Sunday, November 29, 2015
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: Dosoevsky and Chernyshevsky
Commentators on the Notes and on the motif of.the Crystal Palace tend to appropriate the Underground Man's virulent invective and, in this case at least, to take it at face value. Thus they pour endless scorn on Chernyshevsky for his lack of spiritual depth: how stupid and banal this man must have been. to think that mankind is rational, that social relations are perfectible; how delightful that the profound Dostoevsky put him in his place. As it happens, Dostoevsky did not share this complacent condescension. In fact, he was virtually the only figure in respectable Russia to speak out, both before and after Chernyshevsky's arrest, in defense of his intellect, his character, even his spirituality. Although he believed Chernyshevsky to be both metaphysically and politically wrong, he could see how his radicalism sprang from "an abundance of life." Those who derided Chernyshevsky "have only succeeded in displaying the depth of your cynicism," which "serves current material interests, often to the detriment of your fellow men." Dostoevsky insisted that "these outcasts at least try to do something; they delve in order to find a way out;. they err and thereby save others; but you" -so he admonished his conservative readers-"you can only grin in a melodramatic posture of unconcern."