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All countries are looking for their own Dostoevsky
November is the month of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Admirers of his work globally celebrate the 199th anniversary of the Russian classic’s birth and the 140th anniversary of The Brothers Karamazov, his last novel that a lot of people consider to be the writer’s best work.
One of the panel discussions at the 14th Assembly of the Russkiy Mir is be dedicated to the modern readers’ perception of Dostoevsky's work and features of his poetic manner, which turned his works into immortal classics. On November 3, scholars, representatives of the writer's museums and the International Dostoevsky Society, member of the clergy and translators from Russia, the USA and Argentina will come together to discuss The World of Fyodor Dostoevsky: What Makes the Interest in the Writer Undiminishing.
On the threshold of the panel discussion, Nadezhda Mikhnovets, its moderator and professor at the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, answered the Russkiy Mir’s questions about the reasons behind the growing interest in the Russian classic writer.
Fyodor Dostoevsky. 1879. Photo by K. A. Shapiro. Photo credit: fedordostoevsky.ru
The phenomenon of world culture
– The conference is centered on the interest in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work around the globe. Is it actually undiminishing?
– It absolutely is, and there is overwhelming evidence of that. I refer not only to an enormous number of publications of Dostoevsky's texts, but also to the abundance of their translations into many languages. Many texts previously little-known to foreign readers are translated. One example is the Turkish translation of Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. This is an amazing thing, because the work is about Russia and Europe, but it is offered to Turkish readers. And two years ago the same work was translated from Russian into Spanish for the first time without English, French or German as mediator languages. It turns out that conversance with the Russian text is truly appealing.
When it comes to The Brothers Karamazov, be it a movie picture or theatrical production in Russia and other countries, there is always a full house notice. It is even more so in regards to The Grand Inquisitor, a chapter perceived as a separate work. Productions are made on the dramatic stage, as well as the opera and ballet ones. Graphics and other visual arts can be used to continue the series. Thus, we can say that Dostoevsky has become a phenomenon of modern world culture. His work draws attention of researchers all over the world from New Zealand to Canada and Argentina, as well as of ordinary readers.
Nadezhda Mikhnovets. Photo credit: YouTube
– Why is Dostoevsky still important and up-to-date for people with different cultural patterns and mentality?
– I believe that representatives of different countries and cultures are looking for their own Dostoevsky, and they are looking for their own answers to their own questions. Dostoevsky’s extraordinary genius is behind the fact that the questions raised by him are still relevant today. His aim is not to provide a multidimensional answer to those questions. This is not the case. Raising a question is more important. And Dostoevsky did raise those challenging questions and suggested a certain historical and cultural references for their solution. Nevertheless, those questions have been dealt with by people of various cultures and religions. The relevance and paradoxical features of the raised questions uncover the very depth of Dostoevsky's knowledge of a human and the world in general, which attracts modern readers and viewers.
Comics based on Dostoevsky – why not?
– Let us talk about Dostoevsky and modern youth. Do you think there’s a need in some special modern techniques to draw young readers’ attention to the classic writer’s works, or those who need it will find it on their own?
– This question does not imply a clear-cut answer. On one hand, modern culture does not have impulses to draw attention of society, mainly young people, to Dostoevsky. It is so because the values that he asserted somehow confront the ideas actively imposed by the outside culture. It says: "Have fun, cut loose, you deserve it." Dostoevsky wrote about something else - first of all, about the possibility of Christian brotherhood and, therefore, he is far from being understood by many young people influenced by outside culture. On the other hand, some young people have strong craving for Dostoevsky. Look at the volunteer movement in St. Petersburg – so many young people are preparing for the Dostoevsky Day. There are many volunteers in Darovoye, a country estate in the Moscow Region where Dostoevsky spent his childhood. In summer young people come there to take care of trees and help recreate the nature reserve.
The Dostoevsky Day in Saint Petersburg. Photo credit: Net.gov / Twitter
– Does the Internet help young people to find Dostoevsky, or, rather, take them even further away from him?
– It's not about the Internet, but rather about a modern human and what s/he wants to get from the Internet. If we talk about Dostoevsky on the Internet, you can find there both scientific materials about him and myths or various modern representations of the writer. There is a kind of popular Dostoevsky on the Internet. He may surprise or shock some people, while make others think and bring them to real Dostoevsky. The Internet offers opportunities, and the person makes choice.
– Would you be pleased to see the Dostoevsky-based comics or rather call them blasphemy?
– Dostoevsky-based comics are widespread in Japan, and Elena Novikova, our researcher, wrote a major work on that topic. It cannot be stated that any mass culture causes only snobbish rejection. For a serious researcher, this is always a phenomenon that requires an understanding of its roots, tendencies, and semantic scope. Such studies enable a scientist to understand features of a contemporary human. Therefore, comics and other similar phenomena do not shock me, but encourage to understand why and how Dostoevsky is perceived. And maybe I would once again discover something in the writer.
– There are several territories associated with Dostoevsky in Russia. They are St. Petersburg, Moscow and the Moscow Region, Staraya Russa... The writer’s admirers visit some of them with enthusiasm and know little about or hardly reach the others. What is the tourism potential of Dostoevsky? And how appropriate is it to speak of Dostoevsky as a brand?
- This has already become a fact of life. As per my knowledge, a lot of efforts have been made in this direction in St. Petersburg. The Dostoevsky Day is held there, and people come from various places for this express purpose. Every year the writer’s museum offers new city tours presenting Dostoevsky from a different angle. The city and its suburbs offer a truly profound opportunity to get closer to Dostoevsky. I am sure that Darovoye also has far-reaching prospects. The churches that the Dostoevsky family visited are being restored; there are the graves of the writer's parents and the world of his childhood is revealed. But the following fact amazes me the most: if you look at the map, Darovoye is not that far from Yasnaya Polyana. This is Central Russia, which gave the world two geniuses. By the way, Dostoevsky’s memory is also cherished in Siberia, for example, in Tobolsk, where a lot of the writer’s remembrance work has already been performed.
The Darovoye Country Estate. Photo credit: goslitmuz.ru
Getting closer to Dostoevsky’s senses and meanings
– For many years it has been believed in the circles close to the literary establishment that three Russian writers - Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov - are popular abroad. Do you think this triumvirate is still there? And which of them, in your opinion, is the most appealing for modern readers?
– Yes, it is still there. Having checked the ratings popular in the West, for instance, Top 100 Writers or Top 100 Books, you can nearly always see Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in them. Sometimes Leo Nikolaevich moves up, and then Fyodor Mikhailovich does. I am more interested in what works are popular and what popularity trends have been like over the years. The Brothers Karamazov has been coming to the fore more and more often in the course of the last five years. The classic writers remain significant, although their evaluation may change.
– Can you name Dostoevsky’s works with relevance and popularity increasing over the years?
– Let us look at the last three decades. During perestroika and the fall of socialism, Russia engrossed in Demons. When, on the cusp of centuries, the new system was staggering and people rushed off to Orthodoxy, The Idiot came to the fore. Over the last ten to fifteen years, the leading positions have been held by The Grand Inquisitor. Earlier, this chapter of The Brothers Karamazov was probably not read to the depth that it contains, however now it is beginning to open up. As to the theatrical boards, A Gentle Creature has been staged very often in the course of last five to ten years.
A Gentle Creature , a one-man production by Valery Ivchenko at the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theater. Photo credit: bdt.spb.ru
– Russian readers also appreciate Dostoevsky for his distinctive language. How do translators work with his texts? Are they able to convey speech patterns of Elder Zosima or phrases of Makar Devushkin?
– I talked with translators, in particular, with Alejandro Gonzalez from Argentina. He translates Dostoevsky into Spanish. The students and I attended his seminar when he visited St. Petersburg. Alejandro Gonzalez showed us sheets of paper with translation of Notes from the Underground and shared what difficulties he faced and what could not be translated into the language of another culture. The seminar was devoted to those issues.
As for translations into foreign languages, the base for translators has been prepared in Russia, and it is literally fantastic. First of all, there is the Academic Complete Works of Dostoevsky of 30 volumes, and now a clarifying and supplementing second academic edition has been prepared in the Pushkin House. Also Dostoevsky's canonical texts with his spelling and punctuation are being published in Petrozavodsk. Where does it take us? Perhaps his intonement of senses and meanings in some places was different than the intonement set by the editorial revision. Translators study different versions of Dostoevsky's texts and see where the senses and meanings are deeper and clearer. In general, translators aim to get closer to senses and meanings of Dostoevsky himself.