That's from III.5, p. 240.
In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky presents a series of ideas, embodied in characters, for me to distort or ignore. The saving power of Russian Orthodox monasticism, or the Nietzschean idea that Great Men are allowed a different moral system for the sake of their Greatness. I found Crime and Punishment far more interesting, though, not as a novel of ideas but as a novel of the psychology of ideas. Perhaps this is Dostoevsky’s great idea in the late novels, the psychological use of ideas. That sounds plenty glib.
But I did take it as a real insight when Raskolnikov, near the end of the novel, makes a last desperate run at justifying the murders he committed, including the Great Man nonsense. “’But that’s all wrong,’” his sister protests. Raskolnikov replies:
‘The wrong form, you mean – the aesthetics aren’t right! I just can’t understand it: why is raining down bombs on people, during a regular siege, a more honourable way of doing things? Fear of aesthetics is the first sign of weakness! Never, never have I understood this as clearly as now, and never have I understood my crime less!’ (VI.7, 487)
In what is I suppose the worst chapter in the novel, two minor characters, one secondary and the other, I don’t know, quaternary, discuss the Utopian reformist ideas of Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? (1863), the same target as Notes from the Underground (1864), still a fresh subject. The Chernyshevskian is made by Dostoevsky to do himself in:
‘You don’t understand a thing! In the commune, this role [prostitute] does not exist. That’s why people found communes in the first place. In the commune, the essence of this role will be completely transformed: what is stupid here will become clever there, and what, in the current circumstances, is unnatural here will become entirely natural there. (V.1, 347)
“What is stupid here will become clever there” is the most perfect distillation of Utopian thought I have ever come across. What I mean by “worst chapter” is that this piece is completely detachable from the novel. It is another variation of Dostoevsky’s attack on rationalism, light and comic compared to the murderous theorizing of Raskolnikov. It is almost a clown scene. Dostoevsky makes other, more subtle parodic uses of Chernyshevsky’s novel elsewhere in Crime and Punishment. In this chapter, he just mocks it.
Oliver Ready’s notes do a fine job of covering this ground, but boy am I glad I fought through What Is to Be Done? The best reason to read that book is to see what Dostoevsky does with it.
Maybe I’ll work on some of the dreams next.