Writer's Diary, 1877-1881by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This is the second volume of the complete collection of writings that has been called Dostoevsky's boldest experiment with literary form; it is a uniquely encyclopedic forum of fictional and nonfictional genres. The Diary's radical format was matched by the extreme range of its contents. In a single frame it incorporated an astonishing variety of/i>
This is the second volume of the complete collection of writings that has been called Dostoevsky's boldest experiment with literary form; it is a uniquely encyclopedic forum of fictional and nonfictional genres. The Diary's radical format was matched by the extreme range of its contents. In a single frame it incorporated an astonishing variety of material: short stories; humorous sketches; reports on sensational crimes; historical predictions; portraits of famous people; autobiographical pieces; and plans for stories, some of which were never written while others appeared in the Diary itself.
London Review of Books
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A Writer's Diary
Volume Two 1877â"1881
By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kenneth Lantz
Northwestern University PressCopyright © 1994 Northwestern University Press
All rights reserved.
1. Three Ideas
I shall begin my new year on the same topic with which I ended last year. The final sentence in my December Diary said that "almost all our Russian disunities and dissociations have been founded merely on misunderstandings, the crudest sort of misunderstandings, which contain nothing of real substance and nothing that cannot be surmounted." Again I repeat: all our disputes and disunity have arisen only from errors and diverse attitudes of mind but not of heart; and it is this formula that expresses all the essence of our disunity. We may take some consolation in this fact. Errors and quandaries of the mind vanish more quickly and completely than do errors of the heart; their cure is to be found not so much in debate and logical explanation as in the overpowering logic of events of a real, living life, events that very often bear the correct and necessary conclusion within and that indicate the proper path to take; and if this does not happen at once, at the actual moment, then it does happen within a very short time, sometimes even before a new generation appears. The same cannot be said for errors of the heart. Errors of the heart are something terribly significant: they represent the contaminated spirit, sometimes even of the nation as a whole, that very often bears with it a degree of blindness that cannot be cured by facts of any kind, no matter how clearly they might indicate the proper path to take. Quite to the contrary: blindness of this sort modifies the facts to suit its purposes and adjusts them to suit its contaminated spirit; it sometimes even happens that the whole nation deliberately chooses to perish, aware of its blindness but not wishing to be cured of it. I hope people will not scoff because I take errors of the mind too lightly and see them as easily corrected. There would be far more cause to scoff at someone — never mind me — who assumed the role of the corrector in this case, firmly and calmly assured that his words could sway or reverse the convictions held by a society at a given moment. I am aware of all that. Nonetheless, one needn't be ashamed of one's convictions, and at the present time one mustn't be ashamed of them; he who has a word to say should say it without fear that he will not be heeded, without fear even that he will be laughed at and that he will produce no impression on the minds of his contemporaries. In that sense A Writer's Diary will never stray from its path, will never yield to the spirit of the age or to the force of dominant and prevailing influences so long as it considers them to be unjust, will not fall in line with them or flatter them or try to manipulate them. After publishing for a whole year, we think a statement like that can be made. After all, we fully and quite clearly realized even last year that much of what we wrote with passion and conviction did us only real harm and that, rather, we would have gained far more had we sung with equal passion in unison with others.
We repeat: we think that at present each one must say his piece as frankly and as directly as possible, without feeling any shame for naively laying bare certain of his ideas. Indeed, events that are, perhaps, extraordinary and enormous are awaiting us — all Russia, that is. "Some great events may suddenly come to pass and catch our intelligentsia by surprise; then, might it not be too late?" as I said when I closed my December Diary. In saying that I had in mind not only political events to come in this "near future," although they, too, cannot help but capture the attention of even the most inferior and "Yiddifying" minds that take no thought for anything beyond their own affairs. Indeed, what is awaiting the world, not only in the remaining quarter of this century, but even (who can tell?) in the current year, perhaps? Europe is restless, of this there is no doubt. But is this restlessness only temporary, a thing of the moment? Certainly not: it is evident that the time is at hand for the fulfillment of something eternal, something millenarian, something that has been in preparation in the world since the very beginning of its civilization. Three ideas rise up before the world and, it seems, are already in their final stage of formulation.
On one side, at the edge of Europe, there is the Catholic idea-condemned and waiting in great torment and perplexity: is it to be or not to be? Is it still to live or has its end come? I am speaking not about the Catholic religion alone but about the entire Catholic idea, about the fate of the nations which have formed themselves under this idea over the course of a millennium and which have been entirely permeated with it. In that sense, for instance, France over the ages has seemed to be the most complete incarnation of the Catholic idea; she is the head of this idea, which she inherited from the Romans, of course, and which is in their spirit. This France who, though she has now lost her religion almost entirely (Jesuits and atheists are all one and the same thing there), who has closed her churches more than once and who on one occasion subjected God himself to a vote in the Assembly; this France, who developed from the ideas of 1789 her own particular French socialism — i.e., the pacification and organization of human society without Christ and outside of Christ, as Catholicism tried but was unable to organize it in Christ; this same France — in her revolutionary Convention, in her atheists, in her socialists, and in her communards of today — is and continues to be in the highest degree a Catholic nation wholly and entirely, completely contaminated by the spirit and the letter of Catholicism, proclaiming through the mouths of its confirmed atheists: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité — ou la mort, i.e., exactly as the pope himself would have proclaimed had he been compelled to proclaim and formulate a Catholic liberté, égalité, fraternité in his style and in his spirit — the actual style and spirit of a pope of the Middle Ages. Today's French socialism itself appears to be a passionate and fateful protest against the Catholic idea by all the people and nations who have been tormented and oppressed by it and who wish, whatever the cost, to go on living without Catholicism and its gods. The protest itself, which to all intents and purposes began at the end of the last century (but in essence much earlier), is nothing other than the truest and direct continuation of the Catholic idea, its most complete and final fulfillment, its fateful consequence elaborated over the course of centuries. For French socialism is nothing other than the compulsory union of humanity, an idea that derived from ancient Rome and that was subsequently preserved completely in Catholicism. Thus socialism's idea of the liberation of the human spirit from Catholicism has become incarnated here in the very most restricted of Catholic forms, borrowed from the very core of its spirit, from its letter, from its materialism, from its despotism, from its morality.
On the other side rises up the old Protestantism, protesting for nineteen centuries now against Rome and her idea, against the ancient pagan idea and the renewed Catholic one; against Rome's universal idea of possessing man both morally and materially all the world over, against Rome's civilization; protesting since the time of Arminius and the Teutoburger Wald. This is the German, believing blindly that the renewal of humanity is to be found only in him and not in Catholic civilization. Through his entire history he dreamed only of and longed only for his unification so he could proclaim his own proud idea, an idea that had been powerfully formulated and that had had a unifying effect even in the heresy of Luther; while now, five years after the defeat of France — the foremost, principal, and most Christian Catholic nation — the German is confident in his complete triumph and in the fact that no one can stand in his place at the head of the world and its renewal. He believes in this proudly and unwaveringly; he believes that there is nothing else in the world that is higher than the Germanic spirit and the Germanic word and that Germany alone can utter that word. He finds it absurd even to suppose that there is anything in the world, even if only in embryo, that could contain something that Germany, ordained to lead the world, could not contain. Yet it would certainly not be superfluous to note, though in parentheses, that through all the nineteen centuries of her existence, Germany has done nothing more than to protest; she herself has never uttered her new word but has only lived the whole time by rejection and protest against her enemy so that, for example, it is very possible indeed that something as odd as this could happen: when Germany does achieve her final victory and destroys that against which she has been protesting for nineteen centuries, she herself will suddenly have to die spiritually, in the wake of her enemy, for she will have nothing to live for; she will have nothing to protest against. This may still be only my chimera, but Luther's Protestantism is already a fact: this faith is one of protest and of mere denial, and as soon as Catholicism disappears from the world, Protestantism will also disappear right after it because it will have nothing to protest against; it will be transformed into straight atheism and thus will it end. But that, let's say, is still only my chimera. The German despises the Slavic idea as much as he does the Catholic one, the only difference being that he has always respected the latter as a strong and powerful enemy, whereas he not only had no respect whatever for the Slavic idea, he did not even acknowledge it until very recent times. But lately he has begun to cast a very suspicious eye at the Slavs. Although even now he finds it absurd to suppose that they also could have a goal of some sort and an idea, that there could be some hope there of also "saying something to the world," still, since the defeat of France his unhealthy suspicions have increased, and the events of the past year and of the present can scarcely do much to alleviate his mistrust. Germany's position is now a rather worrisome one: in any case, she has to finish her mission in the West before she can entertain any Eastern ideas. Who can deny that France, still not beaten into submission, does not and did not trouble the German through all these five years after her defeat for the very reason that he had not beaten her into submission? In 1875 that unease reached an extraordinary level in Berlin, and Germany would certainly have rushed to render a final blow to her age-old enemy while there was still time, but certain very powerful circumstances prevented her from doing so. Now, however — this year — there is no doubt that France, which grows ever more powerful materially every year, terrifies Germany even more than she did two years ago. Germany knows that her enemy will not die without a struggle; she knows, moreover, that when that enemy feels he has recovered completely, he himself will begin the battle, so that three or five years hence may be too late for Germany. And so, in view of the fact that the east of Europe has been so completely permeated with its own idea that sprang up suddenly there and that it has too many of its own affairs to look after — in view of that, it may very well happen that Germany, feeling her own hands untied for the moment, will make a final assault on the western enemy, on that terrible nightmare that torments her; and all this may even happen in the very nearest of the near future. On the whole, one can say that though the situation in the east is tense and difficult, Germany herself is perhaps in an even less enviable position. And she may well have even more fears and various anxieties to face, despite her excessively haughty tone. And this, at least, we ought to keep particularly in mind.
And meanwhile, in the East, the third world idea — the Slavic idea, a new idea that is coming into being — has truly caught ablaze and has begun to cast a light that has never before been seen; it is, perhaps, the third future possibility for settling the destinies of Europe and of humanity. It is clear to everyone now that with the solution to the Eastern Question, a new element, a new phenomenon will enter into humanity, one that until now has lain passive and inert and that, in any case and at the very least, cannot but exert an extraordinarily powerful and decisive influence on the fate of the world. What sort of idea is this? What will the union of the Slavs bring? This is all too indefinite at the moment, but that something truly will be contributed and something new will be uttered — that scarcely anyone doubts. And all these three enormous world ideas have come together to be resolved almost at the same time. Of course, this is not simply some idle wish; nor is it a war arising over some legacy or argument between two highly placed ladies, as happened in the last century. This is a matter of universal significance and of ultimate importance; and although it will certainly not resolve all human destinies, there is no doubt that it brings with it the beginning of the end of all the previous histories of European humanity, the beginning of the resolution of their eventual destinies, which are in the hands of God and which humans can scarcely foresee, even though they may have forebodings.
And now, the question that cannot help but present itself to every thinking person: can such events be stopped in their course? Can ideas of such dimensions be subordinated to petty, Yiddifying, third-rate considerations? Can anyone postpone their resolution? Is this a useful thing to do? Wisdom, no doubt, must preserve and protect the nations and serve philanthropy and humanity, but there are some ideas that have their own immutable, powerful and all-engulfing force. You cannot hold back with one hand the summit of a cliff that has crumbled away and is falling. Of course, we Russians have two awesome powers that are worth all the others in the world — the intactness and spiritual indivisibility of the millions of our People and their most intimate link with their monarch. The latter, of course, is beyond dispute; but our "pondering Peters" not only do not understand the People's idea, they do not even want to understand it.
2. Mirages. Stundism and the Radstockists
But is it only the "Europeanizers" and the "pondering Peters" who do not want to understand? There are others as well, ones who are much more malignant. The "Peters" at least acknowledge the past year's Popular movement in aid of the Slavs, but these others do not. The Peters even have praise for this movement — in their own way, of course — even though there is much in it that they do not like; but the former reject the movement itself, despite the testimony of the whole of Russia: "There wasn't any movement, and that's all there is to it," they say. "Not only was there no movement, there could never have been one. Nowhere," they say, "did the People cry out and declare that they wanted war." But our People never do cry out and never do make declarations; our People are sensible and calm, and besides, they certainly do not want war, not at all; but their souls and their hearts are filled with deep compassion for their brethren who have been oppressed for the faith of Christ. However, should it prove necessary, should the mighty word of the tsar ring out, then they will all go forth, the entire hundred-million mass of them, and will do everything that such a hundred-million mass can do when it is inspired by a single noble impulse, in accord, as one man. And so such a force of unity, in view of the mysterious, imminent future destinies of all Europe, cannot but be cherished and cannot but be held up for contemplation in our moments of involuntary pondering and conjecture. But enough talk of war; who wants war? Although I would note in parentheses that blood spilled "for the great cause of love" means a great deal; it washes and cleanses many things; it can raise up and restore life to many a thing that theretofore had been devalued and besmirched in our souls.
Excerpted from A Writer's Diary by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kenneth Lantz. Copyright © 1994 Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
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Meet the Author
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (Russian: Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский; IPA: [ˈfʲodər mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪtɕ dəstɐˈjefskʲɪj] ; 11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881 ) sometimes spelled Dostoevsky, was a Russian writer of novels, short stories and essays. Dostoyevsky's literary works explore human psychology in the troubled political, social and spiritual context of 19th-century Russian society. Although Dostoyevsky began writing books in the mid-1850s, his best remembered work was done in his last years, including Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. He wrote eleven novels, three novellas, seventeen short novels and three essays and is often acknowledged by critics as one of the greatest and most prominent psychologists in world literature. Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born and raised within the grounds of the Mariinsky hospital in Moscow, in Russia.
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