The Brothers Karamazov

Excerpt from a conversation between The Devil & Ivan from a late chapter in the Brothers Karamazov. The first quote is the end of something the Devil is saying, followed by a quick response from Ivan, and then a lengthy quote of the voice of the Devil, which may or may not be a hallucination of Ivan’s imagination….

“…And would you believe it still weighs on my heart? My best feelings, gratitude, for example, are formally forbidden solely because of my social position.”

“Up to his neck in philosophy again!” Ivan snarled hatefully.

“God preserve me from that, but one can’t help complaining sometimes. I am a slandered man. Even you tell me I’m stupid every other minute. It shows how young you are. My friend, the point is not just intelligence! I have a naturally kind and cheerful heart, ‘and various little vaudevilles, I too…’ You seem to take me decidedly for some gray-haired Khlestakov, and yet my fate is far more serious. By some pre-temporal assignment, which I have never been able to figure out, I am appointed ‘to negate’, whereas I am sincerely kind and totally unable to negate. No, they say, go and negate, without negation there will be no criticism, and what sort of journal has no ‘criticism section’? Without criticism, there would be nothing but ‘Hosannah.’ But ‘Hosannah’ alone is not enough for life, it is necessary that this ‘Hosannah’ pass through the crucible of doubt, and so on, in the same vein. I don’t meddle with any of that, by the way, I didn’t create it, and I can’t answer for it. So they chose themselves a scapegoat, they made me write for the criticism section, and life came about. We understand this comedy: I, for instance, demand simply and directly that I be destroyed. No, they say, live, because without you there would be nothing. If everything on earth were sensible, nothing would happen. Without you there would be no events, and I do the unreasonable on orders. People take this whole comedy for something serious, despite all their undeniable intelligence. This is their tragedy. Well, they suffer, of course, but….still they live, the live really, not in fantasy; for suffering is life. Without suffering, what pleasure would their be in it — everything would turn into an endless prayer service: holy, but a bit dull. And me? I suffer, and still I do not live. I am an x in an indeterminate equation. I am some sort of ghost of life who has lost all ends and beginnings, and I’ve finally even forgotten what to call myself. You’re laughing … no, you’re not laughing, you’re angry again. You’re eternally angry, you want reason only, but I will repeat to you once more that I would give all of that life beyond the stars, all ranks and honors, only to be incarnated in the soul of a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound merchant’s wife and light candles to God.”

pg. 642, The Devil (The Brothers Karamazov) by Fyodor Dostoevsky


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