Ivan’s Devil

If you’re looking for something to read:

Check out The Brothers Karamazov. It’s out of copyright, and you can get it free from Project Gutenberg or in nice print version. I think that print version is the one I have.

Specifically, look at Ivan’s Devil. I think about this a lot.

The Brothers Karamazov is generally considered one of the great novels of history, and a fair number of people call it the best novel ever written. I don’t go that far, but it is a magnum opus.

It is distinctly Russian and yet a direct contrast to a lot of Russian mentality. Ivan’s Devil is the ultimate assault on the notion of a powerful, majestic, omnipotent evil. There is a devil, but he’s minor, annoying, and selfish. He’s banal. He’s a little thing that does great harm.

Compare with Moby Dick. In America we have a strong ‘take on the world’ mentality, and it’s often held up as laudable. Yet when Ahab takes on the world, the White Whale, he is destroyed. This is inherently American and yet attacks itself.

The Brothers Karamazov holds up the idea of a powerful adversary and subverts it, refuting the idea as only someone steeped in having that idea could do. I often read that chapter feeling like a voyeur, watching someone look at themselves in a mirror without their knowing. And yet Dostoyevsky wrote for the world. Can one be invited into peeping by the subject?

Apparently yes.

The whole book is worth reading, and it’s earned it’s place on history’s short list. But that bit, Part 4, bk 11, ch 9, is worth reading by itself.

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