The Return of Dostoyevsky?
“I have my own view of reality in art and what in the view of most people verges on the fantastic and the exceptional is sometimes the very essence of the real for me. Everyday trivia and the conventional view of them do not, in my opinion, amount to realism, but the very opposite. In every newspaper you find reports of facts which are at the same time totally real and yet quite extraordinary. To our writers they seem fantastic and they do not take them into account; and yet they are reality, because they art facts . .. But is my fantastic Idiot not reality; reality, moreover, of the most everyday kind? Such characters must exist at this very moment in those strata of society which have become divorced from the soil – social strata which are in reality becoming fantastic.”
– Fydor Dostoyevsky, Notebooks and Journals
As I ponder the politics of the fantastic happening in the spectacle of our media-carnivalesque in both the U.S.A. and UK I keep wandering back to the Russian… does he not already prophesy the strange fantastic realism of our present era? Did he not already wander the labyrinths of nihilism and show a way out of its labyrinth? Does he not give us figures who exist among us, unmoored from the dark realities of our day, creatures of the mundane who walk among us free of our brokenness? In fact Dostoyevsky would say of truth, that “truth almost always assumes an entirely fantastic character”.
Of the Fantastic he would affirm its consistency with the real:
“Granted that this is a fantastic tale, but when all is said and done the fantastic in art has its own limits and rules. T he fantastic must be contiguous with the real to the point that you must almost believe in it. Pushkin, who gave us almost all kinds of art, wrote The Queen of Spades – the summit of fantastic art. And you really believe that Hermann had a vision in keeping with his world-view, and yet when you have read the story through and reached the end, you do not know what to think.”
Even more to the point: “They call me a psychologist: this is not true. I am just a realist in a higher sense, i.e., I depict all the depths of the human soul.” Maybe that’s the issue of our day, we’ve become so used to the surface, the mirror, the postmodern cynicism of beauty without depth, of the soulless and self-reflexive inanity of the vacuous and trivial that as we watch these figures strut across the stage of politics we are seeing the nothing we are and are becoming… emptied of our depths, our soul we’ve become voids within voids unable to think, only react to the ‘bunraku‘ of our day, the puppet-masters of our carnevaleque era of masquerades and false pretentiousness. The veritable age of the ink-dark ‘tabarro’ (cloak) and the chalk-white ‘bauta’ (mask) of Venetian nights returns, the festivals of murder and laughter, decadence and corruptions wander our famed metropolises. But this time there will be no aesthetic appreciation, rather the dark humor of actual lives ground under the broken heels of a system that no longer knows that it knows nothing, yet offers the dreams of everything. A false dream that only the mundane truth will know as hollow, a truth that leads only to farce and ultimate ruin. This is the time of T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.