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The Brothers Karamazov
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Archived 2012 Group Reads > Brothers Karamazov (A) 02: Book II - Chapter 3, Book III - Chapter 1

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Loretta (lorettalucia) Please discuss Week 2's reading below!


ayanami The discussion of Ivan's article was really interesting. He says if there's no immortality (ie. God, spiritual authority) then there would be no moral compass for people to follow and therefore everything is permitted because there's no judgement of right or wrong. Sounds very nihilistic to me. And isn't he implying that some sort of spiritual belief is necessary for society to function (because he claims the law isn't enough, the criminal won't necessarily feel guilty, etc)?

Also, he reminds me a lot of Rasolnikov in Crime and Punishment; they are both highly intelligent and both try to rationalize their own morally questionable and immoral actions-- Ivan justifying letting Dmitri go with some other women so he could get with his fiancee and Raskolnikov saying he's saving people by committing one murder.


Adam More characters, yay!

Katerina Osipovna Khokhlakov (I think he's only referred to her as Madame Khokhlakov at this point) - wealthy woman from town, she comes to see the elder with her daughter, Liza

Liza Khokhlakov (Lise) - fourteen year old daughter of Katerina Khokhlakov, Alyosha befriended her when she was younger. Suffers from "paralysis of the legs," has been unable to walk for half a year. She seems to have a crush on Alyosha.

Mikhail Osipovich Rakitin (often just called Rakitin, although Alyosha calles him Misha here) - religious student at the monastery, he is present for the meeting between the Karamazovs and Zosima (missed him the first time around, sorry). He seems to be friendly with Alexei but also tries to get him stirred up.

Marfa Ignatievna Kutuzov - Grigory's wife (Grigory is Fyodor's servant) - she and Grigory have raised Fyodor's illegitimate son together (Pavel Smerdyakov)


Adam ayanami wrote: "The discussion of Ivan's article was really interesting. He says if there's no immortality (ie. God, spiritual authority) then there would be no moral compass for people to follow and therefore eve..."

This is obviously one of Dostoevsky's favorite themes - without religion everything is permitted. As an atheist I see quite a few flaws in this theory, but I don't think he is that hard on the atheists in this book. Much more often I think he points to the hypocrisy of those who claim to believe in a higher power, but don't act in a way that would indicate they do.

I haven't seen Ivan do anything so far that would qualify as "immoral." He was very respectful towards Zosima despite being an atheist, and even prevented Maximov from entering their carriage when Fyodor invited him to a night of debauchery. It has been hinted that he has feelings for Dmitri's fiancee, but I haven't seen any sign that he's encouraging Dmitri's bad behavior.


ayanami Ah, good point about Ivan. From Zosima's comment, it also seems like even though he wrote the article, he's struggling internally with the ideas.

I was thinking also about what Zosima says to the lady in chapter 4, the example of a man who claims to love humanity as a whole but dislikes people individually. I guess Zosima is someone who loves people as individuals. Not sure where I'm going with this... but there are lots of ideas to ponder. Anyway, right now I like Zosima a lot as a character, he seems to have made peace with himself/his life and genuinely cares about people.


Adam Ivan's standpoint regarding the courts certainly is unusual given his lack of faith - I had a hard time figuring out his motive behind writing the article.

I guess we should take a closer look at what he's actually saying - that if people do bad things then the church will be passing judgement on them, not just earthly judgement, but literally saying "ok, you're going to hell and there's nothing you can do, case closed." It's very much against what most current Christian churches teach, that all sins can be forgiven if you honestly repent. At one time the Catholic church instituted the practice of excommunicating people, which meant permanent damnation. I don't know if this was still going on in Russia when this novel was written, but Dostoevsky mentions it in the text.

In Ivan's mind, this is something the people of Russia would respond to more than standard imprisonment. I'm not sure I agree with that idea, and I have a hard time believing an atheist would even consider this to be a good solution. Maybe I don't have a full grasp of what life was like in Russia at this time...


message 7: by Juliette (last edited Jun 12, 2012 05:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Juliette Adam wrote: "In Ivan's mind, this is something the people of Russia would respond to more than standard imprisonment. I'm not sure I agree with that idea, and I have a hard time believing an atheist would even consider this to be a good solution. Maybe I don't have a full grasp of what life was like in Russia at this time...
..."


I'm not entirely convinced at this point that Ivan is an atheist. I certainly could be wrong. He gave in to Zosima and admitted that his arguments had flaws, so even Ivan agrees with you Adam that this might not be a good solution.

I have a distaste for people like Fyodor. I don't have him completely figured out, but he is the type of person who feels he is so important and above others that he must stomp on everyone with lies in order to prove it to them. I wonder how he and Ivan get along well and if Ivan doesn't fall far from the tree but is more intelligent in dishing out his lies. (And to clarify, I in no way mean that atheists are liars or that atheism is a lie, just wondering what we'll get out of Ivan in the future).


ayanami Adam wrote: "It's very much against what most current Christian churches teach, that all sins can be forgiven if you honestly repent. "

I didn't know that about the church. So in Dostoevsky's time, if you sinned, you can't be saved at all?

I don't really feel like Fyodor thinks he's really important, more like he's played the fool for so long he just keeps going with it and doesn't seem to care about others. He has no religious faith and when Zosima tells him not to lie, he seems to go along with it, acting like he feels bad about his behaviour but I'm not convinced he really feels that way.


Adam It wasn't just for any sin...often the church would use it for political leverage against a ruler. If there was a disagreement between a group of people and the church, they would excommunicate the group which broke off from their traditions.

Here's a fun list of the most well-known excommunications at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...


Everyman | 885 comments ayanami wrote: "Adam wrote: "It's very much against what most current Christian churches teach, that all sins can be forgiven if you honestly repent. "

I didn't know that about the church. So in Dostoevsky's time if you sinned, you can't be saved at all?..."


I don't think that's the case, nor do I think it's what Ivan is saying. I'll have to go back and review it, but I think it's only if you reject the church and persist in the sin that you can be excommunicated, which indeed is a direct and permanent trip to Hell. But if there was no redemption for sins, every one of us would be condemned, since there is no one who can live a totally sinless life.


message 11: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Everyman wrote: "ayanami wrote: "Adam wrote: "It's very much against what most current Christian churches teach, that all sins can be forgiven if you honestly repent. "

I didn't know that about the church. So in D..."


Hmm, maybe my response wasn't exactly clear earlier...excommunication was normally reserved only for very serious sins, and was typically used when someone was doing something against church doctrine and refusing to repent or conform to the church's wishes. With that said, you might be surprised what the Catholic church considered a serious sin (not going to confession often enough, for example).

Here is an excerpt from the P/V translation, from Ivan's mouth (the chapter titled "So Be It! So Be It!"):

"If everything became the Church, then the Church would excommunicate the criminal and the disobedient and not cut off their heads"

And later from Zosima:

"What would become of him if the Church, too, punished him with excommunication each time immediately after the law of the state has punished him? Surely there could be no greater despair, at least for a Russian criminal, for Russian criminals still have faith."

Reading through this again, I believe Ivan's article is not so much about what he wants to have happen, but what he thinks the goal of the church should be if they truly believe what they preach. He's almost daring them to do it...prodding them I think - shouldn't this be what they want? To save everyone by ruling over them?

Well, that's my new theory anyway. If you're still reading this, congratulations! :)


Everyman | 885 comments Adam wrote: "If you're still reading this, congratulations! :) "

Accepted with appreciation, but not sure why I get credit just for reading an interesting and well written post.


ayanami I definitely read all of it! I really appreciate everyone who's been posting. This certainly isn't the easiest book to read and understand, and you guys have cleared up some things that I wasn't sure about and offered a lot of insight. So thank you! :)


message 14: by Bob (last edited Jun 15, 2012 02:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob ayanami wrote: "I definitely read all of it! I really appreciate everyone who's been posting. This certainly isn't the easiest book to read and understand, and you guys have cleared up some things that I wasn't su..."

I concur!

As usual, Wikipedia has something to say about what excommunication means in Russia:

"In the Eastern Orthodox churches, excommunication is the exclusion of a member from the Eucharist. It is not expulsion from the churches. This can happen for such reasons as not having confessed within that year; excommunication can also be imposed as part of a penitential period. It is generally done with the goal of restoring the member to full communion."

{http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excommun...}

One thing that puzzled me about the discussion of Ivan's article in BK was the distinction between the church turning into the state vs. the state turning into the church, or words to that effect. Would an example of the former be fascism - i.e., worship of God being supplanted by, or somehow morphing into, worship of the state? I couldn't quite get my mind around it.

Ivan, it seems to me, illustrates what happens when one's intellect develops out of proportion to the other components of the self. I see the 3 brothers as each representing a particular way of being one-sided: In Dmitri, the dominant element is passion, in Ivan it's intellect, and Alyosha it's spirituality.

So Ivan's article is an intellectual exercise, which fascinates him even though he has not allowed himself to be committed to religion in a spiritual way. In fact, perhaps because his intellect is so overdeveloped, his spiritual side is locked up. There is a conflict in him that causes spiritual paralysis. Or something.


message 15: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Thanks everyone, I thought I might have been scaring people away, haha.


I see the 3 brothers as each representing a particular way of being one-sided: In Dmitri, the dominant element is passion, in Ivan it's intellect, and Alyosha it's spirituality.

This is a great analysis, I love it! In most people these three elements are present in various quantities, but the brothers could be seen as representing the extremes of each trait.

Hmm, now I'm starting to see a lot of parallels between these characters and Sigmund Freud's id, ego, and super-ego...all of the following quotes are from wikipedia (as usual). :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Id,_ego,...

Id (Dmitri) - "The id contains the libido, which is the primary source of instinctual force that is unresponsive to the demands of reality."

Ego (Ivan) - "judgment, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, defense, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory"

Super-Ego (Alexei) - "It comprises that organised part of the personality structure, mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual's ego ideals, spiritual goals, and the psychic agency (commonly called "conscience") that criticizes and prohibits his or her drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions. 'The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt.'"

This novel actually predates Freud's theories, that's very interesting.


One thing that puzzled me about the discussion of Ivan's article in BK was the distinction between the church turning into the state vs. the state turning into the church

I'm not 100% clear on this either...all I can figure is that he means a peaceful evolution rather than a revolution. The church wouldn't be taking over, instead the government would be adopting their ideals.


message 16: by Bob (last edited Jun 18, 2012 07:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob The whole scene at the monastery is such a farce, with Fyodor and Pyotr constantly threatening to leave and then deciding to stay. It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode.


Lauren (youratlass) Bob wrote: "The whole scene at the monastery is such a farce, with Fyodor and Pyotr constantly threatening to leave and then deciding to stay. It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode."

I was thinking the same thing.

Each threat was made because they wanted to hear the others protest their leaving.


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