ISSUE 2/ April 2021

Dostoievski

and the nineteenth-century tradition

the moral killer

by Aftermath laika

Raskolnikov is a furious animal who, cornered by his own fears, attacks to understand, to stop his uneasiness, to explain himself through unanswered questions. It is none other than his tormented conscience who speaks into his ear, collapsing his reason into irreconcilable fears with stupor. Can a miser be useful to society?

Credits: Texts, Design and Illustration Aftermath Laika® / Buenos Aires 2021

In 1983, the Finnish film director and screenwriter Aki Kaurismäki film in just 93 minutes "Rikos ja rangaistus." It is a free adaptation of the complex novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, but set in contemporary Helsinki. The last scene consists of a dialogue. The frame is the communications room of a prison. Divided by a metal fence, Eva visits Rahikainen, a former law student sentenced to prison for the crime of a man. 

Why did you come? 

To tell you that I'm going to wait for you. 

Eight years? Are you going to wait for me eight years? I am going to tell you something. The man I killed is not important. I killed a louse and became one myself. And the number of lice has remained constant unless it was from the beginning. He wanted to kill a principle, not a man. Killing a man may have been a mistake, but now everyone is satisfied. Even me, and isolation is nothing to me. You know because? Because I've always been alone. Do you know what that means? We all have to die one day. And then there will be no heaven, just something else. 

¿The fact that more thing? 

Spiders Who knows. How can I know that? 

In both art and design, formal decisions dominate and structure the concept. In literature the form is a determination prior to writing. In its Prose theory, the Russian historian Boris Eichelbaum points out that the story comes from the anecdote; the novel, on the other hand, of history, travel stories, customs. Therefore, it is a syncretic form regardless of whether its development collects stories or traditions. To this end, its construction is a montage technique: it needs articulators, a diversity of episodes, intrigues and an epilogue, which, according to Eichelbaum, is a false but necessary conclusion: a kind of balance that establishes a new perspective. 

In literature, the narrator constructs the story feeding it with contingencies in a specific space, even without specifying it. Thus the word is subordinated to the structure because it is strategic. The narrative time dominates the episodes and the causes through the tension between the characters and their reasons, and we call that plot. When the text detaches itself from the author and becomes a book, the literary times become surprisingly independent to become their own present space in the reader; its continuity. The text, regardless of its form, is always sustained by the interest of the literary, the literary is built around the word and the story is resolved by the investigation of the argument. In this case, —the form—, it is a planning discussion and in the meantime, it depends on the position and tactics of the author. Then, writing goes back to a kind of freedom that design disciplines cannot afford for so many reasons that in the end they are the core of their specialty: the mode of production, the economic investment and the scenarios built, but also the tension of time. narrative, characters and interpreters. In short, invariable with regard to their technique and their language. 

Roland barthes[1] he has always argued that a text does not die in the author. It is a living structure where each reader postulates their own and personal dialogue between writing and reading it. Of course, it is not a relationship as interpreter or investigation of a single text that must be executed, but rather as part of an indissoluble and organic structure for this purpose: the text as text. Since one - writing - produces the other - reading - it is only a question of perpetual feedback. Therefore reading is a concept: the reader does not complete anything, nor does he resolve a position, nor does he offer the author a valid opinion: reading is above all an alternative version as an author and as a text read by another. Thus there will never be two identical readings, just as there are no two identical readers. That freedom is the question of art itself. A freedom shared between the author and the reader whose intentional appropriation produces wealth whenever the right of critical thought is exercised over the work. Perhaps the most appreciable mistake is to think of a kind of complicity between reader and writer. Reading itself produces meaning without the intention of the author, who does not expect a pre-established direction from that reading. In fact, although we read according to a subjectivity —a personal reality—, when we return to a text we reread it in a different way. Even your own text. It is worth saying that there is no closed or finished text for the reason that the word triggers new approaches and discourses each time. 

Text and reader are not two pieces of a gear but a power as an engine of enormous and unpredictable complexity. The nineteenth-century narrative established at the time a very clear position regarding that relationship. Under realism as expectation, the indeclinable tool was the narration in an omniscient third person to seek by all means to offer a curious and deep opinion that can reflect the judgment without cracks. Except on occasions, that speaker was always neutral, basically because his job consisted in offering a kind of applied didactics, a universe of explanations in such a way that readers could anticipate the events of the hand and the narrator's confidence in an indissoluble formula. Written language, Eichelbaum rehearses, unlike oral tradition, «It is addressed to the reader and not to the listener [...] they are constructed from written signs and not from the voice» En Crime and Punishment Dostoievski presents a problem whose limits are social. Rodión Raskolnikov is a lucid and restless student but he cannot afford his studies. Disregards family support when envisioning a greater inequity. Without money, an ideal solution is proposed to solve the contingency. He lives in Saint Petersburg, a city that under the Empire looks impoverished and unequal. Feverish, Raskolnikov paces his apartment. He cannot stop thinking about the destiny of humanity under the pronouncement of his heroes carved by force of will, but also of recklessness and courage. Its truth is presented to the reader as exaltation, without any objectivity. Dostoevsky, like every author of the nineteenth century who narrates from his own contemporaneity, contemplates with anguish the heart of the bourgeois society plagued by cares whose currency of exchange circulates between sex, wealth and power. Technically, we listen to the plots and regrets of Raskolnikov — and of all the characters as a whole — because the narrator knows all the intricacies and mental contours, his misfortunes and indecisions. In the midst of a long tirade Raskolnikov decides to resolve the conflict by approaching a usurer, the elderly Aliona Ivanovna; after all, he thinks, their function is social. The moneylender belongs to that inhospitable margin where life does not face anything other than necessity through cruelty. In this tension, his helplessness crystallizes into a curiosity: he can and must still defend his future; one who already has earned by right, a right that is argued in an ethical condition: society develops between superior and inferior individuals. That conviction is moral. Then he ignites this question: Can a miser be useful to society? 

Dostoevsky narrates in parallel the context of the Russian empire and its contingent miseries. For the time, the representation of the landscape was none other than the description of that characterized daily life. It is worth saying that the morals of the subjects - the points of view as narrative persons - and the attachment to customs consider common positions and as definitive as the contemporary discourse of their writers. Meanwhile, a fundamental leg articulates such a construction: trust in science to progress in social life. In this framework, the characters advance in their own closeness and Raskolnikov's voice manages to stun the conscience of the reader who cannot challenge that suffering except with his own conscience. There is no jurisprudence that inquires about pain but Raskolnikov ruthlessly answers by killing the old woman. Each individual has their own image of God, unique and different each time. A kind of dimension. It is presented under the will of a justice condemned to the watershed of good and evil, written in a series of common commandments whose limits are permanently unknown to the human. The commandments, indistinguishable, are the morals written by men which they know perfectly well even if they are distracted. After the crime, Raskolnikov flees with the money but tormented only decides to hide it. Quickly the world turns into a small pebble. Delirium Justice challenges him and declares in such a state of madness that during two or three inquiries they almost manage to snatch his confession. 

The novel insists on a diverse and complex plot, relentlessly venturing into the moral essay. Characters that wander between betrayal and self-denial, between crime and punishment in a universe of endless questioning. Is it a form of redemption? Can you dispense with morality in favor of a future that justifies your actions? Dostoevsky himself discovered the prison in 1846 when, accused of conspiring against the Tsar, he was confined for a decade together with common prisoners. Raskolnikov suffers the torment of his crime playing a particular battle with remorse that he believes he has defeated more than once. In the meantime, he tries his best to get discovered. The emergence of Sonia - irreducible love - in the life of Raskolnikov, an honest young woman martyred in her self-denial, offers the precise interlocution for the final confession. Raskolnikov is imprisoned and serves his sentence in Siberia. The dreams of the past become exemplary and antagonistic delusions. Raskolnikov is a furious animal who, cornered by his own fears, attacks to understand, to stop his uneasiness, to explain himself through unanswered questions. It is none other than his tormented conscience who speaks into his ear, collapsing his reason into fears irreconcilable with his stupor. However, eight years of forced labor will fulfill the mission of repentance. Raskolnikov's dreams are also the existential dreams of Dostoevsky and of humanity as a whole. Dostoevsky's nineteenth-century didactics will include at the end an epilogue in the form of an exemplary redemption, one that can overcome the unacceptable form of a moral nightmare that adjusts its measure around life itself. Reality feeds on dreams too and the influence of literature is definitive. The solitude of the book will offer the reader a confessional condition, a manifestation that perhaps inevitably forces him to also speak about himself. 

Buenos Aires, April 2021 


[1] French semiologist and writer