Three Texts by Dostoevsky



Thoughts on “The Village of Stepanchikovo”, “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions” and “The Crocodile”

A farcical novel published in 1859, which began to be elaborated in Siberia; a travelogue written between 1862 and 1863 about the months of July and September 1862 spent in Germany, France and England; the 1864 version of an unfinished satirical and fantastic tale, with developments indicated by annotations in the Russian archives. What do these texts say in terms of the prose of the writer who returns to Petersburg in 1859, after ten years between prison, forced labor and service in the Russian army in Siberia? [I]

Translated in Europe from the 1880s onwards, Dostoevsky’s prose contributed, especially “during the decade preceding the First World War”, to sharpen in European readers the “moral crisis and [if] something like a premonition of the imminent catastrophe ”, to use the words of Erich Auerbach.[ii] The Siberian soap opera is The village of Stepanchikovo and its inhabitants (from the memoirs of a stranger), the travel diary is Winter notes about summer impressions and the unfinished tale The crocodile.[iii]



In the travel diary published in chapters in the magazine Vrêmia (The time) [iv] the tone of the conversations with the reader in the conduct of his arguments, asking for reflection, exposes an unusual relationship between the narrator and the contents put under discussion. Let's say that, in a travel diary, with no obligation to constitute a plot, the treatment of these arguments is shared as material with a historical dimension of such magnitude and complexity that, for this very reason, it is no longer possible to lose sight of the decision of how to tell. “It's been so many months now that you, my friends, have asked me to describe my impressions abroad as soon as possible, without suspecting that, with this request, you are simply putting me at a dead end. What shall I write to them?”

I could too! This defender of nationality, of the “homeland” and of the Christian roots of the people, who bet on a reforming tsarism and, arrested in 1849 for participating in a group of liberals, abandoned in prison the superior condescension towards serfs, customary among Westerners,[v] it did not pass indifferently to the miserable masses exposed by the streets of London and hidden in the streets of Paris. This is certainly where his polemic with the Russian populist movement came from, which sought to reconcile modern society and the primitive rural community of the time.

Traveling around Europe on a train with his notebook and occasional contact with a passenger, he shows he knows very well what he wants to deal with and, above all, how he will do it. “But to the point, to the point!” The narrator is not an anxious tourist with his guide in hand, in “objectless anguish”. From the first to the last of the nine chapters, its object thickens. Namely, he wants to think comparatively about different functionings of the common bourgeois order in Paris and London (which he sees with disgust and apprehension) and capitalist modernization in patriarchal Russia impregnated by European ideas, resulting in what he will call “phantasmagorias”. “A fly flies by, and we already think that an elephant was driven there. Inexperience of youth, plus hunger” and the subjection of peasant serfs to tyrannical yoke and corporal punishment. Rural landowners (with whom he also simulates conversation), often people of simple habits, seem close to the muzhiks.

In the first chapter, a question points to the challenge: how to tell and what is the role of the narrator? “What shall I represent to you? A panorama, a perspective? Something flying like a bird?”. Or else: “But, my friends: I warned you, even in the first chapter of these notes, that I might be preaching terrible lies to you. So don't bother me. You well know for sure that if I lie, I'll still be sure I'm not lying. And, in my opinion, this is more than enough. And in that case, allow me to express myself freely.” In this way, it distances itself from the pretense of fidelity to the realistic façade, common in sketches journalistic. The reason for the lie runs through the travel notes (“I cannot provide you with exact information. I must necessarily lie sometimes, and therefore…”).

He observes, draws his conclusions and suggests that possible lies and narrative twists could be blamed on personal moods and psychic indispositions, caused by the feeling of inferiority of a “wounded patriotism”. But he warns: "Nevertheless, one must not conclude from this that patriotism only arises in bad weather". Some reader might also attribute what he writes about London and Paris to the writer's "sick nonsense". In chapter 5 (“Baal”) the reason for the lie reveals its fictional nature: “I have formulated a definition of Paris, chosen an epithet for it and insisted on it.” [vi] Underlining the meaning of the references to meteorological stations, chosen for the title, he challenges the reader to follow his “arbitrary images, and even daydreams”.

Before starting the third chapter (“And entirely superfluous”) he warns: “Be bored with him all of you, and the rest may include him as superfluous.” Russian life continues to be the subject of his “idle thoughts”. References to authors, to the so-called progressive journalism of the time, less or more ciphered allusions to literary texts, periodicals, theater and ironic dialogues. At a certain point, he exposes his feeling of being a foreigner in his own country, where progress and a “civilizing vocation” imply “a certain new and unusual repugnance” to the popular world. Also, from start to finish, a case counter.

The great Russian “phantasmagoria” and “masquerade” were already visible in times gone by in “French jackets” and “German boots” on “fat, clumsy legs that slipped into silk stockings”. These “terrible tricks” could not go unnoticed, but they ensured the permanence of social oppression, making it difficult to recognize that “we just exchanged some prejudices and baseness for even greater ones”. And he notes with irony that, in the city of Petersburg, it even seems that “we are already fully European and have grown enough”. These are the times of “light-handed tyranny” or “everything without punches and even more success”. On that march, it might even be time to defend “the need for the slave trade”, like the North Americans in the South, but… “based on texts”!

In the first paragraph of “Instead of a preface” he recognized that he would have nothing new to say. "Who of us Russians (at least those who read magazines) doesn't know Europe twice as well as Russia?" Underlining the irony, one of these Russians could be the progressive liberal Matviéitch of the short story “The Crocodile” (written two years later). In this case, the illusion of a government employee, locked in the belly of an animal, and incapable of dealing with the degraded social experience in which he is involved. He strongly believes in the happy meeting between the interests of the subject (“it's me, it's me” who can know very well “what's more advantageous for me”) and society's (“the two of us are going to unite with equal rights”) , in an agreement carried out by a “strong and robust administration”. [vii]

Satisfaction with his own precariousness made positive, the “masquerade” and “phantasmagoria” of modern ideas form a set in Russian material, giving an “unequal and combined” experience with the progress of post-1848 bourgeois civilization, which the writer apprehends in these Winter notes. On the other side of the world, the critical perception of the impasses of Brazilian-style capitalist modernization will also be embedded in the formal procedures of Machado de Assis' realistic prose, as studied by Roberto Schwarz. [viii] It does not hurt to remember that already in the chronicles gathered in watercolors (1859), Machado de Assis claimed to have “the aim of outlining in light strokes the most prominent forms of individuality”, in their national features, as “aberrations of modern times”. [ix]

The “theme of order” weaves together Dostoevsky's travel diary. The progress of practical and mental life (a disordered order or vice versa) implies desires, fantasies and illusions that push towards what will come. [X] “Well, I'm in Paris. But don't think I'm going to tell you about the city itself." In Paris, the human anthill seems organized and the bourgeois also seems convinced that “everything is assured”. What does that “inner, spiritual regulation, born of the soul” mean and what can it do in a city that, as you will observe, hides “certain wild, suspect and alarming aspects of life” or, to put it bluntly, hides “the poor somewhere, so that they do not disturb their sleep and frighten them unnecessarily”? In London, the “theme of order” is the material presupposition of apparent disorder.

The deepest sense of the disorder he sees in London, dug in the fervor and turbulence of industrialization, is made explicit in the Universal Exposition (1862) at the Iron and Glass Crystal Palace: “a terrible force unites all these innumerable men into a single herd, from all over the world; one has the consciousness of a titanic world; one feels that something has already been achieved there, that there is a victory, a triumph”. Triumph and fear in the face of a “single thought”, of a “single herd” oppressive and definitive “which has come to its end”, as “a prophecy of the Apocalypse that comes true in our eyes”. And he asks: how to resist and “not accept what exists as the ideal”?

Walking around the city describes, with perplexity, immense and somber celebrations of the workers and their families (“white slaves”), with food and a lot of drink at the expense of painful savings, women and children in the red light district and High Market casinos, where they are distributed leaflets with religious propaganda, as missions in poor corners of the planet do. People seem to settle into this strange order of the world. “In Paris… But what is this? Again, I'm not in Paris... When, my God, will I get used to order?" And he returns to Paris, once again in conversation with a supposed interlocutor. He wants to better understand the bourgeoisie under Napoleon III and the paradoxical meaning of the imposition of a destiny.

In “Essay on the Bourgeois” and “Continuation of the Previous” the masquerade of Napoleon III in the city of “little fountains” and fountains shines through, which the narrator reveals in conversation and questions to the reader (“you”). The “love of eloquence” shines through which, coming from Louis XIV, he recognizes in the old guide to the Pantheon, in the parliamentary hoax supported by the appearance of “Universal suffrage”, in the gentle seduction of trade relations that envelop the client, in the flattery to the powerful that they give in co-option and opportunism, in the always emphatic representation of a supposed noble character, in the impositions of fashion that “Russian employers, in distant Petersburg, envy to hysteria”. Putting everything together, the project of “accumulating wealth” and objects such as a “code of morality” shine, which acquire “a certain, so to speak, sacred air”.

The bourgeois who, in 1848, slaughtered his class enemies (“he liquidated them with rifle and bayonet on the June barricades”) “pays terribly dearly for this prosperity and fears everything”. [xi] But come on, recognizes the narrator, “it is possible that I was also mistaken about the fact that the bourgeois cowers, that he still lives in fear of something”. Prosperous but cowering and afraid? "The condition of lackey penetrates more and more into the nature of the bourgeois". After all, what worries the bourgeois under Napoleon III? “The sentence makers”, the “arguments of pure reason”, the workers, the peasants, the communists, the socialists? Their arguments lead to the last two. The socialist, however, can do nothing if Western man lacks a “brotherly principle” that would require giving up “just a particle of his individual freedom”.

Dismantling the lure of the mottos liberty, equality and fraternity, subject to economic and individual principles, he stresses that the first depends on the power of money, the second (equality before the law), as practiced, should be considered a “personal offense” by the French citizen and the third, as a common life between men and nature, would have to be created with the development of the personality "in a higher degree than that which is now defined in the West". However, it soon corrects itself. “But what a utopia, gentlemen! All based on feeling, on nature and not on reason. But this even seems like a humiliation of reason. What do you think? Is it utopia or is it not?

As a historic cut, there is the victory of the bourgeois in the June massacres: he felt “the only one on earth”. In this sense, the bourgeois was saved by Napoleon III, who “fell to them from the sky, as the only way out of difficulties and the only possibility of the moment”. From then on he fears, threatened by the loss of a prosperity that requires genuflection to the powerful, servility and superficiality in dealing with the world's problems. “Don’t laugh, please, but what is the bourgeois these days?” The statement “although socialism is possible, it will not be possible in France” has been interpreted as a bet on the feeling of fraternity inherent to the Russian Christian foundation. However, the critical intention of a possible authorial strategy, in the Siberian novel and even in the short story (albeit unfinished) of the 1850s and 1860s, already raises more complex issues. [xii]

If it's not too much to see, and keeping the differences in mind, it might be possible to dare to recall Herbert Marcuse's prologue to O 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte of Marx: “The consciousness of defeat and even of despair are part of theory and its hope. The fragmentation of thought – a sign of its authenticity in the face of a fragmented reality – determines the style of The 18th of Brumaire: against the will of the person who wrote it, the work becomes high literature. Language becomes a concept of reality, which, through irony, resists the horror of events. In the face of reality, no phraseology, no cliché – not even those of socialism. To the extent that men betray, sell the idea of ​​humanity and slaughter or lock up those who fight for it, the idea as such ceases to be pronounceable; mockery and satire constitute the real semblance of its truth”. [xiii]



A Stepanchikovo village and its inhabitants (from the memoirs of a stranger) was finally published in 1859 in the periodical Annals of the Fatherland, in two parts, without arousing interest in reading and surrounded by indifference. Critics of the time judged the novel artificial, with an overly dramatized loose plot and forced humor, also accusing the absence of a discussion on the subject of the moment, the release and suspension of corporal punishment of the servants promised by Alexander II and which the writer supported. Measure that, in 1861, would bring heavy taxes to the peasants. [xiv]

On the rural property where the story takes place, the somewhat disorganized whirlwind of events can resemble a world turned upside down, without there being anything libertarian. The narrator goes there at the invitation of his widowed uncle, the owner colonel who, in a confidential letter, proposed marriage to his children's governess who was threatened with eviction. He learns, through casual contact, that perhaps a plot is being hatched to marry the colonel and a wealthy heiress. The idea came from the Foma household Fomitch Opiskin in collusion with Colonel Rostainev's general mother, who had a “mystical adoration” for the household. In the two days in which the events take place, the narrator will try to understand (in what way?) the terms of the domination exercised by the aggregate over the submissive owner colonel, always hoping to be forgiven for the selfishness of which Fomá and the mother generala accuse him.

Initially thought of as a theatrical play, the prose procedure has the narrative focus as key. In the opening words of the Introduction we read: “My uncle, Colonel Yegor Olych Rostányev, having retired, moved to the village of Stepanchikovo, which he had received as an inheritance, and began to live there as if he had been all his life. a local landowner, the kind who never leaves his property.” Then, using “a special search”, assumptions, versions of Fomá himself and “they said that”, a long-range summary in the past tense is extended by psychological and behavioral evaluations of several figures, in a retrospect that even includes those who are not present in the narrated plot. The narrator insists on informing, distanced: "Here's how it happened".

An example of the narrative focus movement is chapter six of Part One, “Of the White Ox and the Muzhik Kamarinsky”. On the first day that the narrator sets foot in his uncle's house in Stepanchikovo, and even before “having the honor of introducing the newcomer Foma Fomitch to the reader” in the tea room, a narrative retrospective recounts the torture to which the household used to subdue Falaliei, the “servant boy. Fomá teaches the young servant “morality, good manners and the French language”, controls his dreams and ridicules his interest in a certain dance of “hateful muzhik”. The narrator's omniscience is a resource that intends to ensure the "truth" of his narrative, which can be seen in relation to Falaliei's feelings of terror and also to the aggregate ("Fomá swore to himself that...", "For a long time Fomá Fomitch I felt angry, but…”).

The oscillation between first person and narrative omniscience makes explicit an ambivalence (of content and form), exposed by an authorial strategy, which thus confronts the complexity of the matter and the subject as a tension between the content of the utterance (social experience) and its formalization. This tension is implied both in the narrated matter, which turns on itself, and in the dual position of the narrator who, after all, seeks to frame the actions and ideas of the characters both as individual types, in psychological terms, and as social types. , both precarious. The result of the prose sets up a formal problem, by placing the narrative impasses themselves as part of the subject and matter, namely, the objective conditions exposed in that house of alienated people and in the direct exploration of others.

The narrator's effort to understand what is happening at his uncle's house does not eliminate his critical pretensions, but it does not reach the material (and subjective) foundations of the irrationality he witnesses. The reader will go to the first chapters in possession of information about the background of the plot, the past of humiliations of the Fomá aggregate (a “memorable man”), and with the narrator’s hypotheses about the character – “I could never explain otherwise that not explaining beforehand to the reader the character of Foma Fomitch as I later understood him”.

In the Introduction, the narrator invites the reader to understand Fomá. “I recognize that it is with a certain solemnity that I announce this new character. She is arguably one of the most important characters in my story. I will not explain to what extent it deserves attention: it is more proper and more worthy for the reader to judge such a question himself”. According to him, it is an exacerbated self-esteem as a reaction of being “rejected by society” which, in some cases, “arises from the most complete insignificance” of someone “offended, repressed by the arduous failures of the past”. To confirm the particularity of the “inflamed” self-esteem of the aggregate, he suggests: “Who knows: maybe there are exceptions, to which our hero belongs. He was indeed an exception to the rule, which will be explained later.”

What are the ideas admired and accepted by everyone in the house for and what purpose do they serve? Humanitarian, moral and religious principles; fantasy of nobility; ode to nature; exaltation of science, scholarship, philosophy, literature; promise (brought by a “winged man”) of a future literary work that “would echo throughout Russia”, before the aggregation went to hide in a monastery to pray “for the happiness of the fatherland”: here are some obsessions exposed in histrionic scenes starring Fomá, with unparalleled eloquence and general agreement (in the travel diary, as has been seen, the use of eloquence will be considered an ingredient of the modernization carried out by Louis Bonaparte).

Fomá's outrageous and opportunistic stratagem to save his own skin will definitively confirm the consent of his command. The narrator admits, with regret, that “Fomá's triumph was complete and unquestionable” in accepting the colonel's marriage to the governess. Among those in the house he will definitely be enthroned, unanimously, as “the noblest of men”, the only “scholar” on the face of the earth. “The gratitude of those whom he had made happy was infinite.” What happiness is it about? In the Conclusion, in conversation with his uncle and apparently to please him, he puts aside his criticism of the aggregate and prefers to agree (“I even spoke about the Natural School; to conclude, I even recited verses”). Yes, in the impenetrable "depths" of the "most decadent of creatures" the "highest feelings" may exist.[xv]

If, as a result of Fomá's tantrums and “silliness”, even “the wedding banquet resembled a burial”, the devotion of the extremely religious couple to their household is not affected, even after death. “The story is over. The lovers got together, and in the house the good genius, in the person of Fomá Fomích, began to reign supreme. Here many opportune explanations could be given; but in reality all these explanations would now be wholly superfluous. Such, at least, is my opinion.”

Thus, without the degree of irony that, in the chapter “And entirely superfluous” of the Winters notes on summer impressions, exposing the way of narrating, he asks for attention to what is narrated (“I was too immersed in schisms, thinking about our Russian Europe; (…) In fact, there is no reason to ask for too much forgiveness. Well, my chapter is superfluous”),[xvi] the narrator of The village of Stepanchikovo and its inhabitants he will abide by the rules prescribed by a model of prose that intends to account for “the fate of all the heroes of my story”. And it does so by balancing first person and narrative omniscience.

In the normalized nonsense that, as it turned out, includes domestic servants like Falaliei, there are also the muzhiks who belong to the estate. The fact is that, with or without the threats of Fomá – the exalted preaching that “amazed” listened to, the uncomfortable projects of teaching French, astronomy and hygiene habits to those “brutalized” – the servitude will remain the same. Always with the dazzling support of the good colonel. It is good to remember that, if the liberation of the serfs was in question at that moment in the country, once freed they will continue in the most absolute misery.

What does it mean to fit the figure of the aggregate in the “condition of prophets, buffoons and parasites”, a case located in Stepánchikovo, as Fomá has been treated, as a rule, by the critical fortune of the soap opera? The reader is challenged by the question that runs through this Siberian soap opera: what “exception” is it, after all, the one attributed to the humiliation suffered by a man of “sordid ignorance” who becomes an “expert” in the art of creating devotees? What does farce mean as material and as the truth of the house? In the normality of an irrational and doctrinaire delirium, markedly abusive, a totalitarian horizon also germinates. Would the inhabitants and guests of that house be precursors (and contemporaries) of the new “light-handed tyrannies”, as it will be in the travelogue dealing with Saint Petersburg? “All without punches or with even more success”?

It is possible to say that the construction of this novel concerns the challenges faced by the writer to deal, in terms of the Russian experience, with capitalist modernization which is itself, always and everywhere, alienation and exclusion, absurdity and reality. It concerns, therefore, historical-social and formal impasses that point to the works to come and their peculiar literary realism. [xvii]



Or crocodile it is an unfinished tale. This condition limits an analytical reading, but it brings clues to the paths of this satire. “It is difficult to write a satire. Not just because our situation – which would need it more than any other – makes fun of all jokes”, wrote Theodor Adorno. [xviii] The satire in this tale deals with “a monstrous dream”, as the narrator puts it. In the first chapter we are in a modern gallery in Petersburg in the year 1865 (more precisely “on the thirteenth of January, at half-past twelve”). The “extraordinary event or Passage in the passage” had already been stated in the epigraph. “True account of how a gentleman of known age and appearance was swallowed alive and whole by a crocodile in the Passage, and what resulted therefrom'”.

The narrator accompanies a couple of friends, already packed to see what's new in Europe, to the gallery where an enormous crocodile is on display, a novelty in a country with a “humid and inhospitable climate”, in addition to other exotic animals brought from abroad. The friend is a civil servant and an educated man. By tickling the animal's snout, the unfortunate is swallowed alive by the animal. Faced with the terrible scene, the narrator thinks that "if everything had happened to me and not to Ivan Matveitch, how unpleasant it would be".

Still in the first chapter, the narrator's immediate concern is with the screams of the woman, who seems to demand beating the animal when, in fact, she asks that her belly be opened. The fact is that, in the conference room next door, an illustrious lecturer is speaking, and the word beating, prohibited in the country of a servile institution, could provoke “booing from culture and caricatures”. In fact, the confusion attracts a “progressive” gentleman who threatens to be “booed in the chronicle of progress and in our satirical sheets”, and is thrown out of the place by the German owner of the animals. The German couple despairs at the possibility of losing their source of income and wants to negotiate. Suddenly the swallowed voice comes out of those entrails.

His mood up to date, he is concerned about the reaction of his superiors in the department and agrees with the owner's “economic principle”, taking into account his own condition “in our times of financial crisis”. He gives his friend precise instructions to strike up a nice conversation with a superior but subordinate employee of the boss. And as the crocodile is completely hollow, as will be known, it thinks to take a nap in its snuggle. Matviétch later gave scientific, philosophical, etymological and behavioral explanations for the living crocodile with only its carcass, provoking the narrator's reaction: "I can swear that he was boasting, partly out of vanity and partly to humiliate me".

Absurdity takes on a doubly unusual turn in the narrator's conversation with Timofey Seemyonitch, the appointed official. Since Ivan Matveitch can be a multiplier of the value of the “foreign crocodile”, in stimulating the economy, it is necessary to combine economic interests and bureaucratic procedures so that he becomes useful for the country's progress. The official, however, considers his colleague Matviéitch a case of “progressive” deviance due to “excessive instruction”. “We, instead of protecting the foreign owner, want to open the belly of the base capital itself. Now, is there consistency in that?” Timofiéi thinks of the “beneficial results of attracting foreign capital to our homeland”.

The proposals he discusses with the narrator in relation to Matviéitch are supported by his positions. Faced with the laziness and drunkenness of muzhiks protected in collective properties (defended by the Russian populist movement), he bets on capitalism, on the creation of a bourgeoisie and on the free market, under which “the muzhik will work three times as hard just to earn his bread. day, and it will be possible to drive him away whenever he wants to”. And knowing that the selling price of the crocodile is on an upward trend, the venture may be worthwhile despite the risks, in the case of the arrival of new crocodiles that could lead to a new class of employees interested in staying in the soft and demanding commissions, without working.

Ivan Matveitch will be enthusiastic about the prospect of an official mission with functions “both from a moral and scientific point of view”. He sees no inconvenience in staying there, except for the cashmere of the Russian-made suit, which would not withstand the thousand years he intends to live. And he counts the advantages: social prominence, applause from the press, growing number of visitors, among which would certainly come the “most educated people of the capital, the ladies of high society, foreign ambassadors, jurists and others”, which will give him “ a chair from which I shall instruct mankind.” From a “subaltern position” in the department to recognition as a possible Minister of Foreign Affairs or candidate for a government post, he exults. The narrator comments: “What irritated me most was the fact that, impassioned with pride, he had almost completely stopped using personal pronouns”.

Matviéitch also has plans for his wife, with whom he believes they will form a perfect match in terms of beauty and intelligence. As a “brilliant literary lady”, she would gather, in her salon, “scientists, poets, philosophers, traveling mineralogists, statesmen”, holding a daily lecture that he would give himself. On her side, however, the almost widow, coveted and courted since the beginning of that situation, looks at the possibility of enjoying the splendors of life and thinks about filing for divorce.

The release of the case by the press, so awaited by Matviéitch (the review finds references to periodicals of the time) might, in a finished story, play the role of a chorus that would complete the satire. The tendency of the press is to view the Russian with disdain and exalt the crocodile. For a daily and cultural newspaper, the question is gastronomic: devoured alive by a well-known gastronome in the city, the crocodile – a delicacy appreciated abroad – points to a branch of prosperous businesses.

For a newspaper with a progressive tendency, the foreign crocodile is also hailed as a stimulus for new sources of income and a victim of a fat and drunk Russian (“Without any prior notice, a crocodile is introduced into the throat of a crocodile which, naturally, had no other option. if not swallow it”), whose behavior “distracts us in the eyes of the foreigner”. Other information is mixed up with the news, confirming that “the Russians are hard-headed”.



Two years earlier, on a trip to Europe, weaving his “daydreams” about Russian illusions and beliefs, Dostoevsky there encounters the “death struggle” installed in what would be “in some way a community”, in whose future “perhaps the generals themselves of progress do not have enough faith”. However, even though “not entirely satisfied with the order he defends”, the bourgeois tries to impose it and repair “its cracks”. Throughout the travel notes, Dostoevsky underlines and problematizes, as possible, the narrator's judgments: "don't expect me to start demonstrating that civilization has long since been condemned in the West itself", even though the bourgeois, "consciously almost", be sure "that everything must be like that".

At entry 134 of the Minimum Moralia, referring to the difficulty of writing a satire “when our situation would need it more than any other”, Theodor Adorno points out the directions of the Enlightenment in contemporary times: generalized irony that “assumes the idea of ​​the obvious”, in a dissonant “consensus” of consciences and social practices. “He who has those who laugh at his side does not need proof”. Is that the engine of irony today is the "deprived gesture of the expression 'That's the way it is' (...) that the world directs to all its victims". And the position of the subjects (“consciously almost”? “Unconsciously and instinctively in the vital orientation of the whole mass?” suggested Dostoevsky) is constituted in the “beforehand formal form of irony (…) that became a universal agreement on contents. As such, he would be the only object worthy of irony and at the same time knocks the ground out from under his feet”.

The “restorationist traits” of a Karl Kraus would thus come from the uncontested emphasis on fulminating, quick and incontestable judgments – “so quick is the awareness of the relationship between things” – on an “immediate and objective evidence”, a recognized truism as such and, without any hesitation or doubt, as such condemned. Having “humanism as an invariant”, Kraus speaks of a world that collapses (and the First War already points out). Adorno's conclusion, bearing in mind that "there is no longer any crack in the rock of the established order, where the ironic can cling", is that "against the deadly seriousness of total society, which has collected every instance contrary to it, such as the helpless objection that irony once sedimented, there remains only the deadly seriousness, the truth apprehended in the concept.[xx]

In Herbert Marcuse's already quoted remark about The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he says that in the face of the “horror of the events” of 1848, and in an unplanned reaction, Marx apprehended, through the satire and mockery of that reality, the “real appearance of its truth”, in the terms of “high literature” (“Language becomes concept of reality”), in which irony is used as a resource. This is what can be seen in the formal prose work of Dostoevsky and Machado de Assis that reveal, in the particularity of social relations in the periphery, the very constitution of modern capitalist civilization, making one think about its functioning and its historical march. [xx] Let us go, then, once again, to two decisive questions planted, with irony, in Winter notes about summer impressions: “How not to accept the existing as being the ideal”? “But what a utopia, gentlemen! All based on feeling, on nature and not on reason. But this even seems like a humiliation of reason. What do you think? Is it utopia or is it not?”

*Salete de Almeida Cara is a senior professor in the area of ​​Comparative Studies of Literatures in the Portuguese Language (FFLCH-USP). She is the author, among other books, of Marx, Zola and Realist Prose (Editorial Studio).


Fyodor Dostoevsky. The village of Stepanchikovo and its inhabitants (from the memoirs of a stranger). Translation: Lucas Simone. São Paulo: Publisher 34, 2021.

Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Crocodile and Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. Translation: Boris Schnaiderman. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000.


[I] The years of Dostoyevsky's social, political and literary formation, his participation in political groups and readings of European writers, interest in the theater and debut with the epistolary novel "Pobre Gente" (1846) were treated by Joseph Frank, The seeds of the revolt (1821 to 1849), translated by Vera Pereira. São Paulo: Edusp, 1999.

[ii] See Erich Auerbach, mimesis. São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, 6th edition, 1st reprint., p. 470.

[iii] The village of Stepanchikovo and its inhabitants (from the memoirs of a stranger), Translated by Lucas Simone. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2021, 2nd edition/2nd reprint; The Crocodile and Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, translation by Boris Schnaiderman. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000, 3rd edition. In the preface to the aforementioned volume, Boris Schnaiderman suggests a relationship between these texts, underground memories, also from 1864, and the novels to come. Cf. Boris Schnaiderman, op. cit., pp. 8-11. For Joseph Frank, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions is “the prelude to Underground Memories, or better said, a preliminary draft of that work”. In The village of Stepanchikovo and its inhabitants,, the critic points to an anticipation of characters from later novels, mainly through the bias of the psychology of Fomá Fomitch and Colonel Rostanov. Cf. Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky. The Effects of Liberation (1860 to 1865), translated by Geraldo Gerson de Souza. São Paulo:, Edusp, 2002, p. 327. Cf. Also. The Probationary Years (1850 to 1859), translated by Vera Pereira. São Paulo: Edusp, 1999, p. 390.

[iv] In the same preface, Boris Schnaiderman recalls that the magazine Time was closed on charges of political conspiracy against Tsar Nicholas I. The writer obtains authorization for a new magazine, epokha (The Season), “after many promises of good political behavior”, where he will publish Or crocodile.

[v] On Russian intellectuals' debates on the Europeanization of Russia since Peter the Great and Catherine II, cf. V. Guitermann, “Occidentalists and Slavophiles”, translation by Homero Freitas de Andrade, in History of Russia. Firenze: Nuova Italia, 1973, pp. 190-218.

[vi] He refers to Baal as a pagan god, synonymous with Beelzebub (demon) and therefore a false god, or, as Joseph Frank writes, “the incarnate god of materialism” which the young Dostoevsky, a reader of Balzac, had already approached.

[vii] It is a dialogue between the narrator and Matveitch, included in the unpublished drafts of the tale (appendix in Boris Schnaiderman's translation). The subject would be the writing of a document to bring under escort the character's wife, who defends coercion as a method. “She's smearing my name,” she justifies. And the narrator: “So where is liberalism? It means you defend the prevailing order.”

[viii] Cf. Robert Schwarz, A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism. São Paulo, Duas Cidades/Editora 34, 2000, 4th edition. In To the winner, the potatoes, dealing with the role of bourgeois ideas relativized between “the comings and goings of discretion and favor” and, therefore, the “world reach that our national oddities have and can have”, Roberto Schwarz suggests: “Something comparable, perhaps, to what was happening in Russian literature. In the face of this, even the greatest novels of French realism seem naive. For what reason? It is precisely that, despite its universal intention, the psychology of rational egoism, as well as formalist morality, had the effect of a 'foreign' ideology in the Russian Empire, and therefore localized and relative. From within its historical backwardness, the country imposed a more complex framework on the bourgeois novel. The caricatured figure of the Westernizer, French or Germanophile, often with an allegorical and ridiculous name, the ideologues of progress, liberalism, reason, were all ways of bringing to the forefront the modernization that accompanies Capital. These enlightened men alternately show themselves to be lunatics, thieves, opportunists, extremely cruel, vain, parasites, etc. The system of ambiguities thus linked to the local use of bourgeois ideas – one of the keys to the Russian novel – can be compared to the one we describe for Brazil”. Cf. “Ideas out of place”, in To the winner the potatoes. São Paulo: Duas Cidades/Editora 34, 2000, 5th edition, pp. 27-28. Cf. also Paulo Arantes, Feeling of dialectics in the Brazilian intellectual experience (Dialectics and duality according to Antonio Candido and Roberto Schwarz). São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1992, pp. 75-107.

[ix] Cf. “The literary fanqueiros”, “The parasite”, “The retired public employee”, “The feuilletonist”, in Best chronicles of Machado de Assis, direction by Edla van Steen, selection and preface by Salete de Almeida Cara. São Paulo: Editora Global, 2003, pp. 21-42.

[X] On the relations between the figure of the bourgeois and capitalist development, through literary analyses, cf. Franco Moretti, The bourgeois (between history and literature), translated by Alexandre Morales, São Paulo: Três Estrelas, 2014.

[xi] During the monarchy of Luís Felipe the discontent accumulated by the hunger, misery and unemployment explodes in June of 1848 in the barricades of Paris, barbarously repressed. The authoritarian regime of the Second Empire of Napoleon III was installed with the coup d'état on December 1851, XNUMX. The Economist,, from London, competitive capitalism hails Louis Napoleon as the great protector of the European Stock Exchange. “The President is the guardian of order, and he is now recognized as such on all stock exchanges in Europe,” said the paper. Financial capitalism with banking houses and the Stock Exchange (a “financial aristocracy” already installed in the years 1848-1850, as Marx shows in 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte), late industrialization, mining exploration, railroad construction, colonialist expeditions and Paris urbanization project. . Progress was digging the abyss between the worker and the bourgeois, which Napoleon III tried to soften with liberal measures between 1864 and 1870. The II Empire ended in 1870, with the Franco-Prussian war. In 1871 came the Paris Commune, and the first world capitalist crisis between 1873 and 1896. Cf. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, translation by Nélio Schneider. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

[xii] Dolf Oehler has examined the diverse, and often ambiguous, responses of the generation of European intellectuals and writers to the massacre of insurgents in June 1848, which gave way to the open display of class hatred and the “chatter” of fraternity” (Marx). Referring to the chapter “Essay on the Bourgeois” by Dostoevsky, he sees similarities with the judgment of Renan, for whom “the bourgeoisie perfectly understands freedom, partially equality, but completely ignores fraternity'” and, from this comparison , also states that for Dostoevsky “'the individual of Western Europe', unlike the Russian man, is incapable of fraternity” , which may be insufficient to account for the role of Christian patriarchy in the terms treated by his literary work. Cf. “Crisis of signs: the semantics of June 1848 and its critique for literary modernity”, in The Old World Descends to Hell, translation by José Marcos Macedo. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 199, p. 83..

[xiii] Cf. Herbert Marcuse, “Prologue”, in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, ob. cit., p. 13.

[xiv] The years between prison and his return to Saint Petersburg, Dostoevsky's literary projects during this time and Siberian novels uncle's dream e The village of Stepanchikovo are the subjects addressed by Joseph Frank in the second volume he dedicated to the writer, The Probationary Years (1850-1859), ob. cit.

[xv] Already in the 1840s, the writer began to distance himself from the humanitarian compassion of the Escola Natural and his interest in “physiologies” – journalistic serials aimed at popular and urban types. For a reading of Dostoevsky's serials and this distance, cf. Joseph Frank, The seeds of the revolt (1821 to 1849), ob. cit.

[xvi] See Winter notes about summer impressions, ob. cit., p. 103.

[xvii] “To face the primacy of social lack of intelligence, a new epistemological horizon, which made the role of the narrator more difficult and his resourcefulness problematic, the most consequential novelists tried to invent technical solutions to which one could not object to partiality. The methodical effort of impersonality (Flaubert), the attempt to give a scientific standard to fiction (Zola), the recognition of problems linked to the point of view (Henry James), the demonstrative use of the first person singular – the prism spontaneous par excellence – in a spirit of self-exposure, as if the person were a third party (Dostoevsky in the underground memories). (…) Authority and relative significance are conferred by the mediation of the literary method, above all by its displacing effects, which function as instances and as allegories of the precedence of social formation over subjective intentions.” Cf. Robert Schwarz, A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism. São Paulo: Duas Cidades/Editora 34, 2000, 4th edition, pp. 179-180.

[xviii] See Theodor Adorno, Minimum Moralia, translation by Luiz Eduardo Bicca, revision by Guido de Almeida. São Paulo: Editora Ática, 1992, p. 183.

[xx] Cf. Theodor Adorno, op. quote, p. 185. Adorno makes the following observation about Dostoevsky: “if perhaps there is psychology in his works, it is a psychology of the intelligible character, of the essence, and not of the empirical being, of the men who walk around. And precisely for this reason Dostoevsky is advanced”. Cf. “Position of the narrator in the contemporary novel”, in Literature Notes I, translation by Jorge de Almeida. São Paulo: Duas Cidades/Editora 34, p. 57.

[xx] “Drawing the necessary consequences from the grotesque appearance that science and progress were assuming among us is another way of indicating that the Dialectic – both that of the essayist and that of the narrative movement – ​​and the immanent critique of ideology cannot fail to go hand in hand. , and this since the times when the modern revival of dialectics presented itself above all as a theory of apparent consciousness, but conceived in such a way that consciousness itself would bring in itself the measure of its truth and its falsity. Dialectic was this internal confrontation of the object with its own concept, the moment of denial being the denunciation of unfulfilled promises.” Cf. Paul Arantes, in Feeling of Dialectic in the Brazilian social experience (Dialectics and duality according to Antonio Candido and Roberto Schwarz), ob. cit., p. 98.

The A Terra é Redonda website exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.
Click here and find how

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank