Author Archive


Back in Kansas, here are some initial observations:

There are Crushers in Kansas!
There is a red cicada infestation in Kansas!
It is difficult being in Kansas City Royals territory!

Book III Crime and Punishment

‘Lying Your Way To the Truth’

Razumikhin restores a kind of order to Raskolnikov’s life. We’d do well to look at a few things that Razumikhin thinks of that reflect a desire similar to Raskolnikov’s in that they both protest about the emptiness of using other people‘s ideas. Razumikhin is so much a likable character though, in contrast to Raskolnikov, because he doesn’t stew in his room to think about ideas–he goes out and engages those ideas in print, at dinner parties, and, we can imagine, at no few dark taverns and low boarding houses.

In Book Three, Razumikhin keeps on complaining loudly of the argument he had engaged in at his uncle’s boarding house: driven by the recent murder and robbery of Aliona and Lizaveta, the discussion there turned to the nature of crime and the criminal mind. The talk is overly conceptual for the ‘living, loving, acting’ Razumikhin, as he drunkenly fumes to the astonished and overwhelmed ladies, Pulcheria and Dunya: “Well, so they insist on total impersonality, can you believe it? And that’s just where they find the most relish! Not to be oneself, to be least of all like oneself! And that they consider the highest progress. If only they had their own way of lying…” (202). He brushes aside Mama’s interruption:

What do you think? …. You think it’s because they’re lying? Nonsense! I like it when people lie! Lying is man’s only privilege over other organisms. If you lie–you get to the truth! Lying is what makes me a man…. Well, but we can’t even lie with our own minds! Lie to me, but in your own way, and I’ll kiss you for it. Lying in one’s own way is almost better than telling the truth in someone else’s way; in the first case you’re a man, and in the second–no better than a bird! …. We like getting by on other people’s reason–we’ve acquired a taste for it! Right? Am I right? (202-203)

On the same theme the next day, at Porfiry Petrovich’s house with Raskolnikov and Zamyatov, Razumikhin elaborates on why the thoughtlessness of the Socialists’ view of crime roused his passions:

With them, it is always a ‘victim of the environment’–and nothing else! Their favorite phrase! Hence directly that if society itself is normally set up, all crimes will at once disappear, because there will be no reason for protesting and everyone will instantly become righteous. Nature is not taken into account, nature is driven out, nature is not supposed to be! With them, it’s not mankind developing all along in a historical, living way that will finally turn by itself into a normal society, but, on the contrary, a social system, coming out of some mathematical head, will at once organize the whole of mankind and instantly make it righteous and sinless, sooner than any living process, without any historical and living way! …. You can’t overleap nature with logic alone! Logic will presuppose three cases, when there are a million of them! Cut away the whole million, and reduce everything to the one question of comfort! The easiest solution to the problem! Enticingly clear, and there’s no need to think! Above all, there’s no need to think! The whole of life’s mystery can fit on two printed pages! (256-257)

This argument on crime, coming up in context of Raskolnikov’s very intimate engagement with crime, can be applied to his situation. You’ll remember that he is already aware of poor environment leading to crime: when his mother suggests, “I’m sure it’s half on account of this apartment that you’ve become so melancholic,” he replies, “Apartment?…. Yes I’m sure the apartment contributed a lot…. I’ve thought about that myself… (231). But can Raskolnikov’s crime be applied to the socialist model for crime? If it can be, then if Raskolnikov only had enough money to furnish and live in a comfortable place, he would not have committed his crime! We see, however, that there is more to Raskolnikov’s discomfort than mere lack of a good environment. He does not even take advantage of the opportunities he has (especially after the robbery!) to find a better environment. Indeed, you’ll remember that it would be stifling everything that is in him to accept Dunya’s sacrifice for him that would have placed him in a good environment.

This knowledge drove Raskolnikov’s conversation with Zamyatov: Raskolnikov was so convinced of Zamyatov embracing conventional theories of crime that he was able to play Zamyatov for the fool. In Porfiry Petrovich, however, Raskolnikov has found a worthy opponent who does not embrace the conventional theory that all crimes may be categorized under three logical headings.

That whole first encounter of Raskolnikov with Porfiry is a brilliant psychological game of cat-and-mouse. I’ll try to summarize briefly the tricks that both parties employ in their conversation (248-254).

Raskolnikov knows that Porfiry suspects him, so he walks into Luzhin’s house laughing uproariously and light-heartedly. He desires this laughter to be as natural as possible so that he does not seem to be acting guilty or, most importantly, aware that Porfiry suspects him. Porifry cannot help but acknowledge that the first points go to Raskolnikov, and turns their talk immediately to business, “with the sort of eager and all too serious attention that from the first becomes burdensome and embarrassing, especially for a stranger, and especially when what is recounted seems, in one’s own opinion, out of all proportion to the unusually weighty attention accorded it” (250). Porfiry seeks to make Raskolnikov uncomfortable by paying weighty attention to what should be trifling things, thus assuming an all too intimate knowledge of Raskolnikov’s life. A good counter-stroke for the investigator.

So, Raskolnikov thinks, ‘OK! I can play that game, and be just as absorbed in the details of these trifles as you are!’ and asks for some specifics about the financial aspects of the matter: “On ordinary paper?” “Oh, the most ordinary, sir!” Porfiry replies, and it seems to Raskolnikov that Porfiry “looked at him somehow with obvious mockery, narrowing his eyes and as if winking at him” (251). Porfiry somehow makes Raskolnikov uncomfortable by for an instant letting Raskolnikov know that he (Porfiry) knows exactly how Raskolnikov is trying to deflect suspicion.

Raskolnikov, momentarily disturbed (“He knows!” flashed in him like lightning) attempts to recover by giving what he hopes seems like a natural, innocent explanation for his previous demonstrated interest in the case of the murders.

“Excuse me for bothering you with such trifles,” he went on, somewhat disconcerted, “my things are worth only five roubles, but they are especially dear to me as mementos of those from whom I received them, and, I confess, as soon as I found out, I was very afraid…”
“That’s why you got so roused up yesterday when I let on to Zossimov that Porfiry was questioning the pawners!” Razumikhin put in with obvious intention.
Now, this was insufferable. (251)

Raskolnikov’s desired “naturalness” is spoiled when Razumikhin points out how someone who knows that he is suspected might be trying to deflect that suspicion. So he shows anger towards his friend, but ‘immediately recovers’ himself from that anger which would have confirmed, to Porfiry, that Raskolnikov is angry at Razumikhin for betraying his motives: his next words attempt to be a “natural” explanation for why he has just been wrathy with Razumikhin. “… You may laugh, but my mother has come to visit me … and if she were to find out … that this watch is lost, I swear she would be in despair! Women!” Unfortunately, Raskolnikov gets the impression that this back and forth did not go so well: “Well done? Natural? Not exaggerated?” Raskolnikov trembled within himself. “Why did I say ‘women’?” (250-251). Pleased at how the exchange is progressing, Porfiry decides to show one of his down cards (but just one!), telling Raskolnikov that he has been ‘waiting for you a long time.’ The card he doesn’t show is what might be the real, natural, explanation for why Porfiry might be waiting for Raskolnikov: Raskolnikov is the only pawner that has not yet come to see Porfiry.

See, if Raskolnikov was really innocent, why should he care that Porfiry has been waiting for him? Porfiry bets that Raskolnikov is not innocent, and Raskolnikov’s reaction to his “bluff” bears out that gamble: he gives “a start” when the card is shown. Porfiry, pleased, seems not to notice Raskolnikov’s surprise, content to hide his other card until Raskolnikov is betrayed into showing some of his own hand, revealing himself as consciously under suspicion and trying to make excuses. “Stupid! Weak! Why did I add that?” Raskolnikov critiques himself for betraying some kind of excuse for his overreaction when he finally learns just how natural Porfiry waiting for him could have been (252).

Conceding points to Porfiry, Raskolnikov tries to recover by giving a natural explanation for why he has not yet seen Porfiry: “I was not feeling well.” Porfiry manages to convey that this is not necessarily natural: “So I have heard, sir. I’ve even heard that you were greatly upset by something.” And then, to suggest that that something might have to do with guilt and suspicion, he adds, “You also seem pale now.” It’s almost as if Porfiry is trying to provoke the angry reaction that Raskolnikov betrays upon the exchange about sickness; perhaps he realizes, as Raskolnikov does an instant too late, “it’s in anger that I’ll make some slip!” (252-253).

Realizing that he is losing, Raskolnikov plays the same game that has worked so well before with Zamyatov. It is fairly obvious that he is under suspicion at this point; instead of trying to hide all of his strange behavior under the guise of illness and delerium, which might seem to be the reaction of one who is guilty about something, he refuses to acknowledge his truly weakened physical and mental state of the past two days. He appeals to Zamyatov, whose hand Raskolnikov has already duped into betraying: “What do you say, Mr. Zamyatov, was I intelligent yesterday, or delirious?” “Mr. Zamyatov here knows I found a treasure!” (253-254). It seems that he hopes to be trying to do again what he did to Zamyatov the evening before: get his “tormentors” to think that he is indeed guilty so that he can make them look foolish by destroying their expectations. Taking some confidence from this method having worked before (and it at least halts Porfiry’s “tormenting”), Raskolnikov takes a stab of his at Porfiry’s suspicion: “Excuse us, please… for bothering you half an hour with such a trivial exchange. You must be sick of it, eh?” Seeing a natural way to deflect suspicion, Raskolnikov hopes to turn the subject to a different tune. Raskolnikov is helped unconsciously to this end by the earthly Razumikhin, but Porfiry will have none of this deflection: “My goodness, sir, on the contrary, on the co-o-ontrary! You have no idea how you interest me!” (254).

It’s not that I worry about inducing tedium by running through the rest of this initial “interrogation,” for it is truly a fascinating study of the pursuer (Porfiry) and the pursued (Raskolnikov), though it is indeed late. I just do not want the thread of Razumikhin’s discourse on lying to recede too far from your consciousnesses.

I remember that the first time I read Crime and Punishment I was in a sweat flying through Book Three to the end. I hated Porfiry and his smirking sly fat little body, and desired nothing more than that Raskolnikov would crush Porfiry’s damned psychologizing (‘There’s more to heaven and earth, Porfirio, / Than is dreamt of in your psychology’).

Having said that, here’s a proposition that I want you to take from the conversation in Book Three to the proceeding conversation between the antagonists the next day: Porfiry is speaking his “own new word” with respect to Raskolnikov’s “own new word.” He is answering to the issue that Raskolnikov has brought to light deriding given forms, or received ideas, about what is right and what is wrong, with a similar derision towards given forms, or received ideas, on the nature of crime and the criminal. The manner that Porfiry adopts in both conversations (or, “interrogations”) embraces Razumikhin’s phrase about “lying your way to the truth.”

Of Canadian Interest

How have we not been introduced to Marshall McLuhan before?

“The medium is the message.”

“The content is the audience.”

Come on: in this age of the global village, how can we not bring up Marshall McLuhan?

Especially since he loved that his famous phrase was so close to “The medium is the massage?”