Yul Brynner and William Shatner

My boy, that was a TV show. I used a stunt double. I always use a stunt double. Except in love scenes. I insist on doing those myself.

—-William Shatner

Maria Schell as Gervaise singing at her Name Day party – the high point of her life. She makes an appearance as Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov.

So, I finished The Brothers Karamazov along with my reading group. While working my way through the book, I did as much “research” as I could – as you know, today, “research” means searching YouTube.

And I discovered there was a movie made when I was one year old from the book The Brothers Karamazov. I didn’t want to watch the movie until I finished the book, but I did watch the trailer.

And now that I’ve finished the book I went searching through the streaming channels and found it on Turner Movie Classics.

The movie was surprisingly good. Of course there is no way to cram an eight hundred page novel into one movie, but it was still enjoyable. The philosophical content was pretty much gone – no mention of The Grand Inquisitor or of the torture of children. What was left behind was melodrama rather than great art – but good melodrama nonetheless.

A couple of points:

Grushenka was played by the actress Maria Schell who had starred in Gervaise, the adaptation of Zola’s L’assommoir which I wrote about last year. I was disappointed in her Grushenka (probably my favorite character in the book) – her beauty was put to good use, but she grinned and hammed her way through the part. I think she missed the depth and pathos of Grushenka.

One shock when you see the trailer is that Alyosha (Alexei) (the so-called “hero” of the book) is played by an impossibly young William Shatner. It’s crazy to see Captain Kirk in a monk’s habit and haircut. Alexei is the quiet, reserved, and religious brother – not exactly Kirk material. The shocking thing is how good a job he does with the part. It is nice to see Shatner in a part where he is not chewing the scenery.

The story is concentrated on Dimitri. It’s a shame that Ivan gets such little screen time. He is in many ways the more interesting brother. But there isn’t time for more and to a great extent the more Yul Brynner the better.

And finally, the ending is completely changed. Gone is the bittersweet and ambiguous ending of the novel and in its place, a Hollywood happy ending.

A disappointment, I guess, but it is Hollywood, not a vast Russian tale of subtle philosophical ideas after all.

I guess it’ll do.

Brothers Karamazov

“The world says: “You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.” This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Reading Dostoevsky in New Orleans

We finished our reading group (The Wild Detective’s DRBC [Difficult Reading Book Club]) attack on Dostoevsky Brothers Karamazov. Seven hundred thirty six-odd, dense pages. This is definitely the way to devour an elephant like that: broken up into manageable chunks and each followed by a weekly Zoom meeting to discuss and clarify the confusion.

I actually sort-of read the book in college. It was assigned on, say, Thursday and I had to write a paper on the next Wednesday. That’s not enough time. Not surprisingly, I have no real memory other than a feeling of panic and dread. And the memory of relying too much on a little yellow pamphlet.

The Brothers Karamazov is often mentioned in short lists of the greatest novels of all time. That’s a bold statement, but one I can support.

First, it is a novel of ideas. Philosophical questions are presented and then played out across the stage of the plot. The plot is complex yet melodramatic. There are many things, a whole tangled skein of threads, going on at once. Reading it like this, especially in the excellent Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, is how much humor there is in the book. The characters are deep and complex, and the novel uses a lot of literary devices that are considered “modern” (unreliable narrators, stories within stories within stories, subtle shifting points of view, ambiguous ending, unknown first person plural narrator) which helps keep the dense text fresh.

It is the story of faith against rationality. There is no doubt on which side Dostoevsky sympathies lie – but he does not give his intellectual adversaries short thrift. He has the courage to give the other argument strong, even unassailable defenses and weapons. There is no straw man here. It makes for robust conflict and gives the reader incredible insight and the opportunities for hours of thought.

Faith and Doubt, Free Will (Dostoevsky acknowledges the existence of free will and understands that it is the key to salvation, but paints it not as a blessing, but as a curse – as a terrible burden that will flatten and destroy all but the strongest of men), and the need for moral simplicity and clarity are the battlefields that the novel is fought over… and the victor is very much in doubt.

Plus, I learned a new word… nadryv, And wrote about it here.

The Grand Inquisitor

“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, Make us your slaves, but feed us.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

Reading Dostoevsky in the French Quarter, New Orleans

For the last month or so my Wild Detectives Difficult Reads Book Club (DRBC) has been digging through Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It was originally scheduled for the beginning of the year, with a weekly meeting at the book store – but was cancelled due to the quarantine. Finally, we started back up with Zoom meetings every Wednesday evening, instead of meeting in person. It actually works pretty well.

I made sure I could call into the Zoom meeting from my son’s apartment when I was on my New Orleans trip last week. He is working remotely and is something of a gamer – he had dedicated panel lights and an expensive headset with fancy microphone and the meeting worked really well from his place – I need to up my Zoom game from home now. In particular, everyone said my voice was very clear.

“You sound like a DJ, and you look like one too,” one woman said.

“Look like a DJ?” I replied, “Everyone has always said I have a face for radio.”

But before the meeting I had to get my weekly chunk of reading done (we are about a third of the way through). We had made it up to The Grand Inquisitor chapter (which sort of stands on its own) – the heart of the book and arguably is one of the most famous and influential works of literature ever written. It is also a dense and difficult read.

It was a beautiful day. I took my Kindle, walked down through the French Quarter and picked out a bench along the Mississippi to sit down and work my way through the (e-ink) pages.

The French Quarter is known for a lot of things – but it isn’t really known for a place to hang out and read Russian Literature (though a lot of literature has been written there). For me, however, it was perfect.

And I don’t care what you think… the bars are closed for Covid anyway.

Nadryv

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Conjoined, Roxy Paine

My “difficult book club” read Book 4 (7 chapters) of The Brothers Karamazov this week and are meeting to discuss the section on ZOOM tonight. I am really enjoying the book – reading a long/and or difficult book in a group is definitely the way to do it. Plus the weekly schedule (not too bad – a couple hours of reading at most) breaks the chore up into palatable pieces. Looking at 800 pages is really daunting, but looking at 70 pages a week is easy peasy.

The chapter headings for this week’s section feature the word “Strain” – as in  “Strain in the Drawing Room” or “Strain in the Cottage.” The word “Strain” occurs in the text a lot also. This word seemed odd in context and more than a little out of place.   We are reading the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of the book. Other translations use the word “Laceration” instead of “Strain.”

It didn’t take much research to discover that the original Russian word used by Dostoyevsky was the word NADYR (pronounced nud-RIF) – which shows up in various lists of Russian words that do not have an English equivalent.

Its surface meaning is “tear” or “rip” but it has a deeper significance as a strong emotional experience. Or something like that. Looking online – everyone in English is dancing around some meaning there – it obviously was very important to Dostoyevsky and critical to the meaning of this novel.

I found this little Youtube Video that seems to make the most sense.

So, at least in her interpretation Nadyr is the emotional state of intentionally inflicting pain on oneself – putatively for the purpose of being able to feel something. In the context of the events of the chapter, that makes perfect sense. Several characters make heartbreaking choices that extinguish the hope of happiness for themselves and others, for seemingly trivial reasons – pride, mostly… maybe tradition, maybe the idea of simply giving in to fate. It’s terrifying. Especially when you think about it – you realize how often people do this. The Russians are lucky I guess, they have a word.

The rest of us are still flailing around in the dark.

I read Dostoyevsky when I was young – I didn’t pay much attention and didn’t get much out of it. That was a mistake.

Short Story (flash fiction) of the day, Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”
― Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata

The Forest, David Smith (click to enlarge)

Over the years I have been embarrassed because I would occasionally be confused over who wrote Crime and Punishment vs. War and Peace. So, because I’m reading Dostoevsky, here’s something by Tolstoy.

Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

 

Short Story of the Day, The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I liked to lie like that; a sleeping man is not molested, and meanwhile one can dream and think. But I could not dream, my heart was beating uneasily, and M.’s words, “Je haïs ces brigands!” were echoing in my ears.

—–Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Peasant Marey

The Wild Detectives in the Bishop Arts District.

Dallas Streetcar

Reunion Tower, taken from inside the Dallas Streetcar. On my way to Bishop Arts for a discussion of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Signs at one end (downtown) of the Dallas Streetcar

 

Starting in January of this year, every Wednesday after work I took the DART train downtown, then rode the Streetcar to the Bishop Arts district – arriving at the bookstore The Wild Detectives. I was part of a group called the DRBC (Difficult Reading Book Club) and were slogging our way through Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It was a ton of fun, and when we finished up in the summer, it was announced that the next Difficult Book was going to be a trilogy by Virginia Woolf. I thought hard about it (even bought the books) but at the end decided that I didn’t want to give up the time to criss-cross the city… plus I had my own long/difficult reading project to complete (which I’m still working on after well over a year).

Today, though, I received an email outlining the next DRBC book – The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In theory, I read that book in college, but have no memory of it (at the time I was mixing literature and writing studies with Physical Chemistry classes – and the combination almost broke me) and suspect I might have made too liberal use of the study guides. But now, I want to read it, and read it in a diverse group, and maybe get a bit more out of it.

This will start up in January… sometime. In the meantime I thought I’d do some research on the deeper meaning of Dostoevsky’s work (without reading any of The Brothers Karamazov before it’s time) and maybe brushing up on some of his shorter works.

Thus, the short story of the day:

The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

available along with a number of Dostoevsky short stories at Project Gutenberg.

Here’s an audio version, if you prefer:

This is a (on the surface) simple story of a man in a Siberian Russian prison reminiscing about a slight incident from his childhood. There is a lot there beneath the surface, however. Worth the read.

 

Notes from the Underground

I AM A SICK MAN…. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased.

—Dostoevsky, Fyodor . Notes from the Underground

Another long day, like the one before, like the one after, I don’t know when it will end. Looking at my calendar… maybe March of next year? Looking at my 401k… never.

It was so hot today… Summer won’t be here for another two weeks or so but it’s already smothering, baking. I had to drive all over the Metroplex, all the way from Bachman Lake (I remember when this was one of my favorite slices of the city… now, yikes!) out to the suburbs around Allen. Accidents everywhere, I had to navigate by GPS traffic reports, winding around avoiding the sections of red lines on the map.

I’m still further behind than I was the day before.

Oh, wait… I have to go to the kitchen and make my lunch for tomorrow. Maybe a nice piece of fish and some stir-fried vegetables. I’ll be back in a few minutes.

While you’re waiting. Here’s something to watch… a little entertainment.

OK, now I’m back.

Still here? Had fun watching the video? I thought so.

Well, let’s see, where was I?

Oh yes, Notes from the Underground

I write only for myself, and I wish to declare once and for all that if I write as though I were addressing readers, that is simply because it is easier for me to write in that form. It is a form, an empty form — I shall never have readers. I have made this plain already …

I don’t wish to be hampered by any restrictions in the compilation of my notes. I shall not attempt any system or method. I will jot things down as I remember them.

…..

 I shall perhaps obtain actual relief from writing. Today, for instance, I am particularly oppressed by one memory of a distant past. It came back vividly to my mind a few days ago, and has remained haunting me like an annoying tune that one cannot get rid of. And yet I must get rid of it somehow. I have hundreds of such reminiscences; but at times some one stands out from the hundred and oppresses me. For some reason I believe that if I write it down I should get rid of it.

Why not try?

—Dostoevsky, Fyodor . Notes from the Underground

Oh, shoot! Look at the time. I keep reading that a good night’s sleep is important to health, well-being, and a happy life. Too late already for that tonight… but must do the best I can.

Toodles.