Wednesday was all about Notes from Underground for me. Carol Apollonio’s paper was stunning, probably the highlight of the symposium, and it confirmed my view of her as one of the most original scholars working on Dostoevsky. She examined the use of pronouns in Notes from Underground (specifically ‘I’), but also giving a broader perspective that connected it to The Brothers Karamazov, and proposed an incredibly challenging and interesting way of reading Dostoevsky ‘grammatically’ which I think will send us all back to the texts with fresh eyes. Put briefly, this sort of reading accounts for the act that in Russian, «Я» means not only ‘I’ but also ‘the I’, ‘the ego’. When you start considering that, a whole new meaning emerges.
I also really enjoyed Evgenia Cherkasova’s paper on existential psychoanalysis. Looking at the question of mauvais fois in relation to the underground man’s confession showed just how complicated his mental process is, but it also demonstrated the centrality of self-consciousness in Dostoevsky’s works. The underground man is engaged in self-deception, but reporting it honestly, and his consciousness is the source of his tragedy. But is he really being honest about what he’s doing, I wonder?
Honourable mention must also go to Anthony Johae. His conception of the ‘confession’ of Notes from Underground (as it was originally subtitled) as a form of on-going penal correction is really intriguing, but the question is, what is his crime? Is it his rejection of Liza, or, like so many of Dostoevsky’s other anti-heroes, does he have another crime on his conscience? If so, then he isn’t being remotely honest with us, or himself…
The afternoon’s roundtable on Dostoevsky and Tolstoy was excellent, with thought-provoking comparisons from Robert Belknap (different methods the authors use to demolish writers and ideas they disliked), Ellen Chances (parallels between Anna Karenina and Brothers Karamazov), Robin Feuer Miller (depiction of animals), and William Mills Todd III (Dostoevsky and Tolstoy as professional writers, and what that meant in nineteenth-century Russia). A lively discussion ensued.
The big news is that the next symposium (2013) will be in Moscow. I think St Petersburg would make more sense, but hopefully that will happen one day.