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Karamazblog: Book IV

Book I
Book II by marri
Book III by lidocafe

And now, Book IV, in which Alyosha has a number of encounters with sundry personages, some rather emotional, some, indeed, hysterical, and is left perplexed about the vagaries of the human condition (as are we).

Book IV opens with Alyosha (and a bunch of other monks) hanging about at the bedside of Fr Zosima, waiting for him to die. He doesn't. He gives a long speech, which is summarized many years later by Alyosha. There is a long digression, telling the story of a monkly visitor from another town who has a strange encounter with a Fr Ferapont.

Alyosha then goes to visit his father, and they have quite a civilized conversation (for once). On leaving, Alyosha kisses his father on the shoulder (wtf?), at which Karamazov pere exclaims "don't you expect to see me again?" Do we hear ominous music on the soundtrack??

Alyosha then goes to visit the Khokhlakovs, where pretty much everyone (Mrs K, Katerina and Lise) except him has some form of hysterics.

Oh, and I forgot that on the way to see them he intervenes with some boys throwing rocks and gets bitten in the finger by the one he was trying to rescue. (I'm not making this up).

Then he goes to visit one Capt Snegirev, whom Dmitri insulted by pulling his beard, and it turns out that the boy who bit Alyosha is Snegirev's son and bit Alyosha because he was Dmitri's brother (though how the son knew that is not explained...). Snegirev has a seriously weird wife and a clever but snippy daughter and another daughter who is one of those saintly cripples that turn up in novels of this period. Alyosha tries to give Snegirev 200 rubles, but Snegirev refuses it very melodramatically.

Okay. Despite the flippancy of the above summary, I actually found myself enjoying this section of the novel, and I think I might be getting the hang of it.

One motif/theme/idea or whatever that seems to be emerging is an exploration of aspects of "genuine" vs artifice, disguise, hidden motives, overly dramatic emotions. Alyosha is genuine. He may be good because he's innocent but he has honest emotions, he wants to do the right thing, he's not playing a role. Almost everyone else is, and one of Alyosha's difficulties, and ours along with him, is in sorting out who's faking and who isn't. Look at the way Katerina behaves - everyone can tell that she's putting "it" on, except we don't really know what she's doing or why. Snegirev self-consciously flings the 200 rubles in Alyosha's face, and Alyosha realizes (this happens in the next book, but I need to mention it here) that he was, to a certain extent playing a role. I'm pretty sure Father Zosima is genuine, and the bit about Fr Ferapont suggests to me a contrast between real and false piety. Fr Ferapont is ostentatiously ascetic and "everybody" says how pious and saintly he is, except it's clear that the narrator, or the author is making us question that. Another thing to note from the beginning of the next book is the way that Mrs K keeps saying "this is serious" as if all the emo in the previous chapter wasn't.

Another thing: of course, I'm all about the metafiction, but I can't help noticing and being really intrigued by the way that so much of the narrative is "framed" - very self-consciously narrative - something is described the way Alyosha remembers it years later, or how someone "told" the narrator. Marri - notice in the first chapter of Book V, how Alyosha tells Lise all about his encounter with Snegirev.

The book begins with Zosima giving a lesson on how we must "love God's people" and, above all, not be proud. We are all responsible for one another, and none of us should consider ourself better than anyone else. There but for the grace of god, and all that. Clearly, the incident with Snegirev is meant to drive that point home; indeed it could be argued that all Alyosha's curious encounters with peculiar people are so intended.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2009 03:15 am (UTC)
I know, I know. It's all "and then, and then and THEN . . . !"

Excellent point about roles and self-consciousness. I cannot always be sure people know they're playing roles, though, and I didn't immediately think the narrator was questioning Fr. Ferapont's sincerity, only his sanity, but I shall look again at that passage. Because he's set against the institution of elders, the visiting monk wants to believe this guy is holy and so does, but another might think he's off his rocker, mad from starvation.

There's a lot of struggle going on, it seems, in the monastery about the right path, just as there is confusion amongst the brothers, and within each brother, about the right path.

What do you think about this notion of ascetcism in the light of the sensualism that supposedly marks the Karamzovs? And what did you make of Father Paissy's parting words to Alyosha?

I thought the boy knew Alyosha because it's that kind of town. Everyone seems to know who the Karamzovs are. The kiss on the shoulder is a ritual kiss of peace or something performed in the Orthodox church, so Alyosha is blessing his father there and definitely bringing his cloistered notion of holiness into play.

Man, everyone's so intense. And everyone is sure about his own nature, though everyone may be wrong. Above all, these characters, with the exception of Alyosha, are terrified of changing and say they cannot. They all seem to have this sense of essence, as if one's self is a sort of curse to which one must submit.

It's all about kinds of love, too. Dostoevsky presents earthly love as a sickness, a madness even, and I have to agree he's not far wrong in that. All this hysterical desire (for others, for respect, for satisfaction, for significance) . . . perhaps you remember that I read the Bhagavad Gita last summer? Here is a passage from my translation that reminds me of Dostoevsky:

Arjuna said:

What is it that drives a man
to an evil action, Krishna,
even against his will
as if some force made him do it?

The blessed lord said:

That force is desire, it is anger,
arising from the guna called rajas;
deadly and all-devouring,
that is the enemy here.

As a fire is obscured by smoke,
as a mirror is covered by dust,
as a fetus is wrapped in its membrane,
so wisdom is obscured by desire.

[. . .]

Desire dwells in the senses,
the mind, and the understanding;
in all these it obscures wisdom
and perplexes the embodied Self.

Edited at 2009-07-27 08:01 pm (UTC)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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