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Publication Detail
Deferred Senses and Distanced Spaces: Embodying the Boundaries of Dostoevsky’s Realism
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Young S
  • Publisher:
    University of Toronto Press
  • Publication date:
  • Place of publication:
  • Chapter number:
  • Editors:
    Bowers K,Holland K
  • Book title:
    Dostoevsky at 200: The Novel in Modernity
  • Language:
  • Keywords:
    Russian literature, Dostoevsky, space in literature, senses in literature, 19th century literature
How should we understand Dostoevskii’s characters, and their role in relation to his unique form of fantastic realism? Studies of Dostoevskian characters have focused primarily on their psychology and inner life, the content of their ideas, and their significance as voices in the texts’ dialogic interaction. Their ambiguous dual nature as simultaneously embodied figures and, variously, mental projections, spiritual emanations and disembodied ideas is acknowledged, but critical emphasis remains primarily on the latter. Yet the former aspect – the extent and type of embodiment with which they are endowed – is often ignored, despite its potential to illuminate Dostoevsky’s conception not only of the human personality, but also of realism, not least through the relations of characters to his novelistic space, and to each other within that space. The present essay therefore considers the nature, degree and context of embodiment represented by Dostoevskii’s characters, in order to assess their contribution to the form of realism in his fictional texts. Embodiment is considered not in the narrow, generic definition employed by Bakhtin, yet is still fundamentally related to the question of self-consciousness, considering the characters’ experience of the senses, how they perceive the external world, their own position in it, and their proximity to, and contact with, others. It argues that the senses (and through them, the characters’ embodiment) are deferred in two main ways in Dostoevskii’s fiction. Firstly, senses are represented not as part of the general realia of the text, but on the contrary as existing primarily in the psychic realm. Reference to physical contact with the other in memory, dreams, and delirium render these mental phenomena more ‘real’ and frequently more spatially defined than the everyday mode. Secondly, the senses are concentrated in scenes of witnessing and revelation that involve physical separation. Eavesdropping in particular is strongly connected with detailed descriptions of interior spaces, concretizing the aural dimension to embody the speakers at a distance from the generally hidden witness. Focusing primarily on Crime and Punishment and The Adolescent, I show how these paradoxical forms of deferred embodiment use reference to the senses not only to displace the ‘real’ within Dostoevskii’s works, but also to highlight the problem of the other as not directly knowable.
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