Interpersonal relationships in Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky

by Andrea Elizabeth

Orthodox Interventions mentions Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky in its introductions about existentialistic experience. I complained about how the rest of the intros seemed to dismiss western work on interpersonal relationships with the traditional monastic God-focused source of homeostasis. Since they did mention these two authors, I would like to think for a minute about the personal life of Kierkegaard and the characters in Dostoevsky.

There is a funny but naughty characterization of Kierkegaards writings as the Regina Monologues. I do not point this out dismissively as I do think that not having a relationship can actually lead to intensive study about what one is missing instead of taking their supposedly successful experience for granted thinking they have arrived. I came to this observation after listening to a Catholic celibate priest talk surprisingly wisely about marriage. I thought, how does he know? Some might say he was idealist, but I think studying can give one a vision for how things are supposed to be when those closer to it can perhaps not see the forest for the trees, as it were. That said, Kierkegaard seems to have come to a bad end, almost like Edgar Allen Poe’s dying alone in a gutter. I think they needed more personal relating than they got. But would we have such great literature if they had? Suffering yeilds greatness, I suppose.

The world failed Dostoevsky too. His characters’ relationships are soooo tenuous. If you’re looking for a secure, happy ending, you will be disappointed. Shakespeare’s tragedies are different in that external forces are keeping worthy people apart. Dostoevsky’s characters implode on themselves. But Dostoevsky read Shakespeare, and I’ve heard Dickens. I saw somewhere that there is a legend that the two D’s met, but the exchange was brief and uneventful. Was their influence on each other? The Russians even though listening to the west seem to have kept their own identity and distinctions. It’s almost as if their glances to the west are sideways. I also read about how Russian romanticism is different than western, but I can’t remember exactly how – it’s not as faithful to the other. It’s almost inherently tragic in its nature. I’m going to let you down, but love me anyway if you want, or don’t. That sounds too cold, but I think the detachment is right. They are willing to suffer and to cause suffering.

And the world failed Dickens, but he thought he could fix it. His books are persuasive arguments to improve, and I’ve heard he helped. But I don’t think he saw how much more complex the problems would become once a certain kind of suffering – squalor – was corrected. Well maybe he did with Honoria Deadlock and Lady Haversham. I don’t get the impression he thought these two wealthy women’s lives would have necessarily been better if they’d gotten the relationships they wanted. He doesn’t really respect their subsequent ruin nor particularly blame the men or circumstances even if the women do.

Tim Burton I think has the answer in Corpse Bride. He resurrected the phoenix.

About these ads