31 January, 2009

Yes, he said it! Yet again!

Dear reader,

I am stubborn as a mule. Kindly pardon me while I record that once again in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky writes what some claim he never wrote, namely,

I've previously grumbled about this here and here.

In a conversation between Ivan Fyodorovich and Smerdyakov, the following exchange transpires between Ivan (the first) and Smerdyakov (the second):
Listen, you showed me that money, of course, in order to convince me.

Smerdyakov removed Isaac the Syrian from the money and set it aside.

Take the money with you, sir, take it away, Smerdyakov sighed.

Of course I shall take it away! But why are you giving it back to me, if you killed because of it.

I've got no use at all for it, sir, Smerdyakov said in a trembling voice, waving his hand. There was such a former thought, sir, that I could begin a life on such money in Moscow, or even more so abroad, I did have such a dream, sir, and even more so as "everything is permitted." It was true what you taught me, sir, because you told me a lot about that then: because if there's no infinite God, then there's no virtue either, and no need of it all. It was true. That's how I reasoned.

Did you figure it out for yourself? Ivan grinned crookedly.

With your guidance, sir.

So now you've come to believe in God, since you're giving back the money?

The Brothers Karamazov,
Part IV, Book 11, Chapter 8
"The Third and Last Meeting with Smerdyakov"
(emphasis added)

What's more, Dostoevsky has put these words on the lips of those who claim to be enlightened or rational people, who are too intelligent to be fooled by something as naïve as the superstitious belief in a god. Neither Smerdyakov nor Ivan disputes the idea. Ivan, I think, is starting to be troubled by it, as he sees how Smerdyakov—whose intelligence he only recently has begun to perceive—has applied that logic in a manner he finds repugnant.

I have by now lost count of how often this phrase, or something like it, appears in the novel. It becomes difficult to believe that anyone who's read and engaged the novel could assert with a straight face that Dostoevsky never wrote those words. Ironically, everyone I've seen to assert it forcefully happens not to believe that God exists… but we won't draw any false conclusions about their motives from Dostoevsky's theme.

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