Why Read Dostoevsky

It was never my goal to put together a collection of horror stories, to overwhelm the reader. I was collecting the human. Dostoevsky asked the question: “How much of the human is there in a human being?” How can the human in this human being be protected? That’s the question I’m looking to answer. I collect the human spirit. You may say: it’s an ephemeral thing, too elusive. But art attempts to capture it. And every era has its own answers. 

If I hadn’t read Dostoevsky, I would be in despair over the human soul, its limitlessness.
—Svetlana Alexievich, In Search of the Free Individual: The History of the Russian-Soviet Soul

We talked about literature. The catholicos told me that he not only read Dostoyevsky but that he had seriously studied him, that without knowing Dostoyevsky it is impossible to gain a serious and profound knowledge of the human soul. He said he had published a work on Dostoyevsky, but that he couldn’t, unfortunately, suggest I read it: It had been published in Romanian some years ago, when he was bishop of Bucharest.
—Vasily Grossman,  An Armenian Sketchbook

This is one way, in which, as it ­were, the legend answers Ivan’s arguments. God’s love of man is displayed precisely by endowing him with the capacity for evil—­that is, ­free will. The ­Grand Inquisitor, on the other hand, has assumed the Christian mantle while denying p­eople the very essence of Christian faith, as Dostoevsky saw it. This is an implicit admission that mankind w­ill only accept salvation from Christ and  will never surrender the realm of the spirit and moral autonomy, even though it may be deceived by the Church. The false Christ must speak in the name of the true one if he wishes to obtain a hearing. And this is meant to apply to the Rus­sian radicals of Dostoevsky’s time, who rejected the super­natural Christ but accepted the moral values of his teaching. The final kiss that Christ gives the Inquisitor, and that Alyosha gives Ivan, is the kiss of forgiveness and of all forgiving love. For both the Inquisitor and Ivan do love and pity suffering mankind in their own way—­just not enough to trust it with freedom. This kiss, in my view, represents Dostoevsky’s own attitude to the new radicals, whom he was prepared to forgive but not to accept—­and whose lack of true faith could turn them into terrible tyrants. 
–Joseph Frank, Lectures on Dostoevsky

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