The Crime and Punishment of Theory: A Study of Universality in the Novel

Ilya Kliger, Yale University

What is the nature, in literature, of spaces where philosophy might lurk? Thus can the most fundamental question that motivates this limited study be stated most broadly. It can be understood as an attempt to address the question of the relationship between philosophy and literature not in terms of conscious appropriation of ideas or historically determined overlaps in ideology but from the point of view of their formal characteristics.

Thus, my paper provides a discussion of various modes in which the idea is represented in Crime and Punishment. Specifically, I will address the function of narrative voice, characterization, plot and, finally, the epilogue as a set of complex framing devices, intended to contextualize and thus render problematic the more straightforwardly philosophical tendencies within the novel. What we find in Crime and Punishment, and what generally distinguishes the novelistic method of treating ideas from the philosophical one, is precisely the predominance and density of framing mechanisms, whereby the universal is contextualized and thus revealed in its contingent, non-absolute status. While the universal in philosophical discourse remains disembodied, claiming freedom from all limiting context, a novelistically represented idea is one that is ironized, always already “fallen” into particularity. In the case of Crime and Punishment, I would argue, this is true not only about specific ideas expressed by particular characters but about whatever generalizations might be attributable to the implied author as well.