For Yuri. Something somewhat speculative & savagely sloppy, regarding acts of writing in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and possible anticipations, in the Christian tradition, of what seems to be Dostoyevsky’s attitude about writing there.
I am trying to work this thought out as I write about it. By way of framing, at the outset, what I’m getting at, I should note that, in part four of this little series (broken up because of length), I have written that
the literary activity of [the earliest Christians] is not, however, undertaken in order to be a virtuoso or contribute to a body of literature for a culture or civilization, or as an abstract expression of creativity merely to be appreciated, or as a form of play, or as a product to entertain, but in order to change the hearts of hearers, urgently, immediately, and to build up the hearts of Christians who have received these words within a network of communities.
There are a number of motives that bring one to write in The Brothers Karamazov, but this intention to enliven and to change and to enlarge hearts seems to separate good from bad writing there; writing there does not seem to be a unified activity, seems only superficially connected across its occurrences, and the meaning and value it is represented as having is, I suggest, better categorized by the character of the writer, the impulse flowing from the heart of the writer, and the purpose bringing that one to write, than by any category of literary activity.
This may seem odd to note, but Dostoyevksy seems to be making this point himself, and, occasionally, to emphasize it.
Looking at early Christian practices regarding writing, antecedents within Jewish writings, and templates within the early Christian patristic ascetical corpus, are helpful at framing this distinction.
Two important features of all modern polities are (1) an emphasis on proper procedure and (2) a systematic ensurance of popular consent. Contrary to common expectation, these do not come directly from ancient Greece, leapfrogging into the present, nor do they spring ex nihilo from later Enlightenment conceptions of political life. Rather, they first take on their later forms by way of Late Antique and Medieval monastic and ecclesiastical environments. While we should not wish to make history tidier than it is –the lines of influence are messy ones– this particular line is significant enough that, even if it is later joined by other tributaries, it deserves to be singled out.
In this set of posts we shall look at a trajectory from roughly Benedict of Nursia to Marsilius of Padua, looking over our shoulder, later on, at Aristotle and Cicero. At the end, we shall ask some questions about the meaning of the secular, secularism, and secularity, as illuminated by this history.
In the previous entry, we looked at the Rule of Benedict. Here, we look at the lead-up to a crucial stage in the secularization (i.e., an exportation into the saeculum) of features of the Rule in the writings and life of Gregory I, Roman Pope, also known as Gregory the Great, or (less fortunately) as Gregory the Dialogist.
Translators are confronted with numerous choices when rendering ancient Greek words into English, and one of these is how to bridge the distance between the world of the text and the world of the reader. This historical distance can be notoriously difficult to see when one engages with a text that has already been translated, and which arrives in the world of the innocent reader as pre-chewed food. (A recent post on the shift in words we translate as “happy” reminded me of the need to write something on this more specifically.) This highlights a central feature of the secularity of our modern world: historical distance, the autonomy of historical epochs and local worlds, and the seeming worldliness of every bridge or road we might build to traverse them. Continue reading