Thursday, 21 October 2010

Dostoyevsky agrees!

My favourite character in Dostoyevsky's classic novel Crime and Punishment is the passionately intelligent, unrestrained bear of a man, Razumikhin. Of all the characters in this incredible novel, he is the one with the least artifice, who speaks the most intelligently and vividly, from the heart. It is also no coincidence that Dostoyevsky almost certainly derived Razumikhin's name from the Russian word 'razum', meaning 'reason'.

In this wonderful passage, a drunk (on vodka, on life, on Avdotya Raskolnikov's beauty) Razumikhin,
escorting Raskolnikov's sister and mother back to their lodgings, rails against the vile use of cliche, and how its use pervades all our lives, obscuring truth:

'What do you suppose?' Razumikhin shouted, raising his voice even louder. 'Do you suppose I'm going on like this because they talk nonsense? Rubbish! I like it when they talk nonsense! Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over other organisms. It's by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I'm human. Not one single truth has ever been arrived at without people first having talked a dozen reams of nonsense, even ten dozen reams of it, and that's an honourable thing in its own way; well, but we can't even talk nonsense with our own brains! Talk nonsense to me, by all means, but do it with your own brain, and I shall kiss you for it.
To talk nonsense in one's own way is almost better than to talk a truth that's someone else's; in the first instance, you behave like a human being, while in the second, you are merely being a parrot!
The truth won't go away, but life can be knocked on the head and done in. I can think of some examples... we're all of us, every one of us without exception, when it comes to the fields of learning, development, thought, invention, ideals, ambition, liberalism, reason, experience, and every, every, every other field you can think of, in the very lowest preparatory form of school! We've got accustomed to making do with other people's intelligence - we're soaked in it! It's true, isn't it? Isn't what I'm saying true?' cried Razumikhin, trembling all over and squeezing the hands of both ladies. 'Isn't it?'

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