For Dostoevsky, the watcher and spy upon the occult depths of our souls, needs no daylight. On purpose he veils his poetic creations in half-darkness; so that, like the ancient Furies, he may steal by night upon the culprit....
-- Vyacheslav Ivanov
Freedom and the Tragic Life
I didn't ask you whether you believe that ghosts are seen, but whether you believe that they exist.
-- Svidrigailov to Raskolnikov
Crime and Punishment
Very few topics in modern thought remain upon which Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881) has not been brought to bear as a tremendous hero or nefarious villain. More, perhaps, than any other novelist, Dostoevsky has stood in for the central ambiguities of modernity, and he is a touchstone for Russian thought on almost every position (much as Peter the Great and Stalin are in their own rights). Given the contested territory which is Dostoevsky studies, one topic which has been consistently proclaimed as crucial to understanding the man and his legacy is his "anti-Western" philosophy. Like most generalized statements about Dostoevsky, this one is far too sweeping to pass unqualified; it is certainly true that the role of the West in Russia was a cherished bugbear for Dostoevsky, but it is equally true that at times it was also a source of inspiration. At the risk of (to use a Dostoevskian turn of phrase) flogging a dying horse to within inches of its life in front of a cheering mob, I propose here to break down the general question of Dostoevsky's relation to the "West" as a category, and specifically to the natural sciences as a form of Western knowledge, in order to give some concreteness to the platitudes on Dostoevsky and the West.
Although elements of Dostoevsky's so-called "critique of the West" can be found in many of his works, a central document for crystallizing his argument for Russian particularism (always defined in opposition to Western Europe) is his voluminous Writer's Diary (Dnevnik Pisatelia), written and published from 1873 to 1881. Taking into account only length, the Diary competes with Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov combined, and it was created over a longer period of time than any of his other works. Yet while it encapsulates so much of Dostoevsky's time and thought, it has often been overlooked. Some of this neglect can be ascribed to its unusual publication history. The idea for the Diary was to publish a monthly periodical which included fiction, journalism, autobiography, literary criticism, political commentary, and philosophy, with both author and contemporary readers uncertain as to what the future might bring. Although Dostoevsky had the idea for his Diary while hiding from Russian creditors in Dresden in the late 1860s, he was only able to realize the financially and artistically risky project in 1873, when it appeared as an erratic weekly column in the newspaper Citizen (Grazhdanin) which Dostoevsky edited. Dostoevsky remained at Grazhdanin for only a year, resigning in September to work on his fourth major novel, The Raw Youth. In 1875, Dostoevsky revived the original idea for publishing a self-sufficient monthly Diary, in which he would retain complete control as publisher, editor, and author in one. As a former political prisoner (exiled in 1849), he was hindered by the tentacles of the tsarist censorship network in the waning hours of 1875 (from which he was extricated by a vouching testimonial by his friend, conservative journalist Apollon Grigor'ev), yet the first issue of the Diary proper did come out in January 1876 -- to a rather cool initial critical reception. It continued every month (with doubled issues in the summer months), becoming the most popular broadsheet in Russia, until December 1877, when Dostoevsky suspended publication to compose The Brothers Karamazov. He published one issue in 1880 (the August issue), recapitulating and commenting on his famous Pushkin Centennial speech in Moscow. In 1881 the Diary resumed full production, but Dostoevsky only survived a few weeks, leaving the posthumous January issue. It is this body of texts, A Writer's Diary, or rather a certain subset, which I propose to examine here.
In order to disaggregate the elephantine notions of "the West" and the "ideology" of Dostoevsky's Diary, I intend here to examine three specific articles from the Diary, each one published in a different month of early 1876, construing them in tandem with the writings of one of their targets, the noted chemist D. I. Mendeleev (1834-1907). Mendeleev is best known as the formulator of the periodic system of chemical elements, but he was also the motivating force behind a scientific commission to investigate Spiritualism established in St. Petersburg in 1875. This microscopic analysis of the Diary which then telescopes out to a broader cultural history, I argue, allows us to understand the full implications of Dostoevsky's positions, positions which have generated contradictory comments from scholars throughout the years. This incoherence is not produced by Dostoevsky's opacity, but by the extrication of his ideas from the multivalent context with which they are in constant dialogue. The three articles in question concern the growth of Modern Spiritualism in Russia. Spiritualism (spiritizm) was an extremely popular (in both senses) movement in nineteenth-century Europe, generating thousands of "spirit circles," all conducting seances with gifted mediums to exhibit the various phenomena of table-turning, spirit-rapping, levitation, automatic writing, spirit materialization, etc. The Russian adaptation of Western Spiritualism -- and its character as an English import is extremely important for Dostoevsky's reaction to it -- drew much attention at the time, even earning scorn from so lofty a critic as Friedrich Engels. As a way for Russians of all classes to deal with the political, social, and economic dislocation of Russia after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, Spiritualism gained a substantial following in opposition to the established tradition of Russian Orthodoxy, the political implications of which historians have only recently begun to examine. Dostoevsky's and Mendeleev's intertwining arguments against Spiritualism and each other have received only very superficial attention in the extant literature on Russian Spiritualism. My argument in this paper is that each author carefully crafted a polemical rhetoric to persuade Russian readers to reject Spiritualism, while feeling that the other's style not only would be ineffectual, but would actually fan the flames. Such a deep disagreement, we shall see, is a consequence of the time scale on which each one though persuasion had to work. Urgency and a sense of immediate crisis (in Dostoevsky's case) had deep rhetorical consequences.
The elision of Spiritualism in most commentaries on Dostoevsky's work is a symptom of a more systemic (but very understandable) bias in Dostoevsky scholarship towards analysis of the novels -- those creations that Henry James once dismissed as "loose and baggy monsters." Although it is difficult to classify the work on Spiritualism as purely non-fictional (as we shall see below), it has been relegated along with the bulk of the Diary to the category of Dostoevsky's "journalism," which is substantially less trodden by the heels of scholarship. While there are some good studies of the role of Dostoevsky's journalism in both his artistic and political projects, a tendency persists to view his novels as the expression of the "artful" and "true" writer, while the Diary is an expression of a knee-jerk reactionary, xenophobe, and anti-Semite. I am not about to deny the incredible offensiveness of many of the polemics in the Diary, but this attitude has obscured important elements of a more "positive" worldview in Dostoevsky. An analysis of Spiritualism and Dostoevsky will not only illuminate our view of him as a writer and journalist, but it will also develop him as a figure in the history of Russian science, where he has been often overlooked despite his frequently expressed views on the natural sciences and their impact on Russian culture. This neglect is unfortunate, since previous studies which have placed Dostoevsky as an active participant in local cultural debates have greatly enriched our understanding of both his fiction and Russian culture, since Dostoevsky is extremely hard to pigeonhole into the convenient analytic categories which historians parse Russian intellectual thought. The more he is treated as a real historical figure in dialogue with real Russian intellectuals, then, the more those simplistic categories become disaggregated or endowed with textured nuance. This paper is another venture in this historicizing direction.
The Extraordinary Cleverness of Devils
The three articles in the Writer's Diary which discuss Spiritualism form an extended, non-linear argument both against the phenomenon of Spiritualism and against Mendeleev's "scientific" attempts to debunk it. This section will provide a narrow explication of Dostoevsky's positions against both of these alternative viewpoints.
Spiritualism in Russia, as was the case with Spiritualism in many other European nations, descended directly from a local American movement of the 1840s, which then spread to England, and finally to the rest of Europe. The history of the American and English Spiritualist communities has been told well many times. Less widely discussed has been the emergence of Spiritualism within the cultural circles of St. Petersburg society. Although many Russians had encountered Spiritualism in trips abroad, the first major importation of Spiritualism happened under the guidance of Aleksandr N. Aksakov (1832-1903). Aksakov was a member of a very significant Russian cultural family -- his two cousins were leading thinkers in the Slavophile movement -- and his name and person carried great weight in fostering the spread of Spiritualism in fashionable circles. Aksakov first became interested in Spiritualism by reading the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and Andrew Jackson Davis, whom he translated into Russian (although he was denied permission to publish in the case of the latter). Having become interested in psychical phenomena on a deep level, he enrolled as a free student in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Moscow in 1855 and studied physiology, physics, chemistry, and anatomy, eventually publishing a translation into Russian of Count Szapary's work on magnetism and medicine. In 1874 he published the first issue of a Leipzig-based journal, Psychische Studien, which he edited for many years, and he also wrote and published a magnum opus for Spiritualists, Animismus und Spiritismus.17
Dostoevsky's encounter with Spiritualism was quite overdetermined. As a self-aware Petersburger who hobnobbed and corresponded with the local elite and read the daily periodicals, he was more than inundated with casual and not-so-casual endorsements and criticisms of seances and the latest British medium. His library contained a variety of domestic and foreign works on Spiritualism, including a few by Aksakov. Furthermore, his close associate, former fellow journalist, and sometime friend/enemy, Nikolai Strakhov, was substantially involved in both promoting and debunking Spiritualists, in his usual vacillating fashion. Dostoevsky also conducted an extensive correspondence with Spiritualist and St. Petersburg University zoologist Nikolai P. Vagner (1829-1907), who doubled as a writer of children's books under the name of "Kitty Cat" (Kot Murlyka). Dostoevsky even ran into A. N. Aksakov while taking a cure at Ems. In a letter to his wife, he dubbed Aksakov "the nihilist" for his interest in Spiritualism, which he saw as destructive of religion (thus functionally nihilist). In contrast to Ivan S. Aksakov, the noted Slavophile much respected by Dostoevsky, the author was dismayed by Aleksandr, muttering "There are now lots of Aksakovs." Dostoevsky quickly swallowed his original distaste, angling Vagner repeatedly for an invitation to a seance at Aksakov's: "What is happening at Aksakov's? Will there finally be séances? I'm ready to ask him myself (when everyone in my family is well, of course) whether he won't admit me to at least one séance of his." This itching to sit around a table was despite the clear declaration that "I absolutely cannot, after all, feel indifferent about spiritualism." After some more inquiries about the arrival of Madame Clair, a British medium destined for ignominy before Mendeleev's Commission, Dostoevsky was finally invited for a seance on 13 February 1876.
Long before that seance, however, Dostoevsky penned his first article on Spiritualism in the debut issue of the self-standing Writer's Diary, published in January 1876 (Chapter 3.2). Entitled, "Spiritualism. Something about Devils. The Extraordinary Cleverness of Devils, If Only These Are Devils," Dostoevsky engaged with a "very amusing and, most important, fashionable topic" (333; 22:32), the rage of Spiritualism. With characteristic humor, he relates a story he was told about a Petersburg man who sat in a chair while it was hurled by spirits about the room, "and this is in St. Petersburg, the capital!" Spirits haunting houses, Gogol writing from the netherworld, and mass enthusiasm seem to be interfering with people "working and meekly earning their ranks." Dostoevsky sets himself to resolve whether there really are any spirits or "devils." Now, he is aware of the Scholarly Commission established in St. Petersburg to investigate Spiritualism (more on this below), but he feels that it will necessarily turn up no results, since
in order to investigate the question of whether these are devils at work at least one member of the committee must be able and have the opportunity to admit the existence of devils, even as a hypothesis. But it is hardly likely that even one member of the committee can be found who believes in devils.... And therefore on this question the committee is incompetent. (333-334; 22:32-33) [ellipses added]
Dostoevsky's subsequent attempt to admit their existence as a hypothesis is delightfully ironic and playful.
First he criticizes those who claimed that devils did not exist because they made grammatical mistakes when they talked to Spiritualists (through automatic writing or table-rapping, presumably), and had not yet revealed one astonishing or miraculous fact. On the contrary, Dostoevsky argues that a demonstration by the devils of their cleverness would be stupid. Suppose they did invent something on the same order of importance as the telegraph, and communicated it to the world. While at first they would achieve a wide following, eventually people would become bored with the devils as they integrated the miracle into their everyday life. And once bored, there would be no way to win them back. And so the worst thing the devils could do would be to show their powers. But if they make mistakes and plod along ungrammatically, the curious will be drawn to them, while the rationalists scoff and do nothing. And all this will establish the "fundamental principle of [the devils'] kingdom" (336; 22:34), discord: "Now please observe how the devils introduce discord among us and, so to say, from the very first step began spiritualism with discord" (337; 22:35). When scientists eventually mobilize against Spiritualism, they will belittle the devils' idiocy and the idiocy of their followers, the latter of whom will retrench and thus foment true discord. Thus, if devils did exist, they would be performing their job admirably!
The essence of this argument is to show that Mendeleev's Commission will fail to achieve its objective, assuming its objective was to eradicate Spiritualism. What is even more provocative, the devils explicitly want the Commission to produce a null result, because then they can spread even more discord, in two ways. First, the (predicted) stance of the Commission against Spiritualism would spark fervent adherence to the tenets of the dogma out of pride. And second, the devils would then act to completely subvert the Commission from within after it had already spoken against their existence:
Now imagine if such a thing happened here. No sooner would the learned committee, its work finished and the wretched fraud exposed, turn its back then the devils would seize on of its most obdurate members -- even, say, Mr. Mendeleev himself, who has exposed spiritualism in his public lectures -- and catch him up at once in their nets, just as they caught Crookes and Olcott in their time. They would take him aside and lift him into the air for five minutes, materialize before him various dead people he had known, and do it all in such a manner that he could no longer have any doubts. And what would happen then, tell me? As a true scientist he would have to accept actual fact -- he, who has been giving lectures! What a picture, what a shame, what an uproar, what shouts and cries of indignation! (338; 22:36)
And so the Commission would be discredited. And so if devils did exist (which they don't), they would be acting like they don't (so they do). Paradox found. Dostoevsky repeatedly assures us that this is "only a joke" (338; 22:36) and that he has "most definitely been joking and having fun from the first word to the last" (339; 22:36); but he does see a real quandary here:
[I]f we regard spiritualism as something that bears within it some sort of new religion (and almost all, even the most sober-minded among the spiritualists, are inclined to share even a little of that view), then something of what I have said above might be taken seriously. And therefore, may God grant speedy success to the free study of the question from both sides.... But to shout at one another, to heap scorn on one another and ostracize one another for spiritualism, means, in my view, only to strengthen and disseminate the idea of spiritualism in its worst sense. (339; 22:36-37; ellipses and italics added)
The elements of Dostoevsky's critique of both the Commission (as prejudiced and unpersuasive) and of the Spiritualists (as mystical fomenters of discord) are present in this January article, and Dostoevsky develops both parts of this argument in later issues.
In the March 1876 issue of his Diary (Chapter 2.3), Dostoevsky writes "A Word or Two about the Report of the Scholarly Commission on Spiritualistic Phenomena," the briefest of his entries on Spiritualism. While the January entry contained a paradoxical and humorous critique of both the Spiritualists and the Commission, this article was a criticism of the Commission alone, with less humor. Dostoevsky commented on the Commission's "Report" of their findings of Spiritualism as fraud which he read in local St. Petersburg newspapers. Dostoevsky began the article by picking up a central Diary theme: "isolation" (obosoblenie), the atomization of Russian society partially represented by Spiritualism (420; 22:99). Dostoevsky claimed that he had hoped that the Commission would dispel this "isolation" but was disappointed (although he is being facetious here since he had expressed no hope that the Commission would succeed). He curiously framed his objections in literary, and not religious or philosophical, terms:
[T]he report fails in its exposition and in its form. The report is framed in such a manner that its opponents will undoubtedly seize upon its "biased" (and so very unscientific) attitude to its subject, even though the commission may not have had such bias as to justify the charge. (There was a certain amount of bias, but we really can't avoid that). But the text is poorly framed. (421; 22:100)
As an example, he points that the Commission condemned as "nonexistent" phenomena they admitted to never witnessing and that had never even been on their agenda, such as the materialization of spirits. The problem was that Dostoevsky understood Spiritualism as a "mystical notion," and when dealing with such matters "even strictly mathematical proofs carry no weight whatsoever," since "Faith and mathematical proof are two irreconcilable things. There's no stopping someone who makes up his mind to believe" (422; 22:100-101). And, continuing in a very serious voice to condemn the "overly scornful and haughty tone of the report," he argues that a chance has been squandered to fight Spiritualism effectively. Interesting in this brief commentary is, first, its evocative denial of the efficacy of mathematical proof to persuade, stated years earlier with such vigor in Notes from Underground,26 but also how he moves from a criticism of Spiritualism as a wide cultural phenomenon to a very focused attack on the Commission, an attack centered on issues of tone and literary form. It appears that the attacks on the Spiritualists have faded in favor of attacks on the anti-Spiritualists, but this would be a misreading. Rather, his attacks on the Spiritualists have moved to a non-"mathematical" mode of persuasion (see next section).
Just as the March 1876 article had moved from the January even-handed criticism of both sides to a focus on the Commission, the April 1876 (Chapter 2.3) article, "Just a Bit More about Spiritualism," is even more narrowly directed at Mendeleev and his understanding of Spiritualism as a problem. There are some intriguing parallels and anti-parallels in the biographies of Dostoevsky and Mendeleev, which are relevant to a historical understanding of this dispute. Dostoevsky hailed from Moscow, and Mendeleev was born in Tobol'sk, Siberia; both interpreted their presence in Petersburg as representatives of "real" Russia in the Westernized capital. Furthermore, both returned to Petersburg in the early 1860s after a long hiatus: Dostoevsky from penal servitude and internal exile in Siberia, and Mendeleev from several years of study in Heidelberg, Germany. Dostoevsky returned from the East, Mendeleev from the West, and the clash between the two was read by both in symbolic overtones as reflective of the central tensions in the Russia of the Great Reforms. The debate outlined here, then, was read by both participants (and by their readers) as about more than raps on a table and the tone of a report: it was about Russia's appropriate direction.
According to Dostoevsky, Mendeleev had provided a clear example of how not to conduct a battle against "isolation." Dostoevsky claims to have found the essence of Spiritualism, and, even though he was counseled by an unnamed friend (Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Procurator of the Holy Synod) not to write it, he felt it was too important to leave to Mendeleev and his public lectures. It was not that Dostoevsky thought he could reason against Spiritualism better than Mendeleev; in fact, that was precisely the position he was arguing against:
Besides, I am convinced that no article of mine could work either to support or destroy spiritualism. Mr. Mendeleev, who is delivering his lecture in Solianoi Gorodok at the very moment that I am writing these lines, probably looks at the matter differently and is lecturing with the noble intent of "crushing spiritualism." It's always pleasant to listen to lectures with such admirable tendencies; yet I think that whoever wants to put his faith in spiritualism will not be stopped by lectures or even by entire commissions, while those who do not believe, at least if they truly do not want to believe, will not be swayed by anything. That was precisely the conviction I took away from the February seance at A. N. Aksakov's; it was, at least, my first strong impression then. Up to that time I had simply rejected spiritualism, i.e., in essence I was perturbed only by the mystical sense of its doctrine. (I was never able completely to reject spiritualistic phenomena, with which I had some acquaintance even before the seance with the medium, nor can I now -- especially now -- after having read the report of the Scholarly Commission on Spiritualism.) But after that remarkable seance I suddenly surmised -- or rather, I suddenly discovered -- not only that I do not believe in spiritualism, but that I haven't the least wish to believe in it, so that there is no evidence that will ever cause me to change my views. (458; 22:127; emphasis his)
If the desire to believe was fundamental, what had Mendeleev and his cronies done to address this desire? Nothing, Dostoevsky found. Rather, they acted like private citizens, giggling and holding grudges, "[b]ut once they were organized into a commission, these scholars became public figures and not private individuals" (459), and thus should not have been so cavalier in dismissing Spiritualism as fraud. And what was their evidence? They had found that the three mediums examined by the Commission had generated "spirit noises" with mechanical devices. But that would not be convincing to the average Russian, since he knew that his own family gathered around the seance table was not trying to deceive him, and he would not take one instance of fraud as disproof of what he had seen as positive spirit phenomena. In other words, the very positivism touted by the Commission as their ideology could backfire (460; 22:128).
So if the fact of finding some fraud did not convince, what would was to present it in an appropriate way. This the Commission failed to do. The attitude of the Commission in telling the average Russian (Dostoevsky is paraphrasing very loosely here), "You are being deceived just as all the others are; everyone is being deceived, and you are all fools. So it must be; so speaks Science; we are Science" (460; 22:129) would generate no results, Dostoevsky claimed "even in the event that the commission was correct" (461; 22:130; emphasis his). What was needed was "a different tone and technique," which "give particular consideration to the mystical significance of spiritualism, which is the most harmful thing that can be" (462; 22:130). The Commission was guided more by the desire to impress European scientists, and not to produce the urgently necessary alteration in cultural behavior. As a conclusion Dostoevsky mocked Mendeleev for believing, based on the January Diary, that he himself had been an adherent to Spiritualism who had become convinced by the Commission's report in March. This is clearly a gross misreading by Mendeleev, but two can play at that game. "Mr. Mendeleev must be an unusually kindly man," Dostoevsky declared. Mendeleev praised the Spiritualists at the end of his April public lecture for daring to question their faith and being concerned about the soul in a materialist age, while at the same time (consciously?) berating them for their misunderstanding of the sciences. "The esteemed professor, it seems," Dostoevsky continued, "is a great one for a joke. But if he has said this out of naiveté and not as a joke, then he must be quite the opposite: he must have no sense of humor at all..." (464; 22:132).
At this point explicit Diary entries on Spiritualism cease, although that is not the end of the Diary's attack on Spiritualism. Dostoevsky felt at this point that he had made his negative case against the Commission's strategy clearly. What he proceeded to do throughout the Diary is demonstrate how an alternative model of persuasion would work to actually convince Russians to reject Spiritualism. It is this quest of an alternative "framing," "technique," and "tone," that characterizes Dostoevsky's affirmative project against Spiritualism.
Notes from the Background
The key to unlocking Dostoevsky's positive efforts to discredit Spiritualism is the embedding of the three articles in the Diary, a complicated text that has generated a wide variety of contradictory interpretations. It would perhaps be more correct to say that it has often eluded interpretation as a whole, not because of its extreme length, but paradoxically because of its wonderful artistry. The Diary contains, along with journalistic articles, a series of extraordinarily powerful fictional pieces which are some of Dostoevsky's most touching creations ("Bobok," "The Meek One," "The Boy at Christ's Christmas Party," "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," some of which we shall return to shortly). A common approach to the Diary, then, especially by those interested in Dostoevsky's fiction, has been to ignore the corpus and treat the stories individually, amputated from their immediate context. The opposite extreme has been to hack out elements of Dostoevsky's life story or "clues" to novelistic interpretation from the semi-autobiographical segments of the Diary, an approach which often obscures those texts' original function in the Diary as a whole.
The Diary performs a multitude of interrelated "tasks" and it coheres (although somewhat unstably) by tracing a set of themes through what would otherwise resemble a random collection of writings from all genres. These themes are embedded in turn in a series of related topics, which tangentially link to Spiritualism. The first and most striking topic is that of the Eastern Question -- the fate of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman-controlled Balkans and the role of Russia as messianic protector -- a question that Dostoevsky called in his correspondence "The struggle with the whole idea of the West, that is, with socialism." The jingoistic and xenophobic (not to mention anti-Semitic) overtones of Dostoevsky's discussion of the Eastern Question are largely responsible for readers' neglect of the Diary. Spiritualism is linked to both proletarian movements and Western imports for Dostoevsky, and thus is part of the Eastern Question, but it also links to the second major topic, that of false religions and conversions from Orthodoxy. The third major topic is the epidemic of suicides in Great Reform Russia, which Dostoevsky also attributes to atheism and loss of faith. The final two topics, which relate to Spiritualism most distantly, are the problems of the newly introduced (1864) legal system in Russia, with its trials-by-jury and deceitful attorneys, and the plight of children.
The themes of the Diary are fewer and even more internally connected. The dominant theme, although least relevant for Dostoevsky's argument against Spiritualism, is Russia's connection to its People (narod), and how that justifies Russia's millenarian role as savior of the West and East. This extreme view was alienating to most members of the Russian intelligentsia who were even slightly left of reactionary, and is the source, so David Goldstein persuasively argues, of Dostoevsky's attack on Judaism as a competing millenarian movement. The second and third major themes (both interconnected with the first) are also mutually intertwined and resonate throughout the Spiritualism articles. They are the tie that links his anti-Spiritualism/anti-Mendeleev position to the Diary as a whole. The second theme is that intellectuals tend to oversimplify the "messy" complexity of modern life, and thus totalize the world into simplistic and dangerous schemes (like socialism). The Commission and the Spiritualists are both guilty of such oversimplification, the former by misunderstanding the motivations of the Spiritualists, the latter by distorting true religion through mystical oversimplifications. The final major theme is that absent a belief in the immortality of the soul, there is no guiding principle for civilization, morality, or life itself -- a theme that forms the guiding idea behind The Brothers Karamazov, which draws so much from the Diary. Science alone, without faith, Dostoevsky contended, could not solve Russia's urgent crisis.
Dostoevsky insisted that the Diary did have a defined form that was performing an artistic function. As he remarked to his physician Stepan Yanovsky as he was about to suspend the Diary in late 1877: "The Diary acquired such a shape all by itself that it is impossible to alter its form even the least bit." My understanding of this "form" is closely related to an important reading of the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor from Karamazov given by Robert Belknap. This Legend relates an atheistic parable of Jesus's return to Seville and his conversation with the Grand Inquisitor, who tells Jesus that his pure faith is no longer necessary, since the rational ministration of the Church paternalistically cares for the people, who would only be lost without miracles, bread, and complete bondage. Dostoevsky, and many of his analysts since, considered the Inquisitor's argument as an incredibly compelling logical case against Christianity. As Belknap has argued, following Dostoevsky, much of Karamazov is meant to serve as a "refutation" of the Grand Inquisitor's position, a refutation that many readers find absent. This is not accidental; Dostoevsky never intended to engage with the Inquisitor's argument on rational grounds, since from that perspective it is unassailable, and to attempt to refute it logically would only be to trap oneself in the discourse of rationality and reject Christianity. Instead of confronting it directly, Dostoevsky sets up repelling resonances between the Inquisitor's argument, the Inquisitor, his herald Ivan Karamazov, and other negative characters in the book. By using rhetorical, and not rational, techniques, Dostoevsky "refutes" the argument of the Inquisitor on an emotional level, on the level of faith.37
The Spiritualism articles are part of the same strategy of a rhetoric of resonances, which Dostoevsky honed throughout the Diary. At the very least, Dostoevsky worked out the elements of the Grand Inquisitor's argument through the pages of the Diary, even, some have argued, drawing it directly from the Spiritualism pieces. Here we see dialogic devices working in Dostoevsky's journalism. When arguing against factual events and real positions taken by contemporaries, Dostoevsky in his journalism portrays their ideas clearly, and then uses structural resonances and dialogues to undercut their position on a supra-rational, emotional level. How does this resonant strategy work in the Diary with respect to Spiritualism? There are a few outstanding examples. First, the story "Bobok" from the 1873 Diary, narrated by a boorish clerk with journalistic aspirations, tells the story of a visit to a graveyard where the narrator eavesdrops on the boring, uncultured, and mundane conversations of the newly-deceased. Hailed by Mikhail Bakhtin as the centerpiece of menippean satire in Dostoevsky, it is also a remarkable parody of Spiritualism: a mediator listens to the other world, and finds nothing extraordinary, just as Dostoevsky's "devils" deliberately proclaim irrelevancies in the January Diary. The vindictive narrator's unconscious self-satirization clearly beckons the reader to dismiss such beliefs. Similarly, in the extremely controversial utopian (or anti-utopian?) story "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," the belittled narrator is taken to an alternative world where he meets Edenic children of paradise who lead a carefree existence. They are soon corrupted by the ridiculous man, who then comes back to earth to preach the need to strive for divine paradise, even though it will inevitably be corrupted. This story has been subjected to much analysis, but I only wish to point here that the children of the utopia, before corruption, both reject science and commune with their dead (953-954), an ability they lose when they "fall" into our earthly corruption. The ambivalence with which these "utopians" are treated also resonates with spirit communication and the desire to move past science towards mysticism. Dostoevsky's resonances may not seem powerful here, but that is precisely because they were never meant to function when rationally articulated. A host of other resonances can be found: the insincere rationalizations of scientizing lawyers, who closely resemble Mendeleev's commission; Spiritualism as a disease of the Parisian proletariat -- and hence doubly damned; blind adherence to science without faith as the cause of atheism and socialism from Belinsky to the 1870s; and the impossibility of "proving" issues of faith as the only barrier to suicide and immorality.
Dostoevsky had carefully considered the proper form and structure for his Diary; he did not develop the resonant method of persuasion lightly. As he wrote to Khristina Alchevskaya on 9 April 1876, already several months into the publication of the self-standing Diary: "Would you believe, for instance, that I still haven't managed to work out for myself the form of The Diary, and I don't even know whether I'll ever get it right..." One thing he was certain of was that he could not just bluntly state his conclusions, since that would never succeed. As he wrote in a revealing private letter to his close friend Vsevolod Soloviev:
One bright correspondent from the provinces even reproached me for starting up conversations about lots of things in The Diary, touching on lots of things, but never yet having taken them to their conclusion, and encouraged me not to be timid. And so I up and stated the last word of my convictions.... And what do you think -- exactly what I had foreseen happened: even the newspapers and publications friendly to me right away started yelling that I had paradox on paradox, and other journals didn't even pay any attention, while, it seems to me, I have touched on a most important question. That's what taking an idea to its conclusion means!... [I]f many of the most famous wits, Voltaire for instance, instead of gibes, hints, bare suggestions and insinuations, had suddenly ventured to state everything they believed, had shown their whole underpinning all at once, their essence, then, believe me, they wouldn't have obtained even a tenth of the earlier effect.
Resonance was the only way Dostoevsky could communicate his message.
So the Diary, and particularly the articles on Spiritualism, were not an expression of sarcastic polemicism, obscurantist anti-scientism, or religious fanaticism -- or, rather, they were not just that. They were also an attempt to embody in journalism a new ethic of action, an attempt to develop a non-rational, Russian technique of persuasion which would steer the Russian narod between the Scylla of Mendeleev's rationalism and the Charybdis of Aksakov's mysticism. Dostoevsky, however, did not engage in this alone: he was actively responding to Mendeleev's text, the Report of the Commission to Investigate Spiritualistic Phenomena. Independent of whether we believe in the efficacy of Dostoevsky's technique of persuasion through resonance, he does present a powerful argument against Mendeleev's attempt to dissuade the Spiritualists. But is this a fair reading of Mendeleev's text?
Decide for Yourself
To put the answer to the just-posed question bluntly, the answer is yes and no. Mendeleev's text does come off with a "haughty" tone, just as Dostoevsky noted, but this was not clearly evident in the structure of the work. Mendeleev tried to create a document that would be just as persuasive as Dostoevsky was trying to be, but he employed a different rhetoric, one of juxtaposition. He failed in the end, his experiment in making the authoritative discourse of science internally persuasive sinking on the shoals of his own technique. There is a strong tendency to not read scientific texts as rhetorical polemics, since, following Bakhtin, scholars have assumed that they are meant to present "authoritative discourse" that is not supposed to engage readers, but rather to command them. Is this a fair assumption? Let us take Mendeleev's manifesto against Spiritualism, a segment of which Dostoevsky lampoons in his Diary, as a potential counter-example.
Mendeleev's text, Materials for a Judgment of Spiritualism, emerged out of the complicated workings of his Commission, whose course it documents. The Commission was born on 6 May 1875, when Mendeleev proposed to the Russian Physical Society (RFO) that they form a commission to investigate "mediumistic phenomena." The ostensible goal at the beginning of this investigation, as stated in these Materials was to remove the cloak of mysteriousness from Spiritualism. Both Spiritualists and anti-Spiritualists agreed that it was crucial to fight off mysticism in society. This agreement was crucial to the idea behind the Commission from the very start. At the first meeting of the Commission on 7 May 1875 -- one day after its proposal -- Mendeleev insisted on inviting Spiritualists A. M. Butlerov, N. P. Vagner, and A. N. Aksakov to join the commission. The idea was that they (principally Aksakov) could recruit mediums and teach the members of the Commission who were not adherents of Spiritualism what to look for. Furthermore, it was necessary to have non-Spiritualists on the Commission, Mendeleev argued, in order to have some appearance of objectivity. "They and the others should trust each other," he proclaimed in December 1875. Mendeleev was taking a gamble: if the Commission did a fair deliberation and came out endorsing Spiritualism, his plan would backfire in a big way. As is clear, however, Mendeleev took pains so that this did not occur.
On 9 May, the first session which the Spiritualist members attended, it was decided that the Commission would bring Spiritualist mediums from abroad and experiment with them under controlled seance conditions. The term of the seances was to go from September 1875 to May 1876 and there were to be forty seances in all. On 27 May Mendeleev went to a seance at Vagner's house. Although no one in the room heard any sound, Mendeleev noted that Vagner insisted that he heard persistent spirit rapping (which Mendeleev attributed to auto-suggestion). He attended another seance at the house of his friend L. A. Kuritskaia on 1 June, and again saw nothing. On both this case and the one at Vagner's house, Mendeleev kept detailed notes on the weather (Mendeleev was toying with the idea that Spiritualist phenomena may have been caused by atmospheric abnormalities). The first seance to take place at his own lodging was on 3 June, attended by Vagner, Kuritskaia, and Mendeleev's relatives. All this was preliminary to the actual meetings of the Commission.
The first true investigative seance held before the Commission was arranged for on 27 October, when Aksakov made plans for the Petty brothers from Newcastle to come to St. Petersburg. It was decided that they would conduct two sessions a week at Mendeleev's apartment. Six meetings later, on 20 November, Mendeleev lit a match in the middle of a seance and caught the Pettys committing fraud. On 15 December Mendeleev gave his first public lecture, the proceeds from which were sent to help Christian Slavs persecuted by Ottomans (recall Dostoevsky and the Eastern Question). On 11, 15, 25, and 27 January the Commission on Spiritualism met again, this time with Madame Clair as the medium, and then finally on 8, 11, 16, and 21 March. On 13 April, having completed only a fraction of the seances proposed, the Commission came out with its conclusion in the journal Voice (Golos), and which Mendeleev publicized in a public lecture in late April: "Spiritualist phenomena occur from unconscious movements or conscious deception, and spiritualist teachings are superstition." A month later, Mendeleev published the Materials out of his own pocket.
The text of the Materials extends for almost 400 pages, and so there is little space here for the detailed analysis the text deserves. Instead, I shall confine my comments here to its structure alone, which is in and of itself striking, and has yet been little noticed by Mendeleev scholars. The book declares on its title page that all proceeds were earmarked for the construction of a meteorological device, an aerostat, which would measure the temperature of layers of atmospheric air in a proposed balloon expedition. Why such a declaration? The point is driven home in the foreword to the book, which immediately follows the title page:
As it is not far off to apply myself to two such subjects, as spiritualism and meteorology, however, since between them there exists a certain connection, a remote truth. "Spiritualist teachings are superstition," as the commission which examined mediumistic phenomena concluded, and meteorology has also battled and will still battle for a long time with superstitions, which have dominated in relation to the weather. In this battle, and in any other, material means are needed. Thus let one superstition somehow help against another.
Mendeleev not only wanted to use the debunking of one superstition to end another, he also wanted to boost Science's status by juxtaposing pseudo-science (Spiritualism) with a real science (meteorology).
The rest of the Materials works by a similar rhetoric of juxtapositions. Mendeleev reproduced the minutes of every meeting of the Commission, including any relevant correspondence as appendices to specific meetings. The early meetings were purely organizational, yet all the participants are named, and each proposal is cataloged in neutral language. The reader realizes that Mendeleev was never the chair of any meeting of the Commission, whether or not mediums were present or a seance was scheduled, and he was never the scribe who kept the minutes. These minutes continue for over 100 pages and are followed by the itemized appendices, thus providing the "materials for judgement" advertised by the title. But Mendeleev did not let the reader's judgment run on too long a leash, just as he had micromanaged the Commission from behind the scenes. Almost every entry of minutes from the meetings of the Commission were extensively commented upon with Mendeleev's footnotes, each dutifully signed by the chemist, which tell the reader how to interpret individual statements. Here he also spars with the arguments made in appendices, public comments and newspaper articles, and other interventions which might "distort" the reader's proper interpretation of the text. So the echoing of the "objective" voice of the minutes with Mendeleev's authoritative voice was meant to convince readers while leading them to believe that they were deciding on their own. To seal the verdict, Mendeleev included the Commission's formal "Report" at the very end of the minutes, so that the reader would read this conclusion after having been massaged along the way by Mendeleev's juxtaposed notes.
The juxtapositions do not end there, The second half of the materials consists of a set of articles on topics "related" to Spiritualism, in order to further the readers' judgments, as was delicately stated in a second foreword by Mendeleev. These articles contain not only the two public speeches Mendeleev gave and that Dostoevsky reacted to, but also Lavoisier's statements against Mesmerism in late eighteenth-century France, laboratory investigations of supposed mediumistic phenomena (some concluding that such phenomena exist but were explainable by natural forces, others deciding that the phenomena were all hoaxes), and other "instructive" examples to show both historically and methodologically different attacks on Spiritualism. These juxtapositions of scientific and historical articles with the supposedly unadorned (but heavily footnoted) minutes of the Commission further work to persuade the reader of the seriousness of the issues involved.
These repeated juxtapositions were carefully crafted, and Mendeleev spent a significant amount of time developing his footnotes to the minutes and translating the various appended articles from the French, as well as editing his public lectures and giving his own speeches a set of footnotes to explicate their original meanings -- including one targeted at Dostoevsky's April Diary. Mendeleev's title was not a joke: one clearly could deploy the materials in the Materials in order to form a "judgment about Spiritualism." But it was equally true that Mendeleev held the reader's hand while that judgment was being formulated. Both the haughty tone and the positivism that Dostoevsky deplored were exalted by Mendeleev as a harshly persuasive rhetorical strategy of juxtaposition meant to shock the educated public out of the Spiritualist fad.
No Laughing Matter
It is clear, then, that Mendeleev was not just out for personal aggrandizement, but was also concerned about convincing people (although that may not have been his primary motivation), and he developed a rhetorical form that would convey not only the appropriate message against Spiritualism, but also the correct method by which one would come to those conclusions. But if this was the case, why did Dostoevsky "misread" Mendeleev's aims so badly? The question is poorly posed. Barring complete cynicism or total naiveté on Dostoevsky's part (neither a plausible characterization), the reader would have to assume that Dostoevsky understood and agreed with Mendeleev's aims against Spiritualism -- he just differed strongly about the method and tone used. It was not, as Richard Rice has argued, that Dostoevsky was being uncharitable to Mendeleev; rather, if Spiritualism were only a childish fad, Mendeleev's approach may well have been acceptable to Dostoevsky. The problem was that Dostoevsky, unlike Mendeleev, did not see Spiritualism as a silly craze, but as a serious threat that demanded urgent pacification. Dostoevsky's oblique polemical rhetoric of resonance was not an attempt to duck the issue of correcting Spiritualists, it was a head-on confrontation with a fad Dostoevsky considered "dangerous" in the extreme. Paradoxically, Mendeleev's direct attack was for Dostoevsky a dismissal of its seriousness.
Dostoevsky was immensely troubled by what he saw as the disintegration of Russian society after the Great Reforms, whether it came in the form of suicide, the abandonment of religion, public cynicism, Spiritualism, or "isolation." These concerns, which we already saw reflected in the Diary, also run throughout all his novels from Poor Folk onward. And so when his publications against Spiritualism failed to convert people to his millenarian cause, or stop Mendeleev from publishing the Materials, Dostoevsky took up his pen again in his last satirical feuilleton, "From the Country Walk of Kuz'ma Prutkov and His Friend," originally published in Grazhdanin, 10 October 1878. The narrator reports taking a casual stroll on Elagin Island in St. Petersburg, when Triton appeared to the flower of high society in a puddle of water. After convincing everyone of his reality, Triton promptly disintegrated into the puddle, and immediately people "began to doubt themselves and not believe, although they saw it with their own eyes." Soon Triton's appearance or non-appearance becomes a cause célèbre, with a scientific commission formed under Mendeleev's auspices to show that it couldn't happen. "Of course, they did not know what to decide on and stood there like lost ones, denying the appearance [of Triton] just to be on the safe side." The adherents of Triton protested the commission in vain. No one in this brief satire comes off well, and the connection to Spiritualism, even two years after the fact, would be apparent to the informed reader, since the only names mentioned were individuals (like Mendeleev) involved on the scholarly commission. Dostoevsky's tactics and argument had not changed in the two intervening years.
Why did Dostoevsky try his hand at lampooning both sides of the Spiritualism debate yet again? He was unable, I argue, to let his lack of success the first time dissuade him, since the issue was vital and needed to be resolved as soon as possible. As an example from Dostoevsky's own past, Joseph Frank has noted that when Dostoevsky's criticism of nihilism in Notes from Underground proved too abstract and artfully constructed to generate the desired effect, he recapitulated similar themes in a more overt, but still resonant fashion, in the much more successful Crime and Punishment.56 Spiritualism, as we have seen, was for Dostoevsky a form of "isolation" which trivialized religion through mysticism, and what was needed at that time was more and more faith in true Orthodoxy. Following Vladimir Soloviev, Dostoevsky perceived his writings as part of a religious mission to provide the unity sorely lacking in Russian culture after the Great Reforms through a suitably purified Orthodox Church. Since this was his goal, and since throughout the Diary Dostoevsky stressed the immanence of the Apocalypse, every soul that was deluded by Spiritualism was a soul that could not engage in Russia's holy mission of the Eastern Question. This was an issue of urgency. For Mendeleev, Spiritualists were like children who needed to be chided, for Dostoevsky, they were devils to be exorcised -- and soon.
If this characterization of Dostoevsky's panic (which appeared even in his frantic and tumultuous writing style) is accurate, why did he not try to make his case more forcefully, with greater vigor? Because that was precisely the strategy which Mendeleev had used, and it was precisely the tactic that would not convince in this matter of faith where persuasion was so crucial. For Dostoevsky, there was an ironic mismatch of the impelling urgency he felt and the rhetorical caginess he had to use to meet that goal. His endeavors to reconcile feuding political factions -- whether while editing Vremia, in his Pushkin speech, or throughout the pochvennichestvo (Native Soil) political philosophy he propounded -- were part of this effort to convince through free dialogue. The most urgent task was to meet and discuss without urgency, to fulfill Russia's pressing destiny through relaxed conversation -- a set of paradoxes which are worthy of one of Dostoevsky's literary creations. Dostoevsky's philosophy of art, his efforts to persuade by posing questions for the reader to answer rather than answering them directly, were products of the culture of chaos and possibility in which he found himself. His attack on Mendeleev was not "uncharitable," it was overdetermined for a writer who had to resort to direct confrontation in order to effect a reconciliation.
Mendeleev had the last word, if only because he lived longer than all his interlocutors, Spiritualist or diarist. Twenty-three years after the novelist's death, Mendeleev published an article in the journal New Times (Novoe Vremia) in 1904 on psychic phenomena. Entitled "Spiritualist Knots," the article relates the story of Iosif Nikolaevich Livchak, a railroad consultant who 30 years earlier had come to Mendeleev's house and demonstrated his ability to tie knots in a piece of string fastened at both ends to an oaken table. He performed this feat many times, not revealing publicly the secret, at one time tying the knots in front of Mendeleev's guests, including Dostoevsky (the only time, it appears, when he met his chemist opponent). Livchak revealed the secret to Mendeleev, but told him to keep it in confidence (until now) since he had not wanted to draw attention to himself while engaged in engineering work. Now that that was over, however, Mendeleev wanted to explain this feat, which was taken by many (including Dostoevsky) at the time to be evidence of a fourth-dimensional phenomenon appearing in the three-dimensional world -- and thus providing evidence of the dimension considered by some to be the residence of the spirits who communicated during seances. Mendeleev described the rather tawdry parlor trick, and replicates a brief letter by Dostoevsky to the editors of Novoe Vremia praising Livchak's abilities. So, in exposing the fraud, this time a deliberate one meant to show Spiritualists how easily they can be duped, Mendeleev employs Livchak's story in exactly the manner of his Materials: he replicates other people's words, and then comments on them to instruct the reader how to proceed. Although this article has never before been examined in the context of Mendeleev's views on Spiritualism, it contains the only explicit statement of Mendeleev's philosophy of rhetorical persuasion:
As [the Spiritualists] did not reject the conditions of the Commission, which was formed under the Russian Physical Society in 1875, as they did not criticize the means it took for the investigation of Spiritualism, so now, after almost 30 years, one can see clearly, that the conditions of the commission were not without reason, and the taste for Spiritualist doings soon after that died down, perhaps thanks to the results produced by the Commission. Convinced Spiritualists were not convinced by the Commission, of course, but they lost the taste for the whipping up Spiritualist junk.... [ellipses added]
But now it was a time of war (the Russo-Japanese), and Spiritualists seemed to be developing a new following, so it was time to reinvigorate the tactics of the Commission. Spiritualists might claim that the hoax discussed in this article was not evidence, using an argument close to Dostoevsky's, but Mendeleev now decided to counter that claim:
The adherents of Spiritualism of course do not reject the possibility of hoaxes, which are carried out through skill, and say that the mediums do not imitate the hoaxsters, but on the other hand the hoaxsters try only to ingratiate themselves with them. Of course it's useless to speak against the kind of logic, as also with a logic that demonstrates the fourth dimension, it seems to me. If we lived in a time, when one wanted to find the truth (istinu) in logic, and not in the combination of it with the study of nature (reality), then it would be possible to say that spirits and their opponents both merit trust, and one would only have to count the number of votes for and against in order to decide the question.
It is the combination of logic with empiricism, then, which makes the Spiritualists incorrect, but since matters are not urgent, and these childish arguments can be discredited at leisure, it is appropriate to invoke a parent's harsh tone, and not Dostoevsky's meandering resonances. When the dust settles, people will reflect calmly and realize who was correct.
Spiritualism may have indeed suffered a blow in the late 1870s -- although the evidence on a decline in popularity is by no means unequivocal -- and the credit may be laid at either Mendeleev's or Dostoevsky's door (or at that of its many other critics), but the situation did not stay that way for long. The resurgence of occult beliefs that Mendeleev was responding to in his article only continued to rise after 1905 with the relaxation of the censorship, and continues in some form to the present day. But the issues raised by this reading of Dostoevsky and Mendeleev through each others eyes continue as well. The concerns of faith, scientific belief, and the proper rhetoric of persuasion were not resolved by the publications of either critic, just as Dostoevsky forecast in his April 1876 Diary entry. It is to these specific concerns, and not to generalizations about Dostoevsky's rejection of the "West" or "Science" that we should address historical investigation about the fate of Western science in non-Western contexts. Dostoevsky was deeply involved in a culture that was in flux, and he perceived the tensions between knowledge and belief, Russia and the "West" -- which, recall, was the source of both Mendeleev's doctrine and the Spiritualists' -- which remain central to any cultural history of late Imperial Russia. Much like Rogozhin and Myshkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot, in their publications on Spiritualism the practical boor and the ascetic saint chase each other through the streets of Petersburg, both uncertain of their goals, and one with blood on his mind. As for which one plays which part, the casting is left to the reader.
Vyacheslav Ivanov, Freedom and the Tragic Life: A Study in Dostoevsky, tr. Norman Cameron (Wolfeboro, New Hampshire: Longwood Academic, 1989): 21.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, tr. Constance Garnett (New York: Bantam, 1987): 250.
From the publication of Winter Notes on Summer Impressions on, if not earlier, the West served as a prominent topic in Dostoevsky's fiction and journalism, frequently demonized in the form of the "machine," pejoratively construed. See Michael Holquist, Dostoevsky and the Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977): 47, for Winter Notes; and Liza Knapp, The Annihilation of Inertia: Dostoevsky and Metaphysics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1997): 48, on the machine. Donald Fanger has elaborated, on the other hand, upon Dostoevsky's great debt to the Western novelistic tradition. See his Dostoevsky and Romantic Realism: A Study of Dostoevsky in Relation to Balzac, Dickens, and Gogol (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998 ).
For analysts who have pointed to the essence of the Diary as anti-West, see Jean Drouilly, La Pensée Politique et Religieuse de F. M. Dostoievski (Paris: Librairie des Cinq Continents, 1971): 396; and Geoffrey C. Kabat, Ideology and Imagination: The Image of Society in Dostoevsky (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978). Other attempts to articulate Dostoevsky's views on the West have focused on Dostoevsky's novel The Demons, his last major novel before beginning the Diary in 1873. Cf. Stephen K. Carter, The Political and Social Thought of F. M. Dostoevsky (New York: Garland, 1991): 171.
Genre is an important and contentious issue in studies of the Diary, best analyzed by Gary Saul Morson. Some of his various intriguing approaches are: The Boundaries of Genre: Dostoevsky's Diary of a Writer and the Traditions of Literary Utopia (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1981); "Reading Between the Genres: Dostoevsky's Diary of a Writer as Metafiction," Yale Review 68 (1978): 224-234; and "Dostoevskij's Writer's Diary as Literature of Process," Russian Literature 4-1 (13) (1976): 1-14. Less successful have been the attempts to put it in Dostoevsky's Notes genre (Yuri Kudryavtsev, "Dostoevsky and His `Diary of a Writer,'" Melbourne Slavic Studies 8 : 58-63) or reading the Diary as a combination of eighteenth-century epistolary journals and the nineteenth-century confessional novel (L. S. Dmitrieva, "O Zhanrovom Svoeobrazii `Dnevnika Pisatelia' F. M. Dostoevskogo (K Probleme Tipologii Zhurnala)," Vestnik Moskovoskogo Universiteta, seriia 11, no.6 : 25-35).
There were good financial reasons for initiating it in this format. As Dostoevsky's wife recalled, he obtained a steady salary from Grazhdanin as its editor, and was paid in addition for any entries of the Diary that he published, thus turning the Diary into a money-making venture while drumming up interest in the innovative idea for when it could be realized as a self-standing monthly. S. S. Koteliansky, ed. and tr., Dostoevsky Portrayed by His Wife: The Diary and Reminiscences of Mme. Dostoevsky (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1926): 141-142.
The best secondary source covering both the publication history and some of the poetics and ideology of the Diary remains the programmatic Russian article by V. A. Tunimanov, "Publitsistika Dostoevskogo. `Dnevnik Pisatelia,'" in Dostoevskii -- Khudozhnik i Myslitel': Sbornik Statei (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1972): 165-209. For Dostoevsky's tangles with the censors, see I. L. Volgin, "Dostoevskii i Tsarskaia Tsenzura (K Istorii Izdaniia `Dnevnika Pisatelia')," Russkaia Literatura 4 (1970): 106-120; and on the hostile reception of the first issue by literary critics, see idem, "`Dnevnik Pisatelia': Tekst i Kontekst," in G. M. Fridlender, ed., Dostoevskii: Materialy i Issledovanii, v.3 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1978): 151-158. Dostoevsky had extensive experience in the journalistic world, co-editing the journal Vremia and later editing Epokha in the 1860s, experiences which he brought to bear in his work on the Diary. See D. V. Grishin, Dnevnik Pisatelia F. M. Dostoevskogo (Melbourne: University of Melbourne, 1966).
Friedrich Engels, Dialektik der Natur (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1952): 48-49.
Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, "Political Implications of the Early Twentieth-Century Occult Revival," in her edited volume, The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997): 379-418.
The best source on this topic remains I. L. Volgin and V. L. Rabinovich, "Dostoevskii i Mendeleev: antispiriticheskii dialog," Voprosy Filosofii 11 (1971): 103-115, translated as "Dostoevsky and Mendeleev: An Antispiritist Dialogue," Soviet Studies in Philosophy 11 (1972): 170-194. The remaining studies on this topic undercut Dostoevsky's role as an active polemicist: Thomas E. Berry, "Dostoevsky and Spiritualism," Dostoevsky Studies 2 (1981): 43-49; Maria Carlson, "Fashionable Occultism: Spiritualism, Theosophy, Freemasonry, and Hermeticism in Fin-de-Siècle Russia," in Rosenthal, ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (1997): 135-152, on 137; Don C. Rawson, "Mendeleev and the Scientific Claims of Spiritualism," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 122 (1978): 1-8; and Richard E. Rice, "Mendeleev's Public Opposition to Spiritualism," Ambix 45 (1998): 85-95.
For one example of this view, see Marina Kostalevsky, Dostoevsky and Soloviev: The Art of Integral Vision (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997): 137.
A few studies of this topic do exist, but they remain only preliminary, and often provide only an exposition of Dostoevsky's positions. The bulk of these studies focus on his views on Darwinism and materialist psychology, or as a window into contemporary medical knowledge of epilepsy, from which the writer suffered. See James L. Rice, Dostoevsky and the Healing Art: An Essay in Literary and Medical History (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985); B. E. Lewis, "Darwin and Dostoevsky," Melbourne Slavic Studies 11 (1976): 23-32; Michael R. Katz, "Dostoevsky and Natural Science," Dostoevsky Studies 9 (1989): 63-76; and M. G. Iaroshevskii, "Dostoevskii i ideino-filosofskie iskaniia russkikh estestvoispytatelei," Voprosy Filosofii 2 (1982): 103-113. Liza Knapp (The Annihilation of Inertia) has proposed the intriguing but not entirely convincing thesis that Dostoevsky sought in his novels to provide an alternative metaphysics to the then-dominant Newtonian worldview, reading his novels as engaging with a wide variety of scientific doctrines.
The now-standard five-volume biography of Dostoevsky by Joseph Frank (of which the first four volumes have appeared as of this writing, regrettably without the volume that would cover his encounter with the Spiritualists) is the most sustained work in this contextualizing direction, although his declared focus is understanding the novels, and not Russian culture: Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976); Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850-1859 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation, 1860-1865 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); and Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995). Dostoevsky was a very engaged young writer in his early period, incurring the wrath of the authorities for his 1848 involvement in the Fourierist Petrashevsky circle, leading to his ten-year exile to Siberia. On his ideas on social reform, which he later modified towards religious individualism, see Liza Knapp, ed., Dostoevsky as Reformer: The Petrashevsky Case (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1987).
Janet Oppenheim, The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Bret E. Carroll, Spiritualism in Antebellum America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997); Logie Barrow, Independent Spirits: Spiritualism and English Plebeians, 1850-1910 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986); and Alan Gauld, The Founders of Psychical Research (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968).
Given that the bulk of Russian Spiritualists were located in Petersburg, and since that is where Dostoevsky and Mendeleev were also located, I will speak of "Russian" Spiritualism only in terms of its cultural location in that city. While this clearly will not encompass the entire diversity of the Russian movement, it is not an unfair reduction. The recent collection edited by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (1997) has done much to articulate the diversity in occult movements during this period. While Modern Spiritualism in Russia was clearly a Western import, there were peasant roots, as indicated in the essay by W. F. Ryan, "Magic and Divination: Old Russian Sources," ibid.: 35-58. On the manifold publications of the Spiritualists and other occult movements in this period, see the bibliographic essays in ibid. by Edward Kasinec and Robert H. Davis, Jr., "Russian Occult Journalism of the Early Twentieth Century and Emigration": 419-423; and by Maria Carlson and Robert H. Davis, Jr., "Russian Occult Journals and Newspapers": 423-449.
Much of this account is taken from Emma Hardinge Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles; or, Spirits and Their Work in Every Country of the Earth (New York: William Britten, 1884): 353. This volume contains two chapters on Russian Spiritualism, the bulk of which are translations of Russian newspaper articles and private correspondence.
17Alexander Nikolajewitsch Aksákow, Animismus und Spiritismus: Versuch einer kritischen Prüfung der mediumistischen Phänomene mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Hypothesen der Halluzination und des Unbewussten, 2 v. (Leipzig: Oswald Mutze, 1919).
A selection of the Spiritualist books in Dostoevsky's personal library: R. Gera, Experimental Researches on Spiritualism (1862); William Crookes, Spiritualism and Science: Experimental Researches on the Psychic Force (1872); and A. N. Aksakov's Russian translations of Emanuel Swedenborg's The Gospel According to Swedenborg: Five Chapters of the Gospel of John with an Exposition and Discussion of Their Spiritual Meaning According to the Teaching on Correspondences (Leipzig, 1864), On Heaven, the World of Spirits and on Hell, as They were seen and Heard by Swedenborg, tr. from Latin (Leipzig, 1863), and The Rationalism of Swedenborg: A Critical Analysis of His Teaching on the Holy Writ (Leipzig, 1870). See Berry, "Dostoevsky and Spiritualism," 45; and Czeslaw Milosz, "Dostoevsky and Swedenborg," Slavic Review 34 (1975): 302-318. Although Dostoevsky clearly disagreed with Swedenborg on religious grounds, Milosz and others have noted Swedenborgian resonances in some of his more nightmarish imagery: Fanger, Dostoevsky and Romantic Realism, 225; and Robin Feuer Miller, "Dostoevsky's `The Dream of a Ridiculous Man': Unsealing the Generic Envelope," in Elizabeth Cheresh Allen and Gary Saul Morson, eds., Freedom and Responsibility in Russian Literature: Essays in Honor of Robert Louis Jackson (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1995): 86-104, on 90.
Strakhov was also a correspondent of Mendeleev and a central link between Dostoevsky and the chemist during this period. See the biography by Linda Gerstein, Nikolai Strakhov (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971).
Dostoevsky to Anna Dostoevskaya, 29 May (10 June) 1875, Ems, letter 579 in Fyodor Dostoevsky, Complete Letters. Volume Four: 1872-1877, ed. and tr. David A. Lowe (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1991) [hereafter CL4]: 222. There is sporadic correspondence with Vagner from 4 December 1875 (letter 597) to 26 January 1877 (letter 666). As a sign of friendship, Dostoevsky announced a journal edited by Vagner, Light, in his Diary, which caused some bad press, and is the topic of the last letter between the two.
Dostoevsky to Nikolay Vagner, 21 December 1875, Petersburg, (letter 600) CL4: 265. V. Pribytkova, the wife of the future editor of the lone Russian Spiritualist journal Rebus, recalled that Dostoevsky had a "negative attitude" to Spiritualism, although "he criticized those people who simply mocked and laughed at spiritualism in public." V. Pribytkova, "Dostoevsky and Spiritualism," in Peter Sekirin, ed. and tr., The Dostoevsky Archive: Firsthand Accounts of the Novelist from Contemporaries' Memoirs and Rare Periodicals (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1997): 219.
It is likely that the seance actually took place on the 14th, however. On Clair, see Dostoevsky to Vagner, 2 January 1876, Petersburg, (letter 602) CL4: 267.
All quotations from the Diary are from the recent translation by Kenneth Lantz, modified occasionally for style: Fyodor Dostoevsky, A Writer's Diary. Volume 1: 1873-1876. Volume 2: 1877-1881, tr. Kenneth Lantz (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1994). Corrections are according to Dostoevsky's 30-volume collected works: F. M. Dostoevskii, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenii v Tridtsati Tomakh (Leningrad: Nauka, 1972-1990) [hereafter PSS]. Page numbers indicated in the text are (Lantz edition; PSS).
Henry S. Olcott was an American agriculturist who had publicly criticized Spiritualism but later converted. Sir William Crookes is an even more renowned case. After investigating the mediumistic abilities of Madame Clair (the same medium later brought to St. Petersburg by Aksakov), Crookes declared himself convinced of the spirit world, a startling admission for a celebrated chemist and President of the Royal Society. See R. G. Medhurst, ed., Crookes and the Spirit World: A collection of writings by or concerning the work of Sir William Crookes, O.M., F.R.S., in the field of psychical research (New York: Taplinger, 1972).
Pribytkova recalls that Dostoevsky attacked Spiritualism in front of her as "mysticism." "Dostoevsky and Spiritualism," in The Dostoevsky Archive, 220. Volgin and Rabinovich misread Dostoevsky's opposition to Spiritualism as an attempt to "rationalize" and "empiricize" the soul through the counting of raps on a table and mechanist psychology ("Dostoevsky and Mendeleev"). This is explicitly not the position Dostoevsky defends in the text, where he rejects Spiritualism as a religion, and on the grounds that mysticism is dangerous and unholy.
26This theme is explicit in Dostoevsky's The Demons, and implicit in the other works of his mature period. Malcolm V. Jones, Dostoyevsky: The Novel of Discord (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1976): 25; Knapp, The Annihilation of Inertia, 116.
It is surprising that there was so little personal contact between the two men, especially considering the circle of individuals that both knew fairly well (Aksakov, Strakhov, Vagner). I have been unable to locate any correspondence between them, although Dostoevsky did send a complementary copy of a book to Mendeleev's sister E. I. Kapustina, long before either was interested in Spiritualism (and even before Mendeleev had really made a name for himself). See the excerpt of Kapustina's 4 January 1862 letter to Dostoevsky in PSS, 30(ii):268. The only physical meeting I have found was substantially after the jabs in the 1876 Diary. The two met in Mendeleev's apartment, where a man named Livchak (see below) demonstrated to Dostoevsky, Aksakov, and others the ability to tie "spiritualist knots" in a rope fastened at both ends to an oak table. Dostoevsky was much impressed by this event, writing to the journal Novoe Vremia (27 March 1878, #746) to laud the man's achievement. (Mendeleev retained the string; it is still in his archive.)
This argument against attempts to understand faith rationally has a long life among Dostoevsky's associates. Vladimir Soloviev, Dostoevsky's friend and influential religious philosopher propounded similar arguments against rationalism. Kostalevsky, Dostoevsky and Soloviev, 146. Nikolai Strakhov also wrote to Lev N. Tolstoy in December 1875 along similar lines: "I suppose that spiritualism is part of our desire for the irrational, but it seeks irrationalism in the wrong place." Quoted in Gerstein, Nikolai Strakhov, 163. Dostoevsky felt that such attempts to rationalize the soul or find a natural cause of spiritual phenomena -- the goal of many spiritualists -- would lead to the criminal utopia of the Marquis de Sade. On Dostoevsky's critique of Sade, see Robert Louis Jackson, Dialogues with Dostoevsky: The Overwhelming Questions (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993): Chapter 4, "Dostoevsky and the Marquis de Sade: The Final Encounter."
Some clerics indeed endorsed Spiritualism as a way to bring individuals back to the Church. Dostoevsky disagreed vehemently: "I have been told, among other things, that some of our clergy have rejoiced in aspects of spiritism -- it allegedly inspires faith, for the appearance of ghosts at least comprises a protest against the universal materialism. What reasoning! No, pure atheism would be better than spiritism!" Unpublished note, Pushkinskii dom, f. 100, No. 29479, SSKhb.12, as quoted in Volgin and Rabinovich, "Dostoevsky and Mendeleev," 189-190. Stephen Carter has argued that Dostoevsky opposed this kind of rationalism because it was "Western," although he overstates the case (The Social and Political Thought of F. M. Dostoevsky, 110).
Examples of excellent analysis in this fashion are Robert Louis Jackson, The Art of Dostoevsky: Deleriums and Nocturnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981): Chapters 9-12; and Miller, "Dostoevsky's `Dream of a Ridiculous Man.'"
For an attempt to use the Diary for biography, see Frank, Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 70. Liza Knapp tries to use the Diary to explicate The Idiot, with limited success (The Annihilation of Inertia, 67 and 93). Malcolm Jones has correctly noted the dangers of this attempt to use the Diary to "unlock" the novels. Malcolm V. Jones, Dostoyevsky after Bakhtin: Readings in Dostoyevsky's Fantastic Realism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990): xvi.
Bracketing Spiritualism, one can consider the Diary as a dialogue with the journalism, philosophy, and literature of Russian thinker Alexander Herzen, an important intellectual influence on Dostoevsky. Herzen's journalism was immensely influential, and his "novel" about the 1848 revolutions, From the Other Shore, formed a template for the structure of the Diary. Nina Perlina, "Vozdeistvie gertsenskogo zhurnalizma na arkhitektoniku i polifonicheskoe stroenie Dnevnika pisatelia Dostoevskogo," Dostoevsky Studies 5 (1989): 141-155; Aileen Kelly, "Irony and Utopia in Herzen and Dostoevsky: From the Other Shore and Diary of a Writer," Russian Review 50 (1991): 397-416; and A. S. Dolinin, "Dostoevskii i Gertsen (K izucheniiu obshchestvenno-politicheskikh vozzrenii Dostoevskogo)," in his Dostoevskii i Drugie: Stat'i i issledovaniia o russkoi klassicheskoi literature (Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1989): 101-162.
The connection between socialism and the Roman Catholic Church is repeatedly made in the Diary. This quotation is from Dostoevsky to Mikhail Pogodin, 26 February 1873, Petersburg, (letter 471) CL4, 63.
David I. Goldstein, Dostoyevsky and the Jews (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981): 50.
Gary Saul Morson, "Introductory Study," in Dostoevsky, A Writer's Diary (1994): 1-117, on 43 and 54.
Letter dated 17 December 1877, Petersburg, (letter 722) CL4, 400.
37Robert L. Belknap, "The Rhetoric of an Ideological Novel," in William Mills Todd III, ed., Literature and Society in Imperial Russia, 1800-1914 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1978): 197-223. The opposite analytic strategy is used by Linda Kraeger and Joe Barnhart, in their Dostoevsky on Evil and Atonement: The Ontology of Personalism in His Major Fiction (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), who provide a rational reconstruction of Dostoevsky's religious arguments (expressed largely by Elder Zosima) against the Inquisitor.
Tunimanov, "Publitsistika Dostoevskogo," 199; D. V. Grishin, Dostoevskii -- Chelovek, pisatel' i mify: Dostoevskii i ego "Dnevnik Pisatelia" (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1978): 100, 241; and Vasily Rozanov, Dostoevsky and the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, tr. Spencer E. Roberts (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972): 50.
Mikhail Bakhtin, in his immensely influential interpretation of Dostoevsky, specifically exempts the Diary from any polyphony, treating it as a dead monologic work, except for the fictional inserts. Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, ed. and tr. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984): 91, 95, 166. For a dialogical reading of the journalism, see Charles A. Moser, "Dostoevsky and the Aesthetics of Journalism," Dostoevsky Studies 3 (1982): 27-41; and the work of Gary Saul Morson.
Morson has noted that in the prophecies of the ridiculous man and the millenarian diarist one can find many resonances with Dostoevsky's tales of failed or misguided religions, like Spiritualism, although he does not make much of it. Morson, Boundaries of Genre, 182; and Morson, "Introductory Study," 68.
Letter 612, CL4, 277.
Letter 631, dated 16 (28) July 1876, Ems, CL4: 305. Emphasis in original; ellipses added.
Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, tr. Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981): 351. This point is echoed by Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, "Introduction: Rethinking Bakhtin," in their Rethinking Bakhtin: Extensions and Challenges (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989): 1-60, on 47.
D. I. Mendeleev, Sochineniia, 25 v. (Leningrad: 1934-1956) [hereafter MS]: 24:186, 204. The chronology of events below is from A. V. Storonkin, Letopis' zhizni i deiatel'nosti D. I. Mendeleeva (Leningrad: 1984): 154-160.
MS, 24:184. Other members of the Commission were N. A. Gesekhus, I. I. Borgman, K. D. Kraevich, F. F. Petrushevskii, and four others (twelve in all). Mendeleev had a 9 to 3 majority against the Spiritualists.
MS, 24:187, 189.
For an account of some of these seances by both the pro-Mendeleev and pro-Spiritualist sides, respectively, see A. A. Makarenia and A. I. Nutrikhin, Mendeleev v Peterburge (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1982): 150; and Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles, 355. This latter takes an extremely dim view of Mendeleev, accusing him (correctly) of having "passed judgment before they met at the first séance."
For an amusing eyewitness account of Mendeleev's openly rude behavior at this particular seance, see that given by his daughter in A. A. Makarenia and I. N. Filimonova, eds. D. I. Mendeleev v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov (Moscow: Atomizdat, 1969): 175.
Quoted in P. P. Ionidi, Mirovozzrenie D. I. Mendeleeva (Moscow: AN SSSR, 1959): 143.
D. Mendeleev, ed., Materialy dlia Suzhdeniia o Spiritzme (St. Petersburg: D. Mendeleev, 1876). Part of the reason the Materials have been so under-utilized by scholars is that some of the most interesting aspects of book are not included in Mendeleev's more widely available 25-volume collected works, which only includes the foreword and Mendeleev's two public lectures.
MS, 24:177. Mendeleev makes this connection again at the end of the second lecture. MS, 24:238.
Rice, "Mendeleev's Public Opposition to Spiritualism," 95.
Jones, Dostoyevsky, esp. 14-15; Ronald Fernandez, "Dostoyevsky, Traditional Domination, and Cognitive Dissonance," Social Forces 49 (1970): 299-303.
PSS 21:248-251. Humor and satire as techniques in Dostoevsky's work have only recently begun to be studied by scholars. See R. L. Busch, Humor in the Major Novels of F. M. Dostoevsky (Columbus: Slavica, 1987); and Peter Petro, "Dostoevsky the Satirist," Russian Language Journal 40 (1986): 95-102.
56Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 69.
Kostalevsky, Dostoevsky and Soloviev, 3.
See Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 500; Frank, Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation, 51; and the intellectual history by Wayne Dowler, Dostoevsky, Grigor'ev, and Native Soil Conservatism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982).
Dowler, Dostoevsky, Grigor'ev, and Native Soil Conservatism, 121; and Richard Peace, "Dostoevsky and the Golden Age," Dostoevsky Studies 3 (1982): 61-78, on 73. The best analysis of Dostoevsky's philosophy of art, and how the artist can change society through esthetics, remains that of Robert Louis Jackson. See his Dostoevsky's Quest for Form: A Study of His Philosophy of Art, 2d. ed. (Bloomington: Physsardt, 1978); and idem, "The Testament of F. M. Dostoevskij," Russian Literature 4 (1973): 87-99.
See note 27 above.
D. Mendeleev, "Spiriticheskie uzly," Novoe Vremia, 18 (31) May 1904, No. 10132: 3. For the Dostoevsky article, see PSS 30(i):16, and the accompanying editorial notes.
See Carlson, "Fashionable Occultism," 138, and Holly DeNio Stephens, "The Occult in Russia Today," in Rosenthal, ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (1997): 357-376.