A Basic Seventeen

November 1999

“And so, first of all, let us remember him, gentlemen, all our lives.  And even though we may be involved with the most important affairs, achieve distinction or fall into some great misfortune — all the same, let us never forget how good we once felt here, all together, united by such good and kind feelings as made us, too, for the time that we loved the poor boy, perhaps better than we actually are.”

Dear Pat,

These  are the seventeen things (the one above and the sixteen below) I want to remember and use and invoke and meditate upon from this book, that is, until we reread it and come up with a list of 30 most vivid examples from this Karamazov tale!!! Maybe when we meet in New Harmony, you can force me to be more discriminating and really limit it to 10.  This, then, is my opening salvo, but soon, I will send you a list of questions to prepare for our  dialogue on this most marvelous book!

Fyodor’s buffoonery as he made a scene with the Elder in Book #1, and how the Elder Zosima was so cool and loving toward this degenerate shmuck.

Zosima’s teaching to Mme Khokhlakov to “keep watch on your own lie…” and that “love in action is  a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams.”  p. 58. (see also p. 56 for more on “active love.”  Also, see p. 318-19, from the elder’s talks and homilies:  “Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand,  Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.  Love animals, love plants, love each thing.  if you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things…”)  How I learned this more deeply with Mev during the siege…

How far Dmitri (Mitya) will go, from his early declaration in Book III:  “I loved depravity, also loved the shame of depravity.  I loved cruelty; am I not a bedbug, an evil insect?  In short — a Karamazov!” p. 109 [Of course, see the last Book]

Instant Karma’s Gonna Get You:  Dmitri’s brutality toward Snegiryov, the taunting by the schoolboys of Ilyusha, his defiance and humiliation and standing up for himself (his father), Ilyusha’s biting Alyosha (brother of the brute), the offer of the roubles to the Captain who craves them, and then throws them down before Alyosha. p. 212.

And I thought You-Know-Who was  too much, what about Katya’s declarations:  “even if he marries that… creature… whom I can never, never forgive, I still will not leave him!” Also,  she  proclaims  “Only a sister, of course, and that will be so forever, but he will finally be convinced that this sister is really his loving sister, who has sacrificed her whole life for him.  I will do it, I will insist that he finally know me and tell me everything without being ashamed!… I will be his god, to whom he shall pray  — that, at least, he owes me for his betrayal and for what I suffered yesterday because of him.” p. 189   [N.B. reversal —  At the end, it is Grushenka who refuses to forgive Katya, and Katya who asks for forgiveness from Grushenka; see pp. 766-67].

Ah, the tender love between Liza and Alyosha, and their first kiss p. 218.

Ivan’s catalogue of the horrors we inflict on each other, like the General who unleashed his dogs on the boy who threw a rock and injured his favorite dog; to sound like George Steiner then:  This is a prevision of the barbarism  of Nazi Germany, anticipated by  50 years!” [Steiner is always doing this with Kafka, “His works  saw the coming catastrophe!”  — so melodramatic, don’t you think?  The Nazis don’t hold the monopoly on civilized sadism.]   Ivan’s rebellion:  “It’s not that I don’t accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket.”  p. 245.  

The Grand Inquisitor scene, of course, with his advocacy of miracle, mystery and authority [working so diligently in having “corrected your deed” [p. 260], while Christ offers us freedom and the Inquisitor — shades of John 8 and Zosima, too! — only a silent tender kiss.  Perfect!

I love the death bedside scenes, thus, the one recounted by the Elder Zosima of his brother who  had a conversion and inspired so many in his last days:  “But what are years, what are months!  Why count the days, when even one is enough for a man to know all happiness.  My dears, why do we quarrel, boast before each other, remember each other’s offenses?  Let us go down to the garden, let us walk and play and love and praise and kiss each other, and bless our life.”  p. 289.  This older brother, Markel, uttered the now famous:  “And I shall also tell you, dear mother, that each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all.”  p. 289

Zosima’s own story of conversion, with the duel with his rival, then his smacking his orderly Afansy, and waking up and coming to his senses,  reneging on the duel, having resolved to join the monastery, which only  attracts the mysterious stranger who  had committed the murder and wished to summon — as if by association  with Zosima — the power to come clean.  And the theme of the book quoted by Zosima to the stranger from John’s Gospel:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”  p. 309.

Alyosha’s honoring of Grushenka (with her one little onion) who  is higher in love than the rest of them. p. 355.

OK, Dimitri’s dashing around to try to get  the money from Samsonov, then Lyagavy, and Mme Khokhlakov, his sheer desperation, his immediate mood swings, from desolation to conviction that this time will be different.  What a great portrait!  

And then, later, while interrogated, he  declares his innocence:  “I understand now that for men such as I a blow is needed, a blow of fate, to catch them as with a noose and bind them by an external force.  Never, never would I have risen by myself!  But the thunder has struck.  I accept the torment of accusation and of my disgrace before all, I want to suffer and be purified by suffering.  And perhaps I will be purified, eh, gentlemen?  But hear me, all the same, for the last time: I am  not guilty of my father’s blood!” p. 509.

Kolya’s first visit (with his dog Perezvon) to the bed Ilyusha’s bed after staying away for two weeks.  He brings his dog with him.  Alyosha:  “Kolya, you absolutely must keep your word and come, otherwise he’ll grieve terribly.”  Kolya:  “Absolutely!  Oh, how I curse myself for not coming before,” [he ] muttered, crying and no longer embarrassed to be crying.” p. 562.

Smerdyakov’s admission to Ivan:  “You used to be brave once, sir, you used to say ‘Everything is permitted,’ sir, and now you’ve got so frightened!” p. 625.

The funeral of Ilyusha, the father’s delirium, his refusal to give flowers to his wife, the crust of bread  over the coffin; Kolya’s “You know, Karamazov,” he suddenly lowered his voice so that no one could hear, “I feel very sad, and if it were only possible to resurrect him, I’d give everything in the world!”  “Ah, so would I,” said Alyosha. p. 773   And later:  “Karamazov!” cried Kolya, “can it really be true as religion says, that we shall all rise from the dead, and come to life, and see one another again, and everyone, and Ilyushechka?”  “Certainly, we shall rise, certainly we shall see and gladly, joyfully tell one another all that has been,” Alyosha replied, half laughing, half in ecstasy.”

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