Envisioning Crime and Punishment: an Interview with Andrew O’Keefe

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Alexander Burry discusses film making, Dostoevsky, and a new Crime and Punishment film with Australian director Andrew O’Keefe of Apocalypse Films.

Introduction

Director Andrew O’Keefe’s Crime and Punishment (Apocalypse Films, 2015) is being screened this year at film festivals worldwide. His adaptation of Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel has already won “Best Crime Feature Film” at the 21st Indie Gathering in Cleveland and “Best Narrative Feature” at the International Independent Film Awards, and has also been nominated for several other awards. As an independent film that follows Dostoevsky’s basic plot while setting the novel in a contemporary western society, it offers a fresh and stimulating recontextualization of Crime and Punishment.

crime-and-punishment-film-2015

Questions

  1. What attracted you to Crime and Punishment, and more broadly, to Russian literature and culture?

I definitely would say that it was this particular story rather than Russian literature per se. I’m not a huge reader of Russian literature, other than some of Dostoevsky’s works. It really was the story, the characters and the personal appeal that the story had for me. It’s funny. It took me three attempts to actually get into Crime and Punishment and enjoy it. I’ve now read it perhaps five or six times. When I was younger, I tried twice. Then a few yeas ago I was going to visit St. Petersburg and felt obliged to try again. Thankfully, I did as I absolutely love it and read it twice on that trip. I knew by the time I’d come home I wanted to make the film. I empathized greatly with Raskolnikov’s plight. I too have felt his desperation at beginning half way through life and not having achieved what I had hoped. Being a filmmaker I had hoped to make four or five films by now. This is my second. I wouldn’t commit murder to fund a film but the desperation is there.

With regards to Russian culture, well, my wife Tuuli, who produced the film, is half-Finnish and our kids are Finnish citizens. St. Petersburg is right next door, so perhaps it’s destiny?

  1. What challenges did you face in adapting Dostoevsky’s novel? How did you decide which aspects to emphasize (or deemphasize) in the film?

It was a very, very tricky process and I had to work fast. Too fast probably but the timing of the shoot made it so. One of the main reasons that I decided to make this film was due to my relationship with two actors: Lee Mason (Raskolnikov) and Christopher Bunworth (Porfiry). I felt they would fit their roles perfectly. So that guided my approach. The part of the story that appealed most directly was the theory of the “extraordinary man” and Raskolnikov and Porfiry’s relationship embodies that subplot. The difficulties came, mostly, in placing the contemporary setting yet remaining faithful (to a point) to the novel. For example, Raskolnikov is almost forty years old yet, in the book, he is closer to twenty. I did not believe that, in this modern time, a twenty-year old could be desperate enough to commit premeditated murder to test a theory and to pay their university fees. In the novel Raskolnikov had reached almost half the life expectancy for a male in St. Petersburg in 1866. The equivalent would make him forty, here and now.

Another deciding factor was the political structure of Australia. So much of the plot of the novel depends on the class system, the poverty, and the bureaucratic officialdom being what it is. So, a lot of that had to be left aside, which was fortunate, as that also allowed me to remove many of those characters. But, I tried to keep a taste of them.

  1. Your first feature film, The Independent (2007), also starred Lee Mason, though in a very different role. What has your experience working with him been like over the years? What makes him well suited to the role of Raskolnikov?

Yes, Lee and I have worked a lot together. I love that fact and it gave me the confidence to attempt this adaptation. I’m not naïve enough to think that there wouldn’t be some kind of backlash for messing with a Dostoevsky novel! And, in small ways, there has been. But none of it has questioned Lee’s performance. That was the thing I knew from the start – he would excel in the role, give it the seriousness that it required, and leave his blood on the floor. Because I’ve worked with him so much, it actually freed me up to work more with the other actors. That’s the relationship we have. I trust Lee’s dramatic instincts and he trusts mine. So, aside from really early discussions before we started shooting, we didn’t talk character all that much during the shoot. I knew the central role was in good hands. I can only know that because I know him as a person so well. I know his temperament. I know his feelings about his family. I know what makes him happy, sad, angry… We’re very good friends after all this work we’ve done.

  1. Making an independent film of a lengthy novel with so many characters can be challenging budget-wise. But did producing it outside the major studio system offer some advantages as well, for instance in terms of expressing your personal vision of the novel? Do you think Crime and Punishment in particular lends itself well to independent production?

To be truthful, I now feel that the film was too ambitious for the money that we had. It is a big book. I did have some big ideas. Poverty, for example, is ironically a very expensive thing to put on screen when filming in and around a University campus. We lacked the budget for that. But, the lack of budget meant total freedom in other ways and that was terrific. The key people involved (cinematographer, production designer, composer etc.) could really take risks and express themselves – myself included. I was keen to set the film around a university as it’s the world I know. The novel downplays this element as Raskolnikov has already left, but I could play it up as I had access to a university! I was in a unique position there. The lack of money also dragged out the post-production path. The film took a very long time to finish. The original score, which is brilliant, took Amy almost a year to complete as she had to work around her paid composing work. The editing took me six months as I was working too. So, there were constraints but, overall, the great thing about having no money was that we surrounded ourselves with a community of people who loved Dostoevsky and we all had that in common. The book was the reason that people gave up months, if not years, of their lives.

  1. Much of the film was shot at the Parkville and Victorian Arts College campuses of the University of Melbourne. How would you describe your experience shooting at the university, and working with the staff and facilities?

Well, I am a full-time staff member at the Victorian College of the Arts film school. I am also currently doing a PhD on the Parkville campus. I’ve worked at Melbourne University for almost ten years so I knew all the locations very well. I knew the time of year that we could access buildings without hindering students. Almost every building in the film is on the University campus. There are only a few exceptions. Even Raskolnikov’s room is a set we built in the studio at my film school. Most of the crew were current students of recent graduates of the film school. Most of the film equipment was given in-kind by the film school. I knew all the security people, many by name. My university email address opened a lot of doors. So, the University was incredibly supportive of the entire endeavor. I really can’t say enough.

Aside from that, Dostoevsky opened a lot of doors too! We are the only film crew to have been allowed to shoot at Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Dean of the church is a great Dostoevsky lover, so he shut down the grounds for three hours for us to film. He locked out the tourists! Also, the National Gallery of Victoria allowed us to film their exterior “Napoleon” artwork because of Dostoevsky. Also, we managed to crowdfund $20,000, a lot from people we didn’t know but because of the book.

Between the University of Melbourne and Dostoevsky’s name, the film was possible.

  1. Your title sequence mentions the extremely high costs of an education at the University of Melbourne today. This is not only a very thought-provoking way of introducing Raskolnikov and his murder plot, but also directs the viewer to consider the novel within a contemporary context. What resonance do you see between nineteenth-century Russia and present-day Australia, and between St. Petersburg and Melbourne?

Well, to be clear, it’s not actually meant to be set at the University of Melbourne. We filmed there but it’s meant to be an unnamed, non-descript city in an uncertain time period. People have cars but no televisions. There are no mobile phones. The currency is Roubles. We avoided many of the recognizable Melbourne landmarks too. So, it’s a general Western setting.

But, yes, I did see a modern dilemma reflected in the book. In Australia, for the time being, we have a very good university payment system called “HECS”. Basically, the government pays your university fees and when you graduate and get a job, you start paying back as a percentage of tax. That system is under threat from both sides of government here looking at deregulation. The logical, pessimistic, extension of that idea is that knowledge is power and, therefore, people will commit violence to gain power. This means people may become desperate enough to commit violence to pay for their education. This was the way I wanted to frame the film as it is possibly the most important dilemma in the world today, outside basic living conditions. Access to education can change everything: health, happiness, wealth, future. Everything. I think that’s the most important thing to be taken from Dostoevsky’s novel.


Alexander Burry is an Associate Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University. He is the author of Multi-Mediated Dostoevsky: Transposing Novels into Opera, Film, and Drama (2011) and is currently working on a book on Don Juan in Russian culture.

Andrew O’Keefe is a filmmaker from Melbourne, Australia. With Tuuli Forward he is a director of Apocalypse Films. You can see the trailer for his 2015 film Crime and Punishment here: https://vimeo.com/113887597.

This interview appears as part of #cp150, a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s Crime and PunishmentCrime and Punishment (Apocalypse Films, 2015) will be screened at the #cp150 conference in Vancouver, Canada on Oct 20, 2016. 

Ivan Karamazov reviews Crime and Punishment

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by Ivan Karamazov, with help from Brian Armstrong

For my thirtieth birthday, my brother gave me a novel called Crime and Punishment by a well-known Russian author. The novel was published back in 1866, but I was unaware of it at the time; that was an unusually difficult year for me. I’d since heard of it, but I’d never gotten around to reading it. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve not even touched my copy of War and Peace yet!

Those of you who are aware of my family history, however, can likely ascertain why I quickly read my gift. I’d heard that I bear some similarities to the central character, and that while the novel was being serialized in The Russian Messenger, some of its most important themes were being played out in my own life. And while I cannot but acknowledge those similarities, I must admit that I was unimpressed with the young man.

First, given that everyone who is anyone has already read the novel, I hope you won’t think me a scoundrel if I openly discuss the fact that the central character, Raskolnikov, murdered a couple of people and stole from them and then eventually – and rather pathetically – confessed first to a woman whom he barely knew and then to the authorities. There is supposedly a great mystery as to why he did it, but, honestly, I believe that the former gambler Svidrigailov summed up the central character and his motivations quite well: he sought to rob the older sister, and he did it in order to see if he was an exceptional “man of genius.”

The idea of the exceptional person of genius is part of a theory he had, in which people are divided into two groups according to a law of nature: the mere “material” and those who, due “to their lofty status, are outside the law, and not only that, who themselves write the law for the others – for the material, I mean . . . the rubbish” (462). Svidrigailov rightly notes that there’s nothing really special about this theory. He also rightly notes that what follows from Raskolnikov’s criminal act is simply a matter of his being “greatly pained” by the thought this this lofty status was beyond him. In other words, “What could be more demeaning for a young man with a high opinion of himself, especially in our day and age … ?’ (462) Apparently there is nothing more demeaning.

raskolnikov 3But that’s not the end of the story. It’s not just that this young man, with his confusions and his inflated sense of himself, committed some mundane crimes. We’re also supposed to believe that a process occurred – especially with the young woman whom he barely knew – that led to his redemption, and we’re told by the narrator that some great future deed awaits him. I’m aware that there is debate over how “true” this process and this future deed is to “reality” – meaning to psychological reality, since the book is, of course, a fiction made up by the author (a fact that many readers seem to forget!). There is also debate over whether this process and future deed work from an aesthetic perspective. In my opinion, it is true to reality and it is done beautifully. I was ready to weep for joy. Except…

Except that I couldn’t help but wonder: at what cost did this young man’s redemption come? The death of two innocent women. Yes, yes: perhaps the pawnbroker really did deserve to die. And even if she didn’t deserve to die, it seems clear that the young man does not feel remorse for having killed her. Rather, it’s the second murder, which even the narrator rarely mentions, that seems to eat away at the young man. And I see that this second murder is essential: the young man hardly ever mentions her, but the guilt he seems to feel is what converts his act into something redemptive.

But why should I approve of such redemption? Does the author mean to say that we should approve of young men killing innocent strangers (and females in particular) in order to redeem these men? That seems a steep cost to pay. Too steep. And what of the innocent young woman who is sacrificed so horribly in this mechanism of grace? It is right or just that her life is the cost of his ticket to redemption?

But my thoughts on this issue are likely well-known. Year in and year out, I have these same sorts of conversations with those around me (and often with the same people). My interlocutors are constantly pointing out flaws in my logic and my rhetoric and my choice of facts and figures of speech and examples. And I’m constantly being accused of irony and atheism, so that the points I make are fully misunderstood. But I’ll say it again: I believe in God and in the immortality of the soul and in Heaven and Hell. And I still refuse my ticket.


Brian Armstrong is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Augusta University. He works on the intersection of philosophy and literature, and his current project focuses on the philosophical implications of Dostoevsky’s fiction. He masterminded @YakovGolyadkin last fall during #TheDoubleEvent. You can find him on Twitter under the handle @wittstrong.

This post appears as part of the #CP150 project. For more information about the project, click here.

The Four Raskolnikovs and the Confessional Dream

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by Amy D. Ronner

I am a law professor who teaches criminal procedure, a course which covers the constitutional protections for those accused of or charged with crimes. One of the burning questions in the text books is why do so many suspects waive their Miranda rights and confess? Typical conjectures blame the overbearing and devious tactics of law enforcement or the suspects’ hubristic confidence in their own skill at talking their way out of trouble. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s perspective in Crime and Punishment is far more astute. In essence, there are four Raskolnikovs and they quadriphonically divulge confessional truth.

At least unconsciously, Raskolnikov knows what he needs to sire his own deliverance. Shortly before the crime, Raskolnikov experiences what has become famous in world literature – – his dream of the suffering horse. Dostoevsky underscores the momentousness of “dreams, morbid dreams, [that] always live long in the memory and have a powerful effect on disturbed and already excited organisms.”[1] It is this “palpable and vivid” dream that predicts the future and prescribes the cure (Pt. 1, Ch. 5: 51).

In the dream, Raskolnikov is a boy visiting the countryside with his father and passing a tavern, loaded with drunken partyers. Mikolka, the owner of a large wagon, hitched to a skinny old horse, invites the rowdies to pile in and go for a ride. Although it is obvious that the horse cannot drag the overloaded wagon, Mikolka savagely beats the horse to a pulp. The incident turns into a self-defeating vicious cycle: the more Mikolka delivers lashes, the less the horse can budge and the less the horse can budge, the more the enraged Mikolka delivers the lashes. When spectators voice objections, Mikolka yells, “I’ll do what I like.” According to Mikolka, the mare is his “property,” which after being senselessly bludgeoned on the spine, “sighs heavily” and expires (Pt. 1, Ch. 5:54, 55).

Child Raskolnikov, traumatized and dashing out from the crowd, makes a futile attempt to save the horse. Eventually, he lunges at the murderer:

He yells and squeezes his way through the crowd to the sorrel, throws his arms around     her dead bloodied muzzle and kisses her, kisses her on her eyes, her lips. . . Then he        suddenly jumps up and charges at Mikolka with his little fists. At that very moment his father, who’s been chasing after him in vain, finally grabs him and hauls him out of the crowd (Pt. 1, Ch. 5: 55).

When Raskolnikov awakens, he instantly annexes his dream to the very murder he has been contemplating:

“My God!” he exclaimed. “Will I really – – I mean, really – – actually take an axe, start bashing her on the head, smash her skull to pieces? . . . Will I really slip in sticky, warm        blood, force the lock, steal, tremble, hide, all soaked in blood. . . axe in hand? . . . Lord,will I really?” (Pt. 1, Ch. 5: 56).

Psychoanalyst Louis Breger points out that in Raskolnikov’s “own interpretation he sees himself as Mikolka, the dream portraying his plan to kill the aged and useless old pawnbroker.”[2] While the dream does mirror the atrocity that Raskolnikov is about to commit, it also prefigures regeneration and prescribes what he needs to do to even begin to get there.

Crime and Punishment back cover: the horse dream

There are four Raskolnikovs in this dream: one, the Mikolka-Raskolnikov who seeks to assert power over and ownership of others through the irrational extinguishment of human life; two, the mare-Raskolnikov who feels helplessly trapped and beaten down; three, the boy-Raskolnikov, who compassionately leaps forth to try to spare a life; and four, the father-Raskolnikov, who swoops in to squelch the child’s heartfelt, heroic benevolence.

Here the most important Raskolnikov in the quadrille is, of course, the boy, who speaks, comes forth, takes responsibility, and tries (albeit in futility) to right a wrong. He is, after all, the antidote to a Mikolka-esque murderous tantrum, and he is, like the spirit of confession, a courageous personification of what can potentially become best in human nature. In an allusion to Nekrasov’s poem “Till Twilight” (Do sumerek, 1859), the boy kisses the mare “on the eyes” and “on the lips,” compassionate acts which extol both vision and speech as faculties that can assist heartfelt redemption (Pt. 1, Ch. 5:55). As Deborah Martinsen has pointed out in her superb blog (“Dostoevsky and Raskolnikov’s ‘New Word’”), it “matters which ‘word’ we follow.” In essence, Raskolnikov’s soul and psyche desperately need to hear and heed this little boy’s word and thus, let him “squeeze[] his way” out (Pt. 1, Ch. 5:55). The dream tells Raskolnikov, even before he has committed the offense, that what he must do to just begin to change his life is to come forth, confront that internecine Mikolka, and confess.

The dream is conterminously prophetic because it is the fourth Raskolnikov, the suppressive patriarch, who prevails by banishing the boy, by rendering him invisible, by silencing the inception of the symbolic confession, and by curtailing the heartfelt outburst. It is only after the dream-father has trumped the dream-boy that Raskolnikov opens his eyes to the realization that he is heading down the Mikolka path and might actually “take an axe” to bring his horrific project to fruition. The dream, however, is even more of a prescription than it is prognostication: it admonishes Raskolnikov to confront his own Mikolka-like instincts, to come clean, to ultimately “hug the knees” of and accept love (Epilogue, Ch. 2: 516). As such, even before he bashes Alyona Ivanovna over the head, Raskolnikov craves confession and deep inside desperately wants to join the human race.

Notes:

[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, trans. Oliver Ready (New York: Penguin Books, 2014): 51. Hereinafter, I will include the Part and Chapter number, as well as the page number from the Ready translation, in parentheses in the text.

[2] Louis Breger, Dostoevsky: The Author as Psychoanalyst (New York: New York University Press, 1989); 31.


Amy D. Ronner, who holds both a law degree and an M.A. and Ph.D in literature, is a Professor of Law at St. Thomas University School of Law, where she teaches Constitutional Law, Wills and Trusts, Sexual Identity and the Law, and Criminal Procedure. She is the author of five books, including Dostoevsky and the Law (2015) and Law, Literature, and Therapeutic Jurisprudence (2010). This blog is a rough adaptation of a section of her article, “Dostoevsky and the Therapeutic Jurisprudence Confession,” which appeared in The John Marshall Law Review, 40 (2006): 41.

The image that accompanies this post is from the back cover of the US deluxe edition of Oliver Ready’s translation of Crime and Punishment, available from Penguin Books. 

Finding Raskolnikov on the Dialogic Blog Trail

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by Robin Feuer Miller

A young man succumbs to the unfinished ideas in the air; viruses travel through the world in the same way as ideas; words are germs; infections spread in the stifling urban heat; the dirty water cannot cleanse body or soul but instead becomes a breeding ground for more viruses of all kinds. So far I am the oldest person to volunteer to contribute to this blog—a space already positively radiant with postings from some of the most creative Dostoevsky scholars in the world—I am, moreover, even at my advanced age, a Twitter virgin, a Snapchat ignoramus, and an Instagram idiot. But it is abundantly clear that Dostoevsky would hungrily pursue all these forms of communication; he would be a shameless multi-tasker, and he would surely relish reading the postings on “The Bloggers Karamazov.”

Sitting down to read them from top to bottom, thus taking the most recent and reading back to the first—in a weird kind of inverse dialogue—has made Crime and Punishment come disturbingly alive in new ways. The novel has wiggled out of its words on the page and literally entered the air, permeating anew the readers of these blogs; we are re-infected and discover that we have not built up any immunities to the contagion this work can engender. Frankly, @RodionTweets and the subsequent posts are more immediate and effective in conveying the essence of the novel than any visual representations of it, which, however exciting to watch, broadcast a more unified voice than the odd and compelling multi-voiced chorus that sounds out from these virtual collections.

Velký_dialog_(1966),_laminát,_drát,_textil,_lak,_145x190x83_cm

Velky dialog (1966) by Karel Nepraš

In the virtual space allotted to me here, let me follow the backwards dialogic trail of these Crime and Punishment posts so far, beginning (that is ending) with Robert L. Belknap (the recently deceased and beloved teacher of many of us) and ending (that is beginning) with Katia Bowers, to whom—along with Kate Holland, Brian Armstrong, Sarah Hudspith,Sarah J. Young, Jennifer L. Wilson, and Kristina McGuirk—we and Dostoevsky owe so much. You have collectively reinvigorated (or re-infected) us; the hot summer air of those weeks in St. Petersburg one hundred and fifty years ago are reincarnated in the sweltering summer of 2016 in locales all over the map.

Through the keen lens of Deborah Martinsen’s notes and recollections of Bob Belknap we learn that Bob considered Razumikhin to be “racy, snappy, generous, arrogant, fun” and not unlike Dostoevsky himself. (These adjectives evoke Bob pretty well too.) Both Dostoevsky and his character were given to translations: Dostoevsky’s first work was a rough translation of Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet, and Razumikhin proposes to Raskolnikov that they translate part of Rousseau’s Confessions—a work important to Balzac and with which Dostoevsky polemicized for most of his life, especially within the pages of our novel at hand. Bob, in his posthumous book, Plots, considers the meaning of translation in its broadest possible sense:

Plot summaries deserve serious theoretical attention. . . Like a translation, a plot summary tries to represent a text, a set of black marks on a page . . . Indeed, some argue that the summary of a book is the plot of the book, with all the burden of significance and power that implies; others argue that the only proper summary of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the book itself, that summary is impossible (p. 7).

The same argument is frequently made about translation.

Deborah identifies the essence of what made Bob such a great classroom teacher: “He did not tell us or show us what to think, he made us think by making us experience the texts he was teaching.” In this too, Bob reflects the writer to whom he devoted most of his scholarly life. Of all Dostoevsky’s works it is perhaps Crime and Punishment which most irresistibly, most inexorably draws its readers into its vortex. All our blogs so far attest to this fact in one way or another. How many of you, like me, have had a student say that reading the novel allowed him to feel what it was like (or, in one frightening case, to want) to commit murder? We teachers of Dostoevsky’s works frequently find ourselves engaged in startling, atypical classroom discussions when his words are “in play.”

Deborah tackles Dostoevsky’s frequent use of the phrase “new word”, highlighting Porfiry’s chilling insight that Raskolnikov’s “new word” –that which “truly belongs to you alone, to my horror—is that, in the end, you permit bloodshed as a matter of conscience, and if you’ll excuse me, you’re actually quite fanatical about it.” She highlights Porfiry’s insight, but I, and perhaps others of you, have consistently glided over it, even despite repeated readings of the novel. How does Dostoevsky achieve these repeated instances of having his readers fail to notice the most significant details? Or, rather, we each notice our own significant details. Like Raskolnikov, who expresses his fear of them from the outset, we are undone by “the trifles” looming unseen before us.

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My  tiny edition of Crime and Punishment (RFM)

When Kristina McGuirk describes how twitter provides Raskolnikov a medium for talking to himself, she takes us back full circle, as do a number of the other bloggers, to Dostoevsky’s original conception of narrating his novel in the first person. The tweets she and others forge are bone-chilling, reducing the novel to a distilled new essence Dostoevsky would have savored. I am reminded of a tiny edition (summary really—with black and white drawings; image to the right) that I possess of Crime and Punishment: an edition handed out to soldiers in World War II. It slips into the front pocket of any shirt and is barely noticeable. Katia Bowers describes how she envisioned creating an ending for the twitterized version of the novel to rival another “amazing” twitter account: @MayorEmanuel. Had Dostoevsky been writing his Diary of a Writer today, we can be sure his insights, like Katia’s, would be littered with websites, twitter hashtags, and other such forays into the virtual air. Katia, like Kristina, in trying to tweet Raskolnikov, comes up against narrative truths: “it’s difficult to build narrative force without access to the 3rd person narrator’s tools and tricks.” These tweets allow in the inner experience of [re]creating Dostoevsky’s character.

And something even more significant happens: Katia tells us, as Rodion’s tweets “go out, they mingle with other tweets in readers’ feeds, become lost, are retweeted out of chronology.” A living, vibrating air-born hybrid is created that changes by the moment and becomes eerily close to some kind of . . . dare one say it . . . collective consciousness. Jennifer Wilson’s blog seems to build on Katia’s, though of course, in this inverted dialogue, it actually precedes it chronologically. She describes how poverty fractures the self, and thus Dostoevsky’s “characters rarely use words to say what they mean, but rather to express how they would like to be understood.” Her analysis of “pauper’s pride” shows us how powerfully social contexts are woven inextricably into intimate individual perception. She “shows” us this in a concrete way, because she is describing the challenge of attempting to tweet the pain of the irritating yet tragic Katerina Ivanovna. We are thus boldly and actually confronted by the myriad obstacles that Dostoevsky himself “stepped over” in creating his novel.

Brian Armstrong’s ruminations about “higher twitter realism” seem to encapsulate the experiences others have described above, but of course his post too comes before theirs. Inspired by Carol Apollonio’s address at the International Dostoevsky Symposium earlier this summer, Brian asks, “How do we know that the conversation in Porfiry’s office happens just as the narrator reports?” Or, as Carol asked more broadly in her presentation, “What happened?” The twitter modality seems to highlight these broadly ontological considerations, coaxing them out of the dark corners we generally choose not to discuss with any text.

Kate Holland’s post offers both a trenchant analysis of the challenges of tweeting Part III of the novel as well as some significant theoretical insights into the genre of twitter (if we may call it a genre) more generally.   She describes the project as requiring three different modes of translation: direct transcription, transposition of narrative voice, and creative manipulation of the story by the actual “addition of thoughts which might be conceivable ascribed to Raskolnikov.” For her—for all of us—the hardest part “to get used to was adaptation, or ‘filling in’ gaps which the text intentionally leaves opaque.” What is this but a bold, new, stark way of experiencing the novel and testing out its ideas in a way far more personal than what we do in more traditional critical writing, which is itself, like summary, a form of translation?

Our blog has the title “The Bloggers Karamazov.” How would one tweet that novel? How would we deal with its time (a narrator-chronicler in the present, events, presented somewhat out of chronology, 13 years previously in August, November), its multiplicity of primary characters, its preoccupation with evidence?   Sarah J. Young describes how these virtual projects, whether digitally mapping St. Petersburg or tweeting Raskolnikov, “force us towards completeness and to following our reading to its logical limit.” She points out that traditional forms of interpretation allow us to be less consistent and, basically, more tentative in our conclusions. So the result of this process has been for her, and for other tweeters of Raskolnikov, “closer readings” than they have ever done before. The tweets en masse have forged a new, virtual Raskolnikov, a complex, self-contradictory composite formed by all who participated. Taken as a whole, they constitute Raskolnikov’s actual words and perceptions made “new.”

Sarah Hudspith candidly expressed her excitement that the tweeting project offered her the chance to (re)write part of a novel with which she had had a life-long love affair. Her insight takes reading and writing about what we read to a whole new level. One of my favorite courses that I offer is entitled, “Chekhov’s Stories on Stage.” Students have an opportunity to recast Chekhov’s stories into a dramatic form. But the creation of Raskolnikov’s tweets offers an even more dramatic, intimate challenge and suggests that we would do well, as teachers, to engage our students in similar activities. They would then, in Belknap-fashion, experience the novel more fully. And the responses to it modelled through such a project come close to the inner heart of why we read in the first place and what reading can teach us both as individuals and as members of society.


Robin Feuer Miller is Edytha Macy Gross Professor of Humanities and Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Brandeis University. Her most recent books include Dostoevsky’s Unfinished Journey (2007) and The Brothers Karamazov: The Worlds of the Novel (2008).

On teaching Crime and Punishment

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by Robert Belknap, with introduction by Deborah A. Martinsen

Introduction

Bob Belknap was not only one of the world’s greatest Dostoevsky scholars, but also one of the world’s greatest teachers. He held that while some writers tell us what happen and some show us what happen, the Russians make us experience what happened. And that’s what Belknap did in the classroom. He did not tell us or show us what to think, he made us think by making us experience the texts he was teaching. For instance, he argued that Dostoevsky works physically upon us: when Raskolnikov is behind the pawnbroker’s door as Koch and his companion knock on it, he is holding his breath. And so are we. As Belknap points out, Dostoevsky makes us accessories after the fact: we want his axe-murderer to get away.

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                               Robert L. Belknap, photo by Hilde Hoogenboom

When talking to colleagues who were teaching Crime and Punishment in Columbia’s great books course, Literature Humanities, Belknap always stressed two things: Dostoevsky was not Raskolnikov (he was more like Razumikhin) and Dostoevsky was an extraordinary literary craftsman, who studied the trade at the feet of the best yet continued to innovate. Belknap’s chapter on Dostoevsky’s omnivorous reading in The Genesis of “The Brothers Karamazov” is itself a fun read. He stresses that Dostoevsky read everything from the classics to the latest best sellers. He loved Homer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Schiller, and Pushkin (among many, many others), avidly read Ann Radcliffe and the Gothic novelists, and introduced Edgar Allan Poe to the Russian reading public.

Belknap held that Crime and Punishment was a novel about rehearsals: Book I is a rehearsal for the murder (think of the dream of the horse) and the next five books are rehearsals for confession (make your own list!). He held that Porfiry had a theory of crime: it is a disease with two symptoms – the crime itself and the need to get caught. Raskolnikov’s behavior betrays his guilt: he revisits the scene of the crime, ostentatiously throws money around, and talks as though he were guilty.

At the XVI International Dostoevsky Symposium in Granada this year, our Russian colleagues argued about whether or not Raskolnikov truly repents by the end of the novel. Belknap had an answer: Raskolnikov’s dream in the Epilogue is a magnificent repentance. His subconscious recognizes that nihilism and Napoleonism are diseases of individualism and pride.

The following post comes from April 2010, the last year Belknap taught Crime and Punishment as part of Columbia’s Core Curriculum. For more vintage Belknap on the novel, see his posthumously published masterpiece Plots (2016).

Crime and Punishment discussion for Lit Hum staff, April 5, 2010

Dostoevsky was very much a part of European culture, wrote with immense admiration about Homer, Dante, and especially Don Quixote, learned his trade from Balzac, Dickens, Poe, and many others, and considered Les Misérables a better novel than Crime and Punishment, though he considered Razumikhin and Dunia a better pair of lovers than Cosette and Marius.

That is to say, he was a pro, and not a mysterious Asian phenomenon, or an alienated misfit. If he resembled any character in Crime and Punishment, it was Razumikhin, racy, snappy, generous, arrogant, fun. Here’s a letter he wrote to his brother at the same age:

As to translations, I’m not sure whether I’ll fuss around all summer trying to get one. We had an idiot in Petersburg, Furmann, (He’s abroad right now) and he receives 20,000 a year from translations alone! If you could get just one year provided for, you should definitely come. You’re young; you could even make a career in lit. They’re all doing that now. In ten years, you could forget about translations.

Dostoevsky was a professional journalist as well as a writer of fiction. He edited four important journals and was centrally involved in the political and ideological controversies of the 1840s, 60s, and 70s. The nihilism of Turgenev’s Bazarov (Fathers and Children) had become the central concern of the intellectual world. It was not the belief in nothing, as Bazarov had suggested, but the adherence to a fixed list of doctrines – atheism, scientism, socialism, feminism, sometimes self-interest, and a few others – over against the three official doctrines of the government – Orthodox Christianity, Official Nationalism, and the Sovereignty of the Tsar.

Raskolnikov is infected with this disease of nihilism. His conscious being is drawn to the mathematical, the calculating, the economic, the burdensome, the suicidal, the social, the scientific, the cynical, the murderous doctrines about great men that had appeared in Napoleon III’s Life of Julius Caesar. His unconscious impulses remain generous, kind, liberating, and involved with confession, resurrection, and faith.

This split between the conscious calculations and the unconscious impulses lets Raskolnikov shift, usually suddenly, between the two identities. He confesses his crime, silently, horribly, to Sonia, and then suddenly shifts to the social benefit that flows from it, saying he has only killed a vicious insect. He gives money to the Marmeladovs, to the girl wandering on the boulevard, and he regrets it for socially rational reasons in each case.

After the dream of the horse, he wakes liberated from the burden of the murderous plan, but returns to that plan because he happens to learn that it is possible. This weird reversal of intent comes not from what he learns, but from the way he learns it – by coincidence. This coincidence reaches his sense of superstition, and Dostoevsky links superstition with the scientific sense of total control that emerges at the end of the novel in the dream of the plague that makes the madmen feel supremely sane.


Robert Belknap (1929-2014) was a Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and a former Dean of Columbia University. His work on Dostoevsky includes the books The Structure of “The Brothers Karamazov” (1989), Genesis of “The Brothers Karamazov”: The Aesthetics, Ideology, and Psychology of Making a Text (1990), and Plots (2016). 

We are grateful to Deborah Martinsen for giving us access to her notes from Professor Belknap’s discussion of teaching Crime and Punishment in 2010 as well as her introduction to this piece. Deborah Martinsen is Associate Dean of Alumni Education and Adj. Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. 

The photograph of Robert L. Belknap was taken at a conference held in his honor in February 2010 and appears with the kind permission of the photographer, Hilde Hoogenboom, Associate Professor of Russian at Arizona State University.

This post appears as part of the #CP150 project. For more information about the project, click here.

 

Dostoevsky and Raskolnikov’s “New Word”

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by Deborah A. Martinsen

As we all read and reread, blog, twitterize, and discuss Crime and Punishment in this 150th anniversary of its publication year, I have been struck yet again by the novel’s focus on ethics, its tight structure, and how the two work together. To illustrate this observation, I will cite three passages – from the novel’s beginning, middle, and end.

Passage one (Pt 1): On the novel’s first page, Raskolnikov wonders “what do people fear most? A new step, a new word of their own.” The narrator thus signals that Raskolnikov prizes originality, especially theory. The surrounding paragraph makes it clear that he is anxious about the gap between theory and action. (Attentive readers will note that in the course of the first page, the narrator moves from an outsider omniscient stance, to partial insider status using free indirect discourse – paraphrasing Raskolnikov’s thoughts, to full insider status using direct discourse to quote Raskolnikov’s thoughts verbatim in this passage.)

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One of Ernst Neizvestnyi’s illustrations for Crime and Punishment

Passage two (Part 3, Ch 5): As Raskolnikov discusses his article on crime with Porfiry and Razumikhin, he claims that only extraordinary people have the gift or talent to utter “a new word.” Five pages later, Porfiry asks him: “when you were composing that little article of yours, well, it’s simply inconceivable – heh, heh! – that you didn’t also think of yourself as being at least a teeny bit ‘extraordinary’ as well, as also having a new word to utter, in your understanding of those terms…Wouldn’t you say, sir?” Porfiry thus voices our suspicion, putting another motive for murder on the table. In between these two fragments of the conversation, Razumikhin identifies Raskolnikov’s new word, his contribution to a current debate on natural law: “what is truly original about it all – and truly belongs to you alone, to my horror – is that, in the end, you permit bloodshed as a matter of conscience, and, if you’ll excuse me, you’re actually quite fanatical about it… This, then, must be the main idea of your article. But the permission to shed blood as a matter of conscience, well…it’s more terrifying, to my mind, than any official permission, any legal permission…” Raskolnikov notes that the idea is “only hinted at,” but now we know that a new word signifies a theory, so we have another theoretical justification for the crime.

Dostoevsky undercuts Raskolnikov’s preoccupation with originality (the “new word”) in a number of ways. First, Raskolnikov himself is a literary cliché: a young man from the provinces who comes to the big city and lives off his family. Second, in Part 1 (Ch 6), readers see that the “strange idea” in Raskolnikov’s head (killing the old pawnbroker and using her money for social good) is actually a commonplace discussed in taverns! Finally, as many of Dostoevsky’s readers would have known, much of Raskolnikov’s theory about extraordinary people comes right out of Louis Napoleon’s History of Julius Caesar, an 1865 literary sensation that was a veiled apology for himself and his uncle.

Passage 3 (Epilogue, Pt 2): As Raskolnikov mechanically takes the Gospels out from under his pillow, he realizes that he had asked Sonya to bring it to him, but he had not even opened it yet: “Nor did he open it now, but a thought flashed in him: ‘Can her convictions not be my convictions now? Her feelings, her aspirations, at least…’”

In his inimitable fashion, Dostoevsky has moved the conversation from abstract theory – “a new word” – to incarnated Gospel truth (“In the beginning was the Word,” John 1.1). Moreover, Dostoevsky debunks the utilitarian calculus with which he has been polemicizing throughout the novel. In the Dostoevskian universe, calculation is the worst sin. In Crime and Punishment, Luzhin is the greatest villain. Luzhin enthusiastically embraces utilitarianism (Pt 2, Ch 5): “If hitherto, for example, I have been told to ‘love my neighbor’ and I have done so, then what was the result? . . . The result was that I ripped my sheepskin in two, shared it with my neighbor and we both ended up half-naked . . . But science says: love yourself before loving anyone else, for everything in this world is founded on self-interest. Love yourself and your affairs will take care of themselves, and your coat will remain in one piece. . . . it is precisely by profiting myself and no one else that I thereby profit everyone, as it were, and enable my neighbor to receive something more than a ripped coat” (a nineteenth-century articulation of trickle-down economics and the prosperity gospel). A few pages later, Raskolnikov claims that Luzhin’s “theory in action” would justify murder: “Take what you were preaching just now to its conclusions, and one could stab people….” In short, Dostoevsky creates a powerful parallel between his sympathetic axe-murderer and the novel’s most despicable character. Just as Raskolnikov exposes the weaknesses of Luzhin’s theory by taking it to its logical conclusion, Dostoevsky exposes the weaknesses of Raskolnikov’s theory. He thus demonstrates that theories have consequences. It matters which “word” we follow.


Deborah A. Martinsen is Associate Dean of Alumni Education and Adjunct Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where she teaches classes on Dostoevsky, narrative, and world literature. She is the author of Surprised by Shame: Dostoevsky’s Liars and Narrative Exposure (2003; in Russian 2011), and has most recently co-edited Dostoevsky in Context (2015) with Olga Maiorova. She was President of the International Dostoevsky Society (2007-13) and Executive Secretary of the North American Dostoevsky Society (1998-2013). She is also a managing editor of Dostoevsky Studies.

This post appears as part of the #CP150 project. For more information about the project, click here.

Virtual Crime and Punishment film festival this August!

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dostyfilm

In August, as part of #CP150, we will host a virtual festival of films inspired by Crime and Punishment! Join us to watch and discuss some intriguing films, and to think about ways of adapting or transposing Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel for the screen.

How it works: you watch the film and then we all discuss it together! You can discuss with us on Twitter, Facebook, or both!

On Twitterthe last 3 Sundays in August, at 8:30pm Eastern and 5:30pm Pacific, you’ll view the scheduled film in the comfort of your own home. You can find the copy yourself (they are available various places depending on which country you’re in: check your local or university library, or, if not, the various online options for rental Netflix, HuluPlus, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, etc.), and queue it up to start at the designated time. Then, join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag  #cp150filmfest. We’ll live tweet the films together!

On FacebookIf you can’t make the designated screening time, or you’re not on Twitter, or you’d like to discuss again, the following Monday, we can discuss the films in the North American Dostoevsky Society FB discussion group (join by clicking on it and requesting to join!).

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Schedule:

Sun, Aug 14, 2016 – Robert Bresson’s The Pickpocket (1959)

Sun, Aug 21, 2016 – Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Sun, Aug 28, 2016 – Woody Allen’s Match Point (2005)

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This film festival is part of the #cp150 celebrations, and is in the spirit of preparation for our October conference, where we will have a screening of a new adaptation of Crime and Punishment (Apocalypse Films, 2015), as well as several panels on adaptation/transposition (one devoted to Woody Allen!).

To see what a live-tweeted film is like, you can check out the Storify of the North American Dostoevsky Society’s previous virtual film screening here, part of #TheDoubleEvent that took place in November 2015!

(This has been cross-posted from the #CP150 website)

 

Behind the @RodionTweets Curtain: the Nuts and Bolts of Twitterifying Dostoevsky

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by Kristina McGuirk

Kristina McGuirk is a Master’s student in Library Studies and Archival Studies at the University of British Columbia and the #CP150 project Research Assistant. She previously worked as a writer and editor for Better Homes and Gardens special interest magazines. You can find her on Twitter at @kkmcguirk.

As the #CP150 research assistant, I provided social media and editing support for @RodionTweets. What this means in practice is that I collected the tweets from each scholar for their parts of the book, edited the tweets for consistency, voice, and style (more on that below), returned them with queries, and ultimately scheduled the section using Tweetdeck (Twitter’s free tweet management platform).

In the beginning, while the literary savvy people worked out who would tackle which parts of C&P, I put together a general “Twitter Style Guide” for the crew. This was largely to help those less comfortable with Twitter and to make sure we were all on the same page. Selfishly, it was also to make sure I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time on the more time-consuming/less impactful parts of editing tweets, such as cutting down the number of characters because of a photo, or turning long passages into multiple, numbered tweets (we learned on @YakovGolyadkin that style of conveyance was not particularly successful).

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@RodionTweets official style guide

While working on the project, I’ve talked about being true to the nature of Twitter a lot. It was probably annoying. But I’m going to give it one last go here. As Sarah Hudspith discussed in her post, I struggled with the idea of revealing the murder on Twitter. There’s no practicality to it. (Does everyone remember the drug dealer’s Twitter woes on season one of Mr. Robot?). But Sarah’s rationale that Twitter provides Raskolnikov a medium for talking to himself, however, was spot on, and, I was convinced. If you looked back at my own tweets in the month leading up to our July 7 launch, I was pretty much live-tweeting what annoyed me while working in coffee shops and libraries—not all that different from Rodion or the rest of Twitter (except that most of us aren’t plotting to #murder a #louse).

Suspending my disbelief, I moved on to really editing the tweets. Tweets coming from six different people resulted in six different products that had to turn into one person’s thoughts… on Twitter. It wasn’t easy, but luckily almost everyone enjoyed directly quoting the book when possible, so the tenor of the writing was not wildly different (thanks again, Dostoevsky, Oliver Ready, and Penguin!). The biggest differences were in how many tweets each person produced for their parts, and how they chose to convey the thoughts. Some of the scholars were more succinct in their tweets, while others offered pages and pages of tweets for their sections. My job wasn’t to really worry about the how or why of what was included, but to make sure that the tweets were telling Rodion’s story in an engaging way that felt like Twitter.

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Often Twitter is about randomly sharing what you’re thinking/seeing/doing; Rodion is great at cryptically oversharing!

I started by playing with punctuation, varying ?!?! and … and ? and . and sometimes—gasp—not even ending a tweet with anything, because Twitter is fast and loose like that.

I then made every effort to combine tweets. Repetition is a big part of C&P’s storytelling and Rodion’s thoughts, but using a lot of synonyms or adjectives in one sentence isn’t the most efficient way to get a tweet out. I was able to remove superfluous words and phrases pretty easily. (This was my journalism degree in action, while my English degree quietly stares at the wallpaper ignoring me.) Even certain tweets or parts of the novel were just disconnected enough from Rodion’s own narrative that I didn’t need to include them. The rest was a battle with between the 140-character limit on each tweet and the details and phrasing.

I also got tweets that were more narrative (natural as we were working from a novel): this happened, and then he said this, but what about that, and now he’s doing this, and I’m wondering about that. However, in Twitter, the direct narrative had to go away and the story had to be told through Rodion’s reactions. One way to do this was to edit for passive voice and narrative phrasing—Twitter is very much in-the-moment social media, so it definitely works for storytelling, but since each tweet comes at a different time, on a different line, you don’t need the textual cues. Sure, he was still tweeting some of what happened to give his interjections context, but we’re offering more of his thoughts than his retelling of what’s happening.

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This is an altered text that I felt worked particularly well transitioning to Twitter.

Something I wish I would have tried earlier in the editing processes was modernizing the text a bit. While I did add gifs and a silly hashtag here and there (as did Katia Bowers), there was definitely a limit to what was too contemporary. At one point, Sarah Hudspith said she had to fight the urge to write “Sh*t! Got blood on my iPhone! #murderproblems” But… I wish we had done that! I wish I’d suggested early on using Twitter for the platform it is–#trending hashtags, feuds, and cat gifs. Sarah Young is right that an epic trolling session at the Crystal Palace would have been hilarious, but I also understand that this would have been a different way of engaging than we’d planned. I think if I were to do it again, I’d give myself more time for reimagining.

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A missed opportunity! I desperately wanted to use this in Part 3, but it wasn’t appropriate for how we’d been using Twitter.

There are a couple lessons I learned regarding timing and characters (wouldn’t it have been more practical to refer to ‘Raz’ instead of Razumikhin the whole time?) but, ultimately, @RodionTweets was a success and really got me to think differently about a classic I hadn’t read since high school. It was such a creative way to engage with a text and I would encourage everyone to wonder what their favourite literary character’s Twitter looks like… except maybe Dickens’s Gong-Donkey, because I don’t know how to convey drunk braying with Twitter.


This is the last of a series of posts on the experience of creating @RodionTweets. You can follow the Twitter account here. The introduction to the series is here. Click here to read Part 6 or here to go all the way back to Part 1. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

Raskolnikov in the Fog: Time and the Crime and Punishment End Game

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by Katherine Bowers

Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is working on a book about the influence of gothic fiction on Russian realism and is one of the #CP150 co-organizers. She tweets about books, writers, and other interesting things @kab3d.

“The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled round, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture,” wrote Virginia Woolf in “The Russian Point of View.” For me, this exactly describes how I feel reading Crime and Punishment Part 6. The tension between Raskolnikov’s two paths—Sonya’s way out (resurrection through repentance) and Svidrigailov’s (suicide)—builds to a fever pitch and I get consumed.

I had a vision that I’d create an ending for our Twitterized version of the novel to rival that of Dan Sinker’s amazing @MayorEmanuel, which began as a parody account tweeting coverage of the 2011 Chicago mayoral election, took on a life of its own, and ended up with a narrative arc that was decidedly epic in nature. The feed was even later sold as a standalone novel, and was just as riveting to read in book format as it had been in real time tweets over the course of that year. Following @MayorEmanuel in 2011 showed me what Twitter narratives are capable of doing, and I was eager to see whether I could reproduce Dostoevsky’s taut novel ending in the medium. I excitedly sat down to read and work on the tweets…

… and, well, I wasn’t exhilarated.

This came as something of a surprise to me. For those following the Twitter feed, Parts 3, 4, and 5 of the novel follow closely one after the other, all within the space of about 48 hours. Part 5 takes place entirely during a 2-hour window and ends with an incredibly tense moment when Svidrigailov reveals that he’s overheard Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya. Dostoevsky leaves us with a cliffhanger… but Part 6 doesn’t pick up that loose end. Instead, the tension drops off, and Part 6 begins the next day… or the day after. As a tweeter, I was confounded by a couple of lines I had never paid that much attention to while reading the novel before:

For Raskolnikov a strange time had begun: it was as if a fog had suddenly descended, trapping him in hopeless, oppressive isolation. Recalling this time much later, he surmised that he’d experienced, now and then, a dimming of his consciousness, and that this had continued, with a few intervals, right up to the final catastrophe. (trans. Ready, p. 527)

Brian Armstrong talked about the reader not knowing what was real or not in his blog post. But, in the beginning of Part 6, one difficulty is that Raskolnikov doesn’t know what’s real. The first pages of Part 6 are confused and confusing as Raskolnikov navigates St Petersburg, trapped in a mental fog that doesn’t lift. My task was figuring out how to express this in Twitter. Would Raskolnikov go completely silent, as he had during July 10-14 when he was ill? I didn’t think so. After all, in the narrative, he’s out and about around town, going places, doing things, trying to meet up with Svidrigailov, actually meeting up with Sonya. Events happen during this foggy period and the novel goes on.

Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi_-_Prisoners_on_a_Projecting_Platform_-_WGA17844

I hadn’t noticed before that the beginning of Part 6 is told in retrospect, after Raskolnikov has figured out what’s real and what’s not. Some events—like one of the services over Katerina Ivanovna’s body in the Marmeladovs’ apartment, or waking up under a bush—are relatively lucidly described, but others—planned meetings with Marmeladov, visits to some Petersburg locations—blur into his mental fog. Still, if Raskolnikov was tweeting them all along, and unable to distinguish between waking and dreaming, between real and unreal, would the twitter record of this time have the same lucid quality all the time? Or only some of the time? Closely following Dostoevsky’s text meant that only the lucid events feel real, but adding images or Google Street View links lends more of a sense of the real to the tweets that are less concretely sketched out.

Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi_-_The_Drawbridge,_plate_VII_from_the_series_Carceri_d'Invenzione_-_Google_Art_Project

The Part 6 opening period of fogginess seems at first to undermine the narrative arc that has been building up through Parts 3-5; it signals a change in style in the text, a turn to a less fevered, more retrospective voice. In terms of the @RodionTweets project, this shift naturally corresponds to a sudden diminishing of tweet frequency. Part 5, taking place over the course of a 2 or 3-hour period on July 16, includes an intense 80+ tweets, but July 17, the first day of Part 6, has only 8. One would guess that this drop off would result in a less well-defined sense of narrative, as in the text’s described fogginess. Intriguingly, though, through the prism of Twitter, there is no such shift. The small 140-character-or-less snippets of Dostoevskian psyche are published and appear to their audience out of context in most cases. Only through a site like Storify, which allows for curation and preservation of a Twitter story tied to a specified chronology, can the narrative be reconstituted. As @RodionTweets’s anxious, confused, or dreaming thoughts go out, they mingle with other tweets in readers’ feeds, become lost, are retweeted out of chronology (sometimes days later); the result for those following is more a sense of Dostoevskian atmosphere than a tightly narrated retelling of the novel that sucks one into a Woolfian whirlpool.

Partially, this lack of narrative force in Twitter is due to the fact that Part 6’s riveting timeline comes apart at the seams when broken into 140 character bites and set to a Twitter feed’s unyielding schedule. Reading the novel, time seems to contract and expand with the narrative’s excitement level. The four days of fogginess seem to take place instantaneously—we zip by them in just a few pages, and coming off of the rush of the Part 5 ending, they hardly register. They serve merely to slow us down slightly, to give us a moment to catch our breath. We are further slowed, then, by dialogue, and interactions with other characters—in Part 6 various characters’ stories resolve, but these endings take place outside of Raskolnikov’s consciousness. Finally, on July 21st, the fog lifts and the novel concludes. Raskolnikov confesses, but the lead up to the confession takes place over just an hour. Before that hour, Raskolnikov himself doesn’t know whether he will confess (!)

Tweeting Part 6 has taught me that it’s difficult to build narrative force without access to the 3rd person narrator’s tools and tricks for, for example, making the novel time contract and expand in ways that tantalize readers and spur them on to read more. Being tied to a text that’s already written ties our hands in some ways. But, nonetheless, in the final tweets there’s a sense of urgency and purpose that comes through. Where does this come from, then, if not the narrator? It’s through Raskolnikov finally making a decision, putting a plan in motion, and following through in a way we haven’t seen him do on Twitter before, and haven’t seen in the novel since Part 1. In the spirit of that, and closure, I, too, like Brian, indulged in #steppingover and broke one of the cardinal rules of @RodionTweets Club (laid out by Sarah Hudspith in her Part 1 blogpost: Raskolnikov wouldn’t live tweet dialogue, but only report it after): I tweeted the confession. This spoils the realism, but in terms of the narrative, it adds a sense of conclusion that, I think, Dostoevsky, always in tune with what works on a narrative level, would have endorsed.

Once Raskolnikov confesses, then what happens? Like the novel, @RodionTweets will also have an Epilogue. Unlike the novel, which wraps things up in some thirty pages, it’ll be drawn out… the tweets will keep going, scheduled in and spread out over the next 18 months… until Raskolnikov has faded away.


This is part 6 of a series of posts on the experience of creating @RodionTweets. You can follow the Twitter account here. The introduction to the series is here. Click here to read Part 5 or here to go on to the final post in the series. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

The illustrations above are from Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s “Imaginary Prisons” series of etchings (1745-1750) and are in the public domain. 

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

Regarding the Pain of Others: Tweeting Book V of Crime & Punishment

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by Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer L. Wilson is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently working on her first book, Radical Chastity: Abstinence and the Political Imagination in 19th Century Russian Literature. You can find her on Twitter on @JenLouiseWilson.

I can’t think of anyone who better articulates how the forces of crushing poverty fractures the self than Dostoevsky. His characters rarely use words to say what they mean, but rather to express how they would like to be understood. And they want to be understood as anything but who they really are, which are people who have been humiliated and debased by poverty. I was reminded of this by, of all things, Twitter.

As part of the #CP150 Twitter project, I was tasked with tweeting Book V of Crime and Punishment. Aside from Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya, this book contains the Marmeladov funeral banquet. Organized by Katerina Ivanovna, this banquet is a ridiculous waste of money by a family who has none to spend, let alone squander; it’s an act of what Dostoevsky labels “pauper’s pride,” wherein:

[C]ertain social rituals, deemed obligatory for all and sundry in our country, lead many to stretch their resources to the limit and spend what few copecks they’ve saved merely in order to be “no worse than the other.

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The funeral banquet. Woodcut illustration of the novel by Fritz Eichenberg (1938).

In other words, the banquet scene is a display of things done and said for the sake of appearances that run wholly counter to reality. This presented a serious challenge for me—how could I convey (in 140 characters no less) the duality of meaning in what the characters were saying at this banquet. For instance, I couldn’t just write “Katerina Ivanovna discusses her plans to open a boarding schools for noble girls in #T__________.” This boarding school was an obvious lie from the moment it came out of her mouth, and had no other function than to (unsuccessfully) mask her abject poverty. As a result, I found myself wondering—how do you tweet “pauper’s pride”?

It occurred to me that this wasn’t a silly question given how important a platform Twitter has become within social movements and in relaying affective solidarity with different human struggles. While this project, as I understood it, started off as a way of understanding how Twitter could serve Crime and Punishment, for me it became more a question of how reading Dostoevsky can benefit our understanding of Twitter and other social media platforms where powerful emotions borne out of pain are expressed.

When it came to tweeting Book V, I am not proud of how I responded to Katerina Ivanovna’s pain. I inserted a number of tweets in which I call Katerina Ivanovna a superficial social climber; I knew this was harsh at the time, but I wanted to make it clear to anyone following on Twitter who hadn’t read the novel that her statements about having money and social standing were to be read as false. I wish I could have come up with a more empathetic way to convey these ideas that could have situated Katerina’s lies within the emotional context of poverty. I tried to make it up by including tweets where Raskolnikov looks upon Katerina with sympathy, particularly after Sonya has been falsely accused by Pyotr Petrovich of stealing money: “I watch as Katerina Ivanovna leaves this drunk and disorderly throng, weeping/ She wanders into the street, with the vague intention of finding justice somewhere.”

In the end, what I was reminded of by this project was the importance of situating a person’s words, particularly the ones they express when they are at their worst, within the context of their social position and the emotions that such a position might bear out. I also learned that this is much easier said than done in a world limited by 140 character utterances, and that maybe we could all give one another a break when we fail to be perfect allies online.


This is part 5 of a series of posts on the experience of creating @RodionTweets. You can follow the Twitter account here. The introduction to the series is here. Click here to read Part 4 or here to go on to Part 6. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

The illustration above is a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg, part of a series illustrating the novel for the 1938 The Heritage Press edition. The photograph is from the personal collection of Scott Lindberg, proprietor of New Documents, and we are grateful to him for permission to include it. Lindberg has also kindly given permission to use another photo from the series for one of the @RodionTweets tweets.

This post is cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

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