The Jews and The Poles as Two “Cultural Others” in Dostoevskij’s Writings

Nina Perlina, Indiana University

In his definition of “cultural others” Dostoevskij proceeded from the confessional, and not from ethnic or cultural positions. A complete association of a person with his religion is to be seen in the Notes from the House of the Dead, where a practicing Jew Isaj Fomič (usually named “our Yid”) is portrayed largely in a sarcastic manner, while Baklušin, a Cantonist (and thus, most likely an ethnic Jew converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity) is described as one of “the most sympathetic people” among Gorjančikov’s fellow-prisoners. Similarly, having heard about the outburst of the Polish uprising, Dostoevskij began his notebook of 1863 with the question: “What is the real war? – The Polish war is the war of two Christianities; this is the beginning of the future war of Russian Orthodox Christianity with Catholicism, in other words – of the Russian genius and European Civilization. Here the progress is ours – and not an official progress (in agreement with the Dutch formula), but the peoples’ progress.”

This paper is focused on two types of binary oppositions Dostoevskij uses in defining the place of Russian Orthodox Christianity in the history of human cultural development. The first one juxtaposes the Jews and “their God as a “synthetic personality of the whole people” and the community of Russian Orthodox Christians as a collective personality that gives expression and embodiment to universal brotherhood. A well-known chapter from The Possessed will be projected against the background of Martin Buber’s ecumenistic teachings, and Buber’s interpretation of Šatov’s and Dostoevskij’s idea of Divine Revelation will be brought to the foreground. In a similar vein, I will further discuss the whole semantic cluster of religious representations related to the notion of Bližnij (Thou Neighbor) in terms of Judean and Christian theological concepts. Fragments from The Brothers Karamazov will be treated through the prism of Herman Cohen’s Religion der Vernunft and Vladimir Solov’ev’s teachings of Love.

In the third part of the paper I compare two different views of sobornost’. Dostoevskij’s position is expressed in The Diary of a Writer (February 1876) where he discussed one of his most important subjects: “On the Love of the People. Necessary Contact with the People” and the other is extracted from the writings of his former fellow-prisoner S. Tokarzewski, who intentionally defined himself as “the other” in relation to Dostoevskij – the political and religious thinker, the author of works conceived in the Omsk prison but written years later.