Wednesday, June 06, 2007

May: Crime and Punishment

With all the exciting things going on lately, I haven't posted on my May reading yet. It proves increasingly difficult to adequately discuss my initial impressions of a book as time goes on and it is no longer as fresh in my mind and I've moved on to the next book. But regardless, here goes...

Most of May was spent reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. It is a rather hefty book but such a great read. Rich with philosophical and psychological dimensions, I was deeply engaged in the evolving psyche of the main character, Raskolnikov. Because the book is written in the third person omniscient, the aspects of psyche are made particularly profound.

What struck me most within this novel was Raskolnikov's consideration of ordinary people vs. the extraordinary people in society:

"In short, I argued that all people- not only the great, but even those who deviate only marginally from the common rut, that's to say who are only marginally capable of saying something new, are bound, by their very nature, to be criminals- to a greater or lesser degree, of course. Otherwise they would find it hard to get out of the rut, and it goes without saying that, again because of their nature, they could not possibly agree to remain in it, and indeed, in my view, they have a positive duty not to agree to remain in it.... That idea consists in the notion that, by the law of their nature, human beings in general may be divided into two categories: a lower one (that of the ordinary), that is to say raw material which serves exclusively to bring into being more like itself, and another group of people who possess a gift or a talent for saying something new, in their own milieu. There are within these categories infinite subdivisions, of course, but the distinguishing features of each are quite clearly marked: the people of the first category, the raw material, that is, are in general conservative by nature, sedate, live lives of obedience and like to be obeyed. In my view, they have a duty to be obedient, as that is their function, and there is really nothing about this that is degrading to them. The second category all break the law, are destroyers, or have a tendency that way, depending on their abilities. The crimes of these people are, of course, relative and multifarious; for the most part what they are demanding, in highly varied forms, is the destruction of the present reality in the name of one that is better." (Part III, Chapter V)

Raskolnikov's discussion goes on for a few pages but that particular portion really struck me and continues to linger in my thoughts. I've so often felt that distinction among members of society...not specifically in Raskolnikov's terms as "ordinary" and "criminal," but that general sense of those who obey and steadfastly (whether consciously or subconsciously) maintain the status quo and those who resist and challenge the status quo. Interestingly, it seems that the former group often suppresses the latter's efforts and truly do label them as "criminals." Hence, opposers of the war in Iraq get labeled as "anti-American." I've always felt like the criminal/extraordinary. And in saying that, I truly do not attempt to assert a superiority whatsoever. As Dostoyevsky articulates through Raskolnikov, in the nature of the ordinary, "there is really nothing about this that is degrading to them." There is a sense of duty in many of the "ordinary" members of society. I think religion does much to perpetuate the "ordinary" group and maintain the status quo. But that is a huge topic of discussion I will get into some other time.

Profound reading.

5 comments:

carra said...

Funny enough if I remember right I read this book just couple ofyears ago, and it was heavy, complicated but brainstorming.
I am dreaming ofreading it in Russian oneday. GReat choice B.

Richard said...

I think there is an inherent tendency in humans to at least suspect, if not outright reject those who are different.

I agree the word criminal is perhaps not quite right. I think deviant would be better.

I think the feeling of being different / apart from everyone else is fairly universal. I think most people see themselves somehow isolated or outside the normal group. It is pretty rare to find someone who will claim they are simply a sheep who gleefully follows the crowd. Most people will say the make their own choices and decisions without influence from others.

I once read somewhere that about 10% of people are good, 10% are bad and the remaining 80% are followers who simply go with whichever 10% seem to have the power.

I often find myself feeling totally divorced form people. I seem to only connect on the verbal level, there seems to be deeper levels of communication that people use, but I am not plugged into them. I have never felt part of a crowd. I find crowds quite unfathomable because I don’t understand what is driving them.

b said...

carra...you know, i started reading this book years ago when i was working in the corporate world as an assistant buyer. i remember sitting and reading it on my lunch break and i admittedly abandoned it altogether after only about 50 or so pages. so, it was gratifying to pick it up and work through it at this point in my life. and undoubtedly, i appreciated it so much more now. it isn't difficult to read necessarily but it is dense in its own psychological/philosophical way, isn't it? and so thought provoking and rewarding.

this work has definitely inspired me to go out and pursue other russian authors. ahhh....more books to add to my shelves! :)

richard...i struggle with the degree to which humans reject that which is different based on an inherent tendency. but i know that research on animals and humans suggests that there is some inherent tendency. but if there is, i believe it is overwhelmingly developed through experience.

absolutely, i believe we all feel special/unique. and rightly so, as we are. and i too don't believe that anyone so willingly wishes to admit to blindly following the crowd. people want to feel justified in their beliefs, even if their justification is seriously wanting.

that is an interesting statistic. i wish i could laugh it off but as i think of the people i know and the experiences of my life, it doesn't seem so far fetched. however, i will say (and we've discussed this in various forms in our comments with one another) that i think all people possess goodness/capacity to be good.

i absolutely relate to communicating highly at the verbal level, particularly in written form. i don't talk excessively or express myself as thoroughly in conversation, but when i sit down and write/type...it suits me. that fact has likely been a considerable demise to some of my relationships, as i often feel out of touch when someone doesn't connect with me on that verbal level.

that's interesting that you feel "totally divorced from people." why do you think that is? you know, for as independent as i assert myself to be, i am big on anonymity. but instead of feeling divorced from people, as you do, i feel a tremendously strong connection to humans on that basic level and always have. but interestingly, i don't hang out with my neighbors or have many relationships, etc.

it is really interesting, isn't it, these characteristics of ours and how we perceive? thanks for a very thought-provoking start to my friday morning!

Manifesting Jack said...

That quote rocks.

I agree with the word criminal completely - you have to break laws and rules to leave the matrix, which is what dostoyevsky is on about here...

These laws are designed to keep us in the matrix...

Ignore them and you arrive at 'anything is possible'.

Just don't hurt anyone along the way.

MJ

b said...

mj...for me, "criminal" is just too loaded with negative connotation in society, just as the term "terrorist" has become.

but yes, the idea is right on. laws truly do work to maintain the ideals of those in power/control. we do have to commit "crimes" to escape that matrix. but no, i don't believe hurting people is necessarily justifiable. however, i appreciate dostoyevsky's purpose here in having raskolnikov commit a murder. it shows the extreme of that mentality and really, dostoyevsky does an amazing job at justifying that act of murder when compared to the many acts of murder (namely, war) committed by those who write and defend "laws."