Defamiliarization has become familiar

“Here’s the problem, to me: defamiliarization has become familiar, which is ironic and kind of sad.”

—Karen Carlson, discussing the techniques of fiction

On hearing both sides

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.

On form and structure in long pieces of fiction

“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

A spoiler-free list of characters in Demons/The Devils/The Possessed, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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

Short story: “Stavrogin’s Confession”

“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

Translated by S. S. Koteliansky and Virginia Woolf (SWF / PDF), Michael R. Katz, and probably many others

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.

Certain countenances

“[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

Short story: “The Sun and I”

“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.

Witty, too:

“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.”

Words to live by

“Fuck lemonade. These lemons are incredible.”

—Andrew Hussie

Today in “things I need that don’t seem to exist online”

Dear Google, please give me a spoiler-free list of the characters in this Dostoyevsky novel

Short story: “Views of My Father Weeping”

“Views of My Father Weeping,” by Donald Barthelme

About eleven pages in this copy of Sixty Stories, which makes it about 4,019 words

Appeared in the New Yorker on December 6th, 1969 (subscribers can read here); readable online via public library membership here; collected in Sixty Stories

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[....]


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