Dostoevsky's "Demons" Dethpakt - The Beginning

DDDP Day -1, Page 0
My interfriends and I like to fancy ourselves literary types, so on occasion we challenge one another to read a classic, "difficult" work of literature. Last time around, about six months ago, it was Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. I opted out of that particular dethpakt since I had A: already read the book and B: just begun reading Pynchon's later novel Mason & Dixon. If I recall correctly, the GRDP, as it was known, saw a completion rate under 50%.

"What will we read next?" came the query several days ago. Things were suggested, James Joyce rejected. Then Ellen, our resident Library Scientist, submitted Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Demons for consideration and lo, agreements were made. The pakt begins November 1.

The basic rules are: read the book or die in the attempt, and write about your progress somewhere on the interblog. The idea is to finish within a month, but as there is no system of enforcement beyond ridicule and no prize to be had other than satisfaction and cultural stimulation (and perhaps some feelings of superiority), well, just read the thing. If you want. Or don't. Or DIE.

I'll be posting regular updates on my progress-thus-far and thoughts about the book here in this very space. These and other dethpakters' musings are being aggregated at dethpakt.bangmoney.org for convenience and posterity.

DDDP Day 0, pgs. vii-xxvii
On my commute today I thought I'd get somewhat acquainted with the book by reading the foreword and translator's note. The edition I'm reading is the Vintage Classics pressing from 1995, translated by husband and wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which is widely considered to be the authoritative version.

In the foreword Pevear provides a rough outline of the novel, summarizes the themes involved, draws brief sketches of the main characters and ruminates on the meaning of the title (which had originally been translated as The Possessed... in fact, the Wikipedia entry for Demons is still filed under this title). Pevear explains that the eponymous demons are the "foreign ideas" of liberalism, socialism, nihilism, anarchism, existentialism, etc., that have possessed the revolutionary characters in the novel and driven them to commit terrible deeds against themselves and others. Dostoevsky, Pevear elucidates, was, by the time he wrote this novel, very much committed to the Slavophil way of thinking; that of respect for God (in the guise of the Russian Orthodox Church) and Mother Russia. This, despite (or because of) Dostoevsky's mock-execution and decade-long imprisonment at the will of the Tsar due to revolutionary activity in the 1840s.

Pevear seems himself convinced that these demons are responsible for many of the horrors of the twentieth century, laying, for example, the atrocities of Stalin at the feet of Communist ideology rather than the despotism of Stalin's regime (perhaps the two are inseparable in his mind... one wonders if he blames the current atrocities in Iraq on Capitalism, or the current regime in Washington, D.C.). Whether these are his actual opinions or merely his defense of Dostoevsky is not clear to me at this time. As someone with sympathy to the "radical left" mode of thought I'm curious to see what I think of Dostoevsky's take on the virulence of these particular memes.

Onward, my droogs.

No comments: