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The Brothers Karamazov: On Romancing The Devil

The Brothers KaramazovThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My Rating★★★★★

On Romancing The Devil

Warning: This review might contain spoilers even outside the hidden ‘spoiler alert’ regions. I honestly am not capable of discriminating.

The book is not about the murder or about who did it, those things were very apparent before half the book was completed, the narrator taking special pains to spoil all suspense for his readers at the very beginning (harkening back to the days of greek drama and Euripides – according to whom, the effect of a story, even a whodunnit, was not in epic suspense about what was going to happen next, but in those great scenes of lyrical rhetorics in which the passion and dialectic of the protagonists reached heights of eloquence. Everything was to portend pathos, not action, which was always there only as a container for the pathos, to give it form). This was probably done so that the typical clue-seeking aspects of a mystery does not detract his reader from addressing the real, the painful questions littered all across his treatise, almost with indecent abandon. *spoiler* After all, we were shown by Dostoevsky varying degrees of foreshadowings of every event that eventually became turning points in the plot – starting with the numerous leading comments of the narrator including the one in the opening paragraph, Zosima’s prediction of suffering for and apology to Dimitri and Smerdyakov’s not so subtle clues to Ivan among many others. And do not forget that Dostoyevsky even gave us the alternate route that Mitya could have taken in the Zosima narrative – the parallels in that story are too numerous to list out here. *spoiler ends*[After all, we were shown by Dostoevsky varying degrees of foreshadowings of every event that eventually became turning points in the plot – starting with the numerous leading comments of the narrator including the one in the opening paragraph, Zosima’s prediction of suffering for and apology to Dimitri and Smerdyakov’s not so subtle clues to Ivan among many others. And do not forget that Dostoyevsky even gave us the alternate route that Mitya could have taken in the Zossima narrative – the parallels i that story are too numerous to list out here. (hide spoiler)]

No, this story is not about the murder or about the murderer or about his motivations or about the suspense for his final fate. The story is about the reaction – it was all about the jury. Many theories abound about how the Karamazov family represents Russia/humanity/all characters but the reality is that they represent individualities; while it is that terrible faceless jury, always adressed to and never addressed by, that represents humanity. The job of the country, the society, of the whole human race is to judge, to determine the fate of individuals based on the stories that they construct, literally out of thin air, out of the small pieces of a life that they can only ever observe. The best character sketches, fictional or otherwise can only ever be the minutest portion of a real character – but from that tiniest of slivers we build this ambiguous thing called ‘character’, as if such a thing can possibly exist for a creature as fickle-minded and forgetful of himself as man. Character of a man is the greatest myth, propagated best by novelists, as no story can proceed without a ‘constant’ man who behave with some level of predictability or with predictable unpredictability, but real life is the result of adding a minimum of three more ‘unpredictable’ as adjectives to that earlier description, to come close to describing even the simplest and most boring idiot alive. But yet we construct stories, to understand, to predict, to know how to behave, we even make up stories about ourselves so that we may have an illusion of control over who we are – so that we do not melt into the amorphous protean mass that is the rest of humanity – my story separates me from all of them. I construct, therefore I am.

These are the romances that Dostoevsky wields his best work against and the trial is a trial of reason, of reality pitted against the overwhelming circumstantial evidence in favor of romance, of the myth of character, of individuality, of cause and effect, of there being anything predictable when such a wild variable as a human mind is part of the equation, how can such an equation be anything but ‘indeterminate’ (to borrow Dostoevsky’s own expression)?

That was the grand trial, the inquisition of reason. But how can the defense stand up in favor of reality without explaining to the jury (to humanity) why they see things not as they are, that they have made up a story that is perfect but is never real as no story can ever be – as no cause can really cause a definite effect when human beings are involved? You have to tell a story to convince the jury. You have to tell a story to defend the fact that stories do not exist. A story now, about stories. Or multiple stories to show how all stories are false if only one can be allowed to be true. The only other option is that all are true, simultaneously. By proving which you include your own story in that ‘self-consuming’ super-set and doom your own argument. There is the irresolvable conflict of the trial, of the story, of the novel, of life. You cannot discredit the myth of the story without the help of a story as the jury that judges cannot understand, cannot comprehend any reality outside of a story, human beings cannot think outside their romances. They will continue to exist as prisoners to their own stories. That is why it is a comedy and not a tragedy, as no one died and no one killed and it remains akin to a sphinx setting us a riddle which he cannot solve himself. But, judgment had to be passed as the story was told. One story among many.

——–

An expanded review might follow and will try to address some of the big themes of the book, enumerated below:

1) On Fatherhood – The second big theme of the book. Possibly the real theme, the above only being my own story…

2) On Crime & the Efficacy of Punishment – On how men will always rise to be worthy of their punishment/mercy; On suffering and salvation and on how no judgement can be stronger, more effective or more damning/redemptive than moral self-judgement; On how would Ivan’s ecclesiastical courts eventually would have behaved – would they have behaved as predicted by him in his prose poem and let christ go, unlike the real court? So, in the end his alternate vision of Satan’s court is what really shown by the current judicial apparitions? But in the fable who was it that really forgave the inquisitor or the inquisitee? And in the overall story too, who forgives whom in the end? Christ or Humanity, Satan or Church, Dimitri or Russia?

3) On Collateral Damage – inflicted by the main story on side stories, on how the small side stories are over shadowed, no murdered by the main one and without any risk of conviction.

4) On the Institution of Religion– On morality and the question of the necessity of religion; On the basis for faith; On the implications of faith/lack of faith to the story one tells about oneself; On how Philip Pullman took the easy way out by expanding Dostoevsky’s story for his widely acclaimed novel; On the enormous burden of free will; On the dependence of men on the security of miracles that is the source of all hell and of all action.

5) On the Characters – On how Dostoevsky took the cream of his best-conceived characters from the universe of his creation, from across all his best works to populate his magnum opus, his story about stories, to trace out their path with the ultimate illusion of realism, with the ultimate ambition and to show/realize how it should always, always fall apart; On how he reflected the whole universe in a small lake and created a novel about all novels, disproving and affirming them simultaneously, murdering its own parents in its own fulfillment; On how they might have their Hamlets, but we have our Karamazov’s.

6) On Hope & Redemption – On how ultimately Zosima’s world view trumps the cynical aspects that dominated the book; On how Zosima predicted it all at the very beginning and apologized to Dimitri on behalf of all mankind – ‘taking everyone’s sin upon himself”, thus creating an inverted reflection of the christ figure, its image playing on both Dimitri and on Zosima for that split second and then passing on to Alyosha until finally projected back to Dimitri, in the ultimate paradox, where he becomes at last a christ figure and a buddha figure, exemplifying self-knowledge and enlightenment through true suffering; On how even the Karamazov name can be inspiring and be cause for cheers even though it represents the worst (best?) of humanity; On The Sermon at the Stone.

7) On Nihilism – On the absurdity of life and trying to explain it. But oh wait, this is what I talked of in paragraph length already.

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Ps. By the way, when you read this, keep your ears tuned towards the end – for somewhere in the distance you might hear the laugh of the Grand Inquisitor echoing faintly.

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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Thoughts

 

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The Good Man Jesus & The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

The Good Man Jesus & the Scoundrel ChristThe Good Man Jesus & the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

My Rating★★★☆☆

Well played, Pullman.

Philip Pullman meets Alyosha and tells him his story.

Alyosha flushed. ‘But… that’s absurd!’ he cried. ‘Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of Him — as you meant it to be. And who will believe you about freedom? Is that the way to understand it? That’s not the idea of it in the Orthodox Church…. That’s Rome, and not even the whole of Rome, it’s false – those are the worst of the Catholics, the Inquisitors, the Jesuits!..’

Later Ivan came storming into Pullman’s front porch, after learning from Alyosha about the novel length expansion of his prose poem. ‘That’s plagiarism!’ cried Ivan to Pullman’s face, highly delighted. ‘You stole that from my poem! Thank you though.’

Then he turned on a surprised Alyosha and announced, ‘Get up, Alyosha, it’s time we were going, both of us.’

Pullman went back to the project he was working on, what is a little borrowing as long as you borrow from the best.

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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Thoughts

 

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The Greatest Story Ever Told

One day, next to the wine dark sea,
…….I awoke and I realized —
…………..I had dreamt The Greatest Story Ever Told.
How excited was I, how thrilled the world,
…….How restless the morning and how anxious the winds:
…………..Every bird called to me, every cloud stopped to watch,
…………………Every ear of nature tuned in silent concentration.
I woke and I stretched, all luxurious, at ease,
…….What is the hurry now, the greatest work is done.
I sat down gently, next to the smoothest boulder on shore,
…….As the wine dark sea held its breath, and stilled its roar,
…………..I looked at the dust covering the stone,
…………………and the breeze cleaned it away, hurriedly;
…………..I got ready to write,
…………………and the birds brought a scroll, double-quick;
…………..I opened my hands,
…………………and a pen appeared, nature’s rules no longer patient —
For The Greatest Story Ever Told
…….Was about to be told.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Books, Creative, Philosophy, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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Sisyphus Speaks

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Tired of your unceasing pity,

Of your allusions to hubris well rewarded,

Tired of being the symbol for absurdity,

And the one first invoked at failure,

Sisyphus speaks out now aloud:

I ask you — what of yourself?

The absurd hero is seen in you, not me!

.

Doomed to eternal failure I might be,

But blessed am I in every way,

When I stand next to you,

You common man of today:

Blundering though your life,

Never knowing a goal or a path,

How can you know that taste —

The sweet taste of success, when

You are not even blessed enough,

To know the strong spice of failure!


So stop your pitying glances,

And envy me, you foolish rats:

Symbol for failure I might assuredly be,

But at the least I know what my success is.

Have you seen its form this life,

Or even conceived dimly of the thought?

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— For I see my goal everyday so clear,

And feel the exhalation of glory near,

I taste the spice of failure everyday;

And I live so I can fail and fail,

And try again the very next day,

Doomed to fail yet untiring, questing,

What greater success there be ever?

To strive in sweat to that distant goal,

And come tumbling down in grand despair!

,

Yes I would choose this lot of mine,

Over your blind and stumbling life,

With no grand goal, no glimpse of glory,

Just a sodden tramp in them marshes;

Rolling your stone on in the pointless plains,

Straining for nothing, attaining nothing,

And pitying me, for you dare risk nothing!

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Sisyphus speaks out now aloud:

Come join me if you care to live a little —

Take that rock and start the impossible (Sisyphean?) quest!

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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in Creative, Philosophy, Poetry, Puzzles, Thoughts

 

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The Unbelievable Lightness of The Novel

The Unbearable Lightness of BeingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Unbelievable Lightness of The Novel:

I had started reading this in 2008 and had gotten along quite a bit before I stopped reading the book for some reason and then it was forgotten. Recently, I saw the book in a bookstore and realized that I hadn’t finished it. I picked it up and started it all over again since I was not entirely sure where I had left off last time. I was sure however that I had not read more than, say, 30 pages or so.

I definitely could not remember reading it for a long period of time. I only remembered starting it and bits and pieces about infidelities and the russian occupation of the Czech. And so, I started reading it, sure that soon a page will come from where the story will be fresh and unread.

I was soon into the fiftieth page and was amazed that as I read each page, I could distinctly remember every scene, every philosophical argument, even the exact quotes and the sequence of events that was to come immediately after the scene I was reading- But I could never remember, try as I might, what was coming two pages further into the novel.

“This is what comes from reading serious books lightly and not giving them the attention they deserve,” I chastised myself, angry at the thought that my habit of reading multiple books in parallel must have been the cause of this. I must, at the risk of appearing boastful, say that the reason this bothered so much was that I always used to take pride in being able to remember the books that I read almost verbatim and this experience of reading a book that I had read before with this sense of knowing and forgetting at the same time, the two sensations running circles around each other and teasing me was completely disorienting. I felt like I was on some surreal world where all that is to come was already known to me but was still being revealed one step out of tune with my time.

In any case, this continued, to my bewilderment well into the two hundredth page. Even now, I could not shake the constant expectation that the story was going to go into unread new territories just 2 or 3 pages ahead of where I was. Every line I read I could remember having read before and in spite of making this mistake through so many pages, I still could not but tell myself that this time, surely, I have reached the part where I must have last closed the book three years ago.

Thus I have now reached the last few pages of the book and am still trying to come to terms with what it was about this novel that made me forget it, even though I identified with the views of the author and was never bored with the plot. Was this an intentional effect or just an aberration? Will I have the same feeling if I picked up the book again a few years from today?

I also feel a slight anger towards the author for playing this trick on me, for leading me on into reading the entire book again, without giving me anything new which I had not received from the book on my first reading. Usually when I decide to read a book again, I do it with the knowledge that I will gain something new with this reading, but Kundera gave me none of that.

What I do appreciate about this reading experience is this: as is stated in the novel, anything that happens only once might as well have not happened at all – does it then apply that any novel that can be read only once, might as well have not been read at all?

To conclude, I will recount an argument from the book that in retrospect helps me explain the experience:

Kundera talks (yes, the book is full of Kundera ripping apart the ‘Fourth Wall‘ and talking to the reader, to the characters and even to himself) about an anecdote on how Beethoven came to compose one of his best quartets due to inspiration from a silly joke he had shared with a friend.

So Beethoven turned a frivolous inspiration into a serious quartet, a joke into metaphysical truth. Yet oddly enough, the transformation fails to surprise us. We would have been shocked, on the other hand, if Beethoven had transformed the seriousness of his quartet into the trifling joke. First (as an unfinished sketch) would have come the great metaphysical truth and last (as a finished masterpiece)—the most frivolous of jokes!

I would like to think that Kundera achieved this reverse proposition with this novel and that explains how I felt about it. And, yes I finished reading the second last line of the book with the full awareness of what the last line of the novel was going to be.

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Uncategorized

 

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Night, My Hero

O Night, you are my hero.
Every hour the darkness encroaches on you,
every hour you plunge deeper and deeper;
no end in sight,
no light to be found -
that old sun, that glory,
forgotten in the long stretches:
of infinity, of time crawling,
yet you persevere, cling to life
and wait resolutely for day.
O Night, You are my hero.
You birth that glorious morning
every single time.
 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Creative, Philosophy, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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The poetry he sees

The poetry he sees

He reads not the works of Neruda or Auden,

He writes not poems of elegant grace and beauty,

To read his poems, see what is reflected in his eyes;

As he looks at the sunset and is lost for a second,

See that sweet ode to an everyday sight?

Read it in his eyes and follow him for more –

As he looks at that girl and his heart wonders for a while

If it could be her smile that is to greet him every morning, and

Writes that elegy in the moment she fades away from view.

The poems to be found thus, of every form they are –

They move with him and is all around, everywhere –

His spoon as he sees it lying on the plate;

With half eaten rice cakes and an orange peel,

Is his sonnet of thanks, his hallelujah.

No this poetry is not found in books nor written.

He lives his poems, sees and breathes them.

He never has read a poem nor thought of writing one,

But if he sees beauty enough to stand and wonder,

The poetry he sees is poetry enough.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Creative, Philosophy, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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