“Reason is a scoundrel, stupidity is direct and honest.”

Since I posted last week about miracles, I wanted to note a few more times they came up in Part II. First, Madame Khokhlakov, the “lady of little faith” from the audience with Zosima, tells Alexei about how the elder’s prophecy from the day before came true, “even literally, and even more than that.” Not only did the old lady receive word that her son was well, she found out he would be coming home in just three weeks. Madame Khokhlakov is insistent that the miracle “must be made known to everyone, everyone!” When Father Paissy hears of the miracle, he wants to keep quiet about it “until we have more confirmation, for there is much frivolousness among people in the world, and this incident also may have taken place naturally.” But the narrator notes that he does not really believe “in his own reservation.” It’s as though even in front of his brothers Father Paissy wants to appear to be an unbelieving realist, just on the outside, just for a moment, but the faith that causes him to believe in the miracle can’t quite allow it.

The other example comes from Ivan, at the end of his “getting acquainted” with Alexei. The so-called rationalist or atheist tells his younger brother:

[L]et this [eternal harmony and forgiveness], let all of this come true and be revealed, but I do not accept it and do not want to accept it! Let the parallel lines even meet before my own eyes: I shall look and say, yes, they meet, and still I will not accept it. That is my essence, Alyosha, that is my thesis.

Here Ivan proves himself not to be the unbelieving realist who the narrator says “will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact.” Ivan does not doubt his senses or refuse to admit what he sees, no matter how outrageous. If parallel lines meet, he will admit it—but he won’t accept it. Yesterday in her comments section Bellezza described Ivan as “so cerebral”, as opposed to “emotional based.” In fact it is this habit of Ivan’s, of admitting things and refusing to “accept” them, that makes him strike me as unreasonable, irrational, and emotional. What can it even mean, “I admit it, but I don’t accept it,” other than an expression of anger, or fear, or what have you? And this, to me, so far at least, is the essence of Ivan’s character.

I suggested the other night a trilemma of “confused, unimaginative, or malicious” to explain Dostoevsky’s representation of Ivan. My uncharitable reading is malicious: Ivan would look Dostoevsky’s kingdom of heaven on earth straight on and say, “I admit it, but I do not accept it!” Men like him are the recalcitrant middle children of Russia who simply won’t say yes to the eternal harmony of brotherhood and have to make everyone so uncomfortable and unhappy in the process.

4 comments to “Reason is a scoundrel, stupidity is direct and honest.”

  • “Men like him are the recalcitrant middle children of Russia who simply won’t say yes to the eternal harmony of brotherhood and have to make everyone so uncomfortable and unhappy in the process.”

    So love that sentence! But feel for Ivan too. His emotions embrace what his intellect cannot tolerate. This can’t be good for him. Middle ground is roughly equivalent to belonging nowhere. His extreme loneliness is apparent.

  • Works the other way, too, doesn’t it:

    Dosteovsky would look Ivan’s (argument or parable or whatever) straight on and say, “I admit it, but I do not accept it!”

  • nicole

    Frances—agreed. But I think Dostoevsky often puts his characters in such an overly difficult middle ground, where they are basically in crisis mode all the time, that their emotions end up seeming out of control to me. A calm voice in my head keeps saying, Vulcan-style, “You must learn to control your emotions.”

    AR—yes, for sure. And Dostoevsky is definitely emotion-based, for me.

  • Have been enjoying your musings (and the others’) on Dostoevsky’s narratorial strategies, Nicole. Am particularly intrigued by the cerebral/emotional divide so well symbolized by the diff. ways Belleza and you perceive Ivan, though I’m not sure I’d have the patience to sort through such “messy” characterizations myself this month with the other things I have on my plate. Perhaps another time, to be sure, but thanks for the warning in the meantime!

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