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Dostoevsky's The Idiot: a critical companion by Liza Knapp

By Liza Knapp

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25 In the characterization and field of action accorded to Stavrogin then, whose name, suggestive of the Antichrist, is a combination of stavros (cross) and rog (horn), Dostoevsky takes the final step begun in the earlier works: he joins the image of the apocalyptic horseman with that of the coming revolution, and thereby makes explicit what had hitherto been largely implied. When later in the novel Pyotr Verkhovensky ecstatically identifies Stavrogin with "the leader of the flagellants, Ivan Filippovich, [who] had been seen ascending into heaven on a chariot before a multitude of people" (10:326), we are confronted not only with a cherished folk image -the prophet Elijah (Ilya) - but, more important, with a Gogolian vision of horse-drawn deliverance, of movement up and out of this world and time.

Otherwise the Earth would be without meaning (Neizdannyi Dostoevskii, 173—75). I have quoted this extraordinary passage at length because in it we see the mind of a great storyteller trying, step by step, to compose a plot for life that encompasses death. As in the finale of The Idiot,8 where Myshkin and Rogozhin contemplate the corpse of Nastasya Filippovna, Dostoevsky strikes repeatedly at the mystery of this ultimate threshold. The fascination with spatiotemporal brinks and border crossings that is his hallmark9 and that so marks the writing of The Idiot10 is here distilled to a radical essence of logic and belief.

Laugh [ing] when she laughed and ready to cry when she cried" (7 589). The relation of Myshkin's holy foolishness to socially constructed femininity is dramatized by his inability to make up his mind (or as his not having a mind to make up). What Michael Holquist calls the novel's "failure to express the holy"15 is linked to Myshkin's disintegrative bodily and speech rhythms, to a holy foolishness that saves no one, and to the way feminine hysteria and the Prince's epilepsy move along the same discursive continuum in the novel.

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