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Funny Dostoevsky

July 20, 2020

Years ago I linked to a 1906 anthology of The World’s Wit and Humor where Dostoevskii was included in the Russian section, right between Gogol and Nekrasov. Lynn Patyk and Irina Erman are organizing a whole conference next May on that principle:

Has the global pandemic, economic recession, and creeping authoritarianism of 2020 got you down? If it has, then there’s one surefire cure: read Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky is chock-full of hilarity in all forms: satire, parody, good old-fashioned vaudeville, the carnivalesque (of course!), and micro humor. Sadly, literary criticism has focused overwhelmingly on “dark Dostoevsky” or “heavy Dostoevsky,” in the process saddling Dostoevsky with the partially undeserved reputation of being one of the deepest, darkest, and most depressing writers of European modernity. No doubt this is because the high seriousness of the academic enterprise, following the classical genre system, leads it to devalue the comedic and privilege more elevated styles and themes: the philosophical, the psychological, the metaphysical. Yet in Dostoevsky’s novels, many of these themes sound or are manifest in a slyly or raucously comic key, Ivan Karamazov’s devil being one outstanding example.

I’m going to guess that non-academic readers of Dostoevskii in English also make him out to be dark and depressing, since the act of translation and the passage of time are both enemies of the comic more than the tragic, but it sounds like a great conference to me. Here is the complete call for papers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. languagehat permalink
    July 20, 2020 8:08 am

    I agree, and I note that The World’s Wit and Humor included a translation of Крокодил, which is indeed hilarious (I wrote about it here); the humor of Dostoevsky has been one of the great discoveries of my read-through of Russian literature.

  2. July 20, 2020 8:21 am

    I think Dostoevsky is often hilarious – the mania of The Gambler, for example, is a joy!

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