Reading Dostoevsky’s Brothers K: Becoming the Whole Man

Note: The Brothers Karamazov journaling continues.

2 November 1999

Dostoevsky, in searching for the Christ figure in The Brothers Karamazov, also searches for the whole Man.

What I mean by the whole Man is holistic humanity, what it means to be a human being in the totality that is the reality in which Man finds himself and, thus, makes himself at home in this totality.

I think that Nietzsche and Dostoevsky have the same motive for their creative working-out of the problem searching for the whole Man: reality seems to be fragmented, alien to man, and man can easily slip into self-serving subjectivity, i.e., slip into the existentialist hell of Descartes’ “I doubt, therefore I am.”

Doubting is not the problem; not being able to move forward, outward, from that doubt is the human problem.

So: why three protagonists? Why three brothers?

Dostoevsky gives us three brothers because they are only fragments of the whole Man.

Nietzsche, in the mouthpiece Zarathustra, speaks of the rabble as being fragments of Man: an ear here, a brain here, a heart over there. Caught up in the noble lie of cynical unbelievers pretending Christian morality, or, even worse, simple believers preferring easy Christian believers, Zarathustra’s ultimate teaching is that joy and woe are inextricably linked, that a full life of the whole Man includes suffering, includes woe.

Even though Nietzsche’s God is Ivan’s ineffectual Christ, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky arrive at a similar truth of the human condition: suffering, doubt, pain are a part of what it means to be fully human.

To deny one’s own acknowledgment that one feels suffering, doubt, pain, and – equally important – that others feel the same suffering, doubt, pain is to deny one’s own humanity.

Rakitin denies this fundamental truth of the human condition, and, in effect, becomes a devil, like the devil in Ivan’s vision who visits him in his room. Rakitin is more demon than man, and the three brothers, before their crises and before their visions, are more like fragments of man or like little children, needing to grow up.

What is problematic about Ivan’s Christ is that he does not acknowledge suffering and conversely, does not acknowledge the responsibility that comes with seeing the universality of suffering, i.e., that one’s own suffering is in communion with everybody else’s suffering.

In other words: everybody is responsible for everybody else.

Ivan’s Christ does not acknowledge this. But, as Alyosha and Father Zosima know, the real Christ does and has acknowledged this truth.

Ivan responds to Alyosha “No, I have not forgotten Him” (227), but, in fact, he does. Ivan has forgotten the awful pain of kenosis and the awful pain of crucifixion of the real Christ.

In bringing his fragmented brothers together, Dostoevsky ensures that they feel a real emptying and crucifixion; in doing so, they participate in the communion of suffering and, in one sense, become Christ-like in their total humanity.

Together – and only together – can they become the whole Man.


About lizardqueen

If single-mothering were a paid job, I'd be rich. However, it doesn't, so I write (which doesn't pay the bills) and teach (which does). I'm overly-educated in the liberal arts, but that doesn't hinder my ability to be pragmatic and realistic. YAY.
This entry was posted in Academic Research, AVOCATIONS, EDUCATION, Faith and Religion, Learning, LQ POV, Reading, The Writing Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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