Hodgson III: The Quest for Form.

Time for another excerpt from Hodgson’s book (see previous posts: I, II):

In his book on Dostoevsky’s philosophy of art, Robert Jackson writes, “Perhaps no other writer, except Gogol, experienced more painfully and explored more deeply than Dostoevsky that quest for form which lies at the center of Russia’s national awakening in the first part of the nineteenth century. A militant restlessness in the face of “complacent” naturalism places Dostoevsky outside the classical tradition of Pushkin, Turgenev, and Tolstoy, and that therefore, perhaps unwillingly, he stands “somewhere on the threshold of that modern revolution in form” which consists in a “breakdown of form.” Literature was an epistemological tool for Dostoevsky, instead of a daguerreotype plate. He understood Gogol’s “shapeless” Pirogov, a character in “Nevsky Prospect,” to be a metaphor for as yet formless negative traits in the Russian character. He experimented with patently inadequate European forms, not so that he might hit upon a combination of techniques which would “mirror” the familiar Nevsky Prospect but because he felt that Russian literature had yet to give form to the psychological and moral reality of his countrymen. In following Gogol’s lead and exploiting the native baroque traditions which resided in the subculture, Dostoevsky drew on a set of literary forms which were appropriate to the peculiarly unwestern aspects of Russian reality. At the same time, however, he manipulated their innately irreverent tendency as a weapon against the inappropriate European forms which had accrued to legitimate Russian prose during a century of Europeanization. (p. 21)

Incidentally, Hodgson said I could link to his website, puteracy.com, with the proviso that it’s almost a decade old and he hasn’t gotten around to doing the updating he’s been planning (to give you a taste: “literacy’s beginnings signal our first tentative steps out of tribal xenophobia toward global linguistic interaction [a gregarious sociability unique to our species]; spurred by material necessity and fostered by mercantile enterprise, this venturing forth from the ancestral hearth was entirely compatible with the essential human impetus, our innate curiosity”).

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