Slot:       30B–1        Dec. 30, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                                              

Title:       Reading Dostoevsky

Chair:     Nina Perlina, Indiana University


Title:       Dostoevsky's Selo Stepanchikovo – A Case of Literary Transference?

Author:   Kristin Vitalich, University of California, Los Angeles

Dostoevsky wrote his Siberian novellas in relative professional isolation and with them reemerged onto a literary scene that had changed dramatically from the one he left behind. These works indicate not only the return of a talented writer but a sea change in Dostoevsky’s writing -- the first step on the road to his great novels and his novel literary idiom. This paper will argue that Selo Stepanchikovo functions in the author’s oeuvre as a cathartic work, one in which Dostoevsky exorcises the ghost of Gogol that had dominated his early reputation and literary imagination.

Dostoevsky’s early relationship to Gogol enjoys many telling similarities to Jacques Lacan’s account of the neurotic’s relationship to his symbolic other (often a father figure), whom he regards with a mixture of love and hate. This paper will suggest that Selo reveals that Dostoevsky has undergone a jouissance crisis in his neurosis, a point at which his pathological relationship to Gogol is collapsing – a crisis perhaps (or even likely) prompted by the emblematic role his mentor played in his arrest and imprisonment.

In Tynianov's study of the novella he famously observes that, with this work, Dostoevsky moves from his earlier stylization of Gogolian types to parody. This paper will build on Tynianov's observations with a Lacanian reading of the novel's rhetorical shift, in which this transition into a parodic mode reveals that the author has undergone transference. The tyranni-comical Opiskin stands in for Gogol in this quasi-analytical encounter, enabling Dostoevsky to achieve transference by playing with Gogol’s words and thereby moving their conflict into the sphere of language (where Dostoevsky would enjoy far greater control over Gogol’s influence on his work).


Tynianov, Yuri. Dostoevskii i Gogol′: k teorii parodii. 1921.


Title:       “The Golden Pot” and The Idiot: Structure Revised

Author:   Lioudmila Fedorova, Georgetown University

The connections between Dostoevsky’s and E.T.A. Hoffman’s texts have been extensively studied, especially as concerns the motif of doubles. However, I would like to examine a plot parallel that has so far escaped scholars' attention between the tale “The Golden Pot” and the novel The Idiot.

Though V.Soloviev’s very popular translation of the Hoffman's tale into Russian was published only in 1880, Dostoevsky definitely knew Hoffman's text by the time he wrote The Idiot (1868) as he mentions reading Hoffman in the early letters to his brother.

The plot of The Idiot, particularly the set-up, has much in common with the plot of "The Golden Pot." In simplest terms it appears as follows: the main hero is a skillful calligrapher who is hired by a noble man, the father of three daughters. The hero is a man with a pure heart and his mission is to save the world. He falls in love with one of the daughters and is loved by her, they get engaged. But he is also involved in a love affair with another heroine representing an alternative set of social values.

The calligrapher figure (a humble image of a “little man”) has a predecessor in classical Russian literature in Gogol’s Bashmachkin; however his place in the system of images demonstrates that the Hoffman parallel is more relevant.

I would like to concentrate on the way Dostoevsky rearranges Hoffman's structure: in Dostoevsky the three sisters and their father are closer to the philistine world with Aglaya corresponding to Hoffman's Veronika, while Serpentina, the seductive serpent figure possessing magical powers, is represented by Nastasja Filippovna. This rearrangement signifies that the happy course of Hoffman's tale cannot be repeated.

Recognizing this connection also allows us to follow another crucial parallel: the archetype of Amur and Psyche from Apuleius’s The Golden Ass through Hoffman's "The Golden Pot" to Dostoevsky's The Idiot.


Title:       The Weight of Stone in Dostoevsky’s Besy

Author:   Marcus C. Levitt, University of Southern California

Claude Lorraine’s painting "Acis and Galatea" (1657), cited by both Veresilov in "Podrostok" and Stavrogin in Besy and an evident source for the Ridiculous Man’s dream, suggests the ideal of mankind’s lost “golden age.” Yet in the darker background of the canvass lurks Polyphemous, who in the myth retold by Ovid, tears off a corner of the mountain on which his sheep are grazing and crushes Acis to a pulp.  This paper explores the images of “being crushed by a stone” which punctuate Besy, and which suggest that for every suggestion of utopia, destruction looms not far behind. 

Artistotle likens ethics to a falling stone, as something established by habit. Yet the stone’s materiality and downward thrust may suggest the inevitability of evil even more strongly. Recall Pechorin’s strange questions in “Taman”: “Why did fate throw me into the peaceful circle of honest smugglers? Like a stone, thrown into a still spring, I disturbed their calm, and like a stone, almost went to the bottom myself!”

 In Besy, a novel of extreme opinions, ideas, like stones, have the power to crush, and their victims can only wriggle helplessly under them.  Shatov is one such character, and his dead body is later weighted down by stones and thrown into a pond. Being crushed by a stone, and fearing pain, also figure into Kirillov’s speculations on suicide.  Stone also describes the relative (spiritual and material) stability of Europe and Russia, as Peter Verkhovenskii agrees that soon “everything will crumble into dirt. Holy Russia has less power of resistance than anything in the world.” In contrast, stone imagery serves contrasting functions in Brat′ia Karamazovy.  While Smerdiakov may challenge the notion that “faith moves mountains,” the final “speech by the stone” suggests the possibility of a new habituation of virtue.


Title:       Spotting Dostoevsky in a “Dark Alley amongst Broken Fences and Chagall’s Cows”: Beat Author John Clellon Holmes Rewriting The Possessed

Author:   Jesse Menefee, Princeton University

Jack Kerouac, clearly obsessed with Dostoevsky and claiming that he could even recognize him “in a dark alley amongst broken fences and Chagall’s cows” (Kerouac, 386),  urged his younger colleague and friend, John Clellon Holmes, to tell the story of the Beat generation and describe the “big swirling vortexes” (Kerouac, 200) of their shared experiences with an eye turned toward one of Dostoevskii’s greatest works, The Possessed.  Holmes then enacted this suggestion with his first published novel, Go, admitting briefly his debt to Dostoevsky in the foreword to his book (Holmes, xxii).

An examination of Go reveals a score of subtle, yet significant, parallels permeating the work both on a strictly content-oriented level as well as in more abstract considerations of form and narrative technique.  By concentrating specifically on The Possessed, one of Dostoevsky’s more turbulent plunges into the multi-voiced “polyphonic” style of prose so loudly trumpeted by Bakhtin, Holmes thrusts himself into an inheritance of this very same mode of novelistic discourse.  Not only does Holmes stretch the face of Dostoevsky’s Stavrogin like a mask across the face of one of his contemporaries, but the novel’s events and the voices of its characters all merge into a cacophony of contradictory ideas not unlike the mosaic of communal madness that we encounter in The Possessed.

This paper charts the more revealing points of convergence and divergence between the two works as Go constitutes a bold recontextualization of Dostoevsky’s literature or, as the critic Harold Bloom would say, a “creative misreading” of Dostoevsky in the context of the hedonistic excesses of an underground, bohemian community in post-World War II America.



Kerouac, Jack.  “To John Clellon Holmes.” 24 June 1949 and 8 December 1964.  Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969.  Ed. Ann Charters.  New York:  Viking, 1999. 

Holmes, John Clellon.  Go.  New York:  Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1952.