It is a widely accepted practice to apply psychoanalytic tools to Fedor Dostoevsky’s oeuvre and in particular to his 1866 novel Crime and Punishment. However, interpreters tend to neglect Dostoevsky’s own inspiration and interest in St. Nil Sorsky who is perceived to be one of the founders of the Russian Orthodox Church hesychastic tradition and is often called the first psychologist on the Russian soil. Dostoevsky’s interaction with Optina Desert elders proved to be productive in the artistic sense, and it is crucial to note that St. Nil’s spiritual writings were the first book published by that communion of elders.
After providing some background on Dostoevsky and psychological studies, Dostoevsky and the elders, tradition and the points of contact between hesychasm and psychoanalytic methods, the paper aims at psychoanalysis of the novel’s protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov in a way inspired by the works of St. Nil.
According to St. Nil there are eight fundamental temptations which lead humans to harmful actions. They are gluttony, fornication, covetousness, anger, sadness, despair, vainglory, and pride: “They disturb and martyr the human soul; they deprive the soul of inner peace and of closeness with God” (Maloney, 2003). The central claim of the paper is that all these temptations played to a greater or lesser extent some role in inspiring Raskolnikov’s crime. Some of them like gluttony, fornication and covetousness are present as reverse forces. That is, one could claim that Raskolnikov successfully eliminated them but in an unhealthy manner, thus leaving himself with severe malnutrition, suppressed sexuality and material-possessions-guilty-consciousness. The five other temptations play a more linear role, which is evident from textual examples.
The paper concludes with a claim that St. Nil’s writings naturally possess a privilege in comparison to the Western psychological thought (e.g., Freud, Lacan, Jung) in terms of innate authenticity, philosophical/spiritual relevance and material links with the Russian writer.
Maloney, G. (ed. and trans.) 2003. Nil Sorsky: The Complete Writings. Paulist Press: New York.