Crime and Punishment - Part 2

#179: Oct. - Dec. 2021 (Fiction)
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Chris OConnor
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Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Please use this thread to discuss Part 2 of Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
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Robert Tulip
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Having just murdered two innocent old women in cold blood, Raskolnikov is feeling rather paranoid. Considering that it is rather likely the police will be out to get him, his paranoia seems understandable. Such a gruesome massacre of the innocent is the sort of abominable wickedness that becomes the talk of the town.

Speaking of massacre of the innocent, the most famous example is King Herod’s murder of all the baby boys of Bethlehem, a heinous event that somehow escaped the notice of all historians until it was brought to light a century later by Saint Matthew, in text with intriguing resonance to the story of the Passover murder of the Israelite children in Egypt. But I digress.

Thick drops of congealed blood clung to the frayed edge of his trousers, the only trace he could detect of the crime. These were rapidly removed. But how to hide the trinkets he stole?

Like Lady Macbeth trying to remove the blood stains from her hands, with the infamous line ‘out out damned spot’, Raskolnikov is consumed by his guilt, unable to escape the overwhelming psychological dawning of the psychopathic depths of his deed.

Having cut up the ridiculous noose he used to conceal the axe, his shivering delirium dwells on whether the pieces of torn linen could become evidence. The insane absurdity is that far more egregious signs of his guilt are likely to emerge.

Suffering the punishment of conscience, R finds more and more traces of blood, some possibly imaginary. His delirium reminds me of a famous 1948 short story by Ray Bradbury, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl, in which a murderer becomes so psychologically consumed with removing possible and even impossible fingerprints that he forgets to escape the scene of the crime. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fruit ... f_the_Bowl

And then in the midst of all this he receives a summons to attend the police station.
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Harry Marks
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I found myself back in a quandary with this part. Is Raskolnikov a daring Napoleonic experimenter in transcending moral constraints? Or is he just a fevered madman, chasing his own delirious thoughts around in circles? It seemed to me in this part that Dostoevsky was taking a position and tipping his hand, so to speak. R's conscience is indeed weighing on him, and preventing him from fulfilling his glorious destiny as a man above all convention and above mass morality. He doesn't find himself flooded with unexpected remorse (though the murder of the unintended second victim will come to feel more and more like an actual moral transgression - sorry about the spoiler) but his connections to other people cause him to care about being caught, and not only for the punishment that might follow.

I am coming to the opinion that Dostoevsky had attached himself to a thought experiment, one that he might have considered for himself quite seriously. What if a person of skeptical and self-regarding views (like himself, to an extent) came to contemplate committing "the perfect crime" just because he was above ordinary morality? He lived in an age when it was possible to feel quite daring for judging the hypocrisy and shallow moral views of "polite society" and, like other characters in Russian literature, (I am thinking of Turgenev, in particular) R crosses the line into setting himself up as sole judge of what is worthy and noble and just. And I think Dostoevsky is moving toward acknowledging the absurdity of contemplating such a sovereign individual, who could somehow exist outside the values and longings of the rest of society. Having "tried" it, he concludes it was a delusion.
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Harry Marks
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So, some answers to my questions are here.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/10/book ... ngham.html

(Sorry if it has a paywall). A new book is out (The Sinner and the Saint, by Kevin Birmingham) arguing that Dostoyevsky had run across a description of a murder trial of a poet-murderer, Pierre-Francois Lacenaire, and found it intriguing enough that he based his masterful novel on it. The author argues that Dostoyevsky began exploring the power, and pathetic failings, of ideas. Interestingly, "Raskol" means split or schism, so Raskolnikov is a sort of schizophrenic (one might say schizoid, but the meaning I learned for that in the 70s is apparently not the meaning in use today.)

Dostoyevsky also drew on the characters of actual murderers he met during his years exiled to Siberia. So a mere "thought experiment" is a totally inadequate way to express what was at work in D's mind as he composed this enigmatic and enthralling work. This helps me to understand why he had several tracks going at once in his exploration of the collision between morality, nobility of spirit and aspirations of transcendent individual autonomy. He has some fascinating characters woven into the story, but never seems to try to make a coherent system of understanding them.

All the effort I put into trying to discern one, and it is evidently not there. I feel like the guy who sees the tiger, peering into the forest, but no tiger actually ever actually materializes. I had this experience with the other story I have read by Dostoyevsky, "The Brothers Karamazov." I kept expecting him to pull the threads together into a coherent perspective, but the end result is what the Grand Inquisitor tries to ward off, which is the responsibility of each reader to "make of it what he or she can".
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Robert Tulip
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Picking up from the summons to the police station, we find R in a state of fevered delirium, clutching the pieces of evidence of his guilt, the shreds of his bloodstained clothing, as if singing out like the voices of the fates. His initial fear is that the summons is to answer a charge of murder. His existential dilemma, to be or not to be, degenerates into manic behaviour, pulling his bloody sock on and off, veering from humour to despair, from confidence to paranoia, consumed by what Dostoyevsky calls the cynicism of misery. Walking past the murder house, R contemplates confession.

At the police station, we find yet another of these sociological vignettes describing Russian city life. Dostoyevsky shows his remarkable deft ability to draw characters with just a few well chosen terms. The buxom lady has a smile that is at once cringing, uneasy and impudent, a classic description of how people react to officialdom. The assistant superintendent is flummoxed by how R’s bearing does not match his slovenly dress, as though R is a weird mix of noble and peasant. “What do you want?” he shouted, apparently astonished that such a ragged fellow was not annihilated by the majesty of his glance.
It turns out the summons is just for debt due to non-payment of rent, the very poverty that inspired the murder. This news inspires sudden intense indescribable relief in R, prompting him to engage in impudent attacks on the police for smoking in the office.
The profoundly nihilistic outlook that enabled R to commit such horrific murders soon emerges again as he expresses contempt for the legalities of debt collection, feeling the IOU is not even worth his attention. This impudence escalates to an instant of full, direct, purely instinctive joy, something that profoundly irritates the policeman, who takes it out on a woman in the office who is charged with making too much noise at her house. Again alcohol is the lugubricant, the sad enabler of misery and violence.
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Robert Tulip
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It turns out the noise in the woman’s house was caused by a drunken author, a story that prompts the policeman to cast a contemptuous glance at Raskolnikov, reflecting the disreputable standing of the artistic and intellectual cultural circles two centuries ago in Russia among officials: “They are like that, authors, literary men, students, town-criers.... Pfoo!”

A nihilistic modern rationalism had settled upon the educated class like a catish fog. As Russia wrestled its Mongol and Western influences, the intellectuals imagined a Russia that might bring modern reason to lift the peasant torpor. The Mongol strain later partly won out in Stalin, who picked up tsarist methods from the time of the Tatar Yoke that enslaved Russia to Mongol taxation, when Moscow was established as the Khanite enforcer after the invasion by Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde, the Altan Ordu.

The intellectuals of Russia have a glorious and tarnished history. Intellectualism has been a political force since the eighteenth century, when Poland resisted Russian rule - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligentsia

The Russian intelligentsiya also was a mixture of messianism and intellectual élitism, which the philosopher Isaiah Berlin described as follows: "The phenomenon, itself, with its historical and literally revolutionary consequences, is, I suppose, the largest, single Russian contribution to social change in the world. The concept of intelligentsia must not be confused with the notion of intellectuals. Its members thought of themselves as united, by something more than mere interest in ideas; they conceived themselves as being a dedicated order, almost a secular priesthood, devoted to the spreading of a specific attitude to life."[18]

Raskolnikov presents a satire of the intellectuals, a sort of ‘Trahison des Clercs’ with reason not so much betrayed as degraded and corrupted by the bitter difficulty of life and the fantasy of the immanent imagination. Through Part II of Crime and Punishment we will see how intellectual influences appear in Raskolnikov’s remorse for his crime.

Enter the superintendent of the district himself, Nikodim Fomitch, a good-looking officer with a fresh, open face and splendid thick fair whiskers.
Last edited by Robert Tulip on Wed Nov 17, 2021 12:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Robert Tulip
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In his conversations with the police and clerks, Raskolnikov comes close to losing it altogether. To the accusations of his tormentor that he is an author and cad, R pleads feeble excuses of love affairs and tragic events. The clerk instructs him to take dictation, at which point he enters a bleak and tortured existential reverie, consumed by the sensation that:
“...strange to say he suddenly felt completely indifferent to anyone’s opinion, and this revulsion took place in a flash, in one instant. If he had cared to think a little, he would have been amazed indeed that he could have talked to them like that a minute before, forcing his feelings upon them. And where had those feelings come from? Now if the whole room had been filled, not with police officers, but with those nearest and dearest to him, he would not have found one human word for them, so empty was his heart. A gloomy sensation of agonising, everlasting solitude and remoteness took conscious form in his soul.”

“...he felt clearly with all the intensity of sensation that he could never more appeal to these people in the police-office with sentimental effusions like his recent outburst, or with anything whatever... He had never experienced such a strange and awful sensation. And what was most agonising--it was more a sensation than a conception or idea, a direct sensation, the most agonising of all the sensations he had known in his life.”
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Robert Tulip
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Handing back the dictation of his IOU statement to the clerk, R is sorely tempted to confess the double murder and theft and begin to expiate his guilt. But then of a sudden, his notoriety confronts him. The two senior police were discussing how the murder was committed.

The two men who confronted R through the latched door at the murder scene are obvious suspects. Their innocence is proved by how they called the porter. They state themselves that they knocked and the door was locked; yet three minutes later when they went up with the porter, it turned out the door was unfastened. These police speculate that the murderer must have bolted himself in, seizing the moment to escape while they fetched help.

This is a useful plot device for Dostoyevsky to summarise the case, with police able to see how he did it.

Seeking to leave this rather difficult scene, Raskolnikov collects his hat and promptly faints to the floor. After a short subsequent interrogation, accompanied by concern for his health, the police tell him he is free to go. Once on the street, his former terror masters him completely again.
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