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Arran Gare - - Theory and Science 2 1 Work Identification and Responsibility in Moral Breakdown. Shaulov - - Liberal Arts in Russia 3 5 The true observation made by Bakhtin and others that Dostoevsky allows "each of the contending viewpoints to develop to its maximum strength and depth, to the maximum of plausibility" 93 does not refute the fact that Dostoevsky makes a clear judgment about the values of the points of view presented by the speakers.
He is "objective" in the sense that he knows how to expound ideas of which he disapproves as every dramatist must but there cannot be any doubt that, for instance, in "Crime and Punishment" we know what Dostoevsky considers good and what evil, that he agrees with the Biblical command: "Thou shalt not kill" even a "louse," even an old useless and even harmful usurer. Dostoevsky would not be an artist if he merely stated his ideas; he enacts, embodies them in characters and situations.
We should acknowledge that novelists before and after him did exactly the same, maybe less well and with ideas of less pertinence today. To give an example: Dickens in "Hard Times" presents the points of view and arguments of Utilitarianism and "rugged individualism" in the pronouncements and behavior of his characters, Gradgrind and Bounderby, and subverts them with the figure of the girl Louisa and the scenes with the travelling circus.
He falls far short of Dostoevsky in dramatising these ideas: he is, in this book at least, far more schematic and overtly didactic, but the aesthetic problem is exactly the same.
There may be doubts in detail, but in general the relations of Dostoevsky to his characters and their ideas are clear enough. Bakhtin admits that Dostoevsky wrote articles in which he "expressed his own approved ideas in monological form" but he tries to make the difference between an overt statement in an article and the presentation of the same ideas in a novel so radical that he can deny any definite point of view or even any definite angle of vision to Dostoevsky as novelist.
Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics
The argument that in an article in "The Diary of a Writer," "Milieu" "Sreda," , which Bakhtin quotes at length , Dostoevsky uses dialogues, questions and answers, imaginary conversations and debates speaks, on the contrary, strongly against a strict division. The evidence is overwhelming that Dostoevsky thought of his novels as serving the ideological struggles of his time. Bakhtin actually admits "a certain partiality sometimes felt in the novels" , for instance, in the "monological" epilogue to "Crime and Punishment" which he considers a blemish on the book.
But this "partiality" is by no means confined to such extra chapters or appendices: it determines, as has been shown in detail, 5 even the choice of adjectives about Myshkin and Zosima.
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As an artist Dostoevsky knows the difference between a philosophical statement and a dramatic enactment and therefore often avoided a too overt or blunt commitment. But this avoidance, defended in a letter to Pobedonoscev quoted by Bakhtin , is only a strategy of indirection in order to bring home his lesson or message more strongly and persuasively.
Bakhtin is right in insisting on Dostoevsky's dramaticity or simply artistry and in his disapproval of reducing his work to a system of stated ideas and propositions, but he is wrong in denying him an authorial voice and personal angle of vision. If we examine Bakhtin's arguments in detail it becomes obvious that he exaggerates the tendency toward drama unduly.
Is it, for instance, true that Dostoevsky "does not retain for himself, that is exclusively for his own field of vision, a single essential definition, a single characteristic, a single trait of the hero" 62? Many of Dostoevsky's heroes are highly self-conscious and self-reflexive but to take only one example, Myshkin is presented mostly from outside.
There are traits of his behavior which are not clear to him and the same is true of Dmitrij Karamazov or of Alesha. I would even argue that this is a special feature of Dostoevsky's art that we often do not know what is going on inside of his characters and that we are left in the dark about their motivations. Bakhtin himself speaks of this lack of "finality" in Dostoevsky's heroes. Dostoevsky keeps plenty to himself. A study of the Notebooks, most recently and most fully that of Jacques Catteaux, 6 shows how Dostoevsky meditated precisely on this issue: what to say and what to withhold, and that he never lost control over his figures.
I doubt also whether one can say that Dostoevsky's hero is a "pure voice; we do not see him, we hear him" This seems to revive Merezhkovskij's contrast between Dostoevsky, the "seer of the spirit," and Tolstoj, "the seer of the flesh. They are, of course, fictional figures, schemata, with "spots of indeterminacy" as Roman Ingarden would say, and we might be offended by concretizations in illustrations and films.
But so would we with ail fictional figures. It is true that Dostoevsky is less concerned with the physical world and nature compared to many other novelists. But to say as Bakhtin does that in Dostoevsky there is "no objective representation of milieu, of manners and customs, of nature, of things" is an exaggeration if we think of the image of Petersburg emerging from his writings, not only in the mind of his dreamers or of Raskolnikov, or think of the house of Rogozhin or even of the occasional landscapes or individual pictures objectively described by the author, not only seen through the mind of a figure.
Similarly the statement that "Dostoevsky's hero is a man of an idea; not a character or temperament, not a social or psychological type" is open to many exceptions. After all, we are told by Dostoevsky in his "Author's Note" that the Underground Man is "one of the representatives of a generation still living. The Raw Youth is presented as a social type. Dostoevsky even held an elaborate theory of literary typology. Nor is it true that in the novels of Dostoevsky there is "no causality, no genesis, no explications drawn from the past, no influences from surroundings or education" It is sufficient to point to the careful chronology worked out in "The Possessed" to see that this is not always so.
One need not accept a simple-minded "reflection of Bakhtin's assertion that Dostoevsky composes in a way never before attempted by "not speaking about the hero but with him" 86 , by "removing the hero from his own field of vision," is belied by the evidence of "The Notebooks" and expressly rejected by Dostoevsky in his review of a play by D. Kishenskij, "Pit' do dna, ne vidat' dobra: "It appears to me," said Dostoevsky, "that it is too little to display all the given qualities of character; rather one should resolutely illuminate it by one's own personal artistic point of view.
An artist must not remain on the same level with the characters he depicts. Bakhtin even appeals explicitly to Einstein's theory of relativity We know that Bakhtin embraced religion, at least, late in his life and suffered for it. But I don't think that Bakhtin's view of polyphony was motivated by a desire to render Dostoevsky harmless and possibly therefore more acceptable to the authorities when Dostoevsky was under an official cloud. Bakhtin's view rather follows from his commitment to the dogma of "objectivity.
If you believe that, as Bakhtin apparently does, Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu" is not a work of art, nor are dozens of great novels, not to speak of most lyrical poetry. The umbilical cord is not cut between Pierre Bezukhov and Konstantin Levin and their author and who would deny that "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" are great works of art? The dogma also contradicts Bakhtin's own insistence on the tradition of "Menippean satire" into which he wants to fit Dostoevsky's novels.