Radical Relativity

Uni-original perspectives on Dostoevsky's Besy

By Janet Bruesselbach

Belated term paper for Great Books

Taught By Jim Hosney, Crossroads School

1. Politics

2. Philosophy

3. Literature

4. Science

5. Criticism

"We are authors of ourselves, coauthoring a gigantic Dostoevsky novel starring clowns" Speed in Richard Linklater's Waking Life

"This is not a conclusion/not a revolution/just a little confusion" - Tori Amos, "Ode to the Banana King"

Because of certain inherent limits, and the individual nonverbal nature of some ideas, many voices quoted within the following text are allowed to speak more for themselves, within categories fragmented beyond phrases into words.  It is the unendable end of extreme postmodernism. Don't expect sense, just enjoy the ride and hope you leap the gaps.
Unfortunately, it is only recently that I discovered I wrote this entire monstrosity around the wrong scientific metaphor. Maxwell's demons fit the subject much better and also give more meaning to the discussion of entropy in section 4. I won't be writing anything about this connection, but take the thematic error as yet another instance of the imperfection of this nevertheless thought-rich collection of purposeless work. -JB, 1/13/04


Of all of Dostoevsky's larger works, Besy (translated variously as The Possessed, The Devils and Demons) is probably the least read, and most caught up in the political framework of Russia - in fact, it said to be the most political of his novels.[1] Perhaps it is difficult to justify examining it for the very reason that it is difficult to set at the extreme of any scale of judgement for any 19th century Russian writer. Dostoevsky was a political turnabout, having been imprisoned for membership in a radical group, then becoming a pro-Slavic, or at least anti-Western, born-again Orthodox Christian. The difference between these two positions may be a dependable duality, but Dostoevsky's own doubling of position allows him to give a sense of the nebulosity of politics, revealed especially in the nebulous sensations of Besy. Probably the most singular aspect of the book is its plurality, and the highly confusing manner of its narrative. Althouhg there is a single narrator, he describes general feelings amongst an entire village, and his own psychology is only apparent through his selection not of events described but the effort he gives in justifying their truth. Demons was originally to be a pamphlet discussing an individual historical event, and, much like this paper, got out of hand with its own abstraction. Because Dostoevsky wrote the novel while living in Dresden and receiving news of the murder from a distance, his resulting work has a particular tendency toward narrative distance, confusion, and a vague hinting at the supposed "truth". The resulting hodgepodge of realism and abstraction, neither well-defined or differentiable, lends itself as an allegory (3.) of history, while the title and epigram indicate an expansion of the story of exorcism (potentially of harmful ideas) through individual, demonized martyrs. I will demonize, though Dostoevsky may not, the relationship between actions and ideas rather than the ideas themselves. The perspectives that this narrator allows to be examined include those the narrator himself claims to make little sense, due to a (commonly political) clash of contexts, through the discordant, order and dialectic-defying voice of the text. Particularly interesting is the way in which it is difficult to determine relevancy until late through the read, because the novel begins with a pre-generational background which, although its concepts and approaches are touched upon many times later, the event on which the story is historically based occurs only after the development of its context. The importance of context, assumption, and unconscious perspective is of crucial importance in this work, since Dostoevsky's methods both transcend the separate beliefs of the illusive individuals called characters, and encloses them; the confusion as to truth and opinion induces paranoia as to whether one is interpreting "correctly" or whether one has an obligation to a novel's author. Rather than the normative or apocalyptic ideas and ideals both discussed and mocked as Demons, The aim of this criticism is to create as interesting, and original, ideas as possible, leaving most options open and denying the human susceptibility toward a thesis. It will tend to focus on the ideas represented by the fascinating character of Kirillov, an individual marginal but whose isolated intentions drive at least some of the plot. The drama of personalities within the story has been inevitably abandoned for ideology.

Because of its allegorical tendencies and nebulous philosophy, it can be difficult to say what Besy is about. Ultimately the focus comes to rest on a particular group of men for their responsibility for an act of violence, hinted at throughout the novel. Dsotoevsky more generally attempts to encompass within one work the whole idea of a microrevolution, itself generated by the idea of a microrevolution in the kind of Russian-doll infinity with which Dostoevsky is so apt. The fivesome's very group nature and number, as well as each individual, are archetypes, although this nature contributes to their weakness as characters and their marginality to the story. Near the end they begin to be referred to a s the "fivesome", thus uniting them with a pattern that this paper also wishes to follow: the law of fives. Bearing a great deal of similarity to the kind of political thought Dostoevsky mocks (although he also mocks the response and exploitation of it) the law of fives states that everything is connected to everything else through the number five. The law reveals the arbitrary application of meaning and the appeal to human thought of extremes, particularly those at either end of the entropic arrow[2]. Somehow, the fivesome pattern can be recognized throughout literature, but the archetypality of Dostoevsky's is not to be presumed. When Liputin professes to believe other than Pyotr's lies, he divorces such belief from action, and the illusion of connections becomes arbitrary:"I even think that instead of many hundreds of fivesomes there is only our one in all Russia, and there isn't any network...no, sir, I'm not running. we have every right to leave off and form a new society."(555)[3]

A particular context that reoccurs in the beliefs and discussions throughout the book is that of Everything: explaining it, understanding it, fixing it. Everything, being an entirely mental concept, is used in contrast to the amount which the thinker may or may not be actually doing. A political thinker who wants to encompass Everything inevitably assumes, or demands, a worldwide conspiracy. Demons is notable for its use of the Radical as a type, although the narrator only hints at this division until the chapter "Our People", which distinctly separates the individuals who feel as if everyone else at a particular gathering is in a dangerous position of power by being involved in a worldwide socialist organization. In their minds, many of them are, but their sole link to such a structure, Pyotr Stepanovich, is undependable - the only power he holds is the vague reputation of power. This is a particularly biting commentary on the nature of politics.

The fine line between chaos and order, the inherent discord of human thought, is consisten which what Joyce Carol Oates observes to be Dostoevsky's "fascination with vast, complex structures"[4] Such an organic shape (reembling neuron links and inexplicable variations in the universe's shape) is crucial to the ideal international terrorist organization, such as that the devil Shigalyov "too theoretically-- developed a picture of Russia covered with an infinite network of knots...active groups...spreading its side-branchings to infinity..."[5]Indeed, one of the symptoms of Besy's archetypal town's possession by ideology is a desire for an extreme of discord, or an inversion of order: "disorderliness of mind became fashionable"[6] Therein lies the demonic principles of inversion and negation, discussed below.As it turns out, the narrator's writing the story is proof of the failure of transition between theory and practice.

Dostoevsky clearly approaches both radicals and reactionaries with no little irony, satirizing the treatment governments give to political groups as "vast anti-natural, anti-state society of some thirteen members"[8], a public-voice mimickry bitterly inspired by his own experiences. Of course, everyone knows the Illuminati have 13 board members. Speaking earnestly, the validity of this statement depends partially on the assumption that states are natural; without its political polarity it becomes nonsensical bullying. The prideful insistence on one's own importance is a driving force of ideological possession.

Entropy appears to be an increase in organization, although the apocalyptic beliefs of revolutionaries deny its inevitability. The bureaucratic stage of illuminated history represents this tendency toward complication through division, and is most apparent in the struggles of modernists with Dostoevsky's writing. Chaos theory may also serve as a belated paradigm for the effect of Besy: complexity is equivalent in appearance to disorganization. Thus it is impossible to tell in first few chapters what is and isn't relevant. In fact, the second law of thermodynamics in particular is a great aid in pretending to explain the devastating nature of ideas on those who should be controlling them. Mayor Lembke protests the burning of his with "it couldn't have caught fire from a word"(547) Humans are complex entropy machines which delogify causes and effects -- thus sound energy (a word, quite biblically) becomes a fire. Lembke later ridiculously ( an ironically) abstracts a physical event, possessed by extreme reactionarism: "the fire is in people's minds, not on the rooftops."[9] Thus it is a bad idea to underestimate what Stepan Trofomovich calls the "non-material power of beauty"[10] - or to overestimate it, or value it more than however is natural. The generational comparison/relationship between Stepan and Pyotr highlights the difference between believing in absolute non-material power and absolute material power; Dostoevsky demonizes one of these and satirizes the other, but argues toward the former as a human context. Here's another theme, portentious of the age of bureaucracy: the claim about the "divided nature of people in our time"[11] which can be interpreted as alienation, the attempted separation between person and thought, person and the material world, person and god, and political groups into "us" and "them", as revealed by the ironic title of one chapter, "Our People", which reveals the possessive assumptions of an association of socialists. Idealism as well is a division, although normative statements like Livermore's "higher metaphysical dialogue is not meant to be regarded in abstraction from the overall context"[12] don't help much, even if we accept contemporary division as a problem, or pridefully possess "our time". Nevertheless, Livermore's ideal is a good one.

A "divided nature" is, like many recognizable patterns in Besy, an idea without an ideal. Jones insists that this is impossible, but certainly some perspectives allow it. The higher metaphysical dialogue in Besy particularly discusses the issue;. The liberal paradigm Stepan claims that a "liberal without any aim" is "higher"[13], in his critical and hypocritical way, and it is this kind of justification through thought from which the striving, anarchist tropes of the next generation are derived, as Dostoevsky might or might not argue. Such a liberal might aim, within the linear context of his lifetime, towards something indefinite for the purpose of not reaching it; such nonsensicality is apparently infectious.

A metaphor, now used in a different context in colloquial speech and here based on the highway journey of exemplary idealist Stepan Trofomovich, indicates that teleology is more faith-based than literal: "a high road is something very, very long, which one sees no end to - like human life, like the human dream. There is an idea in the high road..."Thus the tendency examined in Demons is the affinity for literalism and self-fulfilling prophecy. The narrator mocks his metaphor by extending it to the inverse: "Traveling by post is the end of any idea Vive le grande route..."[14]

Time is particularly important to political radicalism, typically condensable into statements like "the future is now." Nevertheless, the uncertainty, and unattainability, of the present perfect leads to a consistent anticipation, which makes Dostoevsky's description of Shigalyov, the practical political prophet (whose plans include the division of people into knowledgable and ignorant, with much culling through death to create such a firm border) all the more refreshingly ironic: "he looked as if he were expecting the destruction of the world, and not just sometime, according to prophecies which might not be fulfilled, but quite definitely, round about morning, the day after tomorrow, at ten-twenty-five sharp."[15] It is difficult to say whether specific hopes and anticipations increase or decrease the chances of something happening, although time specificity and mobthink seems to have created such a situation at the climactic Fete scene: "If everyone was expecting [a scandal], how could it not take place?"[16] Inevitability of plot due to the narrator's temporally locative statements contributes to an oppressive mood. It is the inevitability of Kirillov's suicide that allows him to donate his responsibility - or is it the interpersonal relationship, the demand from outside, that causes Kirillov's anticipation of death to be accurate? Like Stepan Trofomovich in his allegory, Nikolai Stavrogin speculates to Shatov the meaningless tautology that "nations are moved by the unquenchable desire to get to the end, while at the same time denying the end."[17] Nations are a failed ideal of "divided people". Apocalypse is a personification of time (see below). Many critics have noted the theme of apocalypse in Demons, which would continue in Dostoevsky's other works, but is particularly tied to political teleology.

Russia's perceived conflict between western and eastern values and cultures is exemplified by the temporal perspectives revealed through the statements of each. Dickens's "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" reflects a western historical tendency to perceive the present as an extreme. "May you live in interesting times" is a Chinese curse - uneventful harmony is favored over apocalyptic assumptions. When Kirillov claims to experience a release from time, it is not only connected to his potential epilepsy but to the possession by Western extremity of the present. All change is measured by time, but change itself is as much an "idea" as Kirillov claims time is, thanks to the human nature of discord; "What our troubled time consisted of, and from what to what our transition was -- I do not know, and no one, I think, knows..."[18] claims the narrator, who, although caught up in context as usual, admits his own inability to unite.

Pyotr Stepanovich's tendency toward absurdly radical statements also allows for intriguing thoughts against which moderation can be compared (and seen as dull). For instance, in response to Shigalyov's particularly parodical totalitarian ideal, the nihilist leader proclaims "He is perhaps least distant of all from realism, and his earthly paradise is almost the real one...if indeed it ever existed." Apocalyptic hope is here based on precedent, historical pattern: either the past or future as ideal, but static and possibly instantaneous like Kirillov's moments or a singularity, and the present as some sort of extreme, or great harbinger of crisis - itself, possibly, only mental and instantaneous. The reader of Demons is often drawn to find tendencies toward prediction of Russia's political extremism in the following century. organization rules over existence and triumphant, miraculous technology over conscience; where an abstract concept of man determines the concrete living man..."(67) (concrete living man is just a consciousness, others are ideas.)

Idealism involves the probably evolutionarily generated desire humans have to refuse present satisfaction, or homogeny. Thus it is particularly hard for an idea to really lack an ideal, ineffective as it may be; Malcom's discord"implies a dynamic principle...often the Idea,or guiding principle, is closely associated with 'the ideal.'"[19] The literary critic attempts to approximate the unitary fragment or guiding principle, a character (merely a personified idea, regardless of realist approach) or idea (closely connected in Besy) within a chaotic network, and divide it from its context; a fruitless search, but preferable to the violent cycle induced by any antithetical (negational yet mimicking) principle. With that guiding principle comes the antithetical concept of error, which we criticize; yet that guiding principle's extreme is itself criticized:"concrete, tangible, and uniquivocal value, present-day man, is sacrificed to an abstract and illusory value, that is, the promise of absolute justice in the future...Verkhovensky...the embodiment of such mistakes."[20] Whether Dostoevsky intended this or not becomes important to us, regardless of how impossible, how ironically ambivalent, and how ideologically irrelevant such an opinion is.

The basis of radical nihilism, or the parent, is the liberal mindset represented by Stepan Trofomovich Verkhovensky, a close friend of the narrator; the interiorizing aesthetes he apersonifies who "without actually doing anything are nevertheless able to feel themselves the prophets and architects of a new order."[21] The reassurance that inactive social theorizing (future-contemporization) provides towards one's own present importance is something Kirillov attributes to all humanity, and his explanation for the attraction of Christianity.

"one on a cross believed so much [he anticipated paradise]... they both died, and did not find either paradise or resurrection. What he said would not prove true. Listen: this man was the highest on all the earth, he constituted what it was to live for. Without this man the whole planet with everything on it is-- madness only."[22]

"Ambition can scarcely be taken for achievement"[23] the same way characters can scarcely be taken for real people, but it is this misinterpretation of the idea as preeminent that also causes the reactionary fear of new, revolutionary, and nihilist ideas. Shatov, who serves as somewhat of a parody of Dostoevsky's own political position, thus develops a kind of anti-Reason. "society must always find an explanation for everything"[24] he states and, as usual, though he be possessed and obsessed by reactionary thoughts and his own contextual traps, he and every other character is never absolutely wrong. Criticism aims at correction, without desiring it. Concerning the trap of abstraction, Jones seems to ercognize a pattern:"ideal of harmony...distorted by man...Stavrogin speaks of theis great ideal as a great illusion. But this by no means implies that it should be supressed or that it can be. The idea that some great illusions may be more essential to man than trivial truths is often repeated in Dostoevsky."[25]

If a person reads Besy didactically, the principle of "people before principles" may organize it. Consider, for instance, the narrator's inevitable judgement that there are better illusions to life than the acknowledgement of a universal will to survive ( will which, we note, Kirillov attempts to counter):"[Pyotr] had only held up crude fear and the threat to their own skins, which was simply impolite. Of course, there is the struggle for survival in everything, and there is no other principle, everybody knows that, but still..."(551)

More interesting, and confusing in that distinctive Dostoevsky way, is the fear characters have of their own beliefs - coupled with the belief that one's context, one organization by an idea, is beyond one's recognition; yet only such beliefs, ideas one "feels" instead of "thinks", are truly worthy of action. "If Stavrogin believes, he does not believe that he believes. And if he does not believe, he does not believe that he does not believe."[26] The reasoning as to why certain thoughts become actions is perhaps beyond our perspective as well, or, as the narrator and Shatov discuss,"'strange that with us such things not only enter our heads, but even get carried out,' I observed./'paper people' Shatov repeated"[27] Shatov's answer may be acircumspect, but he seems to recognize the dependence of these fictional characters on intellectuality. More importantly, Shatov's statements self-refer to his own context and that of the reader, who, hopefully, will be reminded not to be too hasty in deriving the meaning of life from Dostoevsky. Shatov sstill slightly misplaces his metaphors, deriving his only feeling of unity from individual identity as he acknowledges, for better or worse, his context - on several levels: "I am a wretched, boring book"[28] He is, rather, one voice in it, a voice which aids the reader in expanding our understanding of context. One cannot criticize without recognition, and one must have a quality to recognize it. Similarly, philosophers such as Marx, with whom Besy's demonized materialism[29] can be associatated, can demonstrate that the developments a philosopher makes are based on zer historical context, a tautological uselessness similar to the anthropic principle of cosmology.

More self referentiality is generated every time a revolutionary, following Shatov's "paper people" observation, speaks like writing (nearly self-aware as writing), as Pyotr Stepanovich oftern does: "and, in parentheses..."[30]. Or, in the situation in which he claims "I don't know how to speak"[31] you stop wanting to read, Pyotr gets so pedantic in describing his cunning plan to bore you. This syntactical representation of character is part of what Bahktin compared to "polyphony": words are ideas, which mimic the mind that chooses them, which has a quality. Only through the repetition of this word does it develop an idea; thus the more radical a character's ideas are conveyed as, the more he tends to repeat words and phrases. Says Kirillov: "'my feeling is that I cannot be like any other. Any other thinks, and then at once thinks something else. I cannot think something else, I think one thing all my life.'"[32] It is this kind of striving for extremity that characterizes the voices of radical revolution.



Another typical critical statement by Jones, who is particularly obsessed with the strife of people's dissatisfaction and idealism, both insists on a problem and proposes an unnecessary completion via Kirillov: "Perhaps the most interesting, though heretical, solution to this prediscament is to be found in Kirillov, who, for all his eccentricity and outlandishness, for all the incoherence of his arguments, nevertheless offers a radical solution to the basic existential problems of the novel which is not altogether absurd...seems to mean that if man were freed from pain and fear he would perceive and understand that all is good."[33] It is dealing with absurdity, or what Jones later, critically, posits "the basic problem of how man can adjust to a reality which he does not understand at which at every step seems to deny that ideal"[34] that also draws Albert Camus toward an examination of Kirillov. His babblings anticipate existentialism as much as Neitzche, historically adding to his association with timelessness, both historical and clinical. ."[42]  In a prophetically pomo way, Kirillov manages to realize for Stavrogin the small value of originality, and its contextual nature: "many thoughts are there all the time, and suddenly become new."[1] Camus accepts that text, and writing, manipulates time; the variability of time connects Kirillov strongly to relativity, discussed more below. The supremacy of subjectivity and its extreme of solipsism confirm Camus's observation that possession by an idea is relatively more valuable to an inevitably alone consciousness than humanization, and ideological suicide superior to one without reason - an action which may not exist except beyond the event horizon of madness. Kirillov, of course, is still attached to human pathos and natural value judgements, although he does so with a kind of gleeful originality. We get a sense, therefore, of his having somehow incomprehensibly transcended Stavrogin's regret that they discuss "old philosophical places, the same since the beginning of the ages"[35] The draw of Kirillov's statements derive more from their familiarity than from their originality; demonstrating that his insistence on the solution of his own suicide need not be connected to ideas at all, and the insistence he has toward it is a symptom of his acknowleged extremism.

Transvaluation does not have to be felt to be true, although it is easier to think it than to do it. Kirillov seems to have accomplished it by being absolutely radical - and this is meant in the mathematically metaphorical sense. A radical is the positive option between the two possibilities every number has for a square root. In insisting that "everything is good", Kirillov is radicalizing the world. No woder, then , that his language is fractured; a fractal-like squaring of a radical results in the same value as the squaring of its inverse. We cannot, however, pin the value of language in any such universal rule.

Dualisms drive philosophical arguments, but "in the actual experienc eof Dostoevsky's characters, phenomena are not always easily assignable to these principles."[36] What actual experience, when their very words refer to their textual nature?

When Stavrogin visits Lebyadkin, the latter comments on the former's ability to condense ideas into sentences, which can possess an individual. Kirillov's inability to construct a complex sentence indicates his isolation from the communicative aspects of language and a radical splintering of the materialist's dependency on the self-supporting slogan. , instead working with fragments of the relationship implied by a sentence.

Contradiction, much like irony, depends on the relativity of truth and the nonsensical capacities of language, while also offering a sense of confusion that battles our reason's tendency to dualize, and negate.  Jones notes the frequent and thematic "inner contradictions and ambivalence"[40] of Dostoevsky.  For instance there's the classic, with a particular temporal twist, of "perhaps I'm lying now; certainly I'm also lying now."[41]  Kirillov seems from some perspectives to embody a contradictory combination of order and chaos:"you want to build our bridge, and...declare yourself for the principle of universal destruction." "'What? What did you say...ah, the devil!'" [2] replies Kirillov, failing to connect th cause-effect idea of that sentence and echoing Pyotr.  Yet this can be quite explained away if we acknowledge bureaucratic entropy or, for that matter, the inherent disunity of word and thought, especially concerning structural engineers.



 Kirillov is described as isolated and socially inept, and sometimes insane.  Social ineptitude is a personality feature often overlooked by socialists and writers, and is sometimes taken as a Problem by psychologists and critics, as part of a general tendency toward absolute unacceptance.  Actually, Kirillov himself is accused of absolute unacceptance, as evidenced by his suicide: the "idea which Kirillov could not bear was that of utter meaninglessness"[37].  Yet Kirillov himself, again echoing Neitzsche, has his own subjective argument against this: :"I'm bound by nothing," he repeats.  "There was just my will, and now there is just my will."  Kirillov himself, note, does not judge his own social abilities; it is always the other perspectives allowed by the polyphonic narrative of the novel that claim this.

Kirillov's fractured languagenonverbal vs. verbal ideas; "structural engineer" and organizational entropy. In the fifth part of his chapter on Demons, Jones notes Kirillov's "lack of psychological balance...special irony of the fact that Kirillov is a structural engineer, whereas he cannot even structure his own ungrammatical, muddles speech, is worthy of note."[43], taking such apparent contradiction as a distinctive form of discord. Dostoevsky, as an engineering student, once designed a fortress with no windows or doors[44], an amusing tale more exemplary, and less metaphorical, than his obession with complex structures. Cerny attributes to this Dostoevskian anti-hero an interpretation representing "Incomprehensibility, absurdity, strangeness and abnormality of the human world"[45], a manifestation of the Fifth, or Bastard.

"'Yes, scoundrels, maybe. You know these are only words.' /'all my life I did not want it to be only words. This is why I lived, because I kept not wanting it. And now, every day I want it not to be words.'/Well, each of us seeks a better place.'"(615)

"Language seems to be dying out" in Kirillov (Pevear and Volokhonsky, xxiii).[46]

Kirillov: "a remarkable structural engineer"..."shuffling his words...confused when he had to put together a longer phrase." (91) Kirillov repeats his words and ideas. each sentence is constructed then destructed as he speaks. Like Shatov, he can take the same idea, briefly condensed, and put it into several contexts.

"'It's a great pity that I'm not able to give birth,' Kirillov answered pensively, 'that is, not that I'm not able to give birth, but that I'm not able to make it so that there is birth...or...No, I'm not able to say it.'" (581)  Even Tikhon, another holy hermit (a group that also includes Marya Timofeevna the mad mystic) understands the nature of inadequate interpersonal abilities which, perhaps, have little to do with the structure of a person's mind at all, at least what they can observe (thus, it is contextual).  Converses Tikhon, "I feel the degree of your sincerity and, of course, am much to blame for not knowing how to approach people..."

Then again, social inadequacy could, by all observable appearances, be a difference in perspective, or intelligence: "I don't owe you any accounting, and you're not capable of understanding my thoughts...there's nothing here for you to know..."[47]  The illusion we call Kirillov  obviously knows how to think, let us remove our criticism of him for a moment, and understand what he shares with many other revolutionaries: insistence on limitation of thought. "I don't reason about these points that are done with. I can't stand reasoning. I never want to reason..." proclaims (although perhaps only for the moment, which makes pattern recognition all we have in lieu of truth for this novel) this antisocial shadow of Stavrogin.  Yet how can one avoid repeating one's thoughts, regardless of your act of will?  Is an idea a cause-effect relationship?  Why does everyone seem to want to control them?  Pyotr, liar and comic, forbids: 'There are things, Vervara Petrovna, of which it is not only impossible to speak intelligently, but of which it is not intelligent even to begin speaking."[3]  Particularly telling is the nature of one's relative perspective in such judgements: "In my view, it's better not to think, but just to do it."[4]  Claims Pyotr, about murder, as it happens.  Says Joyce Carole Oates, only partially correct and somewhat chillingly, "contemporary terrorism is probably fueled by an amoral zest for action"[48]

K: "the idea ate me?...not me the idea? That's good. You have some small intelligence. Only you keep teasing, and I am proud."

Pyotr: "if he starts thinking - nothing will happen."(621)

Literal language



Besy's characters are more humanized than personified, and the crucial difference between these echoes the difference between realism and allegory, a literary and artistic form (classically depending on unity) that Dostoevsky mocks but can also resemble whenever the mythological sensations of Besy extend themselves to mental "planes."  Cerny claims Dostoevsky himself places principles above people allowing his literature to be anything but realist in the Western sense:"'eternal' problems of human existence, its meaning, limits, purpose, freedom...humans serve...only as attitudes from which to study these supra-personal problems."[49] An insistence on immutability is part of what contributes to the concept of relativity, discussed below, and its dependence on an absolute.

literature as allegory - myth and realism

"element of mystery and/or ambiguity has the function of drawing attention to the allegorical nature of the 'madness'" being questioned[50] Joyce Carole Oates: "Plot-and plotting itself-is metaphor"[51]

"demons in it do not appear, and the reader might otherwise overlook them... distortions of the human image, the human countenance" (Pevear xv)

At Tikhon's: "malicious being, scoffing and 'reasonable', 'in various faces and characters, but one and the same..."(686) "I myself in various aspects and nothing more." T: "believe canonically in a personal demon, not an allegory..."(687)

"exaggeration" of "mystification" to "give the status of demons to mere ideas"(xvii) Describes evils of act of personification; Dostoevsky intends the characters to be bearers of ideas (which the translators interpret as "demons") which can be shared, if communicated, and released by God, as in the epigram. Distortions of the human image are those ideas of humans that develop in individuals' minds - the characters themselves included, as the Five echo together a stereotype of the radical, and each individual an exclusivity of a social personality, less in conversation, when polyphpny flourishes, and more when discussed by others. For example, "Shigalyovism" and the way in which Kirillov is inevitably, Hamlet-like, interpreted as "mad." It is telling that an actual organization of five does not appear until after the climax of the town's plot (the fete and the fire) and each of them goes by a single name: their relatives may have a history and character, but they themselves are most clearly ideas of people. Cerny calls them "five Platonic ideas incarnate..ontological entities"[52]epigram by Pushkin: "it must be a demon's leading us" blame? Shatov: "we are all guilty"

The allegory appears to have "neither order nor plan"[53]

10 Stepan Trofomovich's allegorical poem: "ends with a chorus of souls that have not lived yet but would very much like to live a little"..."altogether inanimate object gets to sing about something Generally, everyone sings incessantly...squabble somehow indefinitely, but again, with a tinge of higher meaning." civilized youth: "greatest desire is to lose his reason as quickly as possible (a perhaps superfluous desire)...other "youth represents death, and all the nations yearn for it...Tower of Babel suddenly appears and some atheletes finally finish building it with a song of new hope...the proprietor of, shall we say, Olympus flees in comical fashion...mankind...takes over and at once begins a new life with a new perception of things." (ibid. 10)


Literalizing speech, negatively - again aspect of materialism, manifest allegory/cliche (45)

"perversions which occur when a geniune ideal is stripped of its transcendent nature and reduced to the purely earthly"[54]

Censored/despecified locations.


Lebyadkin's absurd poetry. Varvara: "nonsensical allegories"


"Not an allegory, simply a leaf...a leaf is good. everything is good.' (238)

"theme of confusion between fantasy and reality"[55]

Fedka: "Pyotr Stpanovich is an astrominer, and has learned all God's planids..." "he imagines a man and then lives with him the way he imagined him." (D driven by character - internal, allegorical state.)

Lyamshin goes mad. "'I had quite a different idea of him,' [Pyotr] added pensively."(605)

In the indroduction to the English edition of Bakhtin's work, Wayce C. Booth observes that "nothing is more human than the love of abstract forms"(xiii) Though the characters in Demons are demonized allegorical figure, their ideation is shared by every reader; it might only be viewed as perverse.




Wayne C. Booth, attempting to reorient a paradigm, writes: "people in action cannot be reduced to mathematical figures or equations, and neither can 'imitations of action'." On the contrary, fiction is the place in which they can. It isn't the fully realist aims of fiction that make it pleasing, but the "false" or rather fantastical ones; in the case of Demons, the mythological (according to, among others, Joyce Carol Oates) , or somewhat real allegorical aspect that contradicts Dostoevsky's realism. That figurative language is false is only a scientific perspective on the experience of reading, a myth of the illusion through technology of absolute truth. Thus abstract figuration is also valid, through scientific metaphor. Given free reign to fantastical figuration, interpretive possibilities both become Pyotr, or Lebyadkin, ridiculous, and more fun than an idealization of the "real". Although admitting one's own falsity is demonized by Dostoevsky, extremity is the soul of criticism - once somewhat hypocritical, why not continue?

Dostoevsky represents well the realistic sensation of decentralization inherent in public information flow, confronting the human desire for form: "everyone was tormented by the impossibility of drawing anything general and unifying from the whole tangle that presented itself".[56] Until Lyamshin comes clean -- the stereotypical double-crossing Jew who has, despite Pyotr's "idea of him"[57], gone mad from guilt, and believes in the international network, a conspiracy theory - at which point we still depend on his perspective.

Nikolai Stavrogin says "Nothing in the world ever ends"[58] And denies through absurd belief the mortality of persons and by extension personifications. Applying an entirely appropriate synecdoche, if Stavrogin's absolute statement is "true", the world itself has no end. .The interpretation could also depend on the dimension through which we read the world: temporal or physical, which as part of relativity ony offer two ways of measuring the same nature. According to Hawking, the universe has no boundary, but a beginning and only possibly (depending on the measurements) end in the narrative sense. "World", however, indicates a living perspective, and perspectives, being mortally human, end, unless they are that of a incomprehensible and omnipotent god, both begin and end. The beginning may be difficult to perceive, distant to memory, and the end is unexpected. It is understood that anything beyond that which we can measure is beyond the boundary of our world, but without that limit, the belief of infinity is possible. (entropy) Of course, all Stavorogin's statements attempt to clamp onto an absolute belief out of boredom, regardless of its truth.

Relativity is the chosen paradigm for analyzing Besy, whatever the term might individually conjure up. The novel's plot is based on social relativity, considering the comparisons that can be made between every character, the dramatic tendencies, and the familial relationships between individuals that ties the allegorical network together. The father and son relationship between cultural anaccomplisher Stepan and apathetically comedic nihilist leader Pyotr Verkhovensky cements a good deal of political polemics; the siblings Darya and Ivan Shatov, and his estranged wife, who relates to Nikolai Vsevolodovich, son of Varvara Petrovna Stavrogin, and so on. The narrator is friend to Stepan, and every other character for that matter (or is it that only friends of the narrator, in context, are characters?). Alexei Nilyich Kirillov is related only as a former traveling companion to Shatov. It is these relationships that generate enjoyment of the realism in Besy.

Most appropriate to the political drive of the novel is moral relativism, usually contrasted with moral idealism; it is most well, described as a negation of moral absolutism. A good summary of philosophical and moral relativism can be found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Moral relativity holds that judgements of right and wrong - whose ultimate aim, remember, could be justice -are contextual. Stavrogin in particular experiments with the malleability of concepts of good and bad, and how guilt and responsibility are thus inferred, in his confession: first the stealing of a wallet, raping of little Matryosha, and her subsequent death. Stavrogin's tendency to commit crimes against morality, logic, protocol, and all manner of contexts only ironically demonstrate that perhaps even acknowledging one's context cannot free one from it. Albert Camus, in his examination of Kirillov and similar Dostoevskian modern men, includes relativism in his three potential responses to absurdity, defined but of course combinable as soon as an individual recognizes one: "aesthetic indifference governed by nihilistic relativism and negation of values;" an extreme version of which Stavrogin follows and Kirillov professes, "ethical acceptance of a tragic world in which humanistic universal concepts of value must be individually created;" the narrator, perhaps, accepts this, and the inevitable conflict that ensues, or, like Tikhon and possibly Shatov ("I will believe in God") religious hope."[59] Shatov seems to himself recognize a nationalist need for relativity: "when many nations start having common ideas of evil and good, then the nations die out and the very distinction between evil and good begins to fade and disappear. Reason...has always confused them."[60] A particular moral perspective, which demonstrates the problematics of absolutism, holds the life, and death, of one person to be infinitely valuable; thus Dostoevsky's condemnation of the petty political assassination on which his expansive novel is based is excellently described as tragic prophecy by Cerny, in that Russia possesses"seventy million legitimate reasons not to believe in self-appointed saviors... for Dostoevsky only one reason sufficed...Ivanov."[61], the victim of the real political murder. Yet as Fish is to again note(and here with more prophetic irony by Dostoevsky), moral relativity allows us to acknowledge the potential reason - the ideology driven by cause and effect creation - behind acts that, in one context, are atrocious. For Dostoevsky, mental illness, because it doesn't release a soul from guilt, is irrelevant. Pyotr uses the same kind of moral equivalency in guilt to silence co-conspirators:"one would think it should make no difference now -- one fivesome, or a thousand."[62] Cerny summarizes,"In denying the religious moral law which postulated man as being of absolute and nonrelative value, the social revolutionaries extrapolated a kind of moral relativity, the dependence of human value on a higher value, that of revolution."[63] Thus is moral relativism connected to scientific relativity.

Einsteinian relativity began with the theory, called special relativity, that in order for speed to be measurable, light must have an absolute speed, and in order for light to have an absolute speed, time must vary. It thus places subjective observation as equivalent to objective. Additionally, it means that time stands still at the speed of light, or would if t were possible for matter to do so instead of approaching an infinite inertia; instead, the closer to the speed of light one travels, the less time is seen to pass by a slower observer. General relativity relates observed time to gravity. Light is a common metaphor for truth, and, supposeing we extend this metaphor, everyone will see truth differently, it is impossible for any observer to reach the truth, and, if the situation is grave enough, truth can't escape. Relativity is quite reassuring; previously speed had been comparative, but relativity limits it to an ultimate, a concept of truth much similar to political ideals, increasingly unattainable but providing a definite temporal orientation.



"I do not recognize changes and non-changes."[64]

abstract by Liputin: "reasons for the increase or restriction of the spread of suicides in society."(94) 114 "two prejudices" : "pain" and "the other world". (structure?)

115 "'each man cannot judge except by himself' he said, blushing. 'there will be entire freedom when it makes no difference whether one lives or does not live. That is the goal to everything.'"

"'my feeling is that I cannot be like any other. ANy other thinks, and then at once thinks something else. I cannot think something else, I think one thing all my life.'"[65]

"not future eternal, but here eternal...moments...when time suddenly stops, and will be eternal."[66] Can't measure time w/out time - relativity and Marx.

NVS: "You keep on insisting that we are outside space and time."[67]

"Time isn't an object, it's an idea."[68]-K If anything can be used to demonstrate Kirillov's lack of sense (only one perspective; the narrator's) it is this statement. He has negated knowledge that wasn't true in the first place

Shigalyov "looked as if he were expecting the destruction of the world, and not just sometime, according to prophecies which might not be fulfilled, but quite definitely, round about morning, the day after tomorrow, at ten-twenty-five sharp."[69]

'when did you find out you were so happy?'...'on tuesday, no, wednsday...I stopped my clock, it was two thirty-seven.' 'as an emblem that time should stop?'"[70] Contradiction

Confession: clock stops in robbed official's house

"structures of life have disappeared...structure of time"[71]

The chronicle: "'a certain view, a direction, an intention, an idea, throwing light on the entire whole, the totality.'...'impartiality - that's the only tendency.'...'there's nothing wrong with a tendency,' Shatov stirred,"and it's impossible to avoid...'" (129)

Stepan: "'to make the the truth more plausible, it's absolutely necessary to mix a bit of falsehood with it.'" 'along with happiness, and in the exact same way and in perfectly equal proportion, man also needs unhappiness! Il rit.'(216)

everything is good.' 'Everything?' 'Everything. Man is unhappy because he doesn't know he's happy, only because of that." transvaluation. (238)

"'"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot! Would that you were cold or hot! And, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth."'" (635) Thus Stepan Trofomovich, who has believed in the beauty of balance, understands absolute belief.at an extreme end of life.


Any definite statement might, as Ozolins notes concerning characters (and critics) presume "whole is generalized and made absolute..."[72] Vaclav Cerny, who demonizes Dostoevsky, claims the entirety of an author's works are required to judge them, perhaps so that the relative contexts can be compared, and recognize an extreme and its tendency toward an absolute truth like the speed of light, or any uniting context and assumption to which an individual author is prone. "Kirilov...possessed with the idee fixe of reaching the level of absolute being, to dethrone God or replace him (God probably does not exist anyhow)"[73]

"The whole law of human existence consists in nothing other than a man;s always being able to bow before the immeasurably great."[74]

"untie all hands and give mankind the freedom to organize socially by itself."(408) presumption of power. Absolute equality depends on absolute difference, but both are entirely abstract.

"'here is everything, there is nothing further'" (116)

"'...That's the whole thought, the whole, there isn't any more!'.(238)

"devil take it, do you understand what nothing means?"[75] "I know nothing, nothing, nothing a all. Adieu. Avis a lecteur!"[76] Like the rest of this discussion between Pyotr and Lembke, this statement in French (a habit characteristic of the elder Verkhovensky's speech) is intended to draw the reader's attention to zer readership and to the statements by the characters. In this evasion, the reader of any plot is cued to pay attention to Pyotr's contradiction, and excontextual lies . The same line cued zem in the previous paragraph to Stavrogin's extreme relationship to the uncertain radical movement: "Stavrogin is something totally the opposite- I mean totally...avis a lecteur!" Even Lembke has commented that "readers are as stupid as ever, intelligent people ought to shake them up..."[77] invoking the dangerous moral context implied by "ought" or "should"; Lembke has a spiderman complex (with great power, comes great responsibility)


Error is the basis of all science because measurement is the basis of all science.  The more measurements one has, with more and more entropy-generating instruments, the better a recording you will get, but all theories can only be supported by evidence that is always an approximation.  It is a "divided nature" that allows measurements to appear in terms of numbers, but no physical object can really fit a rational number.  The demands of science bear an inherent idealism; social science is thus all the more frustrating.  Instances of this measuring idealism appear in Besy: social engineer Shigalyov "looked as if he were expecting the destruction of the world, and not just sometime, according to prophecies which might not be fulfilled, but quite definitely, round about morning, the day after tomorrow, at ten-twenty-five sharp."[5]  Cerny notes that, quite tragically considering the uncontrollable human penchant to believe in truth, "longing for a true story is behind the susceptibility of characters to political prophets" [6] like Shigalyov, like Pyotr... like Dostoevsky.  The same critic measures concepts about Dostoevsky to be "numerous, innumerable" [78]

Truth, knowledge, subjectivity

"revelation of 'truth' assumes the proportions of exorcism"[79] It isn't the relative sizes of the ideas that matter here, but the equivalency.

When, due to its non-ideological basis (empty quality rather than quantity), Tikhon terms the rape of Matryosha the Worst Crime (in moral relation to what?) Stavrogin replies"'let's quit putting a yardstick to it'"[7]

Shatov "lost his sense of measure"(39)

"distortions of the human image, the human countenance, and their force is measurable only by the degree of the distortion."[8]

Censored/despecified locations.

Concerning the former scientific metaphors, I really must apologize and allow Shatov to speak for me: "I myself am only half-science, and therefore I especially hate it."[9]

Shigalyov: "All creators of social systems from ancient times to our year 187- have been dreamers, tale-tellers, fools who contradicted themselves and understood precisely nothing of natural science of that strange animal known as man."



The fragment of Demons concerning Kirillov's eventual suicide exemplifies a chaotic beauty and a feast for pattern recognition. In narrative terms, it is confusing and, if intellectually analyzed, most reveals how little a confusing narrative situation interrupts the realism of description. As Jones notes, dislocation of point of view "increases the complexity of the view of reality..." adding, and figuratively following Bahktin's metaphor, an "elusive but effective discordant note..."-the distinctive "inconsistency in the point of view of the narrator" of Besy that includes "intimate descriptions of scenes which he did not witness...Kirillov's suicide is but one such episode."[80] awkward narrator's transition from Pyotr's fleeing to a deliberately inventive-seeming last scene w/Kirillov.

"you can't give me gifts -- fool!"(610) can't balance ultimate gift.

P: "You, with your intelligence, have only now understood that everyone's the same, that no one's better or worse, but just smarter of stupider...it follows that there even oughtn't to be any non-scoundrels?"(614) K: "Can it be that your kind have convictions?"(614) "You want to bring me down to philosophy and ecstacy and produce a reconciliation..."(615)


"'God is necessary, and therefore must exist.'...'But I know that he does not and cannot exist.'...'Don't you understand that a man with these two thoughts cannot go on living?'" (615) why not? Division between thoughts, ideas and beliefs. Economical materialism is the root of possession: in order for ideas to take hold, the idea that all ideas must be materially useful and necessary must take hold.

"If there is no God, then I am God."(617) Solipsism is logically supported by a relativistic universe. Yet Kirillov, who often generalizes his own thoughts, believes himself doomed by a confrontation with his contradictions, such as the persistence of values, based in his central self-value: "To kill someone else would be the lowest point of my self-will, and there's the whole of you in that. I am not you: I want the highest point, and I will kill myself."...""Man has done nothing but invent God, so as to live without killing himself; in that lies the whole of world history up to now." (617-18) "There is nothing hid that shall not be revealed. He said that."(618) penultimate man. Dostoevsky hints that Christian belief is instinctual, so a character portrayed with greater relative intelligence claims to be aware of this, only so at odds with it that he concludes self-destruction. "one on a cross believed so much [he anticipated paradise]... they both died, and did not find either paradise or resurrection. What he said would not prove true. Listen: this man was the highest on all the earth, he constituted what it was to live for. Without this man the whole planet with everything on it is-- madness only."(618) "the laws of nature did not pity even this One...whole planet is a lie, and stands upon a lie and a stupid mockery."(618) "To recognize that there is no God, and not to recognize at the same time that you have become God, is an absurdity, otherwise you must necessarily kill yourself...once you recognize it you will not kill yourself but will live in the chiefest glory." understands but doesn't feel, thus makes himself an example? "It is my duty to believe that I do not believe. I will begin, and end, and open the door." (619) Still the trans-individual abstraction must be described in terms of figurative language, the basis of allegory. "You'll see yourself that all that is hid shall be revealed! And you will be crushed... I believe! I believe!"(619) Christ's optimism aims for an ideal of truth at an ultimate temporal point, but the optimistic statement is inherently not true, depending again on faith much like the promise of paradise. Candles. Kirillov hiding: nonsensical nonverbal riddle. biting echoes Stavrogin. "'Now, now, now, now ...' /ten times or so." (625) Hypocritically, Kirillov is still hesitating in suicide, perpetually perceiving the present as personal apocalypse but not acting on the perception. pause of five minutes before returning. Now the already undependable narrative becomes a one-sided perspective from Pyotr, as if neither author nor reader is able to reach Kirillov's extreme state of mind; Kirillov is "the other" to Pyotr, beyond the event horizon but still experiencing his own time.. "death must have occured instantly"(625) Kirillov has chosen the "instant", after which, as God through solipsism, the world will have reached a timeless moment.

The fragmented tendencies of this particular text are attributable to the proliferation of ideas in its development, which in their transmission into action become ideals and thereby unattainable. The reader might derive some wholeness from it, as it must be, having both beginning and end. Its ideology otherwise is an entertaining and inevitable contradiction.


Bibliography, Annotated and Otherwise

Anderson, Nancy K. The Perverted Ideal in Dostoevsky's "The Devils". New York: Lang, 1997.

Ideals are beautiful and evil is only false beauty. Discusses in a somewhat unstructured manner how Dostoevsky understands ideals as favorable against materialism, but the materialization of ideals results in their perversion. Each of the characters is demonic in the sense of misinterpreting ideals, twisting a shared, probably religious, ideal interior into something that reduces communication. A chapter is spent discussing the role of Stavrogin: his overpretty "masklike" exterior and the materialization of his ideas by the other characters. In particular she examines Kirillov's attempted transvaluation (while persuing her own extremes in the applications thereof: "in denying the existence of evil as a real, rather than subjective, phenomenon, Kirillov also denies the need for compassion."(71) , and how extreme ideation is symptomized by interpersonal awkwardness. Anderson also discusses the definition of falsity, which is linked to Dostoevsky's use of non-dualistic doubles, semantically manifesting as irony.


Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics ed, trans. Caryl Emerson. Theory and history of literature, Volume 8. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota press, 1984.

Argues towards the "polyphony" of Dostoevsky's novel, his ability to capture ideas interacting in dialogues between several psyches, or the inner profusion of voices and multiple perspectives. Thus Dostoevsky's works are based on social interaction of internal harmonies and discords, without conforming to a single author's or hero's perspective. Unity derives from perception of inner division. The critic is fighting against the unpopularity of discussing Dostoevsky at all during his time in Eastern Europe.

The introduction by Wayne C. Booth emphasizes the post-modernist elements of such an approach to poetics, especially the way in which it denies the human tendency toward unitary, abstract meaning. In fact, wholeness and unity can be perceived as an illusion perpetuated by art; "illusion", however, conveys a belief in falsity from an ideal. Booth still abstractly dualizes in terms of "centripetal" (unifying) forces and "centrifugal" (entropic) forces in thought, although I must note that centrifugal force is an illusion created by inertia. The critic refreshingly insists on the inability of a musical analogy to convey a universal (the universe in a novel) truth.


Boertnes, Jostein. "The Last Delusion in an infinite series of delusions: Stavrogin and the Symbolic Structure of The Devils." Dostoevsky Studies 4 (1983) 53-67


Camus, Albert, trans. Justin O'Brien. The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays. New York: Knopf, 1955. pq2605.c15

Camus perceives Dostoevsky's characters as "modern" men because they question the meaning of their own existence, particularly focusing on Kirillov because of his preferable assumption of an idea within the framework of solipsistic nihilism. He claims there are three responses to "absurdity": "aesthetic indifference governed by nihilistic relativism and negation of values; ethical acceptance of a tragic world in which humanistic universal concepts of value must be individually created; religious hope."(95) all three are embodied by various characters in Demons.


Cerny, Vaclav. Dostoevsky and his Devils. trans. by F.W. Galan. Ann Arbour: Ardis, 1975.

An unabashedly opinionated Czech critic. Rebellion against perceived insitutionalized views of D, based on Socialist ideals; literary understanding cannot seek out in works only what is useful, and it needs be seen that Dostoevsky himself is corrupted - effectively he is Possessed. stresses importancce of author's ideology and whole canon of work. concepts about Dostoevsky "numerous, innumerable" (17) May or may not be aware that he himself is being parodized, but more than aware that Dostoevsky parodizes himself. Considers Kirillov one of the three most fascinating Demons, a Dostoevkian anti-hero, and claims Dostoevsky creates evil characters far better than good, thus perpetuating a Romantic form of writing. Humanity can be seen as the ultimate virtue, in our current context. Claims Marx was unknown to the author, but claims Dostoevsky attacks requisite materialism (which may be true - but one can also interpret it as an attack on the imposition of a single, atheistic, wordview). Dostoevsky is hypocritical because Demons postulates atheism. Also mentions the prophetic nature of the novel, towards philosophical and political movements.


Fish, Stanley. "Don't Blame Relativism". The Responsive Community, vol. 12, issue 3. http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/rcq/Fish.pdf


Fletcher, Angus. Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode. Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 1964)

A structuralist analysis of the form and fuction of literary allegory. Allegory attempts to universalize a narrative. One chapter discusses the prevalence of daemonic (or supernatural) imagery, in order to create a sense of ideology as a higher realm. Another important element is the enigmatic, distancing quality of allegorical storytelling - symbols cannot be directly stated, it is their relationship to others that reveals their meaning. Inherent in allegory is doubling, since an allegorical symbol must have at least two levels of meaning. Allegory occurs as such in a Christian context, although it is derived from myth.


Hawking, Stephen W. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books, 1988-1996.

The most popular crash course in Cosmology ever. Hawking describes most complex physical theories through metaphor, with the occasional tendency to extend metaphors too far. Science is the quest for the Theory of Everything, to find universal laws, and Hawking demonstrates that the divided and contradictory schools of thought in Physics only approximate a predictable universe - in fact, Quantum mechanics defines an unpredictable universe, and is rather at odds with relativity in situations such as black holes. Einsteinian relativity is founded on observations that at different speeds light (by which all speed is measured and, for that matter, all observations made) will appear to have traveled different distances. It is easier to accept that the time in which the distance was crossed differs rather than the speed, depending on speed. Thus the only objective time is a subjective personal time, and each person's reality is different depending on their speed when they observe events, via light. In fact, the only constant by which to judge velocity and therefore time is the speed of light itself, almost unattainable by matter, at which time (to a slower observer) can be seen to stop. General relativity attributes the same time-varying factor to gravity; in a black hole, time can be said to slow to the almost-attainable state of complete stasis, except that such a state is unobservable because light cannot escape a black hole. The amount of abstraction involved in believing in Relativity, much less inventing it, is enough to make a human wish for God..."the more you think about it, the harder it gets"

Hawking describes entropy, or the perpetual increase of chaos due to energy dispersal, as being simply as aspect of the direction of the arrow of time: psychological entropy in particular proves this, since in order to remember the past instead of know the future we must create eddies of organization within our minds and release energy in the process. Regardless of its direction, the arrow of time moves from one kind of homogeny and extremity to another; in between is all variation and development. Hawking thus describes an almost anthropomorphic universe, with an ultimate end that is not entirely teleological and, like the nihilists', leaves no room for humanity. The universe is "boundless but finite" due to the limitations of relativity.


Jones, Malcom B. Dostoevsky: The Novel of Discord. London: Paul Elek, 1976.

Examines Dostoevsky's examination of the discordancy of human nature and the chaotic, confusing nature of his writing. He claims to isolate the "centrifugal" principles (see Bahktin). Applies the same uniting principle of an idea that the "demons" have to Dostoevsky. In order to perceive discord, one has to recognize harmony. Even if the idea of harmony and organization is an illusion, that doesn't make it meaningless; Jones argues that Dostoevsky works from the perspective that illusion of harmony is preferable to true discord, while such idealism can be twisted. Discord, or a principle of negation ,a driving aspect of human nature, is also beautiful from some perspectives; in this way Jones's ideas are similar to Anderson's and Cerny's. The discord in Dostoevsky is also apparent in the difficulty of categorizing his characters or situations within a dualist structure. His principles of complexity, otherwise known as discord (or rather Chaos, which is often confused with discord: see Shea and Wilson) are the "inappropriate", the "irrelevant", the "enigmatic"(similarly to Fletcher's "allegory"), the "unpredictable"(observe the discord between relativity and quantum physics), and "dislocation of the point of view", that is, an uncohesive narration deriving from somewhat of a transcendence of relativistic subjectivity through writing; and a sacreligious sixth, coincidence, exemplary of the creation of meaning through chaos.

Demons Jones regards as a "novel of travesties"; the plot depends on contradictory and deceiving dialogue and belief, which he qualifies as Inappropriate. The plot, he notes, is discordantly difficult to tell from digression, and the undependable narrative defies the desired cohesiveness of storytelling. Jones focuses on Kirillov as a "solution" to existential issues of time.


Jones, M.V. "The Narrator and Narrative Technique", in

Leatherbarrow, William J., ed. Dostoevsky's The Devils: a critical companion. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. 1999.

The most relevant in a recent cllection of essays. Jones here focuses on the unreliable nature of the narrative, which sometimes claims to be a personal chronicle and is sometimes fiction on the part of the narrator. Dostoevsky uses Guvenov(?) to distance himself from opinionated characterization, or demonization. Jones believes the most philosophically revealing beliefs come from Shatov and Kirillov, whom he sees as peripheral to the "plot."( part of a tendency toward favoring exception). Similarly to Vladiv, he recognizes an "implied author" and the potential complexity of organizing the narration of the text in any way different from the long and varied ramble it is. Examining Bahktin's thesis, he claims it over-homogenizes, because the narrator's situation provides a confusing unity, and Dostoevsky's point is orchestrated by him.


Livermore, Gordon. Stepan Verkhovensky and the Shaping dialectic of Dostoevsky's Devils. in Dostoevsky: New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1984.

Demonstrates Dostoevsky's contrasting the concrete and the ideal, or "realia" and "realoria", the father and son, and the apocalyptic themes, which he compares to "centers of gravity." Ultimately "realia" and "realoria" are simply ideas which become united for Stepan and Shatov briefly before the death of each; but if the synthesis precipitates death, the dialectic becomes part of a Christian reconciliation with telos, contrasting the nihilists' ironic connection to life...


Ozolins,Andrejs. "The Concept of Beauty in The Possessed." In Doestoevsky and the Human condition after a century, ed. Ugrinsky, Lambasa, Ozolins. Westport: Greenwood, 1986.

Again examining the conflict of ideal and real, with both being constantly in flux. Human develops a desire for the opposite of what se experiences (which I see as the basis for all language being complaint). Ozolins claims the omniscienct narrator allows the reader to form zer own opinion. Naturallyt, recommends moderation.


Moore, Gene M. "The Voices of Legion: The Narrator of The Possessed." in Dostoevsky Studies vol. 6, 1985.

Demonstrates that the confusion of narration in Demons reveals the desire for truth inherent in any grasp of a "false" ideal or materialist philosophy. Dostoevsky attempts to demonstrate that it takes a village to create a story, or approximate some truth, while also examining the limitations on discovering that truth via the variable narrator, whose evidence for the truth of his story falls into four categories: eyewitness, second-hand, general rumors, and omniscient speculation. (Tracing the difference between them can be particularly difficult, especially considering the amount of entropy generated in absolutely remembering conversational details.)


Oates, Joyce Carol. "Tragic Rites in Dostoevsky's The Possessed." http://www.usfca.edu/fac-staff/southerr/tragic.html. from The Georgia Review, 1978. Reprinted in Contraries: Essays, 1981.

Oates, being a mainstream and somewhat realist writer, analyzes somewhat external to the other criticism and examines realist-illusion-context content. Oates claims the story derives not from a Realist but a mythical imagination, its plot similar to The Bacchae in the necessary acceleration of chaos for the sake of cleansing. Agrees on Dostoevsky's fascination with "vast, complex structures": the chaotic, as in chaos theory, which manifest in echoes, parodies, multiple voices and ideas, and indeterminate history. She at least acknowledges Pyotr's implied homosexuality, but reads the subtlety of Kirillov's motivations differnly than I. Like Pevear, reads the Demons as the ideas, and those who die as the pigs in the sometimes-ignored epigram. Like Greek myths, the story ultimately favors unteleological moderation and humility.


Pope, Richard: "Pyotr Verkhovensky and the Banality of Evil". in Dostoevsky and the Twentieth Century: the Liubliana Papers, ed. Malcom V. Jones. Nottingham: Astra, 1993.


Shea, Robert J. and Wilson, Robert Anton. The Illuminatus! Trilogy. New York: Dell, 1975.

An unclassifiable work of what may or may not be fiction or parody, the "Trilogy" seeks to reveal exactly who controls everything (the Illuminati) and the opposing forces (Discordians) who may or may not oppose them. It mixes mysticism with almost every other epic work of mythology, and ultimately, regardless of what one was on when reading it, one only gets a vague sense of how everything fits together. The book is also divisible into five parts, correlating to the Illuminati's five-part analysis of circular history: Chaos, Discord, Confusion, Bureacracy, and Aftermath. All of these have the same sense of unfathomable complexity to them, and their seperation into stages belies their crucial similarities, demonstrating that anything can be different from anything else if you compare them. Another aspect of Illuminati mysticism is the Law of Fives, which states that everything is related to everything else through the number five. Thus 23 is an especially sacred number, consisting of the two numbers most firmly entrenched in the manners of human thought. Through the "illumination" aspect of that secret worldwide organization we discover a connection to relativity and the unapproachability of truth. Usually one would not feel qualified to reveal any of this information, mostly because I have no idea where it really came from, although aliens might have something to do with it. We now return you to formal analysis.


Tunimanov, V.A. "The Narrator in The Devils." in Dostoevsky: New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1984.

G____v emphasizes his position as one of many, and thus the chaotic variability of the narrative moves toward nothing, but rather characters such as Kirillov, who is only externally readable by the narrator, become readable instead by the reader in the novel's omnisciently narrated passages.


Vladiv, Slobodanka B. Narrative principles in Dostoevsky's Besy: a structural analysis. Bern, Frankfurt am Main, Las Vegas: Lang, 1979.

A rigourously structuralist semantic examination of Besy in multiple languages, with the majority of the work in footnotes, that works to complicate but clarify, this pamphlet discusses meaning and information flow, and overflows with meaningless information.. Could be seen, comparatively, as the opposite of Bakhtin's work. Vladiv displays a near fanatic belief in the architectural abstract structure of semantics. Uncertainty is not an Option. The act of communication has four levels, a unidirectional entrance and exit of consciousness. The structure is related to the larger theme of requisite unity in art - this is the ultimate modernist analysis, such as only a semanticist can accomplish. Besy is seen as a highly original narrative format due to its complex relations between the one narrator and many perspectives. Ambivalence is still a deciding factor, but Vladiv insists that the work is completely organized as long as one analyzes closely enough. The "resulting meaning" of the entire text is non-binary, which is admirable. This analysis itself is meticulously structured into specifically labeled sections and subsections, although there is inevitable crossover, a netlike branching of themes. Knowledge is impressionistic. Characters are "emanations" from other characters (Kirillov from Stavrogin, Stavrogin from Stepan). "Emanations" or mental children divide ideas - as ideas get more divided as assigned to people, they become more absolute and 'radical'. Thus more characters and more radical ideas. Kirillov is extreme. The formation of an 'idea'(which is further defined as a component of 'meaning' and of the communication process) is represented as an organic, even physiological process, which takes place inside each individual consciousness and is inseperable from the individual's 'subjectivity'. Often by negating an idea, Vladiv implies its potential existence. This overly useful pamphlet is a good example of how organizing (as an organism) the human mind prefers to be.


[1] Pevear and Volokhonsky

[2] see Hawking

[3] p. 555

[4] Oates

[5] 547

[6] Ibid. p. 319

[7] ibid. p. 385-386

* term derived from Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Curse of Chalion. Eos/, 2001

[8] Ibid. p. 8

[9] 516

[10] Anderson 54

[11] ibid. 204

[12] Livermore, 184

[13] ibid. 34

[14] ibid. 631

[15] ibid. 136

[16] 467

[17] 250

[18] 462

[19] Jones, Dostoevsky, 16

[20] Cerny 65

[21] Anderson 20

[22] 618

[23] Jones, Dostoevsky, 39

[24] Jones, Dostoevsky, 140

[25] Jones, Dostoevsky, 31

[26] 616

[27] 139

[28] 253

[29] 37

[30] 220

[31] 221

[32] 116

[33] Jones, Dostoevsky, p. 151

[34] Jones, Dostoevsky, p. 153

[35] 236

[36] Jones,Dostoevksy, 37

[37] Anderson 120

[38] ibid. p. 21

[39] ibid. p. 74

[40] Cerny 38

[41] ibid. p. 652

[42] ibid. p. 94

[43] Jones, Dostoevsky, 143

[44] Cerny 45

[45] Cerny 22

[46] Pevear and Volokhonsky, xxiii

[47] 374

[48] Oates

[49] Cerny 38

[50] Vladiv p. 124

[51] Oates

[52] Cerny 39

[53] Ozolins 101

[54] Anderson p. 14

[55] Anderson p. 15

[56] 669

[57] p. 605

[58] ibid. p. 292

[59] Merill, 95 (summary of Camus)

[60] 251

[61] Cerny 68

[62] 608

[63] Cerny 48

[64] ibid. p. 374

[65] ibid. p. 116

[66] ibid. p. 237

[67] ibid. p. 250

[68] ibid. 327

[69] ibid. 136

[70] 238

[71] Jones, Dostoevsky, p. 151

[72] Ozolins 104

[73] Cerny 58

[74] ibid. p. 655

[75] 354

[76] 359

[77] 349

[78] Cerny 17

[79] Vladiv ~130

[80] all Jones, Dostoevsky, p. 45

0          1.         2.         3.         4.         5.         index

[1] 236

[2] 96

[3] 137

[4] 558

[5] 136

[6] Cerny 61

[7] 707

[8] Pevear xv

[9] 253