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University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies

Toronto Slavic Quarterly

Matthew M. Wylie

Moral Crime and Moral Punishment:
Implications of Distance and Time in The Brother's Karamazov

Without that pathos of distance which grows out of the ingrained difference between strata-that other, more mysterious pathos could not have grown up either-the craving for an even new widening of distances within the soul itself, the development of ever higher, rarer, more remote, comprehensive states-in brief, simply the enhancement of the type «man,» the continual «self-overcoming of man,» to use a moral formula in a supra-moral sense.

Nietzsche ‘Beyond Good and Evil’

In 1994, Carlo Ginzburg, Professor of Italian Renaissance Studies at the University of California, published an article in Critical Inquiry entitled «Killing a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance.» In this article, Ginzburg explores the effects that distance, space, and time have on both an individual's and a community's capability to feel pity and guilt for other human beings. According to Ginzburg's analysis, human beings' potential to experience authentic feelings of pity and guilt are greatly determined by their relationship in distance, space, and time to the particular object of this pity / guilt, i.e., distance in actual historical time, distance in physical space, and distance / differences in similarities (or lack thereof) between the two subjects. As the article points out, we are initially introduced to this concept in Aristotle's Rhetoric: «The persons men pity are those whom they know, provided they are not too closely connected with them. Men also pity those who resemble them in age, character, habit, position, or family» (47). Shifting from Aristotle and focusing primarily on the writings of Denis Diderot and Honore de Balzac, Ginzburg examines how the moral implications of distance and time have been explored in French Literature. Using Diderot's «Conversation of a Father with His Children; or, the Danger of Setting Oneself Above the Law,» Ginzburg illustrates how Diderot, two thousand years after Aristotle, attempts to deal with the moral implications of distance and time. As Diderot writes, «we agreed that perhaps distance in space or time weakened all feelings and all sorts of guilty conscience, even of crime. The assassin, removed to the shores of China, can no longer see the corpse which he left bleeding on the banks of the Seine. Remorse springs perhaps less from horror of oneself than from fear of others» (This is Not a Story and Other Stories 143). Alternatively, Ginzburg refers to Balzac's Père Goriot, which contains the celebrated Chinese mandarin (Ginzburg's essay title) case. In Père Goriot, Rastignac and Bianchon discuss the moral implications involved with the idea of killing another human being (the Chinese mandarin) if one could accomplish this «simply by willing the death,» thus remaining distanced either in time or in space (106)1. While Ginzburg does not devote as much critical attention to Balzac, he appropriately includes the author as yet another contributor to the ongoing dialogue.

Regardless, both Balzac and Diderot disclose a fundamental addition or extension to Aristotle's original thesis 2. Diderot expands the implications of distance and time from the realm of authentic pity to that of authentic guilt. Further, he demonstrates how the concept of guilt is directly linked to crime. This contribution to the discussion involves the implications that distance, space, and time have not only on an individual's or community's capability to experience authentic pity, but how such elements affect feelings of guilt or remorse, especially when elicited by acts of crime. Moreover, we notice that a commentary is being made by Diderot (and Balzac) that involves the motivation(s) behind feelings of remorse or guilt in an individual. Accordingly, human beings are more likely to be influenced by fear of punishment rather than moral absolutes or values when contemplating criminal activities, especially those of murder. As Diderot expostulates in «Letter on the Blind, for the Use of Those Who See,» it is more than certain «that were it not for fear of punishment, many people would have fewer qualms at killing a man who was far enough away to appear no larger than a swallow than in butchering a steer with their own hands» (51).

I make reference to Ginzburg's article because of the particularly intriguing analysis of crime and guilt that it constructs. He provides an excellent framework for the reader by tracing the historical arguments and writings involving issues of pity, guilt, and crime in relation to distance and time; however, it seems that Ginzburg's analysis ends rather abruptly, for he fails to incorporate those writers that deal with the problems and the psychology of crime at a greater length than either Aristotle or Diderot do, i.e., Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, or Camus.

We know that Dostoevsky was extremely familiar with Diderot and that he spent the winter of 1868-69 in Florence reading, among other things, the philosopher's work 3. Further, Diderot is a recurring presence in the Karamazov text, making an initial appearance in the «Old Buffoon,» in which the elder Karamazov is ridiculed for manufacturing an inaccurate anecdote about the philosopher's lack of faith. Regardless, it is evident that Diderot was freshly on Dostoevsky's mind when he was exploring many of the ideas and themes found in The Brother's Karamazov.

With a large portion of Dostoevsky's texts then, we are afforded with analysis after analysis of the criminal's psychological workings, the philosophical implications of the crime, and the effects that the «eternal questions» were to have on these issues (crime, murder, death of God) and the individuals that struggled with them. In regard to crime and the philosophical implications that are associated with Dostoevsky's criminals, we immediately think of works such as Crime and Punishment, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov. As Vyacheslav Ivanov states in his essay «The Novel Tragedy,» «crime, therefore, becomes the center of Dostoevsky's tragic world; and in his exhausting analysis of it he sets himself to examine and demonstrate all that he has learnt of the most secret motives of human desire and endeavor. This analysis must, of course, be primarily psychological or sociological» (27). It is precisely that Dostoevsky's work deals so heavily with the philosophical and psychological implications of crime that renders Ginzburg's analysis such a relevant, if not inevitable analytical lens. In this essay, I would like to extend Ginzburg's investigation, as well as Diderot's, to The Brothers Karamazov. I will attempt to analyze the three (or four?) Karamazov brothers in terms of their relation to space and time and how such elements are related to the experience of guilt, remorse, and crime. By examining the events of the novel under the lens that both Aristotle and Diderot have offered us, I hope to demonstrate how the particular relationships between distance and time in the novel are directly linked and further influence the initiating event of the novel, i.e., the murder of Fyodor Karamazov.

Distance in Time

Hume states in Treatise on Human Nature that the «consequences of a removal in space are much inferior to those of a removal of time» (Ginzburg 57). While I will not endeavor to argue which of the two distancing effects is the more «superior,» I wish to point out the observation(s) made by Hume because I feel that it serves as a necessary starting point for an analysis of the Karamazov brothers and their relationship, or lack thereof, to their father.

As the narrator points out in the novel's introductory chapters, the Karamazov brothers were not exceptionally close to Fyodor Karamazov, and it seems obvious that even a semblance of a relationship existing between father and sons is barely noticeable (both by the reader and by the characters in the novel). Shortly after their respective births, each brother was completely «forgotten and abandoned by their father. They were looked after by the same Grigory and lived in his cottage, where they were found by the tyrannical old lady who had brought up their mother» (9). This is an important element to note because it provides an explanation for the absence of sympathy or pity that each brother feels upon learning of his father's death; for throughout the novel it does not appear that any of the brothers is truly concerned with the fact that their father is dead. Rather, the discussions and conflicts that we find among the brothers seem to stem from sources surrounding either the consequences of the murder (Dimitri), or the moral implications of the murder (Ivan, Smerdyakov). Even Alyosha, the most loving and tolerant of the brothers, does not express a sincere regret or pity over his father's murder. On the contrary, he seems to be more concerned and horrified that one of his brothers may have committed the crime or at least wished it. In Chapter Four of Book One, Alyosha answers Ivan's question regarding both his [Ivan's] and Dimitri's capability of murdering Fyodor: «What are you saying Ivan? Such an idea never crossed my mind. I don't think Dimitri is capable of it, either» (131). It seems apparent that Alyosha's anxiety lay in the possibility that either Ivan or Dimitri might be entertaining such murderous notions, not, however, that the death of his father may or may not occur.

Though it is apparent through the textual evidence, I would like to draw brief attention to the fact that neither Dimitri nor Ivan truly displays any remorse at the idea of parricide either. Dimitri, of course, indicates that he desires the murder in «Why is Such a Man Alive?» as well as his direct statement to the investigating authorities in Book Nine that he did in fact «mean to kill» Fyodor (431). Ivan too implies that the death of Karamazov is his secret wish. Answering Alyosha's question regarding whether or not one man can determine if another is worthy to live, Ivan claims that «the matter is most often decided in men's hearts on other grounds much more natural. And as for rights - who has not the right to wish« (130-31 emphasis mine).

With reference to Ginzburg's article, it seems evident that both distance in space and time play a large role in the brothers' lack of pity or genuine human feeling regarding Karamazov's death. The fact that the brothers had spent so many years away from Fyodor Karamazov increases the apparent indifference that each brother exhibits toward him. More importantly, it is distance in time that serves both to unite the brothers and further alienate them from Karamazov. The one thing that they have in common, besides being blood-relations, is that they were each abandoned by their father. As aforementioned, parental roles for each brother were served by someone other than the elder Karamazov. We are told that Dimitri is given into the care of old Grigory for the majority of his [Mitya's] boyhood, and that the independent liberal Pyotr Miusov saw to his education. Further, both Alyosha and Ivan are brought up and cared for by friends and relatives. In turn, it becomes clear that the brothers have not lived together under the Karamazov roof for some time, if ever (?). The narrator asserts early on that «the family, I repeat, was now united for the first time, and some of its members met for the first time in their lives» (12). As Ginzburg claims in his essay, «distance [in time], if pushed to an extreme, can generate a total lack of compassion for our fellow humans» (57). For each brother then, Fyodor was simply another human being, citizen, or, perhaps more appropriately Dostoevskian, an «insect.» Regardless, he was a person that the brothers felt incredibly far from personally, as well as physically, which inevitably contributes to the lack of pity and sympathy that each experiences after the murder.

Distance in Space

In The Diary of a Writer, Dostoevsky continues both Diderot's and Balzac's conversation concerning the implications that distance in physical space have on an individual's capability of experiencing authentic feelings of pity, or, as Dostoevsky terms, «humaneness.» While discussing Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky analyzes the «psychological peculiarity» that is associated with Levin's inability to express an «immediate sentiment for the oppression of the Slavs» (809). Again, reminiscent of Diderot's assassin or Balzac's mandarin case, Levin's lack of sentiment and inability to feel are directly related to distance in physical space. As Dostoevsky inquires, «doesn't mere distance in this case exercise a certain influence? ‘I don't see it myself; the thing is transpiring far away; and I feel nothing.’ ‘Eh, it's in another hemisphere, not here!’ That is, even though he does not so directly express himself, that is what he feels, i.e. he feels nothing» (809). Dostoevsky adds an interesting element to the equation here, for Levin, or one like him, is not considered contextually within the philosophical problem(s) of actually committing the crime or murders, as Diderot's assassin and Balzac's mandarin case are. Rather, Dostoevsky discusses Levin in terms of his passive participation in crimes such as the oppression / murder of Slavs. Levin is not the murderer per se; however, because these events transpire elsewhere, he is not «humanely» affected by them either. Dostoevsky's assessment is a moral critique of a different type, for he holds accountable those who are not simply active participants in crime, genocide, oppression, evil (those who carry out the executions of peoples), but those, such as Levin, who deflect responsibility on account of their removal from the events in physical space, i.e. those who passively allow for these events to occur. It becomes not only a cynical question of «What can I, as an individual, do about an evil occurring so far away from me?» but «What can I, as an individual, truly feel about an evil transpiring at such a far distance?»

In Karamazov, Dostoevsky seems to apply this critique to the brothers as well, particularly Ivan and Alyosha. Further, we can notice, as with Levin, how distance in physical space affect the brothers' sense of «humaneness» and / or moral responsibility concerning their father's murder. Not only are the brother's distanced from their father through physical time, but as the plot of the novel unfolds, we notice that a distancing in space between the brothers and the father occurs as well. For the purposes of this section, it will be necessary for us to look at the various geographical locations of each of the characters at the time of the murder.

Alyosha, who more than anyone perhaps felt the most anxiety over the idea that one of his brother's might commit murder, is seen traveling from one location in the town to another. With almost inhuman speed, time, and patience, he meets with the Khokhlakovs, Grushenka, Rakitin, and more importantly, the dying Father Zossima. Both the monastery and Zossima himself supplement the original object symbols of home and family that had been denied Alyosha by the elder Karamazov. As Robin F. Miller claims in The Brothers Karamazov: Worlds of the Novel, both «Fyodor Karamazov, his biological father, and Father Zossima, his spiritual father» are diametrically opposed to each other in Alyosha, and both «compete for possession of his soul» (16). However, it appears that Zossima continually maintains the primary influence over Alyosha's mind and spirit. As Alyosha's spiritual «father,» Zossima provides pious and worldly instruction to the young monk. Zossima, rather surprisingly, informs Alyosha that after the elder's death he must leave the monastery and return to the Karamazov household:

You are more needed there. There is no peace there. You will wait, and be of use. If evil spirits raise up, repeat a prayer. And remember my son, this is not the place for you in the future. Remember that, young man. When it is God's will to call me, leave the monastery. Go away for good. (67, emphasis mine).

Interestingly enough, an ironic parallel can be drawn between the death of Zossima and the death of Fyodor Karamazov. When Karamazov is murdered, Alyosha is returning to the monastery and to the decomposing corpse of Father Zossima. Both Father Zossima and the elder Karamazov die within a day of each other, yet it is Zossima, Alyosha's spiritual father, that Alyosha is the most preoccupied with. Moreover, Alyosha is physically distanced in space from the crime and from his biological father, which further serves to draw emphasis away from any notions of pity or sympathy that he may or may not have experienced for the elder Karamazov. Despite the familial connections that Aristotle claims increases the likelihood of feelings of pity, Alyosha, notwithstanding his premonitions that something «terrible» is bound to occur in his family, chooses to remain distanced from his biological father and place of birth and to return to the monastery and the recently deceased Zossima. We are given an exhortation of this particular issue (parental roles) in the arguments on fatherhood presented by both lawyers at Mitya's trial. Dostoevsky seems to embed within these arguments problems of responsible parenthood that were evidently characteristic of Dostoevsky's milieu. As prosecutor Ippolit Kirillovich claims, Karamazov «was a father, and one of the typical fathers of today,» a type of person that embodies the sensual, cynical, and selfish nature that is manifest in the Karamazov character (661). Fetyukovich too concludes that Fyodor was not an honorable parent figure, and «in no way corresponds to that conception of a father» which is associated with qualities such as love, sacrifice, and / or personal education (704). Furthermore, Fetyukovich, echoing Ivan's remarks concerning the unfeasibility of loving those such as Fyodor (the «unloveable»), purports an argument that Alyosha seems to wrestle with throughout the text-the idea that noone, even those as vial and malicious as Fyodor, is unworthy of love. As Fetyukovich maintains though, «filial love for an unworthy father is an absurdity, an impossibility. Love cannot be created from nothing: only God can create something from nothing» (706). Once again, we find a theme that permeates the novel, as well as most of Dostoevsky's works, i.e. the conflict between Ivan and Alyosha or the opposing ideas that each represent-that genuine love for all of mankind, even those that appear unworthy of it, is or is not a possibility.

According to Ginzburg's analysis, «if extreme distance leads to indifference, extreme closeness can lead either to pity or to destructive rivalry» (49) 4. For the first half of the statement-that distance leads to indifference-we can certainly notice that both Alyosha and Ivan display an extremely marked indifference both toward their father and toward his death. As already outlined above, Alyosha's genuine concerns seem to be directed toward either the monastery and Zossima or toward Ivan and Dimitri. Ivan too, oftentimes read as the antithesis of the spiritually devoted Alyosha, initially appears wholly indifferent toward his father and the subsequent murder. As with Alyosha, his concerns arise toward the end of the novel when he struggles with guilt over the fact that Dimitri, innocent of murder, may be sent to prison in Siberia, as well as the fact that he [Ivan] is responsible for allowing the murder to occur. Interestingly enough, Ivan is the closest in physical space to Fyodor at the beginning of the novel. The narrator indicates that Ivan, since his return from Moscow, had been living in the Karamazov household for over two months (11). However, as the time of the murder approaches, Ivan, based on the cryptic admonitions of the invalid Smerdyakov, removes himself physically from both the Karamazov household and the town. After the conversation with Smerdyakov, Ivan awkwardly decides to leave for either Chermashnya or Moscow. When Ivan finally decides to return to Moscow, and not Chermashnya, the reader is given the indication that his purpose for leaving the town was to remove himself from the Karamazov household, thus allowing the murder to take place. As Ivan is traveling on the train to Moscow, he «suddenly roused himself from his meditation» and exclaims «I am a scoundrel,» implying that he is in fact aware of both why he is leaving the town and the actions that will subsequently transpire, i.e., the murder of his father (260). By distancing himself in actual physical space, Ivan echoes Diderot's assassin, who removes himself to the shores of China and «can no longer see the corpse which he left bleeding» on the Seine (Ginzburg 50).

The text (Karamazov) strongly implies that Ivan was conscious of the plot to murder his father. As I stated above, Ivan either secretly «wishes» it, or perhaps he simply remains indifferent toward the idea throughout its development. Through the distance in physical space that occurs as a result of his departure, Ivan attempts to escape the horror and punishment that others would ascribe to him if he were to be associated with parricide. Moreover, Ivan himself adds an interesting twist to the effects of space and time on human beings in «Rebellion.» In his discussion with Alyosha, he describes the effects of distance in space on man's capability to practice a Christ-like love:

Christ-like love for men is a miracle impossible on earth. He was God. But we are not gods ... Beggars, especially genteel beggars, ought never to show themselves, but to ask for charity through the newspapers. One can love one's neighbors in the abstract, or even at a distance, but at close quarters it is almost impossible. (218)

Ivan turns Diderot's problems of guilt and pity into issues involving abstract, or ideal forms of love. This idea appears far earlier in the novel however, in «A Lady of Little Faith,» which involves the conversation between Father Zossima and Lise's mother concerning the concept of loving one's neighbor in the abstract, rather than on a genuine, individual level. As Zossima explains to the woman, «it's just the same story a doctor once told me ... He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. ‘I love humanity,’ he said, ‘but wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular, that is, separately, as single individuals'» (48). If distance in space and time affect one's capability to feel authentic pity / remorse / guilt, then man's capacity to practice a miraculous, Christ-like love is equally affected by physical space. An extraordinary paradox arises from Ivan's remarks, for it appears that while feelings of pity or guilt elicited by criminal acts are lessened when the subject is removed in space and / or time from the event, feelings of abstract love are exercised or «truly experienced» at extreme distances. Of course, Ivan's (and Dostoevsky's) cynicism is apparent here, as is his entire problem with the precepts of Christianity. Ivan, as with his Inquisitor, cannot accept God's law because it is physically and spiritually impossible for man to accomplish. Further, Ivan cannot accept «God's world» because he cannot reconcile the moral conflicts that arise as a result of human suffering. The irony of Ivan's dilemma lay in this paradox between physical distance and time. As Camus so aptly explains in The Rebel, «Ivan allows his father to be killed. Too profound to be satisfied with appearances, too sensitive to perform the deed himself, he is content to allow it to be done. But he goes mad. The man who could not understand how one could love one's neighbor cannot understand either how one can kill him... this man of supreme intelligence is killed by contradiction» (in The Brothers Karamazov: Norton Critical Edition 839).

I would like to complete our analysis by applying the second half of Ginzburg's analysis-that «extreme closeness can lead either to pity or to destructive rivalry» - to Dimitri. As the eldest brother, Dimitri has had the most to dispute with his father. The narrator informs us that Dimitri was the «only one of Fyodor Pavlovich's three sons who grew up in the belief that he had property, and would be independent on coming of age» (6). Further, it is Dimitri who seems to resemble his father the most in character traits and personality, i.e., the tendency to succumb to sensual lust, frivolity, drunkenness, and recklessness. As Roger Anderson claims in Dostoevsky: Myths of Duality, «Dimitri's unbridled, often exulting sensuality, together with his physical similarities to his father, link him more than any other character to Fyodor's mystical sensualism» (144). Moreover, the personal interactions with his father seem more marked and frequent in Dimitri than with either Ivan or Alyosha. As a result, we notice that a hazardous rivalry occurs between Dimitri and Fyodor involving Grushenka. The closeness both in space (Dimitri lives close to the town and has communicated several times with his father in the last four years) and in personality allows an opportunity for this Aristotelian rivalry to occur 5. Both Dimitri and Fyodor vie for the affections of Grushenka, and this competition seems to arise from each character trying to prove his superiority over the other. Additionally, the actual need for this superiority to be achieved by Dimitri and Fyodor emerges from their incredible closeness in personality and character. Because they are considered to be so alike, one must prove his difference and supremacy by securing the attentions of Grushenka. While it appears that Dimitri's pursuit of Grushenka stems from an authentic passion or love, Fyodor most likely desires Grushenka for baser reasons, including his competitive need to maintain the sexual potency of his youth and to keep up with the sexual vigor of h
is son. As Anderson points out, Fyodor first «swindles Dimitri out of his inheritance and then competes for the sexual favors of the woman that Dimitri passionately loves» (143). Regardless of either Fyodor's or Dimitri's motivations behind their individual pursuits of Grushenka, an intense and destructive rivalry exists between the two. Further, we can analyze this rivalry as an inevitable result of the closeness in both distance and personality that occurs between father and son.

Of Split Selves and United Wholes

One of Ginzburg's final points of analysis involves two of Diderot's most influential works: Rameau's Nephew and The Paradox of Acting. As Ginzburg points out, Diderot's primary theses argue how and why «distant, noncommunicating human beings turn into a split self» (50). In short, the distancing in space and time, which prevents authentic communication between two or more human beings from occurring, creates a paradoxical self that is both united and split. The Karamazov brothers are united, of course, through familial ties; however, a split occurs between each due both to their removal from one another in actual physical space during childhood (see above) and the lack of communication between each that exists up until the events of the novel take place. It seems fitting then, through our analysis of The Brothers Karamazov in its relationship between distanceÓtime and feelings of pityÓguiltÓcrimeÓrivalry, to conclude our investigation with this dialectic. Of course, the idea that the three or four Karamazov brothers are different parts of a whole, unified body has been discussed at length by numerous critics and I have no intentions of applying the analysis at length in this essay. However, I wish to bring this final point of Ginzburg's up because I believe it offers a new, fresh reading and interpretation of the Karamazov brothers. Ivan as intellect, Alyosha as soul, and Dimitri as body can be read as integral elements of a larger family dynamic; or, rather, a «split-self» which occurs as a result of the brothers' own distance between themselves, i.e. the distance that occurs as a result of their removal from the family paradigm during each character's youth.

While I have attempted to point out in this essay the elements of the novel that unite the three brothers, it cannot be avoided that the three brothers, up to the point where the action of the novel begins, remain largely distanced from each other, and not exclusively to their father. As aforementioned, the brothers meet together in the beginning of the novel as a united family-as one self-for perhaps the first time in each of their lives (12). This extreme distance in space and in time has perhaps the greatest influence on each of their personalities, for the split that occurs within the family, or the collective self, develops and solidifies in each brother during their time away from one another. In other words, through the division that occurs within the «unified self» due to the physical distance between the brothers, each individual is able to develop his own unique, representative (for Dostoevsky) personality, which is to be explored both separately (as individual characters) and collectively (as component personalities or representative elements of one whole-the unified self) throughout the unfolding of the novel.

Alyosha has time to nurture and explore his religiosity and spirituality. Ivan has time to nourish his intellect in Moscow and abroad. Dimitri, too, away from his family, develops his frivolous and debauched lifestyle while in the army and elsewhere. When the three brothers are finally united again under the same roof, both the split and the various characteristics of the split are evident-and Dostoevsky obviously chooses to accentuate this split early on in order to develop and relay to his reader the various representative elements that each brother embodies, i.e., mind, body, soul. Further, it seems even more credible that it is in fact a split in one, unified self that occurs between the brothers because of the extreme closeness and attachment that each feels for the other upon their coming together. This fact alone seems to refute some key points of both Aristotle's and Diderot's original theses, which accentuate the indifference and lack of emotion that arises between human beings as a result of extreme distances in space and time. With the three brothers, this indifference and lack of emotion does not seem to occur, which further leads us to believe in their solidarity as one united self, rather than three separate selves.


As an intense thinker and writer, Dostoevsky's investigations into the nature of crime and the psychological impact of guilt, crime, and remorse on the human condition deserve close and continual analysis. Further, the complexity of the issues he brings to our attention, particularly that of crime and the moral and religious implications of murder, are by no means on the verge of being exhausted by literary criticism or criminal psychology. Dostoevsky demands that we constantly reevaluate and rethink not simply the effects or immediate implications of particular crimes, such as parricide or murder, but the psychological and / or spiritual motivations behind such enduring «problems.» As Ginzburg's text has illuminated, human beings have a capability to subscribe to moral and civil laws either out of habit or out of fear of punishment. The implications of both Ginzburg's article and Dostoevsky's texts are that human beings must penetrate the surface of this moral irresponsibleness and truly explore not simply their actions, but their thoughts and motivations to follow their actions as well. Further, it is not simply what human beings do that should be monitored and evaluated, but what they allow to be done.

All brothers are guilty of murder, despite their actual distance in space and time to the event. Their desires for Karamazov's death, or their indifference to the possibility that it may occur, situate the brothers within the realm of Dostoevsky's critical gaze. As both Diderot and Dostoevsky seem to claim, essentially, it is irrelevant where in distance or time human beings are in relation to one another. Moral absolutes and the moral obligation to other human beings still apply and extend beyond the realm of both space and time.

Works Cited

  • Anderson, Roger. Dostoevsky: Myths of Duality. U of Florida P: Gainesville, 1986.
  • Balzac, Honore. Pere Goriot. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York: Norton Critical Ed., 1998.
  • Camus, Albert. «The Rejection of Salvation.» In The Brothers Karamazov. Ed. Ralph Matlaw. Trans. Constance Garnett. Norton Critical Edition: New York, 1976,
  • Diderot, Denis. This is Not a Story and Other Stories. Trans. P. N. Furbank. U of Missouri P: Columbia, 1991.
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Ed. Ralph Matlaw. Trans. Constance Garnett. Norton Critical Edition: New York, 1976.
  • The Diary of a Writer. Ed. and Trans. Boris Brasol. Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, 1979.
  • Letters 1868-1871. Ed. and Trans. David A. Lowe. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1990.
  • Ginzburg, Carlo. «Killing a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance.» Critical Inquiry 21 (1994): 47-60.
  • Ivanov, Vyacheslav. «The Novel Tragedy.» Critical Essays on Dostoevsky. Ed. Robin F. Miller. G. K. Hall: Boston, 1986. 23-30.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. Vintage:New York, 1966.


  1. Also worth noting is Dostoevsky's «Pushkin Speech,» in which Dostoevsky quotes from memory several passages from Pere Goriot, indicating that he was not only extremely familiar with the novel / writer, but held it to be a seminal literary work-Dotoevsky mentions in The Diary of a Writer that Balzac in general, and Pere Goriot in particular, were often misrepresented by Russian literary critics, such as Belinsky, who, according to Dostoevsky, «completely missed the significance of [Balzac] in French literature» (346).
  2. In this essay I would like to focus primarily on Diderot, rather than Balzac, simply because Diderot seems to devote much more attention to the issue.
  3. See Dostoevsky's Letter of April 6th, 1868-69, in which Dostoevsky discusses his intense study of both Voltaire and Diderot during his winter stay in Florence.
  4. Ginzburg's statement is in reference to passages from Aristotle's Poetics and Rhetoric. In this particular section, Ginzburg's commentary is directed toward aspects of both Greek state and «everyday experience in the face-to-face society in which Aristotle lived» (49).
  5. See Chapter Two, Book One for references to Dimitri's past relationship with Fyodor Karamazov. Also, this particular point refers to the analyses that Ginzburg draws from Aristotle, in which one's capability to experience pity / remorse springs from his / her relationship in space and time to the particular object of pity, as well as to the similarities or connection(s) in age, gender, family, etc. Aristotle then goes on to point out how extreme similarities or connections like this often can result in rivalry between the two subjects-see Ginzburg page 49.
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