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Two “Three Deaths”

November 14, 2013

Here is Michael R. Katz describing a Bakhtin counterfactual:

In the chapter entitled “The Hero in Dostoevsky’s Art,” Bakhtin analyzes [“Three Deaths”?] as a characteristic example of […] Leo Tolstoy’s “monologic manner” and poses the following question: “How would [Tolstoy’s] ‘Three Deaths’ look if… Dostoevsky had written them, that is, if they had been structured in a polyphonic manner?”

The critic goes on to make a more general point:

Of course, Dostoevsky would never have depicted three deaths: in his world, where self-consciousness is the dominant of a person’s image and where the interaction of full and autonomous consciousness is the fundamental event, death cannot function as something that finalizes and elucidates life. Death in the Tolstoyan interpretation of it is totally absent from Dostoevsky’s world.

Bakhtin’s 1963 edition contains further provocations:

In Dostoevsky there are considerably fewer deaths than in Tolstoy – and in most cases Dostoevsky’s deaths are murders and suicides. In Tolstoy there are a great many deaths…. Dostoevsky never depicts death from within. Final agony and death are observed by others. Death cannot be a fact of consciousness itself…. In Dostoevsky’s world death finalizes nothing, because death does not affect the most important thing in this world – consciousness for its own sake…. In Dostoevsky’s world there are only murders, suicides, and insanity, that is, there are only death-acts, responsively conscious….

But then he describes an exception to this Dostoevskii/Tolstoi contrast: Stepan Verkhovenskii in The Devils (Бесы, 1872), who “undergoes a sort of conversion” and whose death is more “Tolstoyan” than a typical murder or suicide in Dostoevskii. See the whole post at the Oxford University Press’s blog.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 14, 2013 11:27 am

    How interesting, thanks for the pointer.

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