“Here’s the problem, to me: defamiliarization has become familiar, which is ironic and kind of sad.”
—Karen Carlson, discussing the techniques of fiction
This doesn’t really deserve any reaction beyond a grimace of disgust, but I’m sort of grimly amused at how self-deflating the slogan is, especially as an answer to “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
On one hand, many black people live in fear of the police.
On the other hand, did you know that sometimes, especially in impoverished areas and during times of unrest, people steal things from stores? And that there are subcultures whose fashion differs from the mainstream? It’s true!
On one hand, perhaps injustices can only be addressed by holding those in power accountable.
On the other hand, perhaps the real problem is that relatively powerless people are so goshdarn unruly.
“It is [...] an embarrassing cliche of literary criticism that only short works of fiction, like novellas or short stories, exhibit perfect ‘form,’ and that any lengthy work inevitably suffers from a relative shapelessness. The naive critic tries to compare The Scarlet Letter and Moby-Dick, discovering the one to be marvelously compact and the other sprawling and structurally unsound. But Moby-Dick is a masterpiece of structure, of a complexity that goes beyond anything Hawthorne would have dared to attempt; and it is to be presumed that the ordinary critic, infused with a myopic Jamesian sensibility, simply cannot see its vast magnificent form. My reading, over the years, of criticism on Dostoyevsky has led me to the conclusion that many of Dostoyevsky’s critics are simply incapable of measuring his genius.[...]
“The ‘loose baggy monster’ of Russian art is loose and baggy and monstrous only to the critic who confuses his own relative short-sightedness with an aesthetic principle.”
—Joyce Carol Oates in the essay “Tragic Rites in Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed“
Or, at least, as close to being free from spoilers as I can manage while still giving some description of the characters and their relationships. The names used most frequently are in bold. Quotes are taken from Constance Garnett’s translation (Project Gutenberg), as are the transliterated spellings. I created this list myself, but when in doubt I used this somewhat spoilery list for reference, so my thanks to Littera Scripta Manet.
Anton Lavrentyevitch G——v, our narrator
Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky (also called Stefan), “that talented and highly-esteemed gentleman”
Pyotr Stepanovitch Verhovensky (sometimes called Petrusha), Stepan’s son by his late wife, raised by distant cousins
Nastasya (nicknamed Stasie), Stepan’s servant
Varvara Petrovna Stavrogin, “a lady of great wealth” and Stepan’s longtime friend
Lieutenant-General Stavrogin, Varvara Petrovna’s separated husband
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch Stavrogin (French: Nicolas), Varvara Petrovna’s son, whom Stepan tutored when he was a child
Alexey Yegorytch, Varvara Petrovna’s butler
Fomushka, a friend of Varvara Petrovna
Count K., with whose family Stavrogin is rumored to be acquainted
Stepanida Mikhailovna, Stavrogin’s working-class landlady
Matryosha, the twelve-year-old daughter of Stepanida Mikhailovna
Sergay Vassilyevitch Liputin (French: Lipoutine), “an elderly provincial official, and a great liberal, who was reputed in the town to be an atheist”
Madame Liputin, Liputin’s pretty young wife
Agafya, Liputin’s servant, “an easy-mannered, lively, rosy-cheeked peasant woman of thirty”
Ivan Shatov (sometimes called Shatushka), a former serf of Varvara Petrovna who was expelled from university, and the brother of Darya Pavlovna, though he rarely sees her
Darya Pavlovna Shatov (often called Dasha, sometimes Dashenka), Shatov’s sister, Varvara Petrovna’s protégée
Marya Ignatyevna Shatov (French: Marie), Shatov’s wife, with whom he very briefly lived in Geneva several years ago
Virginsky, “a pathetic and very quiet young man”
Arina Prohorovna Virginsky, Virginsky’s wife and the town’s most sought-after midwife
Virginsky’s sister, “a rosy-cheeked student and a nihilist”
Arina Prohorovna’s sister, who has no eyebrows
Captain Ignat Lebyadkin (also Ignaty), “a stranger to the town, [who] turned out afterwards to be a very dubious character,” and who happens to live in the same house as Shatov
Marya Timofyevna Lebyadkin, Lebyadkin’s sister, who lives with him
Pyotr Pavlovitch Gaganov (once called Pavel Pavlovitch—I think the “Pyotr” is a mistake, since it doesn’t match his son’s patronymic), an elderly club member who has a habit of saying, “No, you can’t lead me by the nose!”
Artemy Pavlovitch Gaganov, the elder Gaganov’s son, “proud, irritable, and supercilious, in spite of his good breeding”
Anisim Ivanovitch, former servant of Gaganov, who knows Stepan
Praskovya Ivanovna Drozdov (formerly Tushin), a childhood friend of Varvara Petrovna, who is now elderly and has trouble with her legs
General Ivan Ivanovitch Drozdov, Praskovya Ivanovna’s late husband
Lizaveta Nikolaevna Tushin (often called Liza; French: Lise), Praskovya Ivanovna’s daughter, who was tutored by Stepan when she was a child
Mavriky Nikolaevitch (French: Maurice), a friend of Lizaveta and of the younger Gaganov, a thirty-three-year-old artillery captain who has “an imposing and at first sight almost stern countenance, in spite of his wonderful and delicate kindness which no one could fail to perceive almost the first moment of making his acquaintance”
Ivan Ossipovitch, “our dear mild governor”
Andrey Antonovitch von Lembke (sometimes called Lembka), the new governor who assumed office after Ivan Ossipovitch’s term
Yulia Mihailovna von Lembke (French: Julie), the governor’s ambitious and strong-willed wife, who is related to the Drozdovs
Alyosha Telyatnikov, “a clerk of refined manners, who was also a member of the governor’s household”
von Blum, a clerk in the governor’s office whom Yulia Mihailovna hates
Police-superintendent Flibusterov, “an ardent champion of authority who had only recently come to our town but had already distinguished himself”
Karmazinov, a well-known novelist and a distant relative of Yulia Mihailovna
Lyamshin, a Jewish post office clerk, who plays the piano and does amusing impressions
Alexey Nilitch Kirillov, a civil engineer who has been abroad and who takes a great interest in suicide
Shigalov, the brother of Arina Prohorovna, a gloomy man with very big ears
Nikon Semyonitch Andreev, “our respectable and respected merchant”
Fedka or Fyodor Fyodorovitch, an escaped convict
Erkel, a young ensign who rarely speaks and constantly takes notes
Tolkatchenko, “a man of forty, who was famed for his vast knowledge of the people, especially of thieves and robbers”
Sofya Matveyevna Ulitin, a widow who travels selling gospels
Father Pavel, “our chief priest”
Semyon Yakovlevitch, “our saint and prophet”
Tikhon, a retired bishop who lives in the monastery
“Stavrogin’s Confession,” a series of chapters originally omitted from the novel Devils due to censors, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
About 65 pages in the Koteliansky/Woolf translation
I cannot help but read this section as a short story in itself, although I don’t know whether Dostoyevsky ever intended it to stand alone. It is a continuous and terrible dream.
“[T]here are certain countenances that always, every time you see them, convey something new that you hadn’t noticed before, even though you’ve met them a hundred times in the past.”
—Devils, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, as translated by Michael R. Katz
“The Sun and I,” by K. J. Parker
16,052, including the epigraph
Found here in the summer 2013 issue of Subterranean Press Magazine
A fine, fine piece of philosophical fiction.
“We had many long conversations, the dead man and me. He told me he was a pilgrim, on his way to the celebrated desert oracle at Cocona. He’d gone there to get the answer to a very important question which had subsequently slipped his mind; the answer, though, was, Yes, but it will not end well. Looks like they were right, I told him. Well, of course, he said, it’s a very reliable oracle.”
“Views of My Father Weeping,” by Donald Barthelme
About eleven pages in this copy of Sixty Stories, which makes it about 4,019 words
I don’t really have anything original to say about this one. I just like it and want it on my blog.
I also like Michael Zeitlin’s essay on Barthelme and need to quote it.
I remember once we were out on the ranch shooting peccadillos (result of a meeting, on the plains of the West, of the collared peccary and the nine-banded armadillo). My father shot and missed. He wept. This weeping resembles that weeping.
[... C]learly, in the context of the story [the wordplay here] is a kind of diversionary tactic (“see how playful, clever, and postmodern I’m being”) transferring our attention away from the underlying parricidal theme which one may infer from the undisguised “content” of the passage, that is, the father’s humiliation. The meaning of that humiliation comes closer to “the real story,” one which is “beneath the surface” only in the sense that its thematic, ideational, and symbolic complexities are precisely what the conspicuous play on “peccadillo” attempts to divert our attention away from. [...] In fact, this might be identified as a cardinal principle of [Barthelme's] art, or at least precisely its point: the shifting of attention away from “central concerns” is a gambit, a ruse, and a deflection[....]