Raskolnikov, blogger

The upstairs bathroom, the one most convenient to the home "office" where I set up my laptop on weekends, has three books balanced atop the tank behind the throne, books which I have grabbed off a shelf on the landing on my way in there at different times, in different moods:

  1. A paperback copy of Spy Hook, part of Len Deighton’s wonderful Bernard Sampson trilogy of trilogies.
  2. A simplified-for-children paperback of The Adventures of Robin Hood.
  3. An elegant little hardbound edition of Crime and Punishment, published by Barnes & Noble, with gilt-edged pages and a built-in ribbon bookmark (original price: $4.95, with 10% off for members).

Just now I was in there and scooped up the Dostoevsky masterpiece (which I would have listed as my favorite novel when I was in college, but which I haven’t read all the way through since), and opened to this passage:

  When the soup had been brought, and he had begun upon it, Nastasya sat down beside him on the sofa and began chatting. She was a country peasant-woman, and a very talkative one.
  “Praskovya Pavlovna means to complain to the police about you,” she said.
  He scowled.
  “To the police? What does she want?”
  “You don’t pay her money and you won’t turn out of the room. That’s what she wants, to be sure.”
  “The devil, that’s the last straw,” he muttered, grinding his teeth, “no, that would not suit me … just now. She is a fool,” he added aloud. “I’ll go and talk to her to-day.”
  “Fool she is and no mistake, just as I am. But why, if you are so clever, do you lie here like a sack and have nothing to show for it? One time you used to go out, you say, to teach children. But why is it you do nothing now?”
  “I am doing …” Raskolnikov began sullenly and reluctantly.
  “What are you doing?”
  “Work …”
  “What sort of work?”
  “I am thinking,” he answered seriously after a pause.
  Nastasya was overcome with a fit of laughter. She was given to laughter and when anything amused her, she laughed inaudibly, quivering and shaking all over till she felt ill.
  “And have you made much money by your thinking?” she managed to articulate at last.

The perpetual curse of the intellectual! It can be so hard to get any respect, especially from these pleasant peasant types…

But in that moment, taking a break from blogging as I was, it occurred to me: If Raskolnikov had had the outlet of a blog, maybe he wouldn’t have murdered the old woman and Lizaveta. Maybe he would have gotten it out of his system, clacking away at his keyboard there in his garret. Maybe he could even, with the help of his enterprising friend Razumikhin, have sold some ads on his blog; who knows?

But then something else occurred to me: In his own, tortured, 19th-century way, Raskolnikov was a blogger, or had been before he had shut himself off from the world. Wasn’t that his undoing? Hadn’t Porfiry read his rantings about Napoleon and other rare, "superior" creatures stepping over their inferiors to achieve great things? Wasn’t that just the kind of indiscreet stuff that people put on blogs today, with little concern for the consequences of revealing their madder thoughts?

There’s a blogging thread that runs all the way through Dostoevsky, isn’t there — from Notes from Underground to the collection of atrocities that Ivan Karamazov kept?

20 thoughts on “Raskolnikov, blogger

  1. Mike Cakora

    “Blog” is a contraction of “Web log,” and in many cases is a diary, a record of discrete entries arranged by date. The main difference between a traditional diary and that found on the Web is that the original was usually never meant to be published, but rather to serve as a repository for later reference and possible. I’m sure some bloggers will draw upon their on-line musings for incorporation into larger printed works.
    As for the days of yore, most who published must have made notes to record facts, insights, ideas, for later use. I think most would not have published such on a blog because they would want to reserve it for their money-making activities. Who knows what would have happened had da Vinci been able to blog.
    Certainly composers would not share those inspirations that would find their way into a major work, and I’m sure all but the truly exceptional brains like Mozart took notes. Czech composer Antonín Dvořák spent the summer of 1893 among the Bohunks in Spillville, Iowa.

    Dvorak, listening intently to the song of the scarlet tanager or the roar of Minnehaha’s waterfall and, in the absence of a notebook, penciling their music on his cuffs. ”Mrs. Benda, the laundry woman of Spillville, said she had a terrible time of it, trying to get those pencil marks out.’

    While I can’t find a reference, I don’t think that Victor Hugo made notes, but was a one-draft writer who’d work standing at a desk for ten hours per day and would read for another three, and did not edit a page after he’d written it. In looking for a reference on Victor Hugo’s writing habits I found this:

    The shortest correspondence in history is between Hugo and his publisher Hurst & Blackett in 1862. It is said Hugo was on vacation when Les Misérables (which is over 1200 pages) was published. He telegraphed the single-character message ‘?’ to his publisher, who replied with a single ‘!’.

    (Les Misérables was perhaps the first international publishing event, going on sales simultaneously throughout Europe and the US, and was a tremendous success.)
    He would have had no time for blogging.

  2. Herb Brasher

    Perhaps if some modern folks of the caliber of DaVinci or Victor Hugo would blog, some of the rest of us, myself included, would shut up and listen for a change. Maybe I’m mistaken, but with all the ability we have to communicate, we end up not being able to hear? Was that the reason the first commandment is “Hear, O Israel . . .”?
    I know when I go back over what I have written, I would delete at least half of it, if I could.
    Not exactly what you were on about, I know, but it is where I am.

    Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
    Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
    From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
    O thou fair Silence, fall and set me free.
    Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
    Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

    C. S. Lewis

  3. Steve Gordy

    On having to write under pressure: There was a clergyman who told a member of his congregation he always did three sermons on Sunday. The congregant was baffled, as the church only had one worship service. When he asked the clergyman, the reply was: “The first is the sermon I write. The second is the sermon I actually deliver. The third is the sermon I deliver to myself while walking home from church. So, if you want to hear a really good sermon, walk home with me after Sunday worship.” Of course, that was before the age of blogging, when your first draft is usually your last as well.

  4. Herb Brasher

    John, you can attempt to tear people down with sarcastic comments, or you can work on building yourself up to their level. No one but yourself is stopping you from reading Dostoevsky.
    Me, I still haven’t made it through War and Peace, but it’s my own fault that I tend to opt for the easier course of taking up the newest John Grisham book when I’m on vacation, instead of something that challenges the memory (all those characters!). It would be good for my aging memory, I am sure.

  5. Herb Brasher

    P.S. Not sure that Tolstoy is easier than Dostoevsky; maybe I should switch, since Tolstoy is 1400 pages long.

  6. John

    “Notes from the Underground” happens to be one of my favorites. And I’m glad after your post you seem to have figured out who wrote “War and Peace.” Though I am a fan of Russian literature, I tend to prefer classic German and American writing, especially Nietzsche. My sarcasm has nothing on your condesention, a trait you share with Brad. Have fun with your Grisham, genius.

  7. John

    Having a conversation about literature with a guy named “Herb” is like ordering a cheeseburger and fries in a sushi restaurant.

  8. Mike Cakora

    John – Wow, as a self-proclaimed fan of “Notes from the Underground” and Nietzsche you proceed to chastise Brad and Herb for “condesention.”
    Were you dripping because of the humidity and mean “condensation” or perhaps with envy and mean “condescension”?
    Just curious. And there’s nothing wrong with ordering a cheeseburger and fries in a sushi restaurant. I’m sure that in most you won’t get it, but there’s no harm in asking. Heck, I’ve found that not only do they not cook the sushi enough, but they leave that green wrapper on and I have a heck of a time getting it off.

  9. John

    I was being ironic, Mike. There have been manu examples of Brad’s superiority complex at work. The following comment is just the latest:
    “The perpetual curse of the intellectual! It can be so hard to get any respect, especially from these pleasant peasant types…”

  10. Mike Cakora

    John – Brad was just trying to be funny. I try to too.
    It’s one thing to try and fail at being funny, but quite another to succeed when that was not one’s intent or design.
    And thanks for pointing out your misspelling of “many.” I wuz scratchin’ my head at what I thought was your clever use of the dative or ablative of “manus” in a bon mot referencing Brad’s lack of dexterity in handling references to his alleged superiority.
    The fourth declension gives me such a fit that I sometimes turn to a fifth for relief.

  11. John

    Being a native English speaker, I am inclined to speak/write in the first or second declension. I obviously struggle to come up with the proper mot juste from time to time, but am glad to have some communication with a talented linguist such as yourself. I would have never thought of saying “to too.” I would have been tempted to say “also,” but that wouldn’t have made for the witty “bon mot” you’ve supplied.

  12. John

    Wow! I’m impressed. I didn’t realize I was dealing with a true professional linguist! How’s that $62 million contract with the U.S. Army comin’ along, Mike? War is grand business, ain’t it?

  13. John

    Do you think the lawsuit pending against your company is having an effect on CACI’s stock price? You must be proud of yourself, you sure seem to be.

  14. Mike Cakora

    You can read the book. Part of it is on-line. The company is reasonably well-regarded by a lot of institutional investors.
    But whom I work for or what I do is beside the point, no? I was just parrying a bit, admittedly annoyed by your dismissive remarks toward Herb and Brad.
    Your comments here lead me to wonder how big that chip on your shoulder is or how thick your skin is. The answers seems to be “pretty big” and “pretty thin.”
    That’s fine too.

  15. bud

    The DOT hired CACI as a consultant about 20 years ago on a project to upgrade our data system. All in all they did a good job. However, I’m not sure we couldn’t have done pretty much the same with in-house resources. As I recall the CACI folks spent an enormous amount of time doing research on what we did, then came up with some recommendations on how to improve. It did get the ball rolling and we were better off after the contract ran out. Still, this episode is not really a resounding affirmation of how privatization greatly improves government operations. Most of the actual hands-on work was done by the DOT, not CACI.

  16. Herb Brasher

    Well, before I attempt another literature discussion, I’ll be sure and change my name to Ivan.

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