ON THE "REGENERATION OF CONVICTIONS" in DOSTOEVSKY
A lecture read in French over Radio-Paris and published in Russian in the journal Russkiye Zapiski, no. 2 (1937).
Dostoevsky is indisputably one of the most significant but, at the same time, one of the most difficult representatives not only of Russian but of world literature. Indeed, he is not merely difficult but agonizing. Mikhailovsky entitled his article dedicated to Dostoevsky, written immediately after the writer's death, that is in 1881, "A Cruel Talent." In Mikhailovsky's definition a great, though also - so to speak - a purely external truth about Dostoevsky is hidden: to him, more correctly, to his writings, belongs an extreme, unrestrained "cruelty" that both in his lifetime and after his death repelled many readers and continues to repel them. In this respect Dostoevsky, however, is not an exception. In the nineteenth century there were two other writers, both of whom were destined to play an enormous role in the history of the development of European thought - Kierkegaard and Nietzsche - and of both it may be said that they were "cruel talents." Nietzsche as well as Kierkegaard glorified cruelty in enthusiastic hymns even more passionately than Dostoevsky did. Moreover, as is obvious already in his first works, Dostoevsky was not by nature a cruel but, on the contrary, a very kindly and amiable person. Did cruelty come to him later? Whence and why? To answer this question means to obtain the key to the enigma of Dostoevsky's creativity - the strangest and most paradoxical creativity that human imagination can conceive.
Dostoevsky himself not only was aware of what a sharp break occurred in his world outlook but even spoke of it. In 1873, when he was already past fifty, he declared, looking back on his almost thirty years of writing activity: "It would be very difficult for me to tell the story of the regeneration of my convictions." Of course, it would be difficult - but, in fact, in everything that he wrote he did nothing but tell about the regeneration of his convictions. And precisely in this consists the whole interest of his writings - both for himself and for us. "The story of the regeneration of convictions" - can there be in the whole realm of literature any story that is more completely thrilling and of all-consuming interest? The story of the regeneration of convictions is really, first of all, the story of their birth. Convictions are born for a second time in a man before his eyes at an age when he has enough experience and perspicacity consciously to follow this deep mystery of his soul. In Notes from the Underground we read in Dostoevsky the following words: "About what can a decent man talk with the greatest pleasure?... The answer: about himself. Well, then, I shall talk about myself." Dostoevsky's works carry out this program to a significant degree. With the passing of the years, as his talent matured and developed, he talked about himself ever more boldly and truthfully.
Dostoevsky's literary activity may be divided into two periods. The first begins with Poor Folk and ends with The House of the Dead. The second begins with Notes from the Underground and closes with the Speech on Pushkin. From Notes from the Underground the reader suddenly learns that, while the other novels and stories were being written, there took place in Dostoevsky "one of the most terrible crises that a human soul is capable of preparing for itself and enduring." What Dostoevsky called the "regeneration of convictions" was not the natural, calm, painless process that it might have appeared to have been to an external observer. Dostoevsky had to dig out from his soul what had grown together with it organically and, as it were, forever. The tone in which Notes from the Underground is written bears sufficient testimony to this. Already the first chapter of Notes is written with such enormous tension that it had to end with the words: "Wait a minute, let me take a breath!" Dostoevsky does not speak; he cries, as it were. And he cries not with his own voice, as only a man subjected to unheard-of torture can cry.
It could not be otherwise: to Dostoevsky it was suddenly revealed that the ideals to which he had devoted all his youth, which he had served with such sincerity and selflessness, had deceived him, and that everything he had written until his fortieth year (Notes from the Underground was written when Dostoevsky was already forty) was utter falsehood and, moreover, falsehood that could not be justified by anything. I will quote here, to begin with, only a short passage from the notes of the underground man that immediately reveals to us what a fearful revolution took place in Dostoevsky's soul at that time. Here is what the underground man says to a woman from a brothel who has come to him for moral support: "Do you know what I really need? That you should vanish, that's what. I need peace. Why, to be left in peace, I'd sell the whole world for a kopeck. Should the world vanish, or should I not drink my tea? I say that the world should vanish, but that I should always have my tea." Who speaks in this way? Who took it into his head to put words of such monstrous cynicism into his hero's mouth? That same Dostoevsky who had told us so movingly in his first story Poor Folk about the bitter fate of Makar Devushkin and who not long before had written with such ardent and unfeigned feeling in The Humiliated and the Insulted: "It thrills the heart to realize that the most downtrodden man, the lowest of the low, is also a human being and is called your brother."
"Poor folk," the lowest of the low, the downtrodden "humiliated and insulted" - these are the constant theme of all of Dostoevsky's early works. How did it happen, and indeed did it happen, that Dostoevsky once and for all turned away from the "poor folk," from the "humiliated and insulted" - and set himself as his only task in life the satisfaction of the elementary requirements of his wretched ego? Did Dostoevsky's heart really become so cruel? Such suppositions were expressed already in Dostoevsky's lifetime more than once by ill-disposed and impatient criticism. In part they were based on what gave Mikhailovsky occasion to call Dostoevsky a "cruel talent." But this is the most erroneous representation of him that can be conceived. To be sure, it frees us from the unprecedentedly difficult problematic of Dostoevsky - and this is for many highly enticing - but it finally and forever takes away from us the real Dostoevsky. In reality the direct opposite occurred: the longer Dostoevsky lived and the more he reflected on the great and final mysteries of human existence, the more passionately and selflessly he devoted himself and all his enormous powers to the "poor folk," the "humiliated and insulted," the "least, downtrodden human being." When in The House of the Dead he had to come into contact with convicts, with the world of people rejected by all and forgotten by all, with that really frightful stratum of society that he portrayed in all its horror, that stratum in which all of us have seen and still see only the dregs, the refuse of the human species, he did not react to it in the same way as did other of his fellow-prisoners who had been condemned by decree on political grounds; he did not say, "je hais ces brigands." On the contrary, he saw in them - in these truly lowest, superfluous, forgotten, and downtrodden people - men like himself, close to him, his brothers. The convicts did not repel him but set before him the enormous question, unacceptable in its enormity for the majority of people and therefore - as it were - altogether nonexistent, which the great French poet Charles Baudelaire expressed in the immortal words: "aimes-tu les damnés, connais-tu l'irrémissible?" Can one, can we, love the damned, the eternally damned? Do we know the fateful horror that is hidden in the word "irrevocable?" And, most importantly, have we the will, have we at our disposal the powers of the soul that are necessary to look directly in the face those horrors of life to which the eternally damned are condemned?
I have quoted Dostoevsky's words: "to realize that the lowest of the low, the most downtrodden man, is your brother." For the fact that he dared to proclaim this truth and for his timid attempt to realize it in life at least to a certain degree, Dostoevsky, as is known, was sentenced by a court of the emperor Nicholas I to the death penalty, which was changed to hard labor in Siberia. And now, in 1873, after his convictions had already been "regenerated," we read in his Diary of a Writer the following words: "The sentence of death by firing squad, which was read to us beforehand, had been read not at all in jest; all of the condemned were certain that it would be carried out and suffered at least ten terrible, inordinately horrible minutes awaiting death. In those last minutes some of us (I know this positively) instinctively withdrew deep into ourselves and, hastily examining the whole of our still very young lives, perhaps repented of some of our serious deeds (of the kind that in every man secretly lie on his conscience throughout his life). But that deed for which they had condemned us, those thoughts, those ideas that had possessed our spirits, seemed to us not only something that did not require repentance but even something that purified us, a martyrdom for which much would be forgiven us! And so it continued for a long time. Not the years of exile, not the suffering, broke us. On the contrary, nothing broke us, and our convictions only kept up our spirits with the consciousness of a duty fulfilled."
Throughout all his life Dostoevsky remained faithful to those ideas which animated his first works. I would recall here his short story "The Peasant Marey," which was written in 1876 - five years before his death - and which ends as follows: "And when I came down from the bunk and looked around, I suddenly felt, I remember, that I could look at these unfortunate people with quite different eyes, and that all at once through some miracle all hatred and anger disappeared completely from my heart. That rascal of a peasant, with his shaven head and a brand on his face, bellowing out his drunken song - why, he too, might be the same sort of person as this Marey." It is clear that the regeneration of Dostoevsky's convictions must be sought not in the hardening of his heart but somewhere else altogether.
In speaking of the regeneration of convictions in Dostoevsky, I have quoted a sufficient number of his own statements, which bear witness that he carried unchanged to the end of his life the ideas with which he appeared in the world of letters in his early youth. It is possible to say even more: everything new that was revealed to Dostoevsky in his maturity and old age was, as it were, the answer to those questions which - to himself still invisible - were hiding in the ideas of his youth. To understand this, it is necessary for us, even if only for a short time, to dwell on, to scrutinize and to feel ourselves into the spiritual atmosphere in which educated Russian society lived at the end of the 1840s, when Dostoevsky began writing.
The dominant influence and leader of all cultured Russian people of that epoch was Belinsky. Belinsky, for the first time, appreciated and understood and pointed out in his articles everything that Pushkin gave to Russia. He loved in Pushkin not only the great poet who, as expressed in his own words about Mozart, like a cherub brought us some heavenly songs, but the man of rare soul. In his articles on Pushkin Belinsky spoke with boundless passion and enthusiasm about Pushkin's humanity and always set against it the moral crudeness, cruelty, and totally unrestrained arbitrariness that prevailed in the epoch of Nicholas I - an epoch of serfdom. Inspired by Pushkin and the traditions of the Decembrists, Belinsky hated serfdom, as well as the autocracy of the czar and the czar's venal officialdom that were both maintained by serfdom and gave support to it. All the best people of Russia were enemies of the serf-system, along with Belinsky and in common with him. The political affair in which Dostoevsky was involved and for which he was condemned to death - it was called the Petrashevsky Affair, after the name of the chief person accused - was the weak attempt of a small group of people to battle against serfdom.
Its western neighbors - chiefly France - had an enormous influence on the development of Russian society. The French revolution, its declaration of the rights of man and citizen, captivated the minds of all who were considered and considered themselves progressive persons. No lesser influence on the development of the awakening consciousness of Russian society was exerted by the French literature of the 1830s and 1840s. In his old age Dostoevsky recalls this and says that, despite the strict censorship of that time, "already since the previous century information about every intellectual movement in Europe always came to us immediately and was immediately transmitted from the highest strata of our intelligentsia to the mass, albeit very tiny, of interested and thinking people."
In the French revolution the Russians saw the dawn of freedom arising in the whole world; in French literature they saw the glorification of all the best, all the highest, of which people ever dreamed. Everyone was especially charmed by George Sand. Here is how Dostoevsky recalls her: "She appeared in the Russian language around the middle of the 1830s... I was, I think, sixteen when I read for the first time her story "L'Uscoque" - one of the most charming of her first works. I recall that afterwards I was in a fever a whole night. I think I am not mistaken if I say that George Sand, at least according to my recollections, occupied among us at once almost the first place in the rank of a whole pleiad of new writers who then suddenly became famous and stirred up a great sensation in all of Europe. Even Dickens, who appeared among us almost simultaneously with her, had to yield to her... George Sand was not a thinker but one of these who most clearsightedly had a premonition of the happier future awaiting mankind, in the fulfillment of whose ideals she believed cheerfully and magnanimously throughout her life precisely because she herself was capable of setting up an ideal in her soul. The preservation of this belief to the end is the lot of all great souls, all true lovers of man." So the Russians of the 1840s accepted George Sand, so they accepted Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Dickens; so was refracted in their understanding all that the foremost people of Europe accomplished. In all they saw the proclamation of a great charter of new freedoms, a grand and magnificent declaration of the rights of man.
Dostoevsky lived entirely in the realm of these ideas. His first story was already an attempt to embody all these ideas in words. It is called Poor Folk. Dostoevsky began writing it when yet almost a youth, apparently when he was still at engineering school, and devoted all his free hours to it, working nights. When he finished it he submitted it for consideration to the then most widely read journal, whose chief contributor was Belinsky. And, presently, the following unique scene was played out. At four o'clock in the morning the two editors-in-chief of the journal - the poet Nekrasov, who was already then famed throughout all of Russia, and the writer Grigorovich - rush to him and declare with tears in their eyes that he has written an extraordinarily fine thing. A few days later he meets Belinsky himself, from whom he hears: "Do you really understand what you have written here? You could have written this only through a direct flair as an artist." Needless to say what a great event this was in Dostoevsky's life: the best representatives of Russian literature came to express their respects to him, an unknown young man. "It was the most entrancing moment in my whole life," Dostoevsky himself used to say later on.
Why did Belinsky and Nekrasov express their respect to him? They did it for the "poor folk" - for the sake of the poor people to whom they themselves had dedicated their whole lives. I shall here quote a short passage from a private letter of Belinsky in which was stated with extraordinary clarity his profession de foi that almost all his friends shared with him, a passage which contained in nuce everything that Dostoevsky was later to proclaim urbi et orbi and which several generations of Russians learned by heart.
So Belinsky thought and spoke, so also Dostoevsky thought and spoke up to his very death. And in these words we can immediately perceive the "convictions" of Dostoevsky's youth, as well as that ferment thanks to which what he called the regeneration of his convictions occurred. On the one side, Belinsky, like Dostoevsky, speaks about the lowest, the downtrodden, the rejected, and calls them his brothers in blood. On the other side, however, he is no longer content, as in his essays, with the glorification of "humanitarianism," with the proclamation of the "declaration of the rights of man and citizen" - those ideas that he took over so joyously from his western teachers. He demands an account of all the victims of accident, superstition, the Inquisition, etc. And when people reply to him - to be sure, not from France but from Germany - through the mouth of the then most renowned philosopher, Hegel, that "disharmony is the condition of harmony" and that human "development" is purchased at this price, the price of the sacrifice of brothers in blood, he answers with wrath and disgust: I will not accept your development, I will not accept such a harmony - I would hurl myself down headfirst, even if I reached the uppermost rung.
- "Even if I should manage," writes Belinsky, "to climb to the highest rung of the ladder of development, I would there ask you to give me an account of all the victims of the conditions of life and history, of all the victims of chance, of superstition, of the Inquisition, of Philip II, etc., etc.: otherwise I would hurl myself headfirst from the highest rung. I do not wish happiness even as a gift if my mind is not set at rest on the score of every one of my brothers in blood. They say that disharmony is the condition of harmony: perhaps this is very advantageous and pleasing for music-lovers, but not, of course, for those who are condemned to give expression by their fate to the idea of disharmony."
Hegel taught that everything that is real is rational, and the whole western world repeated this after Hegel and saw in it the last word of wisdom, human and divine. But where western learning saw the last word, a decisive end, a calming answer, there, for Belinsky and after him also for Dostoevsky, was the beginning - not of calming answers, but of eternal, terrible, unescapable anxiety. It is impossible to live, impossible to accept the world, so long as we have not obtained an account of all the sacrifices of our brothers in blood. But where is such an account to be sought, from whom is it to be demanded? And what can Hegel or any other great philosopher give, no matter how persistently you may pester him with your demands? "If Philip II burned thousands of heretics at the stake, if famine, earthquake, plague, or other natural catastrophes have ruined millions of people, it is senseless to demand an account of them. They have all perished, and their cause is irrevocable, irreparable, forever finished. Here no Hegel even can help any longer, and it is obviously too late to protest, to become indignant, to demand an accounting from the universe concerning all those who were tortured to death and who died prematurely. It is necessary either to turn away from all these sad stories, or, if you wish, in order that all the essential elements out of which real life arises may necessarily enter into your worldview, to devise something like a general harmony, that is, a collective guarantee of mankind, and charge the active of a Peter as the passive of an Ivan; or it is necessary to give up completely every reckoning and, after changing the name of man once and for all to individual, to recognize that the highest goal consists in some general principle and that to this principle individual living persons must be brought as a sacrifice."
Neither Belinsky nor, after him, Dostoevsky ever consented to accept this answer of western philosophy. To become convinced of this it is sufficient to call to mind Ivan Karamazov's reflections about children tortured to death. Three-quarters of what Dostoevsky wrote is dedicated to the same theme, the horrors of human existence. And no matter how much he speaks of the horrors of human existence, it all seems to him too little. But now he portrays these horrors in a way different from that in which he did it in his youth. More correctly: previously it seemed to him that in these portrayals there is something like a solution, something positive, calming. He formulated this in words that I have already quoted: "It thrills the heart to realize that the most downtrodden man, the lowest of the low, is also a human being and is called your brother." Now, however, such a solution no longer satisfies Dostoevsky; on the contrary, it irritates him, it angers him and disturbs him endlessly. Like Belinsky, he begins to demand an accounting of every victim of accident, of superstition, etc., an accounting of a girl tortured to death, of a boy hunted to death by dogs before the eyes of his mother. Those exalted moral reflections which seemed to him in his youth to solve all tormenting questions awaken in him only a feeling of extreme indignation. "Why recognize this devilish good and evil, when it costs so much?" - in this wrathful question of Ivan Karamazov's we are justified in seeing the explanation of where Dostoevsky's regeneration of convictions came from.
Dostoevsky expressed the same thing in different words in his Diary of a Writer for the year 1876: "I assert that the consciousness of our complete impotence to help or to bring any use or relief whatever to suffering mankind, while at the same time we are fully convinced of this suffering, can even transform the love for mankind in our heart into hatred for it." Impotent love for people must inescapably be transformed into hatred.
This terrible truth that was revealed to Dostoevsky was the beginning of the regeneration of his convictions. He is no longer content "to shed tears" over "the humiliated and the insulted." There arises before him the question, threatening in its obvious insolubility: is it possible to help the "downtrodden" people of whom he spoke so much in his youthful works that gained for him the enthusiastic praises of the best representatives of contemporary Russian literature? Where is an answer to this question to be sought?
The sentence of death was commuted for Dostoevsky to four years of convict labor. In the course of these four years he was almost completely cut off from the rest of life. He was not permitted to receive not only any newspapers and journals but even any books. The only exception granted was the Bible - and this was the only book Dostoevsky had in the four years of his stay in the convict prison. And it is necessary to say: if, on the one side, the source of the convictions that were born in Dostoevsky was the new experience that is so alien to the majority of people - the experience of living together with people condemned for life, cut off from the whole world - it is, on the other side, indubitable that he drew strength and courage, and at the same time also readiness for struggle with the difficulties of existence offered to him, from that enigmatic book which came forth from circles of ignorant shepherds, carpenters, and fishermen, and which was destined by fate to become the book of books for the peoples of Europe. And this was precisely in the years when the enlightened West turned away in the most decisive fashion from the Bible, for it saw in it a survival of ideas not to be justified either by our knowledge or by our reason. Biblical criticism, which began with Spinoza's famous Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, bore its fruits. Philosophical thinking recognized in the person of its greatest representatives, especially in Germany, only "religion within the boundaries of pure reason" (so was entitled one of the most remarkable works of Kant, the celebrated founder of German philosophical idealism). But what could "religion within the boundaries of pure reason" give suffering mankind? Wherewith could it help people? Through reflections on the idea that disharmony is the condition of harmony? We recall that Belinsky already rejected this fundamental idea of Hegel's philosophy with horror and disgust. Dostoevsky took up even more boldly and decisively the final, desperate struggle against the ideas of German philosophy that made such large promises and ostensibly had a solution for everything.
Long before the Brothers Karamazov - already in Crime and Punishment - Dostoevsky made the first bold attempt to set the Bible and biblical teaching over against what the totality of knowledge in all realms of life gained by modern times brought to the West. Despite the plot of the novel, Dostoevsky's task in Crime and Punishment consists not at all in establishing and showing the connection between violation of the law and the responsibility, the punishment, that inescapably follows. His task is quite different, indeed, to a certain degree, even an opposite one. To be sure, Dostoevsky apparently "accuses" Raskolnikov, but in reality he demands for him an "accounting," as his teacher Belinsky demanded an accounting for all the victims of superstition. "Raskolnikov," Dostoevsky relates, "cut himself off from all at that moment as if with a scissors." Recall what took place in Razumikhin when he, after the unheard-of, dreadfully tormenting scene of Raskolnikov's parting with his mother and sister, following him into the room, suddenly suspected the kind of hell that was going on in the soul of his miserable friend. "'Do you understand?' Raskolnikov asked him with a painfully distorted face," and at this question our hair stands on end. Or here are Raskolnikov's reflections after the murder:
This is what Raskolnikov's soul was filled with, and these are the expressions in which Dostoevsky depicts for us the situation of his hero. Is it not really clear that Dostoevsky himself forgot the "crime" that he fastened on Raskolnikov and that Raskolnikov never committed, although he had published an article in a journal on the theme that "everything is permitted." For Dostoevsky, Raskolnikov is a man cut off from all people and things as with a scissors, a creature forgotten by God and men, already here on earth condemned to the eternal tortures of hell. Recall his conversation with the prostitute Sonya Marmeladova. Raskolnikov did not come to her in order to express penitence. In the uttermost depths of his soul he could not repent, because he felt himself entirely innocent. Here are his final reflections when he was already in the convict prison: "Oh, how happy he would have been if he could have accused himself (of the murder). Then he would have borne everything, even the shame and the ignominy. But he judged himself strictly, and his hardened conscience found no specially terrible guilt in his past, besides a really simple blunder that could have happened to anyone... He did not repent of his crime."
- 'Therefore I am definitely a louse,' he added, grinding his teeth, 'because I myself am perhaps more vile and repulsive than the louse that has been killed and I already felt beforehand that I would tell myself this only after I had killed. Can anything really compare with this horror! Oh, the vulgarity! Oh, the baseness! Oh, how well I understand the prophet, with his sword in hand and mounted on his horse: Allah commands, and you must submit, you trembling creature! Right, right is the prophet when he places an excellent battery of guns somewhere along the street and mows down both the innocent and the guilty without even deigning an explanation. Submit, you trembling creature, and do not wish, for that is not your business!'
In these words we have a summing-up of Raskolnikov's terrible story. He found himself crushed, who knows for what reason. It was not necessary for him to express penitence but to go somewhere, to someone who would be able to listen to him, understand him, respond to his torments. "It is necessary for every man to be able at least to go somewhere," as Sonya's father Marmeladov says. But to whom, where? And so Raskolnikov goes to Sonya Marmeladova, a creature just as crushed and rejected by all as he himself is. At her place he sees the gospel, the book that was Dostoevsky's only reading material during his four-year stay in prison. And he immediately asks her to read to him about the resurrection of Lazarus. "It was strange to see," Dostoevsky relates, "how in this little room the murderer and the profligate woman met for reading the eternal book." But perhaps even more strange was that the murderer and the profligate woman did not seek in the eternal book what the enlightened people of our times seek in it but rather what Dostoevsky always sought and found in it and what he valued above all. It was not the moral commandments that passed over from Holy Scripture into our ethic and were justified and assimilated by our ethic that attracted Raskolnikov. He had already questioned all the high moral ideals, tested them, and arrived at the conviction that, individually taken, torn out of the general content of Holy Scripture, they give him nothing and can give him nothing. Although he still does not dare to admit the thought that truth is not to be found among the representatives of positive knowledge but where the enigmatic and mysterious words, "But he who endures to the end will be saved," are written, he nevertheless attempts to turn his glance toward those hopes by which Sonya Marmeladova lives. She also, he thinks, is, like me, the lowest of people; she too has learned through her experiences what it means to live such a life. Perhaps I will learn from her what my erudite friend Razumikhin cannot explain to me, what even the boundlessly loving heart of a mother does not guess.
Raskolnikov attempts to revive in his memory that understanding of the gospel which does not reject the prayers and hopes of a lonely, ruined man under the pretext that to reflect on his personal misfortune means to attach too much importance to the earthly, the low, the transitory. He knows that here his sorrow will be heard, that he will not be sent for torture to Hegel and abstract ideas, that he will be allowed to tell all of that terrible inner truth that he so unexpectedly discovered in himself. After all, it is said in Scripture that God is love and that without God's will not a single hair will fall from a man's head. However, he can expect all this only from that gospel which Sonya is reading, which has not yet been altered by the latest enlightened thinking so that the revealed words "God is love" have been transformed into the rational truth "love is God"; from that gospel in which the story of the resurrection of Lazarus is placed side by side with the Sermon on the Mount; in which, what is more, the resurrection of Lazarus, which signifies the omnipotence of Him who creates miracles, gives meaning also to other words that are so inaccessible and enigmatic for poor Euclidean human understanding.
Just as Sonya and Raskolnikov, the profligate woman and the murderer, seek their hopes only in the resurrection of Lazarus, Dostoevsky also saw in Scripture not a proclamation of this or that moral but the pledge of a new life - and this is already fully shown in Crime and Punishment. From the "religion within the boundaries of pure reason," which quite unobtrusively substituted for the words of Scripture "God is love" the words "love is God," he strains backwards to the truth of revelation about the living God. This Dostoevsky learned from the lowest of people, forgotten and rejected by all, from a murderer and a prostitute. This the convicts in the prison also knew and felt. When it seemed to them that Raskolnikov, who so little resembled them, hurled, by his very existence, as it were, a challenge to Scripture, they cried to him menacingly, "You are a godless man! You do not believe in God. You ought to be killed." Also Dmitri Karamazov, when the judges condemned him for a murder that he had not committed, began to repeat incessantly, "How will I be underground without God? For a convict it is impossible to do without God." In the Diary of a Writer, that is to say, in the last years of his life, Dostoevsky already expressed this in his own name in the words: "Without a higher idea neither a person nor a nation can exist. But there is on earth only one higher idea [Dostoevsky underlines the word 'one'], and this is precisely the idea of the immortality of the human soul, for all other higher ideas, which can give man a content of life, flow only from it."
In all these thoughts, which came to Dostoevsky through the terrors of life that revealed themselves to him during his stay in the convict prison and through reading the eternal book, his inseparable companion in this period of his life, what he himself called the "regeneration of his convictions," is shown. Earlier, following his western teachers, he believed that morality can cope with all the questions put to man by life. He did not notice, as all with whom he lived did not, that morality in and of itself cannot protect the person hurled into endless space and time from the senseless cruelty of the arbitrariness of the elements. Now he recognized that love of neighbor is not God; that love of neighbor, with the awareness that the neighbor perishes and that one cannot help him, is transformed into hatred, that to live underground without God is impossible, that unbelief is the most terrible crime for which killing a person is too small a punishment, that all ideas without the one highest idea - the idea of God and the idea of the immortality of the soul - are just as illusory and transform themselves just as easily into their opposite as the impotent love for man must inescapably turn into hatred for him.
Recall that passage of Ippolit's "confession," in which Rogozhin's picture is discussed. [*] The theme was again taken by Dostoevsky from the eternal book, which he sets over against the truths obtained by our reason in a natural way. "Nature (i.e., what we represent to ourselves as the universe) appears to one looking at this picture (which portrays the taking down of Jesus from the cross) as an enormous, inexorable, and dumb beast; or, far more correctly, although it is strange to say this, as a vast machine that has senselessly seized and swallowed up, deafly and unfeelingly crushed and swallowed up, the great and priceless being who is himself worth all of nature and all of its laws, which were perhaps created solely for the appearance of this being."
Here is how Dostoevsky learned to ask! And he puts this question in the mouth of a youth whom the enormous, inexorable, and dumb beast has crushed and is about to swallow up. What can men answer to such a question? Even the best, such as the chief hero of The Idiot, Prince Myshkin, can only propose impotent humility. But impotent virtue arouses in Dostoevsky all the indignation of which he was capable. "Why is humility required? Is it really not possible simply to devour me, without demanding of me praises for that which devoured me?" asks Ippolit. It is necessary not to submit to humility but to destroy, to exterminate the repulsive monster who lords it over life and indifferently and unfeelingly swallows up everything that comes its way - both the poor youth, unknown to anyone, and the priceless being who alone is worth more than the whole world.
In the story "The Gentle One," which was printed in The Diary of a Writer, Dostoevsky repeats with the same force his question in regard to a prematurely destroyed young life: "Why has dark inertia smashed that which was more precious than everything? ... Inertia! Nature! Men are alone on earth - here is the misfortune! Is there a living person in the field? cries the hero of the Russian folk-epic. I - who am no hero - also call, and no one answers me... Everything dead, and dead men everywhere. Only people alone, and around them silence." Whence comes this inertia, this boundless power of death over life? How fight with it, and is it possible to fight with it? How did Dostoevsky answer this question?