Saturday, 26 November 2011

Crime and punishment – Dostoevsky, 1866

What is it to be criminal and and how to deal with the guilt?

Marmeladov, a drunken guy, the main character Raskalnikov meets in a bar: “’Why am I to be pitied, you say? Yes! There’s nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied! Crucify me, oh judge, crucify me but pity me! (…) Do you suppose, you that sell, that this pint of yours has been sweet to me? It was tribulation I sought at the bottom of it, tears and tribulation, and have found it, and I have tasted it; but He will pity us Who has had pity on all men.’” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.40).

When dead the Lord will also receive the drunken ones, says Marmeladov: “’And He will say: “This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.”’” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.41).

Raskonikov constantly opposes utalitarians: capitalists and socialists.
“’Hitherto, for instance, if I were told, “love thy neighbour”, what came of it?’ Pyotr Petrovitch went on, perhaps with excessive hast, ‘It came to my tearing my coat in half to share with my neighbour and we both were left half naked. As a Russian proverb has it, “Catch several hares and you won’t catch one”. Science now tells us, love yourself before all men, for everything in the world rests on self-interest.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.208).

“It began with the socialist doctrine. You know their doctrine; crime is a protest against the abnormality of the social organisation and nothing more, and nothing more; no other causes admitted!” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.345). “From which it follows that, if society is normally organised, all crime will cease at once, since there will be nothing to protest against and all men will become righteous in one instant. Human nature is not taken into account, it is excluded, it’s not supposed to exist!” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.345). “That’s why they so dislike the living process of life; they don’t want a living soul! The living soul demands life, the soul won’t obeythe rules of mechanics, the soul is an object of suspicion, the soul is retrograde.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.346). “The phalanstery is ready, indeed, but your human nature is not ready for the phlanstery – it wants life, it hasn’t completed its vital process, it’s too soon for the graveyard.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.346).

But why does he opposes utilitarians so wholeheartedly?
Raskolnikov says: “Oh, you particular gentleman! Principles! You are worked by principles, as it were by springs: you won’t venture to turn round on your own account.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.188).

He wants to commit the crime on his own term:
Porfiry about Raskolnikov’s article: “’In his article all men are divided into “ordinary” and “extraordinary”. Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.349).

Raskolnikov: “I don’t contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, I doubt whether such an argument could be published. I simply hinted that an “extraordinary” man has the right … that is not an official right to decide his own conscience to overstep … certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity.)” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.350).

“well … legislators and leader of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahoment, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.350).

“I’ve come to you, we are both accursed, let us go our way together.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.440).”You, too, have transgressed … had had the strength to transgress. You have laid hands on yourself, you have destroyed a life … your own (it’s all the same!). You might have lived in spirit and understanding, but you’ll end in the Hay Market … But you won’t be able to stand it, and if you remain alone you’ll go out of your mind like me.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.440).

But he fails to live up to his theory:
“He will suffer if he is sorry for his victim. Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have a great sadness on earth.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.356).

“I asked myself one day this question – what if Napoleon, for instance, had happened to be in my place, and if he had not had Toulon nor Egypt nor the passage of Mont Blanc to begin his career with, but instead of all those picturesque and monumental things, there had simply been some ridiculous old hag, a pawnbroker, who had to be murdered too to get money from her trunk (for his career youo understand) (…) I was fully ashamed when I guessed at last (all of a sudden somehow) that it would not have given him the least pang, that it would not even have struck him that it was not monumental.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.548).

“If I worried myself all rhose days, wondering whether Napoleon would have done it or not, I felft clearly of course that I wasn’t Napoleon. (…) I longed to throw it off: I wanted to murder without casuistry, to murder for my own sake, for myself alone.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.553).

“Did I murder the old woman? I murdered myself, not her! I crushed myself once for all, for ever … But it was the devil that killed the old woman, not I.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.554).

But towards the end of the book, Raskonikov finds salvation in suffering:
“’It was not because of your dishonour and your sin I said that of you, but because of your great suffering. But you are a great sinner, that’s true’, he added almost solemnly, ‘and your worst sin is that you have destroyed and betrayed yourself for nothing. Isn’t that fearful that you are living in this filth, which you loath so, and at th same time you know yourself (you’ve only to open your eyes) that you are not helping anyone by it, not saving anyone from anything” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.431).

“How it happened he did not know. But all at once something seemed to seize him and fling him at her feet. He wept and threw his arms round her knees.” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.719).

Afterword quoting Dostoevsky: “There is no happiness in comfort; happiness is bought with suffering” (Dostoevsky, 1866, p.737).

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