Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Writing - Dangerous Ideas

In these times of unrest across the world from a variety of populaces it is interesting to reflect that there is nothing new in the world. Writers allow their imaginations to test a range of scenarios because they need to and they base these 'flights of fancy' on real situations.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

At the time of writing there have been recent riots in Ferguson in the US; the battles between authorities and IS in the Middle East continues; people are being murdered in Africa, and the general population of many democratic countries in Europe are unhappy with the current political systems.

There is nothing new!

The 19th Century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote about characters who justified murder in the name of their ideological beliefs. (Sound familiar?)

Born in 1821, the Russian writer was in his 20s when he joined a circle of radical intellectuals in St Petersburg who were entranced by French utopian socialist theories. A police agent who had infiltrated the group reported its discussions to the authorities. On 22 April 1849, Dostoyevsky was arrested and imprisoned along with the other members, and after some months of investigation they were found guilty of planning to distribute subversive propaganda and condemned to death by firing squad. Eventually this was commuted to 4 years hard labour.

In his great novel Demons, published 1872, he tried to point out that the predominant social ideas of the time were dangerous.

The plot is a version of actual events that unfolded as Dostoyevsky was writing the book. A former teacher of divinity turned terrorist, Sergei Nechaev, was arrested and convicted of complicity in the killing of a student. Nechaev had authored a pamphlet, The Catechism of a Revolutionary, which argued that any means (including blackmail and murder) could be used to advance the cause of revolution. The student had questioned Nechaev's policies, and so had to be eliminated. 

What Dostoyevsky diagnosed - and at times suffered from himself - was the tendency to think of ideas as being somehow more real than actual human beings.

Other books by Dostoyevsky
  • Crime and Punishment (1866): The story of Raskolnikov, a young student in 19th Century St Petersburg, who is consumed with guilt after he kills a moneylender
  • The Idiot (1868): The tale of Prince Myshkin - the "idiot" of the title - whose naive and trusting nature precipitates disaster for the people around him
  • The Brothers Karamazov (1880) - Philosophical novel about four brothers and their dissolute landowner father, whose murder raises questions about God, free will and morality.

I have said it many times before but writers seem to have the baton for social commentary.

God Bless