The Cruel Critic: N. K. Mixajlovskij's Rejection of Dostoevskij

Marina Kanevskaya, University of Montana

In this paper I am analyzing the reasons why N. K. Mixajlovskij--a leading Russian socialist philosopher and literary critic of the mid-nineteenth century--expressed the most insightful, one may say, proto-Baxtinian views on Dostoevskij's writings, without even understanding the importance of what he had done. I am looking for the answers to the problem outlined above in the social and cultural context of nineteenth-century Russia, specifically in the political climate of Mixajlovskij's own journal Otechestvennye zapiski--the most popular magazine of its time (1866-84).

Mixajlovskij's criticism in general and criticism of Dostoevskij's writings in particular was fully conditioned by his role of his party's representative. For the editorial board of Otechestvennye zapiski may be considered as the first Russian party organization with its own traditions, pantheon of heroes, hierarchy, roles, and loyalty to the common cause above all. Dostoevskij had his own dramatic history of relations with the generation of "fathers founders" of this group where Mixajlovskij was a younger representative.

However, as long as Dostoevskij had been sticking to his fiction, so to speak, Otechestvennye zapiski limited their criticism to a few negative remarks. It was after Dostoevskij had delivered his famous "Pushkin Speech" (1880) and thus had claimed the role of spiritual teacher when Mixajlovskij attacked his philosophy and the very aspiration for leadership. The perceptive critic, however, gradually realized the impossibility of fighting Dostoevskij on the socio-political plane only. Therefore, in his in-depth study "The Cruel Talent" (1882), Mixajlovskij tried to uproot Dostoevskij's hypnotic power over the reader by means of "deconstructive" analysis of his fiction. Mixajlovskij attempted to explain the mechanism of Dostoevskij's "treacherous" and "clandestine" presentation of his "harmful" ideas. In his honest effort to "reveal" Dostoevskij's conservative ideology Mixajlovskij pointed to the most striking instances of Dostoevskij's "polyphony," "dialogism," "expressions with a loop-hole," "mennipeic characters," and other "big" and "small" artistic devices of Dostoevskij's fiction fully acknowledged and explained only half a century later, by M. Baxtin in his seminal book Problems of Dostoevskij's Poetics (1929-1968).