Brothers Karamazov I, Do not lie.
by Andrea Elizabeth
from Chapter 7 [edit: the following is from etext which I wanted to quote after hearing an audible version. I have since discovered that my hardcopy, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, lists this as Book 2, Ch. 2. In “re-reading” this text I also came across the explanation for Alyosha’s shame which I guessed at when I wrote this last night. It was on behalf of the elder on account of the disrespectful treatment Alyosha’s family showed him.]
“I earnestly beg you, too, not to disturb yourself, and not to be uneasy,” the elder said impressively. “Do not trouble. Make yourself quite at home. And, above all, do not be so ashamed of yourself, for that is at the root of it all.”
“Quite at home? To be my natural self? Oh, that is much too much, but I accept it with grateful joy. Do you know, blessed father, you’d better not invite me to be my natural self. Don’t risk it…. I will not go so far as that myself. I warn you for your own sake. Well, the rest is still plunged in the mists of uncertainty, though there are people who’d be pleased to describe me for you. I mean that for you, Pyotr Alexandrovitch. But as for you, holy being, let me tell you, I am brimming over with ecstasy.”
He got up, and throwing up his hands, declaimed, “Blessed be the womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck — the paps especially. When you said just now, ‘Don’t be so ashamed of yourself, for that is at the root of it all,’ you pierced right through me by that remark, and read me to the core. Indeed, I always feel when I meet people that I am lower than all, and that they all take me for a buffoon. So I say, ‘Let me really play the buffoon. I am not afraid of your opinion, for you are every one of you worse than I am.’ That is why I am a buffoon. It is from shame, great elder, from shame; it’s simply over-sensitiveness that makes me rowdy. If I had only been sure that everyone would accept me as the kindest and wisest of men, oh, Lord, what a good man I should have been then! Teacher!” he fell suddenly on his knees, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
It was difficult even now to decide whether he was joking or really moved.
Father Zossima, lifting his eyes, looked at him, and said with a smile:
“You have known for a long time what you must do. You have sense enough: don’t give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech; don’t give way to sensual lust; and, above all, to the love of money. And close your taverns. If you can’t close all, at least two or three. And, above all — don’t lie.”
“You mean about Diderot?”
“No, not about Diderot. Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill — he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful posturing….”
“Blessed man! Give me your hand to kiss.”
Fyodor Pavlovitch skipped up, and imprinted a rapid kiss on the elder’s thin hand. “It is, it is pleasant to take offence. You said that so well, as I never heard it before. Yes, I have been all my life taking offence, to please myself, taking offence on aesthetic grounds, for it is not so much pleasant as distinguished sometimes to be insulted — that you had forgotten, great elder, it is distinguished! I shall make a note of that. But I have been lying, lying positively my whole life long, every day and hour of it. Of a truth, I am a lie, and the father of lies. Though I believe I am not the father of lies. I am getting mixed in my texts. Say, the son of lies, and that will be enough.
To feel the lowest and the highest at the same time. Shame mixed with pride. Fyodore Pavlovitch Karamazov, the father of the brothers, is not sure if the Elder is greater than him yet, so he tests him. He’s sure Miusov isn’t. He is used to everyone treating him with contempt, and he gives them every reason to prove their own contemptuous, proud nature, so he has them beat. The elder does not show contempt, but neither does he let Fyodore control him. He leaves the room after generous instruction. Alyosha, the youngest and most virtuous brother, is ashamed of the guests’ disrespectful behavior in the presence of his Elder. Perhaps this is a sign of weakness. Is his pride hurt that his family isn’t respectable? Is his concern for the suffering of his elder? I’m not sure yet. Perhaps he just bears the shame of his family.
Though Fyodore is playing the assumed part of the buffoon, what is he lying about? He seems to admit all his debaucherous vices. He is also chastised for taking offense too easily. He blames others for his shortcomings and failings. Maybe that’s the lie. He sets people up to offend him so he can enjoy the injury, so that he can act a holy martyr. He leads them into sin. But still the elder is kind to him. Love takes no offense.
Dostoyevsky is known as a Christian Existentialist as, according to Wikipedia, is Soren Kierkegaard,
Christian existentialism relies on three major assumptions drawn from Kierkegaard’s understanding of Christianity. The first is that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical, and that the greatest paradox of all is the transcendent union of God and man in the person of Christ. The second concerns having a personal relationship with God that supersedes all prescribed moralities, social structures and communal norms. The third asserts that following social conventions is essentially a personal aesthetic choice made by individuals.
Kierkegaard proposes that each of us must make independent choices that will then comprise our existence. No imposed structures—even Biblical commandments—can alter the responsibility of individuals to seek to please God in whatever personal and paradoxical way God chooses to be pleased. Each individual suffers the anguish of indecision until he makes a leap of faith and commits to a particular choice. Each person is faced with the responsibility of knowing of his own free will and with the fact that a choice, even a wrong choice, must be made in order to live authentically.
Kierkegaard also upholds the idea that every human being exists in one of three spheres (or on planes) of existence, the aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Most people, he observed, live an aesthetic life in which nothing matters but appearances, pleasures, and happiness. It is in accordance with the desires of this sphere that people follow social conventions. Kierkegaard also considered the violation of social conventions for personal reasons (e.g., in the pursuit of fame, reputation for rebelliousness) to be a personal aesthetic choice. A much smaller group are those people who live in the ethical sphere, who do their best to do the right thing and see past the shallow pleasantries and ideas of society. The third and highest sphere is the faith sphere. To be in the faith sphere, Kierkegaard says that one must give the entirety of oneself to God.
One of the major premises of Christian existentialism entails calling the masses back to a more genuine form of Christianity, often identified with some notion of “early Christianity,” or the type of Christianity that existed during the first three decades after the Resurrection of Christ in approximately AD 33. With the Edict of Milan, which was issued by Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 313 , Christianity enjoyed a level of popularity among Romans and later among other Europeans. And yet, by the 19th century, Kierkegaard saw that the ultimate meaning of New Testament Christianity (Love) had become perverted. And thus, Christianity appears to have deviated considerably from its original threefold message of grace, humility, and love.
Another major premise of Christian existentialism involves Kierkegaard’s conception of God and Love. For the most part, Kierkegaard equates God with Love. Thus when a person engages in the act of loving, he is in effect achieving an aspect of the divine. Kierkegaard also viewed the individual as a necessary synthesis of both finite and infinite elements. Therefore, when an individual does not come to a full realization of his infinite side, he is said to be in despair. For many contemporary Christian theologians, the notion of despair can be viewed as sin. And sin is something that Kierkegaard equated with the losing of one’s self, the self being a free spirit that recognizes both the finite and infinite sides of his existence.
A final major premise of Christian existentialism entails the systematic undoing of evil acts. Kierkegaard claimed that once an action has been completed, it should be evaluated in the face of God, asserting that holding oneself up to Divine scrutiny is the only way to judge one’s actions. Because actions constitute the manner in which something is deemed good or bad, one must be constantly conscious of the potential consequences of his actions. Kierkegaard believed that the choice for goodness came down to each individual. Unfortunately, most people do not choose. As a result, humanity will continue to relegate itself to self-imposed immaturity, thus living in both stunned apathy and agonizing inertia.