Dostoevsky Studies     Volume 7, 1986

The Brothers Karamazov, A Contemporary Reading of Book VI, "A Russian Monk"

Rudolf Neuhäuser, University of Klagenfurt

Interpretations of literary texts when they go beyond an analysis of structural and stylistics aspects tend to base themselves on one of two tacit assumptions. The text may be treated as an artefact and the interpretation aimed at establishing the author's original intention. The "correctness" of an interpretation then depends on the degree to which it corresponds to this auctorial intention. The opposite view tends to disregard historical context and authorial intention proclaiming the near absolute authority of the reader. Neither approach is entirely satisfactory.

Studies of the reception of literary texts and reader response show that there is an intimate interrelationship between text and reader. The literary text shapes the reader's comprehension of the world as much as the latter shapes and determines his reading of the text. If this were not so, it would be possible to establish an authentic interpretation of a text once and for all. However, there is an ongoing evolution in the interpretation of literature, each age developing its own canon of literary texts and its own specific readings. It goes without saying that each new interpretation must remain within the parameters established by the text!

The Brothers Karamazov is a novel with a structure consisting of many levels. We might say that Dostoevsky wrote not one, but several novels simultaneously. If we visualize this structure as threedimensional and begin with the "surface" of the text, we can differentiate the following five levels (or "novels") :

1. The belletristic level. The Brothers Karamazov (=BK) as the story of a murder prompted by powerful passions (= the detective novel) . One actual (Smerdjakov) and two potential murderers (Ivan and Dmitrij) determine the plot. Two passionate love stories, each including two rivals for the love of a girl, provide a further link between the main characters and motivate their actions. Dmitrij and Fedor Pavlovich vie for the love of Grushen'ka; Dmitrij is still emotionally bound to his first love Katerina Ivanovna who in turn is passionately loved by Ivan. In the background there is a third love story involving Alesha and young Liza Khokhljakova.

2. The philosophical level. The BK as a novel of ideas. Beginning with Ivan's "article" on ecclesiastic and secular courts, climaxing in the chapters Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor (R-GI), and ending with Ivan's Nightmare, we follow the peripetia of "Euclidean" thinking, i.e. become witness to Dostoevsky's interpretation of the consequences of rational thinking and loss of faith in God.


3.  The polemical level. The novel as a Tendenzroman, i.e. a polemic against the newly introduced trial by jury which, according to the author, could easily lead to the manipulation of the jury by means of the rhetorical brilliance of prosecutor and counsel-for-the defence leading eventually to a judicial error.(1) Dostoevsky has Ivan present an alternative in his above-mentioned article emphasizing the role of conscience in the church's approach to crime (=sin). This leads to the fourth level.

4. The allegorical level. The novel as a "Phasen- und Wesenslehre des Bösen" (H.-J. Gerigk) with Dostoevsky continuing thoughts of Kant's Metaphysik der Sitten (2nd Pt., I, §13) concerning the "internal court of justice" in man (=conscience) . (2) What is obviously a judicial error on levels 1) and 3) turns out to be a realistic assessment of the one single factor responsible for the commitment of parricide on the allegorical level.

5. The ideological level. The BK as expressive of the author's world view (Weltanschauung), contained mainly in Book I ("Elders"), Book II ("The Meeting in the Cell"), and Book VI ("The Russian Monk"), ending with the third chapter of the Epilogue.

There is no question that the BK has been an outstanding success on levels 1) to 3). The allegorical level, i.e. the Kantian background, has received attention only recently. On the fifth level, the novel has come close, one is tempted to say, to a total failure. Apart from occasional praise for the pious and saintly elder Zosima, the segments of the novels just listed, which refer to Zosima's "Life and Teachings" (ZLT), have traditionally been considered to be but a weak rebuttal of Ivan's views, as well as a restatement of the author's own conservative ideology derived from his "pochvennichestvo" ideology and involving a "Russian" Christ, i.e. a Russian-orthodox version of Christianity, capable of saving Russia and Europe from decay and downfall.

In brief, Dostoevsky's contemporaries as well as generations of critics and readers for the last hundred years have considered ZLT, and especially Book VI ("The Russian Monk", =RM), a piece of didactic writing repeating views Dostoevsky had already expressed in the pages of the Diary of a Writer and elsewhere.(3) It was not only the radical press that harshly condemned Dostoevsky's conservatism. The critic of Golos, a moderately liberal publication, summarizes the general attitude: "... only those people are positive heroes in The Brothers Karamazov who in their speech use texts from the holy books, read the Lives of the Saints or, at least, wear a parson's frock and maintain contact with the champions of faith in the monastery."(4) S. A. Iur'ev wrote to Dostoevsky's friend and first biographer O. Miller, concerning Zosima's Christian ideal that it was "extremely one-sided".(5) It is equally indicative that the elderly Tolstoi, himself a representative of a religious and didactic approach in literature, was enthusiastic about ZLT.

Scholarly criticism has echoed these views. The general in-


adequacy of ZLT as a reply to R-GI has been pointed out by D. Magarshak and, more recently, J. Jones. Magarshak writes, "For in the BK it is the characters and the ideas which, as a man, he [Dostoevsky] considered to be evil that spring to life with quite overpowering force, while the ideas and characters he approved of are 'made up' and in some cases, such as Alyosha's speech to the children at the end of the novel and the theme of the resurrection itself, show no characteristic touches of his genius and could, in fact, have been written by any third-rate novelist."(6) J. Jones' judgement's is even harsher: " Book VI, [RM] is no sort of answer to Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor, let alone a refutation. But for the biographical evidence one would never guess it was meant to be."(7) Its religious and didactic nature has been stressed by M. Braun: "Sossima vertritt das Prinzip der Rettung im Glauben."(8) S. Hackel speaks of the RM as "largely" a "religious discourse" echoing Bachtin ("hagiographical discourse"). (9) Dolinin was even more outspoken in his evaluation of RM: "The Book about 'The Russian Monk', with the sole exception of the chapters devoted to the novella 'The Mysterious Visitor', is a complete 'catechism'. It is here that the artist turns preacher and suffers his greatest defeats."(10) Dolinin also speaks of Dostoevsky's "straying from realism" and the "fantastic image" of the saintly elder. The conclusion at which we arrive on the basis of this survey is that either the two segments are poorly integrated in the structure of the novel or we have not really yet understood the "true" meaning of ZLT. In other words, the segment ZLT has not yet found its proper reader.

X    X    X

As indicated above the interpretation of literary texts depends on the often complex interrelationship of TEXT(-s) -NARRATOR(-s) - READER(-s). For the purpose of this study, I would like to avail myself of a three-tiered structure of narrative instances: On the side of the author/narrator we shall differentiate between implicit author i.e. Dostoevsky as he reveals himself in the novel, narrator, and character acting as narrator. On the side of the listener/reader the corresponding instances will be fictional reader (i.e. reader figures or characters as readers), implicit reader, and real or actual reader.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, Dostoevsky usually addresses himself to two types of readers simultaneously so that on the level of the implicit reader ("intended reader" from the point of view of the author) we have to differentiate between the naive reader as I would call him, i.e. the reader of the detective novel, and the perspicacious or sophisticated reader interested in the "deep structure" of the novel (levels 2 to 5).(11) The naive reader is primarily interested in those aspects of the novel listed by H.-J. Gerigk as the "Wirkungsfaktoren" of Dostoevskian texts.(12) The perspicacious reader will attempt to integrate all levels of the novel into his understanding emphasizing the philosophical aspects. Before discussing the reception of the two segments R-GI and KM by the perspicacious reader, we should analyze


the complex narrative structure of these two segments.

The novel is told by an unnamed narrator figure who, as it were, has been a witness to the events related by him. Time and again he steps back either to let events develop "spontaneously" in scenic narration or he has one of the characters act in his place. In both R-GI and RM the narrator allows a character to take over who then acts as narrator in his place. In R-GI this is Ivan who presents his arguments and 'poem' to Alesha (as a fictional reader figure). In GI, Ivan, too, steps back and lets the Grand Inquisitor hold a long monologue addressed to Christ who listens silently, eventually responding with a kiss. In RM the narrator introduces the segment as 'Alesha's manuscript'. Within the manuscript it is Zosima who acts as narrator so that the text is again three times removed from the author (Dostoevsky). The addressee (reader) of Alesha's manuscript is not indicated. One may assume that Alesha wrote the account for himself. Within the manuscript the addressee is the congregation of monks and disciples in the cell, prominent among them Alesha.

It is interesting to note that the two segments share a structure which we know from Notes from Underground. There one part consists of a discourse on philosophical and historical aspects of society while the other part contains the "novella proper". In R-GI the first part contains Ivan's argumentation aimed at disproving that this world is the best of all worlds, i.e. God's world, followed by Ivan's "poem". In RM this order is reversed: The literary part, Zosima's autobiographic "confession", is followed by a discourse on ethics, i.e. his teachings. In other words, each segment has an argumentative or "publicistic" part (a "rassuzhdenie" in 18th cent. terminology) , and a literary part (both genres clearly harking back to the Romantic Age: confession and poem in prose). In both segments the addressee on the level of the character as narrator is Alesha. In both there is an innertextual addressee, Christ in GI and Alesha in RM:

 In addition to the narrator, the segment R-GI has four different narrative instances (Ivan-Alesha-Grand Inquisitor-Christ), while RM has only two (Alesha-Zosima), as the congregation in the cell does not participate in the proceedings, but is used as a backdrop, a part of the stage-setting, as it were. The obvious addressee of Zosima's words in the manuscript is Alesha, who acts both as narrator (author of the manuscript)


and listener (or addressee/recipient of Zosima's words). He is also the addressee/recipient of the manuscript. There are other important structural differences. Ivan, the author of R-GI, is the "inventor" of the fictive figure of the Grand Inquisitor who in turn is the author of the fictive monologue addressed to Christ in the "poem". Alesha, the "author" of the manuscript, however, is NOT the "inventor" of Zosima, but rather it is Zosima who is responsible for the formation of Alesha's character. In other words, Ivan (human intellect/ mind personified) is the sole creator of his universe ("poem"); Alesha (man in search of spiritual guidance) is drawn into the orbit of Zosima, who - unlike the Grand Inquisitor - has the same degree of reality as Alesha and Ivan.

Ivan's argumentation and his "poem" are addressed to Alesha. His aim is to convince Alesha of the logical inevitability of atheism and rationalism. According to him, thinking man cannot but arrive at this conclusion. The aim of ZLT on the other hand, is not to convince by rational discourse, but by setting an example in order to initiate the process leading eventually to the same kind of spiritual rebirth as experienced by Zosima, his brother Markel and the "mysterious stranger". Ivan appeals to the mind, Zosima appeals to the entire human personality, to head and heart in 18th c. terminology. We note that this is also Christ's response to the Grand Inquisitor - he silently kisses him; a response which is also directed to the entire personality, to head and heart.

How are the two segments R-GI and RM linked to the other levels of the novel?

Within the text of the BK the segment R-GI functions in two ways: 1) It clearly establishes the dependence of Ivan on rational thinking and exposes him as an atheist, thus preparing the ground for the decisive encounters between Ivan and Smerdiakov, and Ivan and Fedor Pavlovich (Book V, 6-7). In other words, it sets the scene for Smerdiakov's crime. 2) The segment R-GI also provides the explanation for Alesha's sudden loss of faith in Zosima after the letter's death, when the expected miracle does not happen. This in turn motivates Alesha's negligence, - he forgets to watch out for Dmitrii, whom he wants to restrain from committing an act of violence against his father. This is an important factor on the allegorical level, as has been pointed out by H.-J. Gerigk. R-GI thus has a twofold function on the plot level motivating actions which otherwise could not have occurred with the same degree of plausibility. The segment has still another function on the philosophical level by clearly stating the theme of the novel on this level: the incompatibility of faith and "Euclidean" thinking (i.e. the incompatibility of religion and the modern mind which accepts only what can be rationally explained and put to use!). This in turn provides the rationale for the murder: If we cannot prove that there is a God, then it is up to man to decide what is permitted to him and what is not. Even murder may be justified on the plane of rational thinking. If Christ was wrong (GI), then there really is no Christ and, therefore, no forgiveness. This motivates the suicide of Smerdiakov.


It is obvious that R-GI is integrated into the fabric of the novel in many ways. Both the naive reader who expects a plausible account of the crime and the perspicacious reader who looks for deeper layers of meaning and will read the novel as a statement of Dostoevsky's judgement of a world which has lost faith in God and is about to replace it with the Grand Inquisitor's rationalistic ideology, - both, each in his own way, will have to integrate R-GI in their reading of the novel. What is the function of the other segment (RM)? We have to bear in mind that Zosima, around whom this segment revolves, is not one of the main characters of the novel on levels 1) to 4). He has nothing to do with the commission of the crime and the events leading to the judicial error. On the plot level he must be considered a secondary figure, introduced solely, to motivate Alesha's religious leanings (possibly also the comic relief provided by Mrs. Khokhliakova's changing attitude to the saintly elder). His character and the setting of the monastery provide a somewhat exotic background and a stark contrast to the somber events taking place in the town of Skotoprigonevsk. The naive reader may well - and presumably often does - bypass the segment RM. On the philosophical level RM has the function of motivating the spiritual rebirth of Alesha, experienced in rudimentary form also by other characters. However, these motives (Dmitrii's ecstatic acceptance of life, Ivan's love of 'sticky little leaves', Grushen'ka's 'little onion', Alesha kissing the earth) remain accidental to the plot and are of little if any consequence for the atheism/rationalism versus faith debate led by Ivan and his doubles, the Grand Inquisitor and the Devil. Even with respect to Alesha's "resurrection" the reader may well be tempted to say that this is not much of a resurrection of faith. After all Alesha had strayed from the path of faith for only a very brief moment, indeed. From this point of view, the segment RM is indeed, not a fitting answer to atheism, let alone a refutation. Dostoevsky explained in his Preface to the novel that he needed the "first novel" (BK), because otherwise much would remain inexplicable in the "second novel" . We may assume that EH was actually intended to provide the motivation for events meant to take place in the second novel, which remained unwritten. Moreover the segment RM involves basically only two characters who have little (Alesha) or nothing (Zosima) to do with the crime. Neither participates actively in the debate with Ivan: Alesha is mostly a passive listener to Ivan's arguments, the elder hardly exchanges more than a few words with Ivan. In summary, we have to admit that in contrast to R-GI the segment RM does not contribute anything of essence to the first four levels of the novel. Had Dostoevsky (or the censor) removed it, the novel would not have suffered a great loss. (14) One might even argue that it would have gained in precision, compactness and plausibility as a piece of realistic prose.

On the other hand, both the naive and the perspicacious reader need the segment R-GI. The naive reader will read it as a (needlessly elaborate and overly long) motivation of Ivan's conviction that "everything is permitted", which - once accepted by Smerdiakov - leads to the crime. The perspicacious reader will concentrate on the GI's arguments against Christ


which raise the debate to the metaphysical level. In addition, one has to admit that the contents of R-GI fit in well with the intellectual profile of the age and would (and did) appeal | to the contemporary intellectual, In contrast, neither the naive nor the perspicacious reader needs the contents of RM for their understanding of levels 1) to 4) of the novel. The question of Dostoevsky's "Weltanschauung", specifically his "pochvennichestvo" ideology and its variant in this segment, - Dostoevsky's philosophy of life rooted in faith with strong pantheistic overtones, - are of little apparent relevance to the novel. They provide an extended background to Alesha, obviously preparing the ground for his further development in the unwritten second novel.(15)

With respect to RM we can speak of a "nesostoiavshiisia chitatel'", or a "lecteur manqué" (narratee degree zero"). (16)

The history of the reception of the novel seems to prove the point.

It is the intention of this essay to show that today the time has come when a new type of reader may find new meaning in this segment. It is hoped that the following analysis of the seven main components of Zosima's/Dostoevsky's world view presented in the segment will support this thesis.

1. Zosima's personalist ethics proclaiming the responsibility of everyone for everyone and everything. Each of us, says Zosima, carries part of the responsibility for the situation of his fellow-men and the world as such: "For you must know, beloved, that each one of us is beyond all question responsible for all men and all things on earth, not only because of the general transgression of the world, but each one individually for all men and every single man on this earth." "You must realize that everyone is really responsible for everyone and everything."(17)

2. Zosima's demand for "sobornost'" as opposed to individualism and isolation, - a demand which follows from the first proposition and repeats the Utopian-Christian socialist's insistence on brotherly love as the basis of communal life: "We all must wait upon one another." "...true security of the individual does not lie in isolated personal efforts but in general human solidarity."(18)

3. The third proposition states that paradise is within each of us as a potential spiritual state based on an attitude of humility and forgiveness. Thus Markel says: "I may have sinned against everyone, but that is why they will all forgive me, and that is paradise." And the mysterious visitor clarifies: "'Paradise', he said, 'is hidden in every one of us. It is hidden in me, too, now, and I have only to wish and it will come to me in very truth and will remain with me for the rest of my life.'" (19)

4. The fourth proposition postulates another key concept of Utopian (and not only Utopian) socialist thinking, - the conversion of the world into an earthly paradise, Zosima holds


the view that paradise actually exists as such on earth. The basically "paradisiacal" state of creation may be hidden from our eyes by various misconceptions and prejudices, but if we properly "open" our eyes we will become aware of it. The consequence is love of the earth and joy in being alive and being part of earthly life. This contradicts the traditional view of the world in Christian writing as a "vale of tears", full of temptation and sin as described by Ivan in R!

Once again we come face to face with the Utopian socialist's concept of the future world. Fourier wanted to re-establish the "world of harmony" intended by God, St. Simon intended to lead mankind into a new golden age: "We shall wrench the golden age from the past in order to enrich future generations."(20) In Zosima's teachings we can still hear the echo of the writings of the early French socialists whose works Dostoevsky had read in the 1840's. As Markel says: "Life is paradise and we are all in paradise, only we don't want to know it, and if we wanted to we'd have heaven on earth tomorrow. "(21) Several repetitions of this view emphasize its significance for Zosima/Dostoevsky. One of the most lyrical passages of the work expresses this view of the world: "It was a warm, bright, still July night. The river was broad, a mist was rising from it and from time to time we could hear the soft splash of a fish. The birds were silent. All was still and beautiful, all was praying to God. Only we two were not asleep, the peasant lad and I, and we began to talk of the beauty of God's world and the great mystery of it. Every blade of grass, every small insect, ant, golden bee, all of them knew so marvellously their path, and without possessing the faculty of reason, bore witness to the mystery of God, constantly partaking in it themselves. (...) 'Truly,' I replied, 'all things are good and beautiful, because all is truth.'" "{...) the world is for all; all creation, all creatures, every leaf are striving towards the Lord, glorify the Lord, weep to Christ, and unknown to themselves, accomplish this by the mystery of their sinless life.'"(22)

The other statement comes from Zosima's legacy to his congregation: "Love all God's creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. And once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love. Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and untroubled joy. Do not, therefore, trouble it, do not torture them, do not deprive them of their joy, do not go against God's intent. Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are without sin, while you with your majesty defile the earth by your appearance on it and you leave the traces of your defilement behind you - alas, this is true of almost every one of us!'"(23) The need for love of the earth and joy of life is stressed again and again: "My friends, ask God for gladness. Be glad as children, as the birds of heaven." "Love to fall upon the earth and kiss it. Kiss the earth ceaselessly and love it insatiably. Love


all men, love everything, seek that rapture and ecstasy. Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears. Be not ashamed of that ecstasy, prize it, for it is a gift of God, a great gift, and it is not given to many, but only to the chosen ones."(24)

Zosima's understanding of the world and man has much in common with our own ecological understanding of the world as an interlinked ecological system (a "vernetztes System"), a delicate balance of forces and counterforces where every single factor is influenced by every other. It forms the fifth proposition in the context of Zosima's teachings:

5. The ecological view of the earth as an interlinked system: "(...) for everything is like an ocean, flows and comes into contact with everything else; touch it in one place and it reverberates at the other end of the world. (...) Everything is like an ocean, I tell you."(25) Such a view must have appeared as unrealistic and exaggerated to Dostoevsky's contemporaries, as a figure of speech or metaphor. At any rate nobody would have thought of taking it literally in Dostoevsky's time. Today we know that this is literally true, in deed, and corresponds to a realistic understanding of the world.

6. The next proposition is a logical extension of this view of the world: If God's spirit is present in the creation, and all creation is, at least potentially, paradise, this means that our visible, material world is only a small part of the universe, i.e. that part which is immediately accessible to us through our senses. As the Russian freemasons, but also Herder in a passage quoted by Karamzin claimed, the universe actually consists of various interlinked "worlds", the "seeds" of which, as Zosima says, have been sown in this world of ours, a view which attained a certain popularity among enlightened sentimental and early romantic writers: "Many things on earth are hidden from us, but in return for that we have been given a mysterious, inward sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher, heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say that it is impossible to comprehend the essential nature of things on earth. God took seeds from other Worlds and sowed them on this earth, and made his garden grow, and everything that could come up came up, but what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its contact with other mysterious worlds; if that feeling grows weak or is destroyed in you, then what has grown up in you will also die. Then you will become indifferent to life and even grow to hate it. That is what I think."(26)

This could be understood to mean that there is no yonder would beyond this world, but that the world is ONE, the spiritual world being contained within our own visible world, -a view which is age-old, shared by mystics and sages of many religions and cultures.

In order to comprehend the unity of the universe and perceive


the beauty of life in and around us, to come to love life and everything alive, we must fulfil one more condition, and this is the last and, possibly, most essential proposition:

7. This proposition proclaims the spiritual rebirth of man in a moment of intense, intuitively-felt union with nature and life, and the divine presence in both. Such a moment of rebirth is experienced by Markel, Zosima, the 'mysterious visitor', and also Alesha. With varying degrees of intensity it is experienced by other figures as well (Dmitrii, Ivan, Grushen'ka). It is this experience which guarantees the eventual salvation of man from despair and sin. Let us briefly review some of the instances mentioned: Markel, an atheist, "short-tempered and irritable", suffers from consumption. After realizing the gravity of his illness, confessing in church and taking the holy sacrament, he suddenly changes: "Why not go straight into the garden and walk and enjoy ourselves, love, praise and kiss one another, and bless our life?" His experience of spiritual rebirth is paralleled by the rebirth of nature in spring: "Easter was late and the days were clear, sunny, and full of the fragrance of spring." (27)

Zosima, like Dmitrii, once led a life of dissipation: "Drunkenness, debauchery and daredeviling we almost prided ourselves on." On the eve of a duel he cruelly beats his orderly. On the morning of the next day he awakes, looks out into the garden, "(...) - and watched the sun rising. It was warm and beautiful, the birds began to sing." Suddenly he is overcome by remorse: "I stood there as though I had lost my reason, and the sun was shining, the leaves were rejoicing and reflecting the sunlight, and the birds - the birds were praising the Lord... I covered my face with both my hands, flung myself on my bed and burst out sobbing."(28) This is Zosima's moment of rebirth.

The experiences of Markel and Zosima as well as the rebirth experienced by the 'mysterious visitor' are archetypal, as it were, for other characters in the novel. When the miracle expected by everyone does not happen (cf. the role of miracle in the legend!), Alesha assumes Ivan's atheistic position: "'I haven't taken up arms against God', he said, with a sudden wry smile. 'I simply "don't accept his world".'"(29) Then he dreams of the marriage in Cana of Galilee. Dead Zosima appears before him: "'Let us make merry', the dried up old man went on. 'Let's drink new wine, the wine of new gladness, of great gladness'".(30) Immediately following this dream, the message of which is the core of Zosima's teaching, -namely, the view of the world as divine, as a place of joy for man, - Alesha experiences his moment of rebirth: "The vault of heaven, studded with softly shining stars, stretched wide and vast over him. From the zenith to the horizon, the Milky Way stretched its two arms dimly across the sky. The fresh, motionless, still night enfolded the earth. The white towers and golden domes of the cathedral gleamed against the sapphire sky. The gorgeous autumn flowers in the beds near the house went to sleep till morning. The silence of the earth seemed to merge into the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the earth


came into contact with the mystery of the stars. ...Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly he threw himself down flat upon the earth. He did not know why he was embracing it. He could not have explained to himself why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss it all, but he kissed it weeping, sobbing and drenching it with his tears, and vowed frenziedly to love it, to love it for ever and ever. 'Water the earth with the tears of your gladness and love those tears', it rang in his soul. What was he weeping over? Oh, he was weeping in his rapture over those stars which were shining for him from the abyss of space and 'he was not ashamed of that ecstasy'. It was as though the threads from all those innumerable worlds of God met all at once in his soul, and it was trembling all over 'as it came into contact with other worlds'. He wanted to forgive everyone and for everything, and to beg forgiveness - oh! not for himself, but for all men, for all and for everything, 'and others are begging for me', it echoed in his soul again. But with every moment he felt clearly and almost palpably that something firm and immovable, like the firmament itself, was entering his soul. A sort of idea was gaining an ascendancy over his mind - and that for the rest of his life, for ever and ever. He had fallen upon the earth a weak youth, but he rose from it a resolute fighter for the rest of his life, and he realized and felt it suddenly, at the very moment of his rapture. And never, never for the rest of his life could Alyosha forget that moment. 'Someone visited my soul at that hour!' he used to say afterwards with firm faith in his words. ..." (31)

Dmitrii whose emotional attitude, his hatred of his father provides the 'energy' for the commitment of parricide (thus making him guilty on the allegorical level) also experiences the intuitive joy of life and love of the world, though tainted by his carnal passions. "I love life. I've loved life too much - (...) I'm ready to bless God and his creation now (...) Let's drink to life, dear brother! What can be more precious than life?" (32) Like Markel and Zosima he recognizes, "we are all responsible for all (...) And I'll go for all, for someone has to go for all. (...) we shall arise anew in gladness, without which man cannot live nor God exist, for God gives gladness. That's his privilege, his great privilege. ..."(33) And he confesses to Alesha at the end of the novel: "During these last two months, Alyosha, I've felt the presence of a new man in me - a new man has arisen in me!"(34)

Dmitrii's rebirth actually begins at the time of his wild chase in the coach to Mokroe, where he wants to celebrate with Grushen'ka and then commit suicide. His mystic experience is paralleled by the aesthetic experience of nature: "The air was fresh and cool; big stars twinkled in the clear sky. It was the same night and perhaps the same hour in which Alesha fell on earth and 'vowed ecstatically to love it for ever and ever'". And Mitja prays: "Do not judge me because I love thee, O Lord." (35)

Even Ivan is able to experience the intuitive love of the earth and all creation, symbolized in the sticky little leaves in spring, a love that comes from the heart and is inex-


plicable in rational terms: "However much I may disbelieve in the order of things, I still love the sticky little leaves that open up in the spring, I love the blue sky, I love some people, whom, you know, one loves sometimes without knowing why, I love some great human achievement, in which I've perhaps lost faith long ago, but which from old habit my heart still reveres."(36)

His rebirth does not happen in the novel, but we may assume that Dostoevsky planned it for the continuation of the novel. Grushen'ka is the only other figure experiencing a spiritual rebirth which, indeed, changes her life. In Mokroe she echoes Zosima's views: "Everyone in the world is good, everyone without exception. The world's a nice place."(37) She addresses these words to Dmitrii on the evening of the day of her meeting with Alesha who acted as catalyzer bringing about her change of attitude. Actually, it was the news of Zosima's death announced by Alesha and his compassion for her that initiated the change: "He was the first, the only one, to take pity on me -(...)" as she puts it.(38) In this spirit she decides to sacrifice her life for Dmitrii and follow him into exile.

Traditionally, Dostoevsky criticism has seen in Zosima's teachings Dostoevsky's intention to give his readers an example of orthodox principles, on which Russians should base their — conduct in life.

Zosima's views and attitudes are, however, not entirely in accord with the orthodox tradition as has already been pointed out by Leont'ev. In fact, Dostoevsky has "some of the more muddle-headed" monks comment: "'His teachings were false. He taught that life was a great joy and not tearful self-abasement', (...) 'His faith was too modern he did not recognize material fire in hell', others, who were even more muddle-headed, joined in. 'He was not strict in fasting. He allowed himself sweet things. He took cherry jam in his tea (...)'". (39) Dostoevsky's ( = Zosima's) "rosy-coloured" Christianity has its source as much in early Utopian-Christian socialism as in the 18th century tradition of orthodox elders. The undogmatic, "church-free" religiosity practised by 18th century freemasons and the deistic and pantheistic inclinations of sentimental and preromantic authors like Karamzin are equally part of the background to the elder's philosophy. Leont'ev was one of the first critics to see this clearly pointing to Beranger and George Sand as Dostoevsky's sources. (40) Above all, he attacked Dostoevsky's/Zosima's belief in an earthly paradise, - the goal of the enlightened young sentimentalist Karamzin as much as that of the Utopian socialists. Sven Linnér has pointed out other incongruities in Zosima's lifestyle, such as the absence of asceticism (as the asceticism practiced by Amvrosii of Optyna pustyn'), the absence of an ongoing battle with evil, the absence of "a simple, very simple fear of eternal torment" (already noticed by Leont'ev): "We see no scars from a long bor'ba in Zosima. He exhibits nothing of the hardness we would expect to find in a saint who has conquered his passions." Linnér also points out that Zosima's view of death as a link in the chain of


of Zadonsk > looked upon death as the borderline between a life of constantly growing uncertainty and eternal bliss or damnation."(41)

In summary, Dostoevsky seems to have revived some of the ideals of his youth, trying to combine them with his understanding of orthodox religiosity, i.e. he draped Utopian socialist views in the garb of a liberal, unorthodox version of orthodoxy. The tradition of Russian elders served him as a convenient vehicle to transport these views to the reader.

The reader implied by the segment RM is Dostoevsky's double, the Utopian socialist turned conservative who attempts to "square the circle", - i.e. combine the Utopian aspect of early utopian-christian socialism (itself an offspring of the Romantic Age) with a liberal version of the orthodox faith which has its roots in the 18th century. Just as Alesha writes his manuscript for his own edification and that of like-minded readers, Dostoevsky seems to have written the segment RM as a testimony to and a justification of his out look on life. This was bound to be a failure. By the 1880's the socialists of Dostoevsky's youth had become anarchists, communists, terrorists, - the orthodox church was headed by a Pobedonostsev. In addition, the literal interpretation of Zosima's precepts was inhibited by the scientific "Weltanschauung" of late 19th century man. Zosima's teachings could only be understood figuratively, metaphorically, as a restatement of biblical passages (which appealed to Tolstoi!), but had little to do with the social reality of the time. Zosima's precepts - just like the demands of Christ as formulated by the Grand Inquisitor - simply were not applicable to social reality in any literal sense. They were as Utopian as Christ's demands in the eyes of the Grand Inquisitor. To day, however, it becomes evident that (beyond the author's original intentions) there is another dimension to RM, - one of which Dostoevsky himself could hardly have been aware a hundred years ago.

The 20th century has witnessed the further evolution of science, technology, industrialization. The world has become a "global village" (M. McLuhan) with instant communication from end to end. The ecological problem has made us realize that, indeed, "everything is like an ocean, flows and comes into contact with everything else; touch it in one place and it reverberates at the other end of the world." The destruction of the upper levels of the atmosphere, the poisoning of the earth's surface by chemicals, the radiation freed by atomic tests and nuclear reactors on a global scale, the threatening destruction of our total environment are proof to our generation of the literal truth of Zosima's teachings concerning individual responsibility and the sanctity of nature. We have become aware that every single state, nation and individual do bear part of the responsibility for the potential destruction of the ecological balance on earth. On the other hand, it is obvious that we possess, or are close to possessing, all the technical means to turn earth into a veritable paradise for man, although we sadly lack the ethical preconditions for such an undertaking.


In other words, today's "ecological reader", if I may call him this, seems to be the appropriate addressee of RM, the appropriate reader on the fifth level of the BK, replacing Dostoevsky's intended reader. A new consciousness, a new awareness of the sanctity of nature, of the ecological network spanning the globe has led to a new philosophy of life, sometimes termed "New Age" philosophy, identified with a new period in the history of humanity, professed no longer only by fringe groups of society reaching from California to the little community of Findhorn in Northern Scotland, but also by scholars such as the physicist Frithoff Capra and the educationalist George Trevelyan.(42) If we accept the term "New Age philosophy" as a collective term for the new ecological awareness of our age, then we may call Dostoevsky one of the first, if not the first New Age philosopher, whose text RM contains some of the main propositions of New Age philosophy. A hundred years after its creation the segment RM seems to have found a new addressee. Today's ecological reader is prepared as no other reader before was to take Zosima's/Dostoevsky's precepts as listed in the seven propositions above literally, and this gives new significance and additional weight to this segment of the BK. Yet what about its role as a counterargument to Ivan's defense of atheism and "Euclidean" thinking?

Ivan's queries about the existence of God, and the divine origin of the world, his claim of the "death of God" and a universe of pure materiality transcend literature and science. Neither literature nor science nor philosophy are in a position to provide conclusive proof for or against his claims. Perhaps, we should reformulate the question and approach it from a more pragmatic and realistic point of view. The reader might ask himself what the effects would be if the two controversial concepts (Ivan's world without God, a "vale of tears", a place of injustice and suffering, and Zosima's world as paradise, as an interlinked system implying mutual responsibility) were applied to reality. Today's reader will interpret Ivan's position that everything is permitted as long as it is justified by reason and utility to include not only parricide, but the madness of nuclear warfare, the destruction of the environment and the eventual suicide of mankind, whereas Zosima's position may well - justifiably to some - appear to be the only possible realistic alternative that may still guarantee the survival of humanity on this globe. From this point of view, the view of a contemporary reader, the text of the segment RM is, indeed, a powerful and convincing answer to the arguments of the other segment R-GI and its frightening implications!


  1. Trial by jury was introduced in judicial practice in 1866.
  2. See the "Nachwort" to the German edition of the novel (dtv Dünndruckausgabe, v. 2043, 1978) by H.-J. Gerigk. Ja. E. Golosovker has offered another allegorical reading based on Kant's famous "Antinomien der reinen Vernunft" in his book Dostoevskij i Kant, M. 1963.



  4. F. M. Dostoevskij, PSS v 30 tt., v. 15, pp. 487-496. The reviewer in Sovremennost, no. 25, March 1, 1879, said: "... v rechi kotorogo [t.e. Zosimy] avtor vkladyvaet ves'ma mnogoe iz vyskazannogo uzhe im v 'Dnevnike pisatelia'". (p. 488) Quotations im Russian from this edition will be identified by volume and page.
  5. Golos, no. 67, March 8, 1879: "(...) polozhitel'nymi geroiami v BK iavliaiutsia tol'ko te liudi, kotorye govoriat tekstami iz sviashchennykh knig, chitaiut chet'i-Minei ili po krainei mere nosiat podriasnik i vkhodiat v obshchenie s monastyrskimi podvizhnikami."
  6. "(...) khristianskii ideal - ideal Zosimy - (...) kraine odnostoronen." S. A. Jurev in a letter to O. F. Miller. (15, 500).
  7. D. Magarshak, Dostoevskij, London 1962, p. 466,
  8. J. Jones, Dostoevskij, Oxford 1983, p. 330.
  9. M. Braun, Dostojewskij. Das Gesamtwerk als Vielfalt und Einheit, Göttingen 1976, p. 258.
  10. S. Hackel, "The religious dimension: vision or evasions. Zosima's discourse in The Brothers Karamazov." In: M. V. Jones and G. M. Terry (eds), New Essays on Dostoyevsky, Cambridge 1983, p. 140.
  11. A. S. Dolinin, Poslednie romany Dostoevskogo, M.-L. 1963, p. 301 and 304.
  12. R. Neuhäuser, "Zur Funktion von literarischen Quellen und Modellen in Dostojevskijs literarischen Texten (1846-65)" In: H. Rothe (ed.), Dostojevskij und die Literatur, Köln-Wien 1983, p. 110f. Concerning the terms "uninformed" and "naive" reader see also S. Fish, "Literatur in the Reader: Affective Stylistics" In: New Literary History, no. 2, 1970. Compare this with U. Eco, The role of the reader, Bloomington-London 1979, and M. Riffaterre, Essais de stylistique structurale, Paris 1971.
  13. H.-J. Gerigk, "Die Gründe für die Wirkung Dostoevskijs" In: Dostoevskij Studies, v. 2, 1981, pp. 3-26.
  14. In "euclidean" or geometrical terms, Ivan's arguments could be characterized as a straight line symbolizing the linear nature of Ivan's reasoning based on the chain of cause and effect. Alesha's segment could be seen as a circle, beginning and ending with Alesha, the elder forming the (spiritual) center.
  15. This seems to be Dolinin's view! Cf. note 10 above.
  16. Dostoevskij said in his "Preface" with respect to Alesha: "The main novel is the second one - it deals with the activity of my hero in our day, I mean, at this moment."
  17. 150


  18. G. Prince, "Introduction to the Study of the Narrative" in: J. P. Tompkins (ed.), Readerresponse Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, Baltimore 1980. Prince uses the terms "narratee degree zero" and "lecteur manqué" (not identical in his view!). S. Chatman disputes the value of this terminology in his book Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, Ithaca-London 1978. See also Ju. B. Borev (ed.), Teorii, shkoly, koncepcii (kriticheskie analizy). Khudozhestvennaia recepciia i germenevtika, M. 1985.
  19. Quotations from the novel in English are based on D. Magarshak's translation in the 2 vol. Penguin edition (first published 1958). They are identified by volume (I, II) and page. I, 190 and 339; 14, 149 and 262.
  20. I,339 and 357; 14, 262 and 276.
  21. I,340 and 356; 14, 263 and 275.
  22. Saint-Simon in De l'Organisation sociale, 1825.
  23. I, 338; 14, 262.
  24. I, 346; 14, 267f.
  25. I, 375; 14, 289.
  26. I, 376 and 379; 14, 290 and 292.
  27. I, 376; 14, 290. Text changed slightly to correspond more closely to the original!
  28. I, 377; 14, 290f. Compare the research by thanatologists like Raymond Moody, Kübler-Ross and others which seems to provide convincing evidence for the correctness of this view of the world!
  29. I, 339 and 338; 14, 262 and 261.
  30. I, 349f.; 14, 270.
  31. II, 400; 14, 308.
  32. II, 425; 14, 327.
  33. II, 426f.; 14, 328.
  34. II, 477f.; 14, 366.
  35. II, 694; 15, 31.
  36. II, 694; 15, 30.
  37. II, 482 and 485; 14, 369 and 372.
  38. II, 268.; 14, 209f.
  39. 151


  40. II, 518; 14, 397.
  41. II, 420; 14, 323.
  42. II, 390f.; 14, 301. Compare this to Leont'ev: "Pravda, i v 'Brat'iakh Karamazovykh' monakhi govoriat ne sovsem to ili, tochnee vyrazhaias', sovsem ne to, chto v deistvi tel'nosti govoriat ochen' khoroshie monakhi i u nas, i na Afonskoi gore (...)". Quoted in 14, 497.
  43. Leont'ev points to "pesni Beranger" and George Sand as the sources for Dostoevsky's "nadezhdu na zemnuiu liubov' i na mir zemnoi" (i.e. Dostoevsky's humanism). K. N. Leont'ev, "O vsemirnoi liubvi", in: Varshavskii dnevnik, nos 162, 169, and 173, 1880. (Quoted in 14, 496f.)
  44. Sven Linnér, Starets Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. A Study in the Mimesis of Virtue. Stockholm 1975, p. 103 and 107.
  45. See the following titles: Fritjoff Capra, The Turning Point, London 1982. 
    George Trevelyan, A Vision of the Aquarian Age, 1984.
    Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy, 1981.
    Peter Russell, The Global Brain. Speculation on the Evolutionary Leap to Planetary Consciousness, 1983.
    Ken Wilber (ed.), The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes, 1982.
    Dan Wilber, Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the Great Physicists, 1984.
    Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World, 1981, 1984.
    Rupert Sheldrake, A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation, 1981.
    Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail, 1979.
    Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell, 1974.
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