Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dmitri, How Could You?

Dmitri's meeting with Alyosha on the dark road at the end of Part I in The Brothers Karamazov is troubling.

Here is Dmitri: he tells Alyosha that he could have kissed and hugged him, but chose to scare him instead. A few pages later, Dmitri continues the theme of choosing wrong, and repeats the choice-awareness twice: He confesses that he is about to do something terrible "which will come to pass, though I'm perfectly free to stop it. I can stop it or carry it through, note that. Well, let me tell you, I shall carry it through. I shan't stop it . . . I can still pull up; if I do, I can give back the full half of my lost honour tomorrow. But I shan't pull up. I shall carry out my base plan . . . ."

What troubles me is Dmitri's absolute awareness of his existential freedom, his moral agency, and his choosing to choose wrong. Dostoevsky's presentation of Dmitri is instructive of the larger problem: the mystery of iniquity. How is wrong consciously chosen, even when there seems no pleasure in it? Why would one consciously choose suffering that only compounds itself?

I don't think Dmitri uncommonly stupid or even uncommon.

The question, "how could you?" comes not so much from the position of one who accuses, but one who acquiesces.


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