Fall 2013

The Brothers Karamazov: a Multidimensional Approach

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-100


Stanley J. Rabinowitz (Section 01)


The contemporary Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk claimed in 1999 that “the book of the millennium is Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.  I know of no other book which dramatizes with such beautiful intensity, and on almost encyclopaedic scale, the problems of living in this world, of being with other people, and dreaming of a next world.”  Through a careful reading of Dostoevsky’s final work of fiction and universally regarded supreme artistic masterpiece (1880), we shall investigate the applicability of Pamuk’s claim, availing ourselves of additional works that shed light on the novel’s socio-political, psychological, religious/spiritual, philosophical and aesthetic dimensions.  Other texts to be considered include:  1) Dostoevsky’s early travelogue “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions” (1862); 2) excerpts from Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s utopian novel What is to be Done? (1863); 3) a medieval saint’s life, “Alexei, Man of God”; and 4) two critical  studies by American Dostoevsky specialists James Rice (Dostoevsky and the Healing Art, 1985) and Liza Knapp (The Annihilation of Inertia: Dostoevsky and Metaphysics, 1996).  We shall be using the recent Pevear and Volokhonsky translation (1990), occasionally comparing it to Constance Garnett’s previously considered standard version of the early twentieth century  (revised by Ralph Matlaw in the 1970s).  Our semester-long examination of The Brothers Karamazov will conclude with a discussion of Jose Ortega y Gasset’s “Why Dostoevsky Lives in the Twentieth Century,” from his 1925 essay “Dostoevsky and Proust,” and Leonid Tsypkin’s short novel Summer in Baden Baden (1980), which will help us to articulate further the attractions, the challenges and the ambiguities we encounter when reading a writer as profound, and as controversial, as Dostoevsky.

This course includes frequent writing assignments of various lengths.  Emphasis will be on close reading, with attention paid to textual detail as students develop skills as critical readers and imaginative thinkers. We will occasionally discuss student writing in class, entertaining suggestions about how argumentation might be more persuasive and lucidity of expression further enhanced.   

Fall semester.  Professor Rabinowitz.

If Overenrolled: Handled by Dean of Students

Cost: 19.30 ?


2020-21: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013