow · Orhan Pamuk · 2002
Maureen Freely translation · Vintage, 2005 · 463 pages, paperback
A political coup that manipulates the theater to confuse and gain power? A string of suicides inspired by Turkey’s uncertain position on the East-West divide? An exiled poet who just might find enlightenment in the forsaken streets of his home town? Pamuk’s writing in Snow (originally published in Turkey as Kar) is too placid for the story he wanted to tell. We read the few moments of heightened drama in this novel in a detached way, as if we’re too tired to keep our eyes open and our brains can’t hold onto the words we’re reading: we just don’t care. Continue reading
“In a world where God is simply dead flesh, a good man becomes simply an idiot.” – AS Byatt, “Prince of Fools,” The Guardian, June 2004
The Idiot · Fyodor Dostoevsky · 1868-’69
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Vintage, 2003 · 633 pages, paperback
Dostoevsky explained in a letter to a friend, and later to his niece, that his project in writing The Idiot was that of portraying a “perfectly beautiful man.” This man, Prince Myshkin, the titular “idiot,” is an epileptic who returns to Russia after four years in a Swiss sanatorium.
Myshkin isn’t an intellectual idiot; his idiocy stems from naivety and simple-heartedness. Myshkin is an idiot because he is foolish to the nastier, baser parts of man and to the cruel reality of an impure world.
Dostoevsky writes goodness with the same attention he gave meanness in Crime and Punishment. He writes it as an otherness, received only with reservations, suspicion and disbelief. Goodness disintegrates, is dragged through the street and becomes tangled up with the coarser parts of society until it is unrecognizable and even damaging.