Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Matter of Faith

It's been awhile.  I haven't forgotten about this blog, just focused on other topics the past month.  I had started reading Rowan Williams' book on Dostoevsky and the matter of faith in his novels.  It is quite good, as Williams offers his interpretations of how Fyodor addressed the subject, drawing from Dostoevsky's own notes on the books, which are available in print.  Williams also heavily references Bakhtin, who wrote a study on Dostoevsky's poetics, which is also available in print.

From the accounts I've read, Dostoevsky was very faithful to his Orthodox religion.  Perhaps the most explicit of his novels is The Devils where one of his characters categorically states that there is no Pan-Slavism without religion.  This is what unites the Russian people.  Dostoevsky was always quite harsh on the budding socialist movement in the country and the nihilism so often expressed in the youth.  He even poked fun at other author's literary characters like Turgenev's Bazarov, from Fathers and Sons.  I think this is probably the reason Nabokov had so much antipathy toward Dostoevsky.

Williams draws heavily from Brothers Karamazov, perhaps Dostoevsky's most comprehensive novel on the meaning of faith, told from a multiplicity of angels, not just the three brothers.  Some critics have viewed Dostoevsky as a "Doubting Thomas" especially in the way he presents Alyosha in the novel, but Williams points to key moments where Alyosha's faith trumps older brother Ivan's reason.  Williams himself noted that Dostoevsky stated several times in his journals that if he were to choose between faith or reason, he would choose faith.  But, Williams doesn't see faith and reason as mutually exclusive.

Of course, one would expect this from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, but Williams relies heavily on scholarship in presenting his study of Dostoevsky, making his book a most welcome addition to the Dostoevsky library.

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