On Golyadkin, Raskolnikov, and the Search for Empathy

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by Brian Armstrong

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.

As I begin to write this post about @RodionTweets, I realize that the details of the origin of the project are a bit murky. It emerged from one of many brainstorming sessions that Katia Bowers and I had at the start of the Fall 2015 semester for social and digital media projects for The North American Dostoevsky Society. We were interested in creating an event related to Richard Ayoade’s The Double, an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s 1846 novel of the same name. We were planning a simultaneous viewing on multiple campuses, and Twitter would play a key role in promoting the event and enabling viewers to communicate during it. Our brainstorming also kept looking ahead to #CP150 and the idea of tweeting Crime and Punishment arose. I’d always been interested in what the novel would’ve looked like if Dostoevsky had stuck to his original idea of writing it from the first-person and tweeting the novel might give us some sense of that. We decided that tweeting The Double would be a good test run: it’s much shorter and almost entirely centered on its central character, Yakov Golyadkin. Katia, her RA Kristina McGuirk, and I set it up so that the tweeting ran for four days in November – as in the novel – and then, on the fifth day, the film viewing took place, with Yakov tweeting from his own account.

The project was valuable for many reasons. Firstly, it promoted awareness of Dostoevsky and of the Society (which exists to further study of Dostoevsky). From a scholarly perspective, the extremely careful reading that the process required gave rise to new insights on the work. Sarah Young noted this in her earlier post: “The result of that process, for me, has been closer readings than I have ever done before, and these have revealed all sorts of details that I have never previously noticed.” I certainly found this to be the case with The Double, too. I would imagine that some of my insights are not new – they’ve been noted somewhere in the vast secondary literature – but that doesn’t make them less important for the individual reader, whether a student or scholar. I’m also still sorting out to what extent any of the insights are connected to the use of Twitter as a hermeneutic tool: the act of converting a fictional voice into Twitter clearly seems to shed a unique light on the original text, but how does it do that?

One of the things that especially struck me with respect to tweeting The Double was a certain lightness and vivacity in Yakov that I’d always missed before. He seemed wittier, more earnest – more like he saw himself and like he maybe was (granting that he really isn’t at all but is, rather, a literary construct). I have my own theory of why this is, and it’s twofold. First, it seems to me that Yakov was struggling with the reality of trying to move up in a meritocratic world that wasn’t really, it turned out, so meritocratic (a struggle that makes him a bit more relatable for the modern reader than his slide into dementia). Second, the narrator, who is not Yakov but like another double, is always there watching over his shoulder, observing and commenting and making inferences about what Yakov is feeing, but is not entirely empathetic. Thus, in stripping away the narrator, a greater possibility for empathy opens up. If this is so, I’m not entirely sure yet why it is so, although I suspect that it’s because of how the narrator navigates his presentation of Yakov with his presentation of others, who seem to judge Yakov. The narrative voice also leaves us in a state of intense epistemological uncertainty, so that we end up suspicious of Yakov. Once that suspicion is gone, we can more authentically draw nigh.

In order to see how things would compare in the case of Rodion and Crime and Punishment, I wanted to keep things the same. This meant that I, um, broke one of the @RodionTweets rules: as Sarah noted in her post, “the general consensus […] was that he probably wouldn’t tweet during conversations, but would give his thoughts on them after the event.” But is not the first rule of @RodionTweets Club that one must #stepover the rules? In any case, I did assume that Rodion tweeted during conversations, as this was what we did with Yakov. It seemed to make sense for Yakov; who knows what’s really happening with him, right? And one can imagine the seemingly socially awkward Yakov tweeting as he talks (or tweeting talks that are not actually happening). But with CP, things are different. The narrative voice is not fully centered on Rodion – and this was very much by design for Dostoevsky. We might well ask what purpose those strategic shifts from Rodion have. And, ideally, Twitter should help us to answer that question. I believe that it was Gary Rosenshield who first began tackling this question back in the 1970s; perhaps we can meaningfully extend his insights with this new tool.

In order to justify my approach a bit more fully, I gave it a name: “higher twitter realism,” intended to echo Dostoevsky’s claim that his own writing is a form of “higher realism.” Whether or not it’s at all an appropriate label, I nonetheless operated with the assumption that Rodion’s tweeting was like an extension of his thoughts, including his perceptions of what others are saying. Could he possibly tweet things discretely as he’s talking to another person? I would assume not. But “live tweeting” these conversations did serve the purpose of providing a faithful version of the narrative that’s stripped of a narrative voice, including a third-person account of what others are doing and saying.


Naftali Rakuzin’s illustration of Crime and Punishment (used with permission)

Part IV seems like an appropriate Part for this. Sarah Young’s note on Part IV in her Mapping St. Petersburg shows why: “An even greater contraction is evident here. The entire part consists of conversations and interviews, and there is notably no reference, beyond stating that movement between one building and another took place, to anything happening en route. Even though one of the interviews is located in a public office, the police station, Petersburg as a public city and a landscape seems to have all but disappeared here.” Thus, we find that, although Raskolnikov is moving about the city, one would hardly realize it: we’re almost always in the midst of conversations. And, interestingly, Rodion’s failure to register the city around him was not because, as we see at other times, he’s lost in thought; rather, it’s because he’s almost always talking to someone in Part IV: Svidrigailov, Razumikhin, his family, Sonya, and then Luzhin. It’s an intensely discursive section of the novel, and the key players in his transformation are all there.

So what results? A few things stand out for me at present. First, Rodion seems more unmoored, more locked in his own head. This seems especially the case in the final two chapters of Part IV. Granted, this is likely the effect of having Rodion tweet not just his own thoughts but also what others are saying. At times, and especially at first, I tried to have him demarcate his thoughts from his speech and his speech from the speech of others by having him tweet “I said x” or “S/he said x.” But this grew tiresome, and it seemed to me, as I moved along, that there’d be no real need from him to make these distinctions: whether he said it or thought it, or whether he or another said it, would be less important that the thoughts – the propositions expressed or those that he can infer (and often does) from what’s expressed. (He’s highly inferential.) The result is that, at times, one might not be able to tell in the Twitter feed what is said versus thought, or what is uttered by him versus uttered by another like Svidrigailov or Porfiry.


Naftali Rakuzin’s illustration to Crime and Punishment (used with permission)

This leads to the second point, one that I didn’t really think about until, a few days after finishing my portion of the project, I heard Dr. Carol Apollonio’s keynote at the June 2016 International Dostoevsky Symposium. She raised the question of the ontological status of the other characters, asking: granted that the text is words and not real, why do we attribute the ontolgocial status to aspects of the text as we do? Carol noted that Raskolnikov slips invisibly about while inside his head but surrounded by others, and we, as readers, enter this suspended state. Transposing Raskolnikov’s voice into Twitter, I think, heightens our awareness of this state. Carol also asked us how, for instance, we really know that Rodion really overheard a student and an officer in a tavern. In The Double, it would have been much more clear that the ontological status of the event should be questioned by the reader; Twitter brings out this ontological tension that Carol notes. Carol noted that deciding what is actually happening in “interpretation in the indicative mode,” and she urged us to remain in the uncertainty as we engage in our interpretive activity.

Extending Carol’s insight raises new questions. How do we know that the conversation in Porfiry’s office happens just as the narrator reports? Why do we not question whether it’s all in R’s head? Stripped of any certainty that Porfiry’s there, it seems like it really could be an internal debate of the sort that plagues Rodion. He arrives at the station and no one notices him; we watch as his thoughts and feeling shift, until suddenly he decides that he’s ready to face Porfiry. The next two sentences might make an uncertain reader suspicious: “At that very moment he was called in to see Porfiry Petrovich. Porfiry Petrovich, it turned out, was alone [был у себя в кабинете один]” (310). This emphasis on the ‘lone’ drives the next two chapters (and I’d never noticed how frequently words with the root одн- [one, lone] occur in Part IV, Chapter 5 alone).

While I’m inclined to think that, within the fictive reality of the novel, the conversation really did take place, it’s certainly interesting to wonder if the reason people look at him differently after he leaves the office is that he just entered an empty office, freaked out, and is now leaving.

But now we have another question: What in particular gives Porfiry ontological weight beyond just being another voice woven dialogically into Rodion’s thought? I think that that’s an actual question that Dostoevsky sought to raise, and – to offer another suspicion – I suspect that it’s part of what he’s after in his move toward wider-ranging POVs in his novel. It’s as if, having worked to build the tools by which to more fully articulate the consciousness of another person, he now needs to give weight back to the realities outside the consciousness of those individuals.

It also seems to me that Rodion in Twitter form would draw less empathy than Yakov in Twitter form. So where did the empathy go? It’s almost as if it left with those others who are cut out of Twitter – with those “real” people who seem to truly value Rodion, to see something good in him, to fight for him. If we are left only inside Rodion’s head, we can lose sight of that – of a potential and value in Rodion that Rodion himself can’t quite see. As Kate Holland put it in her post on Part III, “We are trapped instead in Raskolnikov’s monomania. While we trace the vacillations of his self-deception and self-revelation, those psychological developments are never embedded into a broader moral or social context.” If I combine my question with Kate’s observation, a possible inference is that the reality that is left out of an exclusive focus on Rodion’s consciousness is the one to which others seek to open him and is this source of their empathy for him: the moral, which, for Dostoevsky, is also real.

This is part 4 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 3, and here to go on to Part 5. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

The illustrations are by Naftali Rakuzin, and appear with his kind permission. He has also given permission to use an image of one of his illustrations for @RodionTweets. More of his illustrations of Crime and Punishment can be found on his website.

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

Rethinking the narrative structure of Crime and Punishment through Twitter

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by Kate Holland

Kate Holland is an Associate Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto. Her book, The Novel in the Age of Disintegration: Dostoevsky and the Problem of Genre in the 1870s, was published in 2013. She is a founding member of the North American Dostoevsky Society’s Reader’s Advisory Board and tweets on @fyodor76.

Before the #CP150 Twitter project, I was a Twitter lurker, but when I was offered the opportunity to join a group of international Dostoevsky scholars tweeting Crime and Punishment from Raskolnikov’s point of view, I could not resist the temptation. I teach the novel almost every year, in a Dostoevsky course, a survey, and a first-year seminar called “The Criminal Mind,” and this seemed like a great opportunity to look at it anew, and to go outside my scholarly comfort zone in the process. I opted to tweet Part III, a key section of the novel. It includes Raskolnikov’s first meeting with the detective Porfiry Petrovich and the disclosure of his article “On Crime,” through which Dostoevsky reveals Raskolnikov’s “extraordinary man theory” for the first time. Here Dostoevsky seems to break with the ideas about Raskolnikov’s motives for the murder which he has been building throughout the first two sections of the novel and reveals the outlines of what ends up being his true motive. At the end of the section Raskolnikov begins to realize the nature of the “louse” that he has killed and the significance of his failure to take “the next step.” This section of the novel includes a lot of dialogue, some of which Raskolnikov is not present for, as well as a scene in which he is in a delirious state, which posed special challenges for the Twitter medium.


Crime and Punishment doodles

This Twitter project required three different modes of translation from the text: the most straightforward was direct transcription of Raskolnikov’s thoughts as conveyed by Dostoevsky and translated by Oliver Ready; the second mode was transposition of the text from third to first person in order to convey Raskolnikov’s thoughts as the context required; and the third was creative manipulation of the story by the addition of thoughts which might be conceivably ascribed to Raskolnikov. For a literary scholar like myself, fidelity to the text is second nature, thus the process of direct transcription posed no real problems. Transposition was also fairly easy; I am so used to teaching this text that I have an internal commentary on it in my mind which was easy to follow. The hardest part to get used to was adaptation, or “filling in” gaps which the text intentionally leaves opaque. Given that this novel was first conceived of in the first person and contains many passages which can be seen as “stream of consciousness” avant-la-lettre, it is a rich environment to be mined for tweets. At the same time, though a novice to the Twitter form, I was also aware of the great gap between “stream of consciousness,” where thoughts are conveyed in as unfiltered a way as possible, and tweeting, which involves a whole series of formal and social filters.


Crime and Punishment doodles 2

My biggest quandary was how to treat the conversation between Raskolnikov and Porfiry. Although we had agreed that our collective approach to the tweeting should be broadly consistent, and that Raskolnikov should only tweet what would be practically possible (that is, he would not be able to tweet during a conversation, for instance), the extraordinary man theory is so central to the Crime and Punishment’s ideological structure that it seemed important to include it in our Twitter translation of the novel. Raskolnikov’s idea that extraordinary men can “step over” the law for the sake of a great idea is key to his process of self-realization, and there was no question in my mind that it had to be tweeted in order to give ideological and philosophical coherence to our project. In this scene Raskolnikov’s tweets reflect his dialogue with Porfiry; he is presenting his ideas for a second time in the Twitter mode after they have been recited back to him by Porfiry with a new intonation. In the delirium scene at the end of Part III, it begins to dawn on Raskolnikov how far he has fallen short from the goal he set himself, how miserably his own squalid crime compares to the crimes of his hero Napoleon. Here I found that hashtags, one of the basic units of the Twitter toolkit, served to express his self-disgust quite appropriately in shorthand; I particularly liked #napoleoncomplex, #epicfail, and #lousenotnapoleon.

Our #CP150 Twitter project gave me a fresh perspective on Dostoevsky’s novel. The combination of the three modes of Twitter translation reminded me of the extraordinary complexity of Crime and Punishment’s narrative structure; I found myself constantly jumping between my three tasks as the narrative perspective moved in and out of Raskolnikov’s consciousness. It also revealed how much gets lost if we translate the novel entirely into Raskolnikov’s point of view and suggests some of the reasons why Dostoevsky may have rejected his original idea for first person narration in favor of a third person narrator. Here we lose Razumikhin as a moral counterweight to Raskolnikov, never guess at his burgeoning feelings for Dunya, and bypass Dunya and Pulkheria Alexandrovna’s response to their sudden meeting with Sonya. We are trapped instead in Raskolnikov’s monomania. While we trace the vacillations of his self-deception and self-revelation, those psychological developments are never embedded into a broader moral or social context. Followers of @Rodiontweets will find themselves trapped in Raskolnikov’s perspective with no narrative respite. In this format the novel’s psychological claims emerge more clearly than its moral or ideological ones. In our Western cultural context this is perhaps quite appropriate, since the novel is best known for its psychological portrait of a criminal which influenced philosophers, writers and film directors from Nietzsche and Freud to Hitchcock and Cronenberg, rather than its moral and spiritual redemption narrative.

This is part 3 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 2, or here to go on to Part 4. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

To learn more about the manuscript doodles pictured here, read the article on Open Culture here: Dostoevsky Draws Doodles. These images are borrowed from that post.

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

On Tweeting Part Two of Crime and Punishment

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by Sarah J. Young

Sarah J. Young is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. Her book, Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ and the Ethical Foundations of Narrative: Reading, Narrating, Scripting, was published in 2004. She blogs about her research on www.sarahjyoung.com and tweets on @Russianist.

One thing that interests me is how digital technologies broaden the possibilities of what we can do as humanities scholars. My first foray into the digital, Mapping St Petersburg, used Google Maps to start exploring the interaction of text and city, and the ways in which the city’s spaces are incorporated into and transformed by its literary tradition. The results of that project, a set of interactive maps that enable us to interrogate the geographical dimensions of the ‘Petersburg text’, offer new perspectives that I have found very useful in rethinking the texts, and it has become a very useful teaching tool that enables students to engage with the text in new ways.

It’s no coincidence that we began Mapping St Petersburg with the same novel that we are now tweeting. The spatial and temporal specificity that enabled us to map Crime and Punishment so precisely – the extent to which it participates in and represents the real world of St Petersburg in 1865 – is one thing that makes it amenable to tweeting. But more than that, the novel’s very complexity and multi-layered nature invites us to break it down in different ways and construct new readings out of that process of granularization. This is in essence what we have always done as literary scholars, as interpretation inevitably involves selection (and therefore also exclusion) of material from the text.


A screenshot from Sarah’s “Mapping St Petersburg” project; this is a map of Part II of the novel. See Mapping Dostoevsky for maps of various aspects of Crime and Punishment.

Perhaps the main difference with projects like @RodionTweets and Mapping St Petersburg (in part because of their public nature) is that they force us towards completeness and to following our reading to its logical limit. While we may be concentrating only on one aspect of the text, we cannot lay aside any of the difficulties or contradictions that aspect may entail. I think we seldom have to be so consistent or thorough when it comes to traditional forms of interpretation (the advantage of the machine reading of Dostoevsky I’ve also recently embarked upon is similarly the complete overview it offers). The result of that process, for me, has been closer readings than I have ever done before, and these have revealed all sorts of details that I have never previously noticed. So it is perhaps not so much that these digital projects have allowed us to do something we couldn’t do before, rather that they have given us access to an augmented version of what we have previously done.

Writing this a few days before the tweeting of the present time of Crime and Punishment begins, I’m interested in the results as much as a reader of the novel as in my role as one of the participants in the project. As a reader, I wonder what impression the tweets will give of the text as a whole, and what new insights they will offer. Already from the tweets we have seen from the novel’s pre-history, I’m struck by how easily they fit into my timeline and become part of the echo-chamber (which gives me a certain insight into the accounts I follow), and the identification we (mainly the participants in the project) have been experiencing with Raskolnikov, as his problems seem not so very remote to our own:




Raskolnikov reacts to Brexit?

As a participant, I wonder how my interpretation of Raskolnikov’s perception of events will differ from my colleagues’ when we see the tweets in situ. One thing I’ll be particularly interested in – which I really struggled with, and to which I’m only now, in retrospect, beginning to find an answer – is how the tweets deal with the other characters. We tend to think of Crime and Punishment as focusing solely on Raskolnikov, and to a great extent so it does. But for all his introspection, for large parts of the novel he interacts with others and in the first couple of parts at least he is very alive to the world around him on the streets of Petersburg. These elements of necessity appear in a more passive role than they play in the novel itself – still present, and perhaps with even more intensity, within Raskolnikov’s internal dialogue, to be sure, but their external part in that dialogue is removed, or at least refracted through Raskolnikov’s lens (I’m particularly looking forward to Marmeladov’s funeral from that point of view – and to what Jennifer Wilson has to say about writing the tweets for that part of the novel). That refraction undoubtedly provides a concentrated view of Raskolnikov’s perspective and thoughts about how he experiences the events of the novel, which in itself has the potential to reveal new and unexpected questions. But at the same time, twitter is an interactive platform, and while we can reply to @RodionTweets or incorporate his tweets into our own, Raskolnikov himself cannot interact in the same way either with other characters in the novel, or with the reading audience. I wonder in retrospect what it would look like if he could.

One of the questions we asked ourselves was: how would Raskolnikov use Twitter? The general consensus – with which I agreed – was that he probably wouldn’t tweet during conversations, but would give his thoughts on them after the event. Yet now (and I emphasize that this is several weeks after I completed the tweets for Part II and have had time to reflect on them), I can’t help thinking that some of those interactions could (would?) have been configured quite differently. For example, I can envisage Raskolnikov’s conversation with Zametov in the Crystal Palace tavern – one of the oddest scenes in the novel in terms of Raskolnikov’s behaviour towards another character and in the language he uses – being turned into an epic trolling session. I can see Porfiry doing the same later on. And if @RodionTweets’ followers replied to him, how would he respond? Perhaps that’s going too far in rewriting the novel (and indeed, would have turned this whole project into something quite different, on perhaps an unmanageably large scale), but such thought experiments can be helpful in our endless interrogation and reinterrogation of Dostoevsky’s characters, their relationships to each other, and our relationship to them. As with so many of readings of literature, I find that looking at what is not included is often as revealing as what is there.

This is Part 2 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 1 or here to go on to Part 3. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

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

On Tweeting Part One of Crime and Punishment

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by Sarah Hudspith

Sarah Hudspith is an Associate Professor in Russian at the University of Leeds. Her book, Dostoevsky and the Idea of Russianness, was published in 2004. She is co-director of the Leeds Russian Centre and manages Dostoevsky Now, a public engagement project for exploring Dostoevsky in the world today through events, discussion and online resources. She tweets on @SarahHudspith.

When Katia Bowers first approached me to take part in the #CP150 Twitter project, I was very excited. As an undergraduate student, my first experience of Dostoevsky had been Crime and Punishment: it was an experience that began a life-long love affair, but it also put paid to a hidden dream – to write fiction myself. For how could I possibly write a novel that would ever come close to Dostoevsky’s? Now, I was being offered the chance to (re)write a part of that very novel myself, to put myself almost into Dostoevsky’s shoes and to experience the creation of a new kind of Raskolnikov. How could I refuse?

When I learned that the parts of the novel would be divided between the contributors, I also knew straight away which part I wanted to cover: the first part, in which the murder takes place. On the one hand it was quite a daunting responsibility to draw out of the text (in Oliver Ready’s masterful translation) the voice needed to attract followers to the beginning of the story. But on the other hand, I felt that Part One presented the most fascinating challenges that might have a contemporary relevance: how might a murderer use social media to reflect on his/her crime, in the run-up to it and its immediate aftermath? We live in an age where many people feel compelled to broadcast their lives online, to create a narrative of themselves which can become more real than the intimate, offline self. Raskolnikov is a character searching for an identity for himself: is he an intellectual, a philanthropist, a pioneer of a new morality, a sensualist, a beloved son and brother, a criminal? What parallels could be drawn between his anguished self-seeking, when put into the context of a Twitter account, and the contemporary mediation of personal identity? Further, social media are increasingly platforms for the propagation of ideologies and their distillation into ever more extreme forms, indeed are sadly the venue for publicising horrific crimes in the name of a so-called ‘new word’. The idea of a Twitter account for Raskolnikov presented intriguing issues around the interface between public and private and brought them into clearer focus for me.


Decoration of Dostoevskaya Metro station in Moscow

The public/private question arose quite quickly when considering how much @RodionTweets should say about the murder, assuming a natural desire not to be found out, which is (despite moments to the contrary) Raskolnikov’s attitude in the novel. I reflected on how much of Part One Raskolnikov spends wandering the streets of St Petersburg, talking aloud to himself, seemingly unconcerned or at least oblivious as to whether he is overheard, and I felt this could be equated to the contemporary tendency to ‘talk’ to social media, almost forgetting its very public nature. So for me, Twitter became the medium via which I imagined Raskolnikov talking ‘aloud’ to himself, and it became natural to tweet, for example, Raskolnikov’s full realisation of the ugly horror of his intention: “God! Will I really actually take an #axe, start bashing her on the head, smash her skull to pieces? Will I really slip in sticky warm blood?” Although Raskolnikov asks himself these kinds of questions, openly and unguardedly away from the privacy of his garret room, it is not tantamount to a public confession, an admission of the responsibility for taking human life. That comes much later.

Allied to this question was the problem of spoilers. One aim of the project is to bring new readers to Dostoevsky; how much should we give away? Dostoevsky originally conceived of Crime and Punishment as written in the first person, but eventually switched to a third person narration which allowed him greater control over the development and revelation of Raskolnikov as a character, contextualising his thoughts with flashbacks and memories. A Twitter account, on the other hand, is as relentlessly linear as real life lived minute by minute. But I reasoned that since first-time readers of the novel would experience it as a ‘why-dunnit’ rather than a ‘who-dunnit’, knowing all along that Raskolnikov was the murderer, then the Twitter account should be the same.

In a sense, the project has created the first person version of the text that Dostoevsky ultimately rejected, and this meant that we would lose those parts of the text governed by the impersonal third person narrator, namely when Raskolnikov is acting, rather than simply thinking or talking to himself. One challenge was whether to fill those gaps, and how to do so. I was wary of straying from the text, and I was mindful of the brief to think about when Raskolnikov might realistically be tweeting: for example, he would not be tweeting whilst in conversation with Razumikhin, but might tweet his thoughts about the conversation after the fact. Nevertheless, there were times when I felt there would be a loss of suspense, particularly during Raskolnikov’s frantic last-minute preparations for the murder, if @RodionTweets went silent. The prospect of being able to put words into Raskolnikov’s mouth was thrilling, but those words had to be chosen carefully to fit with the tweets based more closely on the text. Thus, I considered it plausible for @RodionTweets to beg the ether: “Where can I get an #axe at this time of day!”

The use of hashtags was encouraged, and though this might seem the most anachronistic aspect of the conceit of translating a 19th-Century character into a 21st-Century medium, I found that it helped to highlight an important part of Dostoevsky’s conception for Raskolnikov. At the earliest stages of envisaging the novel, he described in a letter to the editor Katkov his plan to write a story about a young man falling under the influence of “strange, ‘unfinished’ ideas afloat in the atmosphere” and committing a murder. I saw that the use of hashtags created a certain emphasis when added to words, and I felt that this would nicely suggest ideas and concepts afloat in the Twittersphere that were preying on Raskolnikov’s mind, even at an unconscious level. In this way, I could highlight the obvious #crime, but also #soul, #sacrifice, #fate and even #deadbody, adding a possibility of a double reading to the exclamation “Over my #deadbody!”

It has been tremendously rewarding to take part in this collaborative project. I did not expect at first that to do so would generate fresh perspectives on the novel, and I have been very satisfied at the way it has enhanced my understanding of the text. I look forward to the insights that will arise from the tweets pertaining to the remaining parts of the novel, and I hope that readers and Twitter followers will find it equally engaging.

This is Part 1 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 go on to Part 2. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

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

Introducing @RodionTweets: Translating Raskolnikov into 140 Characters or Less

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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. She tweets about Russian writers and other interesting things on the account @kab3d.

One hot July 7 evening, a young man left his rented room to practice walking aC&P-Ras murder route. This took place in the pages of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866). But this July 7, Twitter will witness another young man–or the same young man–leaving his room to trace a murder route. You can follow his adventures on the Twitter account @RodionTweets, which will begin tweeting the events of Crime and Punishment from Raskolnikov’s perspective on Thursday.

Tweeting Raskolnikov is no easy task. The account was the brainchild of Brian Armstrong and me, and has come together through the efforts of a crack team of intrepid and creative tweet miners: Brian, me, and also Sarah Hudspith, Sarah J. Young, Kate Holland, and Jennifer L. Wilson. Our ace Project Assistant, Kristina McGuirk, has done valiant editorial work, creating a single, cohesive, and (we hope) Dostoevskian voice in Twitter from disparate tweet mining styles. This project builds on the skills Brian, Kristina, and I learned while creating @YakovGolyadkin‘s voice during #TheDoubleEvent last November.


@RodionTweets in action!

The task of “translating” Raskolnikov’s voice into 140-character-or-less text snippets has sparked a number of fascinating conversations. They include whether it makes sense to “live tweet” the murder (#murdererproblems), what form of social media would Raskolnikov prefer (Snapchat, as the evidence disappears?), which animated gif best expresses the trauma of witnessing a horse beating in a dream, and, among others, the quintessential #dostoevskyproblem: how do you live tweet 3 days of delirious wandering? These questions and their answers have diverted us throughout the process of creating @RodionTweets, and so, throughout the month of July, as the various parts of the book are twitterified and published, each participant will write a blog post on one intriguing facet of his/her @RodionTweets experience. Stay tuned!


#delirium strikes even the most intrepid!


Oliver Ready’s new translation!

The @RodionTweets Team would like to thank Penguin Books US for giving us permission to use Oliver Ready’s wonderful new translation of Crime and Punishment as a source text for our project. We are also grateful to those who allowed us to use their images to illustrate the project, including Naftali Rakuzin, Scott Lindberg, and Sarah J. Young. For a full list of acknowledgments, click here.

@RodionTweets is part of a larger celebration of the 150th anniversary of Crime and Punishment taking place this summer and fall. Events include a summer reading group hosted by the North American Dostoevsky Society on Facebook (you can join them! they are starting Part 2 of the novel today!); an August Twitter novel adaptation film festival; library exhibits taking place in Toronto, Cambridge, and online; a series of blog posts forthcoming on The Bloggers Karamazov from Dostoevsky experts reflecting on different aspects of the novel; a panel on translation and language in Crime and Punishment at the University of Bristol in October; and a conference and film screening at the University of British Columbia in October.

The project “Crime and Punishment at 150″ is organized by Kate Holland and myself, and supported with funding from the North American Dostoevsky Society, the CENES Department at the University of British Columbia, Green College, UBC, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project also collaborates with a number of other partners, including the Petro Jacyk Central & East European Resource Centre at the University of Toronto, the Cambridge University Library, the Department of Russian at the University of Bristol, the Dostoevsky Now initiative at the University of Leeds, the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies 19th-century Study Group, and Apocalypse Films.

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the creative twitter project @RodionTweets. The next blog post, on Part One, can be found here

Crime & Punishment at 150 wins SSHRC Connection Grant

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Katherine Bowers (British Columbia) and Kate Holland (Toronto), together with a team of collaborators including Carol Apollonio (Duke), Brian Armstrong (Augusta), Mel Bach (Cambridge), Connor Doak (Bristol), and Ksenya Kiebuzinski (Toronto), have been awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Connection Grant for the conference and outreach program “Crime and Punishment at 150.” The program will celebrate 150 years of Dostoevsky’s novel with a series of events, both on location and online. These will include library exhibits at the Universities of Toronto and Cambridge, and online; a panel discussion at the University of Bristol; a conference at the University of British Columbia; a Twitter project @RodionTweets; and more. Stay tuned for more details coming soon!

If you are interested in attending and presenting at the Vancouver conference, the Call for Papers is online. Abstracts are still being accepted until May 15.

Congratulations to Katia, Kate, and their team!

Call for Papers: Crime and Punishment at 150

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Call for Papers: Crime and Punishment at 150”

University of British Columbia, Vancouver

October 20-22, 2016

The publication of Crime and Punishment in 1866 was a watershed moment in the history of nineteenth-century Russian literature. Dostoevsky’s novel perennially hovers near the top of lists of “Best Books of All Time.” Harold Bloom summed up the work’s enduring mastery and appeal, observing that, “Crime and Punishment remains the best of all murder stories, a century and a third after its publication. We have to read it — though it is harrowing — because, like Shakespeare, it alters our consciousness.” In the twenty first century, media and technology advances have transformed the reading experience and the ways readers relate to texts. Most students in literature classrooms are now digital natives, many reading on e-devices, some even on smart phones. In the age of the “spoiler alert” our reading experience seems to have changed beyond all recognition, yet in some ways the possibilities of new reading communities opened up by social media allow us to replicate the kinds of institutional communities which arose around nineteenth-century Russian periodicals. Rethinking the ways in which we contextualize, teach, and interpret Dostoevsky’s novel will help make it more accessible to a new generation of readers. 

Crime and Punishment at 150” will celebrate the novel’s sesquicentenary by bringing together teachers, scholars, students, translators, artists, and readers to discuss Dostoevsky in the digital age. The conference will include a keynote by Carol Apollonio, a screening of the new film Crime and Punishment (Apocalypse Films, 2015) with post-film discussion with its director, Andrew O’Keefe, and a video conference with a linked Crime and Punishment panel at the University of Bristol, among other events. Confirmed participants include Brian Armstrong, Elena Baraban, Alexander Burry, Deborah Martinsen, Louise McReynolds, Robin Feuer Miller, Megan Swift, and William Mills Todd, III.

We invite abstracts of 300 words on topics related to Crime and Punishment in the classroom or digital humanities/new media approaches to Crime and Punishment.  Possible topics include:

       reading Dostoevsky with students in 2016

       digital humanities-based research on Dostoevsky and/or Crime and Punishment

       digital or new media approaches to the novel in the classroom

       new approaches to teaching an old book

       public engagement initiatives (book club readings, online readings, Twitter projects)

       teaching the novel in different contexts (a survey course, a Dostoevsky course, across disciplines)

       the challenges and successes of teaching the novel in the context of decreasing enrolments and increasing departmental pressures

We also encourage students to submit abstracts and we plan to feature several panels showcasing undergraduate and graduate student research. We welcome 300 word abstracts for papers on Crime and Punishment from undergraduate and graduate students, particularly those that explore new ways of reading the novel through the lens of new media or against the backdrop of contemporary issues and experiences.

Please submit 300 word abstracts with a 1 page cv to candpat150@gmail.com by May 15, 2016. 

This event is co-organized by Katherine Bowers and Kate Holland, and supported by the Department of Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies (UBC), Green College (UBC), and the North American Dostoevsky Society.

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