from Frankenstein to Raskolnikov

I like to think of degrees of separation, of connecting links, that come about because “the production and consumption of all lands have become cosmopolitan” as a result of the relentless bourgeois search for markets.

Take, for instance, Pavel Annenkov. It was Annenkov who happened to visit Belinski right as he was reading an ‘extraordinary’ novel, one that, one that, Belinski said, ‘reveals such mysteries and such characters in Russian life as never discussed before.” The novel was Poor Folks, and the novelist Dostoevsky. Pavel Annenkov happened to be in Russia in 1846, which is why a friend of his from Brussels, Karl Marx, was writing him letters there.

Poor Marx, of course, had had to move to Brussels at the prodding of the French police, although in truth it was a strange affair. Why should the wrath of the Prussian government – pressuring the French government – come down on him? He was not even involved in the article that was the cause of his expulsion – an article applauding an assassination attempt on the Prussian king in an exile German journal.

Annenkov and other Russians were attracted to the milieu around Proudhon and Bakunin, It was through this circle that Herzen met – to his later regret- the German poet Hedwegh, Marx’s great friend. Annenkov had attending a meeting of the communists in Brussels. I like to think that Annenkov might have mentioned the names of some of the new Russian writers to Marx – for instance, Gogol.

Marx’s letter to Annenkov is well worth reading – and, for those of us with a keen eye for the intersigne, there is something so very right – so almost uncannily right – in the fact that Annenkov, in this year, is involved as an observer both with the beginning of Dostoevsky’s career and with Marx’s. Annenkov had asked Marx’s opinion about a book written by Proudhon. Remember that Proudhon is, at this time, a European celebrity. Marx – well, he was known by some, and admired greatly by Frederick Engels, but he had trouble focusing.

The letter is here. It is a letter about, among other things, God and money. A subject that Dostoevsky has been attuned to from the first – although we are far from Crime and Punishment as yet.

“Why does M. Proudhon speak of god, of universal reason, of the impersonal reason of humanity, which is never mistaken, which has been, at all times, equal to itself, of which is it enough simply to have the correct consciousness in order to find oneself in the true? Why put on the feeble Hegelianism in order to pose as an esprit fort?
Himself, he gives you the key to the enigma. M. Proudhon sees in history a certain series of social developments; he discovers the progress realized in history; he finds at last that men, taken as individuals, do not know what they have done, have been deceived in their own movement, that is to say, their social development appears at the first view as a distinct, separate thing, independent of their individual development. He does not know how to explain these facts, and the hypothesis of universal reason manifesting itself is all ginned up [est toute trouvée]. Nothing easier than to invent mystical causes, that is to say phrases, where common sense can’t supply any.
But doesn’t M. Proudhon, in avowing that he does not understand anything of the historic development of humanity – and he avows this once he resorts to sonorous words about universal reason, god, etc. – doesn’t he avow implicitly and necessarily that he is incapable of understanding economic developments?”

As I pointed out in my last post, the moment in which the monster opens its eye – in which man’s creation, to speak in Frankenstein’s terms, seems to operate behind man’s back, and subject man to its will – is the moment in which, rightly viewed, a whole series of developments falls into place. This moment – which is a moment, I would say, in the ‘becoming unbearable’ of social conditions, and thus is intimately entangled with the history it sees – is the condition for understanding what the forces of production have wrought.

At the end of Marx’s letter – which is obviously connected to the work he is doing, at that time, on the section of the German ideology representing a history that does understand economic developments – Marx makes an observation about Proudhon’s theory as an expression of the class views of a group he knew well, since they constituted the Communist League – the petit-bourgeois.

“The petit-bourgeois, in an advanced society and by the necessity of its status, is made up of one part socialist, and one part economist, that is to say, he is awed by the magnificence of the high bourgeoisie and sympathizes with the griefs of the people. He is at the same time bourgeois and people. He prides himself, in the depths of his consciousness [dans son for intérieur de sa conscience] to be impartial, to have discovered the right balance, which he has the pretention to distinguish from the golden mean [juste milieu]. Such a petit-bourgeois divinizes the contradiction, for contradiction is the basis of his being. He is only a social contradiction put into motion. He has to justify by theory what he is in practice, and M. Proudhon has the merit of being the scientific interpreter of the French petite-bourgeoisie française, which is a real merit, because the petite-bourgeoisie will be an integral party of all the social revolutions that are in preparation.”

And let’s end this with another quote. This one is from Gerard Cornio’s Figure of the Double in European literature. For Cornio, Balzac’s Rastignac and Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov are doublets, and both encounter doubles in their lives:

‘Raskolnikove is also placed at the crossing, at the crossroads of doubles, but between [this pair] reigns incompatibility: Raskolnikov cannot, like Rastignac, accommodate himself to social and moral contradictions, accommodate himself through his personel consumption, he has to chose, to cut, to make choices which are sacrifices.” [50]