An interesting discussion is taking place over on The Reading Experience following Dan Green's provocative wee post about A.N. Wilson's review of Rowan William's new book on Dostoevsky. The discussion is marred by the aggressive and rude tone of many of the comments -- especially following James Wood's intervention. As is so often the case, the level of unmannerly boorishness exhibited by some commenters is in a direct, inverse relationship to them having anything useful, sophisticated or insightful to add to the thread.

Readers Comments

  1. Though little else could be expected when the initial post is so ludicrous in the first place. All merit attached to Dostoevsky as a whole described as "What rot." Nothing but a statement of personal shallowness.

  2. I like Dan Green's blog and I don't know if I'd describe his initial post as ludicrous, but certainly I find it rather baffling.

    Over a number of posts, Dan has been articulating his aesthetics.

    He is keen to say that he doesn't "read works of literature for arguments about "belief" (for "arguments" generally), as "political pamphlets" or "social philosophy," certainly not for "psychological insight," and not to be "taught" anything at all."

    He says, "I read fiction for the aesthetic experience it might provide." But I'm just not sure that "aesthetic experience" devoid of the countless intellectual strands that make it up is anything but empty.

    Literature is a form of thinking, not just a style of prettification.

  3. I agree, and find such compartmentalising of life & art incomprehensible. As an expression of a living being- as art invariably is- what self-narrowing should provoke the fleeing from undesirable aspects of that life, such as the fact that our use of language is inextricably entwined in its use forming structures of intelligence. "No no, I flee from such false literature." Or the pretence that the life we collectively inhabit & literature mirrors/distills does indeed include the effects of ideas. It seems the desire to contain a sealed anti-septic compartment where nothing can intrude to disturb one's hermetic retreat. Just to quote a very short parodic piece I penned, called "Self-Contained"
    A leading figure has described literature's great mission being to create a literary language devoid of all external reference. Thus will literature finally become a pure art-form, he said.

    Short & sweet. And just to mention the anti-semitism that one would imagine was a massive vital element of Dostoevsky's make-up. How many lines in his literature are devoted to this virulent hatred? Barely any I've noticed, and what there may be pales compared to his remarks on Catholicism, the Jesuits & Freemasons, which he relatively overtly equates with satanic manipulation. I've one of his volumes of the Diary of a Writer & there's nothing I can recall from that, while, in a country where Jews were at that time, subkect to pogroms, Dostoevsky publicly argued that they have teh full inalienable rights of any other citizens.
    And to pick from Hermann Hesse's thoughts on Dostoevsky:

    "Out of the alternation & opposition of two elements ans antipoles there grow the mythic depths and vast spaciousness of his music.
    In Beethoven's symphonies and quartets there are places where out of pure misery and lostness something infinitely childlike & tender blazes up, an intimation of meaning and knowledge about salvation. This is the kind of experience I find in Dostoevsky as well."

  4. Just in case:
    "Dostoevsky publicly argued that they should have the full inalienable rights of any other citizens."
    Not exactly comparable to the more obvious historical strains of anti-semitism.

  5. Oh no, to add one more point. ANyone who thinks Dostoevsky's works are top-heavy with destabilising ideas just neds to compare the devil scene in Brothers Karamazov with Mann's similar scene in Dr Faustus. Dostoevsky's is utterly real, and consistent in terms of the novel as a whole. Mann's, on the other hand, is completely unreal and frankly embarrassing in fictional terms. Either Mann doesn't even try to move beyond the 'exalted' intellectual, idea-laden element as he knows it's useless to try, or else if he does try, then God help us. In the first case, we accept the literature on its somewhat unreal terms as there is enough essential substance to merit this concession to weak art. I'd rather hope the second case doesn't exist; ie that Mann actually thinks the scene is believable.
    No such concessions are ever necessary with Dostoevsky, and even his use of a kind of fabulous compression is always internally 'believable' and 'real'.

  6. I'm glad someone - i.e. Mark - feels the same way as I do about the tone of the comments. The Guardian's Book blog has been the preserve of what I thought was a peculiarly English trait so it's shame to see it migrating.

    It is also a shame Dan gives encouragement in his latest blog to one prominent GBB gobsh*te whose comments there remind me of a cross between Russell Brand and Oliver Kamm; concerned only with smart-arse superciliousness rather than debate.

    As for Dan's unfortunate comments on Dostoevsky - they explain to me why he's not a fan of Saul Bellow's. With this, and after reading Hemon's The Lazarus Project, I recognise how European - Eastern European - Bellow's fiction really is.

  7. Nicely phrased as usual Mark.

    A sad irony: Here James Wood responds and lends credence to a literary blog, and he's is castigated for doing so... I think it's terrific that he takes the time to read and participate in our part of the blogosphere... adds a lot to discussions ... and evidences I think a genuine interest in engagement and connection ... how many other critics take the time to participate as he does?

  8. "lends credence"?

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