Dostoevsky Studies     Volume 8, 1987


David Patterson, Oklahoma State University

In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics Mikhail Bakhtin argues that in Dostoevsky's novels an idea is "neither a principle of representation (as in any ordinary novel), nor the leitmotif of representation, nor a conclusion drawn from it (as in a novel of ideas or a philosophical novel); it is, rather, the object of representation" (24). As the title of his work suggests, however, Bakhtin is concerned more with Dostoevsky's poetics than with his message, more with the how than with the what of the idea. Yet his approach to Dostoevsky does imply a link between the manner in which the idea unfolds and the content of the idea. Bringing out the dialogical dimensions of Dostoevsky's novels, Bakhtin's investigation is itself ' dialogical and conveys a "potential other meaning, that is, a loophole left open," which "accompanies the word like a shadow" (233). On the side of poetics, Rene Wellek has rejected Bakhtin's ideas on polyphony (31-39), but, as Wayne Booth has observed, Bakhtin insists on the mutually dependent relation between form and idea (xvi), so that his treatment of polyphony, personality, and discourse in Dostoevsky is both testimonial and analytical. In short, Bakhtin's examination of the many voices in Dostoevsky's works is essential to any claim regarding their spiritual aspects.

The message to which Bakhtin bears witness is to a large extent the one that Nikolai Berdyaev presents in his own study of Dostoevsky, both thinkers having produced their works in the 1920s. What Bakhtin does implicitly Berdyaev states explicitly, explaining that his purpose in Dostoevsky is "to display Dostoevsky's spiritual side" (10). Like Berdyaev, Bakhtin proceeds from a Christian point of view; it will be recalled, for instance that he was exiled to Kustanai in 1930 for his involvement in the Christian group Voskresenie (see Clark and Holquist, 126-132). While Berdyaev openly assumed a Christian position, Bakhtin found it necessary to do so by implication, even though his Christian bent does come out quite clearly in Estetika slovesnogo tvorchestva (see 51-52). It should also be noted that if Berdyaev focuses on the Johannine Spirit (see Dostoevsky 207), Bakhtin proceeds from the Johannine Word (see Estetika, 357), with the view that word is spirit. To be sure, in her preface to Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics Caryl Emerson points out that Bakhtin's endeavor is "a basically religious quest into the nature of the Word" (xxxi). And in Mikhail Bakhtin Clark and Holquist explain, "This conviction that the sign has a body corresponds to Bakhtin's ontotheological view that the spirit has a Christ. The kenotic event that is reenacted in language is the mode of God's presence to human beings" (225). The kenotic even—the spirit or word made flesh—is the key to the approaches to Dostoevsky taken by Bakhtin and Berdyaev.


The ensuing comparison of Bakhtin and Berdyaev in their investigations of Dostoevsky will show that the dialogical dimensions of Dostoevsky's art are its spiritual dimensions. The discourse and form of his novels are essential to the ideas they contain. In Dostoevsky's novels concept is interwoven with structure, and message is tied to poetics. With the help of the two thinkers at hand, we shall see that spiritual truth takes on polyphonic form and that the literary effort to penetrate the personality is also a religious endeavor. We shall see what is at work in Dostoevsky's poetics of spirit.

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Polyphonic Form

When dealing with polyphonic form, one deals with a spatial rather than a chronological structure, a point which Bakhtin stresses with respect to Dostoevsky's novels (Problems 28). Organized according to an interchange among voices, Dostoevsky 's works are built around characters that determine who they are on the basis of where they are in relation to another character. The problem of presence, the problem of making life one with the Word, is the problem of being able to respond, "Here I am," when standing before the other. The exchanges between Kirillov and Pyotr Stepanovich in Besy (642-643) or between Ivan and Alyosha in Brat'ya Karamazovy (267) are good examples. Confronted with the task of living in his word, each character meets with the difficulty of being present before the other; each must transfer his lifeblood into his voice through a response, in word or deed, to another voice. This must be kept in mind when one hears Bakhtin say, "The fundamental category in Dostoevsky's mode of artistic visualizing was not evolution, but coexistence and interaction. He saw and conceived his world primarily in terms of space, not time" (Problems 28). When voice coexists with voice and word interacts with word, time collapses into the instant, which becomes not a particle of time but an atom of eternity. Standing before the other, the soul does not stand still but constantly lives and dies, hanging at the critical zero point. Thus, Bakhtin observes, "Dostoevsky always represents a person on the threshold of a final decision, at a moment of crisis, at an unfinalizable and unpredeterminable turning point for his soul" (Problems 61). In the polyphonic form characterizing Dostoevsky 's art, counterpoint signifies turning point. And on the threshold means in the face of the other.

It is the face, not fact, that speaks. If one should point out, with Bakhtin, that Raskolnikov, for example, "does not think about phenomena, he speaks with them" (Problems 237) , we may answer that he speaks in reply to a voice that summons him from within and from beyond phenomena, the voice of spirit or truth, if you will, or the voice of the one who witnesses every dialogue from a third position (see Bakhtin, Estetika 306) . The intercourse between fact and idea, then, maybe part of the "great dialogue" Bakhtin invokes when he says, "All relationships among external and internal parts and elements of his [Dostoevsky 's] novel are dialogic in character, and he structured the novel as a whole as a 'great dialogue'" (Problems 40) . Dialogical structure and polyphonic form are, on Bakhtin's


view, synonymous. "The polyphonic novel," he declares, "is dialogic through and through"; dialogical relationships, he adds, permeate "all human speech and all relationships and manifestations of human life"—in general, everything that has meaning and significance" (Problems 40). Polyphonic form is here indemic to meaning, which is grounded in a process of listening and response. "I call meanings responses to questions," Bakhtin writes in his notes from 1970-1971. "That which responds to no question is, for us, void of meaning"; and meaning "exists only for other meaning, that is, coexists with it" (Estetika 350). The polyphony of voice is therefore a polyphony of meaning, a counterposition of question and response.

As Berdyaev had pointed out, Dostoevsky generally plays the dialogical counterposition of question and response off a central position, a central voice, that poses questions and makes responses to other voices. "Dostoievsky's novels," he writes, "are all built up around a central figure, whether the secondary characters converge toward it or the reverse" (Dostoevsky 41). This central voice must not be construed as the author's message. It happens, as in the case of Stavrogin, that the central figure never actually voices his ideas; instead, we have only the responses of Shatov, Kirillov, and Verhovensky to that voice. Such an orientation to the other's voice is the distinguishing, dynamic feature of polyphonic form. Bakhtin has understood further that this movement is not simply an aesthetic matter but is also the expression of a certain ideological outlook. "A distrust of conventions," he argues, "and their usual monologic function, a quest for truth not as the deduction of one's own consciousness, in fact not in the monologic context of individual consciousness at all, but rather in the ideal authoritative image of another human being, an orientation toward the other's voice, the other's word: all this is characteristic of Dostoevsky's form-shaping ideology" (Problems 98). It is also characteristic of Dostoevsky's ideology-shaping form. But seeking may be a better term than shaping in this instance. For the voice of the other is constantly questioning, continually reshaping form and idea. Consider the shift in form from Part One to Part Two in Zapiski iz podpol'ya for example, a shift which accompanies a change in the problem facing the underground man: he goes from the problem of being alone—"I am alone, while they are everyone" (125)— to the task of generating a relation with the other, with Liza.

The dialogical relation between characters, moreover, engages the novel in an implied dialogue with itself; turning back on itself, it participates in its own polyphony. The more profound the novel's consciousness of itself, the more pronounced the polyphonic form within the novel. In his study of Dostoevsky, Berdyaev perceives the tension of polyphony within the novels,stating that "a centrifugal and centripetal movement among human beings runs through all the novels" (44). It will be noted further that the movement Berdyaev describes is peculiar not only to polyphonic form but to dialogical relation. When the word brings two characters together—in the conversations between Raskolnikov and Porfiry in Prestuplenie i nakazanie, for example—it both announces a union and creates a division. In the action of being drawn together and torn apart, each increases as he is afflicted; both may be oriented toward a


single referential object, such as Ivan and Alyosha's orientation toward the plight of the children, yet each is simultaneously wounded and made whole by the other's word. Berdyaev's point about the centrifugal and centripetal movement between characters, therefore, is also a point about the self-consciousness of a given character. Bakhtin makes this clear, bringing out the polyphonic form of consciousness and of the novel, when he says, "The orientation of one person to another person's discourse and consciousness is, in essence, the basic theme of all Dostoevsky's works. The hero's attitude toward himself is inseparably bound up with the attitude of another toward him. His consciousness of self is constantly perceived against the background of the other's consciousness of him—? for myself against the background of 'I for another" (Problems 207). With the for-myself played off against the for-another, the I is forever at a threshold between the two, half in shadow, half in light. The I is not an entity but the polyphonic event that occurs in the centrifugal and centripetal movement between two consciousnesses.

At this juncture a point made at the outset should be recalled, namely that both Bakhtin and Berdyaev view the idea in Dostoevsky 's novels not as a principle but as an object of representation. In the words of Berdyaev, "the hero of the Letters from the Underworld is an idea, Raskolnikov is an idea, Stavrogin is an idea, Kirilov, Shatov, Verhovensky, Ivan Karamazov—ideas" (Dostoevsky 35). A distinguishing feature of polyphonic form is that the I and the idea are of a piece; what is said of the I may be said of the idea. Indeed, Bakhtin says it: "At that point of contact between voice-consciousnesses the idea is born and lives. The idea—as it was seen by Dostoevsky the artist—is not a subjective individual-psychological formation with 'permanent resident rights' in a person's head; no, the idea is inter-individual and inter-subjective—the realm of its existence is not individual consciousness but dialogic communion between consciousnesses. The idea is a live event, played out at the point of dialogic meeting between two or several consciousnesses" (Problems 88). Because the idea or character lives only through dialogical interaction, both are alive to the extent that they undergo change; and they undergo change inasmuch as they remain incomplete, unfinalized. The final word that would serve to define the character is forever yet to be uttered. This yet-to-be is the lingering shadow and the ruling time of polyphonic form. That which assumes polyphonic form, then, is constantly in the course of formation and transformation. Here too what is true of the novel is true of the character; what applies to the character applies to the idea.

To understand the idea in Dostoevsky's novel is to understand the character, and this requires the reader's dialogical interaction with the character. Bakhtin explains, "What is important to Dostoevsky is no how his hero appears in the world but first and foremost how the world appears to his hero, and how the hero appears to himself. . . . What must be discovered and characterized here is not the specific existence of the hero, not his fixed image, but the sum total of his consciousness and self-consciousness" (Problems 47-48). Briefly put, what must be penetrated is the personality.


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The Penetration of Personality

Most of us are teachers, accountants, carpenters, and so on, except when left alone in our rooms; not so with Dostoevsky's characters. They live by their personalities, not by their professions, which is to say, they live by the expression and penetration of their personalities. They live by their ideas, by their discourse, over against the discourse and conventions of the crowd. "Dostoevsky's hero," Bakhtin writes, "always seeks to destroy that framework of other people's words about him that might finalize and deaden him" (Problems 59). This tension underlies the ongoing state of crisis that one encounters in figures such as Raskolnikov, Shatov, and Dmitri Karamazov. Living by their personalities, these men are constantly deciding something about themselves in the light of one discourse over against another. For Raskolnikov it is the Napoleonic crime opposite redemption; for Shatov it is rebellion opposite compassion; for Dmitri it is sensuality opposite sacrifice.

In the penetration of personality, the thing that must be penetrated is the outlook of the They; the word must be liberated from language, so that the man does not see as the world sees or speak as it demands. Berdyaev perceives this when he points out, "According to Dostoievsky, the inmost part of being cannot express itself in the stable conditions of everyday life; it comes to the light of day only in some flare-up in which the fixed and dead forms of an effete society are destroyed" (Dostoevsky 43). And, once more, what Berdyaev addresses on the level of ideas Bakhtin also deals with in terms of aesthetics: "Self-consciousness, as the artistic dominant governing the construction of character, cannot lie alongside other features of his image; it absorbs these other features into itself as its own material and deprives them of any power to define and finalize the hero" (Problems 50). The hero cannot be defined because he cannot be confined to convention. The fixed and finalized forms of an effete society are destroyed as they are internalized and transformed, made into features of the character's internal life. Thus he is constantly at odds with anything that might settle matters, forever engaged in a dialogue between the internal and the external, between the I-self and the They-self, between what is hidden underground and what is given.

In Dostoevsky's character's, then, there is always something more to come to light. As Bakhtin has said, "In a human being there is always something that only he himself can reveal, in a free act of self-consciousness and discourse" (Problems 58). Our vision of the character is shaped as much by what we do not see as by what we see. He is continually in the process of reemerging from the shadow of the not yet, for self-consciousness is consciousness of the not yet, of the future anterior of what the character shall have been, in the light of what he is becoming. His consciousness of a word yet to be uttered sustains the character's dialogical movement inward, to the discovery of "the 'man in man,'" as Bakhtin puts it (Problems 58). The "man in man" is another expression of what only the


character himself can reveal. And he has yet to reveal it even to himself. Continually living at the threshold of the yet-to-be, he is constantly out of sync with himself. While Berdyaev sees this quite correctly as an existential point about the life of the self, Bakhtin understands it in artistic terms as well: "A man never coincides with himself. One cannot apply to him the formula of identity A = A. In Dostoevsky's artistic thinking, the genuine life of the personality takes place at the point of non-coincidence between a man and himself, at his point of departure beyond the limits of all that he is as a material being, a being that can be spied on, defined, predicted apart from his own will, 'at second hand.' The genuine life of the personality is made available only through a dialogic penetration of that personality" (Problems 59). It is important to bear in mind that the self is not precisely the personality but the event of the dialogical penetration of the personality; the self is not an entity but a force or the locus of a force. It is equally important to note that the event which is the self is something willed and not something imposed. The penetration of the personality must be undertaken by the personality itself. The free act of self-consciousness Bakhtin refers to, then, is an act of self-will.

The question that arises in this connection is whether the self-will or the penetration of personality is grounded in a higher, spiritual relation—that is, in a dialogical relation— or is left to an arbitrary void. "That," says Berdyaev, "is what interested Dostoievsky: what happens to man when, having liberty, he must needs turn aside to arbitrary self-will" (Dostoevsky 46). Indeed, we see what happens in figures such as Kirillov and Smerdyakov. A great danger lies in the tension between freedom and self-will, something which the Grand Inquisitor understands very well and which Berdyaev sees lurking in the shadows so essential to Dostoevsky's characters: "Human freedom abandoned the psychic world in whose daylight it had existed since the Renaissance and plunged into the depths of the spiritual world. It is like a descent into Hell. But there man will find again not only Satan and his kingdom,? but also God and Heaven; and they will no longer be revealed in accordance with an objective order imposed from without but by way of a face-to-face meeting with the ultimate depths of the human spirit as an inwardly revealed reality. All Dostoievsky's work is an illustration of this" (Dostoevsky 49). Zosima and the Grand Inquisitor emerge from the same wilderness and are born from the same abyss; they are the two extremes of freedom and self-will. If what Bakhtin says is true, that "only the unfinalized and inexhaustible 'man in man1 can become a man of the idea" (Problems 86), it is because the "man in man" is the man in collision with freedom and self-will in the spiritual depths that Berdyaev describes. Ideas are the offspring of that collision. As the constitutive feature of the personality, the idea is both the product of and the portal to the spirit. The spirit lies unfinalized on the other side of the penetration of the personality; it is the thing forever yet to be penetrated, and it underlies both the idea and the art.

Opposite the dialogical penetration of the personality, by which the character lives spiritually, is the monological self-affirmation of the personality, by which he dies spiritu-


ally; this death is what dialogue seeks to overcome. "Once man has set his foot upon the road of self-will and self-affirmation," Berdyaev argues, "he must sacrifice the primacy of spirit and his original freedom and become the plaything of necessity and compulsion" (Dostoevsky 82). At the end of that road lies murder, as in the case of Raskolnikov, or suicide, as in the case of Kirillov. Losing contact with the word of the other which is indispensable to dialogue, the character reaches a position where he can do nothing but what the monological voice demands. The I-for-myself loses the I-for-the-other, loses the dialogical relation, and finally loses itself. The monological idea speaks in the place of the self and dictates to it, so that the self is lost and the man cannot speak at all. Failing to live dialogically, the individual fails to live decisively, as Berdyaev observes in the case of Stavrogin: "Good and evil, our Lady and Sodom, were equally attractive to Stavrogin, and this inability to make a choice is the exact indication of the alienation of freedom and loss of personality that are involved in self-will and inner division" (Dostoevsky 125). In the life ot the personality, monologue divides, while dialogue makes whole. For in monologue the ideological principle speaks for the man, strikes him dumb, and thus eclipses his relation to the other. In dialogue the man is continually penetrating himself through his relation to the other; here he must collect himself to respond as he is summoned, and nothing he might have prepared beforehand can take the place of his response, of himself.

The inner division Berdyaev alludes to comes with a paralysis of the voice, with the inability to respond. As Bakhtin has noted, this point is especially pronounced in Golyadkin of Dvoinik, whose "speech seeks, above all, to simulate total independence from the other's word" (Problems 217-218); failing to respond to the other's word, Golyadkin ends up losing his own word. Hence, instead of a penetration of the personality, there is a splitting of the personality. While this doubling goes to its extreme in Dvoinik, it turns up in most of the novels; Ivan Karamazov's conversation with the devil readily comes to mind. Bakhtin brings out the significance of the dual self both for the character and for the novel: "At the heart of the genre lies the discovery of the inner man—'one's own self,' accessible not to passive self-observation but only through an active dialogic approach to one's own self, destroying the naive wholenessof one's notions about the self that lies at the heart of the lyric, epic, and tragic image of man. A dialogic approach to oneself breaks down the outer shell of the self's image, that shell which exists for other people, determining the external assessment of a person (in the eyes of others) and dimming the purity of self-consciousness" (Problems 120). One is reminded once again of how, in Berdyaev's words, "the fixed and dead forms of an effete society are destroyed (Dostoevsky 43). Among those forms is the outer shell of the self's image. By now it is clear that in the dialogical penetration of the personality self-consciousness is mediated by a dialogical relation to the other; the way of active dialogical approach to oneself is the way of response to the other, not to the They but to the Thou. Says Bakhtin, "Only in communion, in the interaction of one person with another, can the 'man in man' be revealed, for others as well


as for oneself" (Problems 252). It is on this threshold, in a space between, that spiritual life opens up.

Thus in Dostoevsky—with respect both to ideas and to poetics--the barriers to the penetration of personality are those that isolate the self from the other; whether it is by the monologue of self-will or by the mimicry of the They-self, the self is imprisoned all the same, confined to the finitude and therefore to the nothingness of itself. Selfhood is freedom, and freedom is attained only in the encounter between the I and the other which transforms both. Because every encounter posits transformation, the freedom found there suggests the infinite. As Berdyaev puts it, "freedom sets itself up against the exclusive domination of the formal element and the building of barriers; it presupposes the infinite" (Dostoevsky 73-74). Freedom penetrates the barriers in a penetration of the personality. But since freedom entails the offering of the self to and for the other, whereby the self is transfigured, the penetration of personality is ultimately accomplished in a renunciation of personality. In the words of Bakhtin, "the soul is the gift of my spirit to the other" (Estetika 116). One thinks of Dmitri's decision to offer himself up for the babe in this connection (Brat'ya 639). And we can see why Berdyaev asserts, "Personality is bound up with love, but it is a love that goes out towards fellowship with another being" (Dostoevsky 126). Indeed, such a condition is the paradise Berdyaev describes in The Destiny of Man when he says, "Paradise is not in the future, is not in time, but in eternity. Eternity is attained in the actual moment, it comes in the present" (288). The form that concerns Bakhtin harbors the truth that is revealed in Berdyaev. It is a truth that summons the language of freedom and infinity, of love and eternity. In short, it is spiritual truth.

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Spiritual Truth

While Bakhtin addresses aesthetic form, he, like Berdyaev, is also concerned with spiritual truth. This comes out quite clearly in his Estetika slovesnogo tvorchestva, where he writes, "Wherever the alibi becomes a prerequisite for creation and expression there can be no responsibility, no seriousness, no significance. A special responsibility is required; but this responsibility can be founded only on a profound belief in a higher truth, . . . the belief that another, higher being responds to my special responsibility, that I do not act in an utter void" (179). Compare these lines to Berdyaev's claim: "If all things are allowable to man, then freedom becomes its own slave, and the man who is his own slave is lost. The human Image needs the support of a higher nature, and human freedom reaches its definitive expression in a higher freedom, freedom in truth. The dialectic is irrefutable. And it draws us into the wake of the God-made-man, by whom alone human freedom can be joined with divine freedom and the form of man with the form of God" (Dostoevsky 76). Here we see that self-will is the lie opposed to spiritual truth. The higher freedom in truth is born in the higher responsibility to truth. Responsibility is the key: to know what spiritual truth entails is to know what


responsibility entails. It is a matter between one and the other, the offering of one's word and one's self to and for the sake of the other. To be capable of response is to be capable of hearing the summons to respond that comes from the other and from beyond him. As we speak, we hear, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of the truth as expressed in the I-for-the-other relation. Recall, for example, Dostoevsky's ridiculous man, who speaks his truth for the sake of the little girl who first summoned and then saved him. Where is the "higher nature" revealed? In the tears of a child weeping for her mother.

Berdyaev elaborates on the dialectic he refers to above by saying, "Free goodness involves the freedom of evil; but freedom of evil leads to the destruction of freedom itself and its degeneration into an evil necessity. On the other hand, the denial of the freedom of evil in favour of an exclusive freedom of good ends equally in a negation of freedom and its degeneration—into a good necessity. But a good necessity is not good, because goodness resides in freedom from necessity" (Dostoevsky 70) . Freedom from necessity rests on freedom in the truth. To be free from necessity is to be free for response: freedom is responsibility, is the ability to respond. In responsive interaction the dialectic of the "good necessity" and the "evil necessity" is worked out. Although he is confined to a cell, Dmitri Karamazov finds freedom in his responsibility for the babe; whatever the sentence pronounced upon him, he will not go by necessity but by choice, in responsibility. Yet, at the same time, he cannot do otherwise.

If responsibility is the key to spiritual truth, moreover, it is the mainstay of dialogue; there can be no dialogue without response, and spiritual truth is dialogical truth. Once again, Bakhtin understands that what applies to the theme of Dostoevsky's novels also applies to the genre itself, the poetics of the art resting on a concept of truth: "At the base of the genre lies the Socratic notion of the dialogic nature of truth, and the dialogic means of human thinking about the truth. The dialogic means of seeking the truth is counterposed to official monologism, which pretends to possess a ready-made truth" (Problems 110). Seeking is here posited opposite possessing. The truth sets us free by setting us into motion, in the movement of question and guest, over against the stasis of the found and the rigor mortis of the ready-made. The spirit is a question mark, not an exclamation point. A distinguishing feature of spiritual truth is that it lies more in the seeking than in the finding, more in the questions than in the conclusions. To be sure, the process of raising and responding to questions characterizes dialogical interaction; even assertions, if they are dialogical, harbor a question. When the questions come to an end, so does the dialogue—so does the relation to the truth and the life of the self. Nothing is more deadly to I the spirit than a fixed formula or a ready answer.

That which is well defined is formally confined, like the self I in the shell of its social image. Spiritual truth resides in the openendedness of the ill-defined, in the penetration of form; although it is eternally abiding, it belongs to the word yet to be uttered, to the revelation yet to come. This is why


Bakhtin quotes Dostoevsky, saying, '"Reality in its entirety,' Dostoevsky himself wrote, 'is not to be exhausted by what is immediately at hand, for on overwhelming part of this reality is contained in the form of a still latent, unuttered future Word'" (Problems 90) . In the place of "reality in its entirety" we may read "spiritual truth," given Bakhtin's definition of spirit as "the totality of all meaningful significance and direction in life" (Estetika 98). Again, something of the totality is forever yet to unfold, and this is where Dostoevsky places his accent; as Berdyaev puts it, "Dostoievsky is concerned only with that which is to be" (Dostoevsky 23). Bakhtin voices the same insight when he declares, "The catharsis that finalizes Dostoevsky's novels might be. . . expressed in this way: nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world, the ultimate word of the world and about the world has not yet been spoken, the world is open and free, everything is still in the future and will always be in the future" (Problems 166). If spiritual truth is dialogical, it is also future-oriented; it knows nothing of the ineluctable past but dwells on the open horizon of possibility that constitutes the future. Or better: it lives in the instant which is the portal to the future, receding even as it is approached.

Since spiritual truth is dialogical, the portal to the future Lies at the point of dialogical interaction between two voices. What Bakhtin says about the life of the word, therefore, applies also to the life of the spirit and its truth: "For the word Ls not a material thing but rather the eternally mobile, eternally fickle medium of dialogic interaction. It never gravitates toward a single consciousness or a single voice. The life of the word is contained in its transfer from one context to another context" (Problems 202). The spirit moves where it lists; it draws, rather than gravitates, as one would draw a breath. Like the word, spiritual truth abides neither here nor there but in transfer, vibrating in the between, wherever two are gathered in its name. "Two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum for existence," Bakhtin insists (Problems 252), because they ire the minimum for spiritual presence, for spiritual truth. Since spiritual truth dwells in the transfer over the threshold of the between, it lies more in the act of saying than in what .s said; a poetics of spirit is a poetics of saying, a poetics of process. This threshold of saying is the critical zero point if what is about to be uttered but is not yet spoken. There the silence of passion that moves one to speak can be heard; there .t is possible for silence to speak and for truth to speak in silence. If, as Bakhtin has said, "silence is possible only in the human realm" (Estetika 338), it is because the human realm is the realm of dialogue and therefore of spiritual truth.

The relationship between silence and spiritual truth comes out more clearly in Berdyaev's comments on Christ and the Grand Inquisitor in his study of Dostoevsky. He points out, for instance, that "Christ is a shadowy figure who says nothing all he time: efficacious religion does not explain itself, the principle of freedom cannot be expressed in words"; and he adds hat the Grand Inquisitor "argues and persuades; he is a master f logic and he is single-mindedly set on the carrying-out of a definite plan: but our Lord's silence is stronger and more convincing" (189). It is significant that Christ—the one who offers the gift and the burden of responsibility and freedom, who


is known as the Word—offers no response, or rather makes silence into a response. Because spiritual truth is dialogical, it does not settle matters with explanations; on the contrary/ it is the thing by which the dialogical interaction of life with life is justified. Responding to the Grand Inquisitor with silence, Christ responds both from the position of the Thou and from the position of the Third, what Bakhtin terms "the overman, the over-I—that is, the [silent] witness and judge of every man (of every I)" (Estetika 342) . As the embodiment of spiritual truth, Dostoevsky's Christ is the one who summons every I and Thou to responsive dialogical relation. What Berdyaev refers to as the logic and single-mindedness of the Grand Inquisitor, on the other hand, is the single-voicedness of mono-logical explanation and self-justification which seeks not a responsive word but the last word. In the place of freedom he offers a formula, in the place of dialogue a dogma. He is the euclidian in whose world, Berdyaev tells us, "there will be no suffering or responsibility—or freedom either" (Dostoevsky 191). Or life, we might add. For the euclidian's world is the monological world of "twice two is four," which, as the underground man realized, is a principle of death (Dostoevsky, Zapiski 118-119).

Berdyaev notes a linkage between suffering and responsibility that is important to an understanding of spiritual truth. Responsibility requires openness and exposure to the other; it requires, in other words, vulnerability to and suffering for the other. The person who offers his word and self to the other offers his face to the other, as one would turn the other cheek to the smiter. "I want to suffer too," Alyosha declares to Ivan during their dialogue on the suffering of the children (Dostoevsky, Brat'ya 266). The face speaks, as we have said, and exposure of the face bespeaks the openness and vulnerability constituting the dialogical relation wherein spiritual truth dwells. It is this truth that, as Berdyaev notes, "forbids the arbitrary killing of the least and most harmful of men: it means the loss of one's essential humanity and the dissolution of personality" (Dostoevsky 97). Hence murder is a frequent focal point for Dostoevsky. Responsible for the other to the point of suffering and sacrifice for the other, we are responsible for the life and death of the other. If, in Berdyaev's words, "suffering is an index of man's depth" (Dostoevsky 92), it is because suffering is an index of man's responsibility and hence of his relation to spiritual truth. Living in that relation, we declare not "I suffer therefore I am" but "I suffer therefore you are." Here lies the basis of Dostoevsky's poetics of spirit.

Finally, it must be noted once again that there is a relation between philosophical position and generic form in Dostoevsky's novels. The openness to suffering is connected to the openendedness of the dialogical relation; and the openendedness of that relation is linked to the unfinalized form of the novel itself. The message is couched in the form as well as in the content. And with the message there is a summons which is also a question. Bakhtin can help in this regard: "Dostoevsky's works contain no final, finalizing discourse that defines anything once and for ever. Thus there can be not firm image of the hero answering to the question 'Who is he?' The only questions here are "Who am I?' and Who are you?'


But even these questions reverberate in a continuous and open-ended interior dialogue. Discourse of the hero and discourse about the hero are determined by an open dialogic attitude toward oneself and toward the other" (Problems 251). When Kirillov shouts to Verhovensky in Besy, "Answer if you're a man!" (643), or when Ivan asks Alyosha in Brat'ya Karamazovy, "But what am I to do about the children?" (267), those questions are also put to the reader. We cannot deal with spiritual truth unless we also deal with ourselves, whether we are concerned with poetics or ideas. Our relation to Dostoevsky has a bearing on our relation to the other, to the human being now before us. "Art and life are not one and the same," Bakhtin once wrote, "but they must become one within me, in the wholeness of my responsibility" (Estetika 6). We cannot treat the literary text as an object of academic curiosity but must respond to it as a living voice, if we are to receive the revelation lying in its generic features as well as in its thematic development. As Bakhtin and Berdyaev have shown us, when we answer to the truth of the literature, we also answer to a spiritual truth.

X       X       X


If there is one concept, one word, that ties together polyphonic form, the penetration of personality, and spiritual truth, it is transformation. In the foregoing we have seen that the fixed forms of convention are transformed in polyphony; that the penetration of personality begets a transformation of personality; and that spiritual truth is born in a dialogical encounter which changes each participant of the encounter. The notion of transformation, of rebirth and resurrection, moreover, is one that joins Bakhtin and Berdyaev with respect to the general scope of their approaches to Dostoevsky. In his remarks about Alyosha, for example, Berdyaev emphasizes the "dazzling truth of the religion of resurrection" (Dostoevsky 207) that reveals itself in Dostoevsky's works. This position is very close to what we find in Bakhtin when he asserts, "I live in the depths of myself through faith and hope in the ongoing possibility of the inner miracle of a new birth" (Estetika 112). As different as these two figures are in their treatment of Dostoevsky, both demonstrate that we cannot understand Dostoevsky without being undermined. What served as an epigram to his last novel might also serve as a closing remark to this comparison of Bakhtin and Berdyaev: "Verily, verily, I say unto you. Except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (Saint John 12:24) .


Bakhtin, Mikhail. Estetika slovesnogo tvorchestva. Moscow, 1979.

_______. Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

_______.Berdyaev, Nikolas. The Destiny of Man, trans. Natalie Duddington. New York: Harper & Row, 1960.

_______.Dostoevsky, trans. Donald Attwater. New York: New American Library, 1974.


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Clark, Katerina and Michael Holquist. Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

 Dostoevsky, F. M. Brat'ya Karamazovy. Petrozovodsk, 1970.

_______. Sobranie sochinenii, Vol. 7. Moscow, 1957.

_______. Dvoinik in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. Vol. 1. Leningrad, 1972.

_______. Prestuplenie i nakazanie. Moscow, 1982.

_______. Zapiski iz podpol'ya in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Vol. 5. Leningrad, 1973.

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