Yuri Corrigan_Chekhov and the Divided Self (2011)

September 5, 2017 | Author: Yavuz Odabasi | Category: Self, Consciousness, Anton Chekhov, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant
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Yuri Corrigan: “Chekhov and the Divided Self” ‘The Russian Review’, 70 (April 2011), pp. 272–87....


Chekhov and the Divided Self YURI CORRIGAN


ne of Chekhov’s favorite plots in his early stories involves a clash between two kinds of characters, one sensitive, excitable, and desperate for recognition, the other reserved and emotionally inaccessible. When the little clerk, Chervyakov, in “Death of a Civil Servant” (“Smert' chinovnika,” 1883), sneezes on an important general, the general is unperturbed and hardly notices the offense. Chervyakov, however, is horrified by the audacity of his act, and he apologizes profusely, mystified and alarmed by the general’s indifference. Eventually, on his sixth apology, he succeeds in irritating the general and eliciting the rebuke “Get lost!” (Poshel von!), which causes the overwrought Chervyakov to die from terror and humiliation.1 Something in the dynamic between these two characters—something more basic than the social power imbalance that divides them— persistently reemerges as a psychological pattern among Chekhov’s many characterizations. From the early 1880s onward these two individuals keep attempting to communicate—one trembling, weeping, and struggling for justice within an enclosed sphere of concerns, while the other observes the comedy, without much interest, from outside. This article will examine how the simple dramatic conflict between engaged and detached characters in many of the early stories anticipates a more philosophically complex psychological dualism that appears in the stories of the 1890s.2 Through an analysis of these “enemies”—first as distinct characters in conflict and then as warring identities within the individual—I shall examine how Chekhov conceived of a complex architecture for the self over the span of his career, how these attitudes in conflict in his early works initiate a meditation on the nature of compassion and the problem of the structure of the human personality. By following the development of this conflict, we can observe how Chekhov engaged and reenvisioned the larger European tradition of psychological dualism and personal fragmentation that he inherited at the end of the nineteenth century. 1 A. P. Chekhov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v tridtsati tomakh (PSS) (Moscow, 1974), 2:166. All passages are from this edition, and all translations are mine. Subsequent in-text parenthetical references are to this edition and will contain volume and page numbers. Because the final twelve volumes of this thirtyvolume edition comprise the Letters and are numbered 1–12, references to these volumes will be PSS, Letters. 2 Early, that is, according to Aleksandr Chudakov’s division of Chekhov’s narrative strategies into three periods; 1880–87 (early), 1888–94 (middle), and 1895–1904 (late), in Chudakov, Poetika Chekhova (Moscow, 1971).

The Russian Review 70 (April 2011): 272–87 Copyright 2011 The Russian Review

Chekhov and the Divided Self


FORMULATING THE “ENEMIES” In 1887, when Chekhov was twenty-seven and was in the midst of adopting a more serious approach to writing, the conflict between Chervyakov and the general went through a quick succession of drafts, some anecdotal and trivial, others deeper and more philosophically evocative. Two brief examples of the former type can flesh out the conflict as a recurrent comic situation. In “A Defenseless Creature” (“Bezzashchitnoe sushchestvo,” 1887), a petitioner, Shchukina, appears at a bank, desperately begging for help: her husband was shortchanged twenty-four rubles and thirty-six kopecks from his salary.3 The tired and ailing banker—who is described as “barely breathing” from illness, with the appearance of a “dying” man, explains to her patiently that this is a bank, not a government office, and that she has come to the wrong place (6:87). Shchukina, however, displays an unwillingness to understand, reminiscent of Chervyakov’s thick-headedness. Sobbing with aggressive helplessness, she begs frantically for the banker to intervene on her behalf. The banker, meanwhile, having explained countless times to no avail and by now furiously irritated, uses the same angry words that the general delivered to Chervyakov: “Get lost ...!” (Poshla von ...! 6:90). Bitterly annoyed, he gives Shchukina money from his own pocket in order to rid himself of the nuisance. In “A Drama” (1887), written in a similar vein five months later, an aspiring playwright comes to a successful author and begs him to listen to a play she has written. He wants nothing to do with her, but she is persistent, clasping her hands as if in prayer, moaning, with tears brimming in her eyes. After several remonstrations, he agrees to listen so as to get rid of her, and she proceeds to read aloud from her drama, which is a collection of the most unbearable clichés from the European stage. As she reads with passionate conviction, her counterpart, sweating from impatience, watches her slowly turn the pages of her disconcertingly large notebook: “‘The 17th scene. ... When will it ever end? ... O my God! If this torment continues even ten more minutes, I will cry for help. ... Insufferable!’” (6:237). Finally, unable to bear it any longer, he lifts up a paper weight and kills her by striking her over the head. These light, grotesque works, published under the pseudonym Antosha Chekhonte, display a common underlying narrative pattern. The desperate petitioner, engulfed within a sphere of compelling immediate concerns, cannot understand the patron’s indifference. The patron, in turn, cannot condescend to engage in the cares of the petitioner and only becomes increasingly irritated by his enemy’s naïve obliviousness. In the stories that Chekhov was simultaneously publishing under his own name in Suvorin’s New Times, the conflict between patron and petitioner takes on a more philosophically meditative form. In “An Encounter” (“Vstrecha,” 1887), Efrem, a religious traveler, loses his way in the forest while collecting money for his church. By chance he meets a peasant, Kuzma, who agrees to guide him. The companions stop for the night and, while Efrem is sleeping, Kuzma steals the money from Efrem’s collection and spends it on drink. The next morning, Efrem 3 All three of these petititioners from the Chekhonte stories have names derived from small creatures: Chervyakov from “cherv’” (worm), Schukina from “schuka” (pike), and Murashkina, the aspiring playwright in “Drama,” from “murashka” (ant).


Yuri Corrigan

realizes he has been robbed, but he does not chide Kuzma. He adopts a demeanor of indifference, and his lack of concern confounds the thief. Kuzma at first denies taking the money, but when Efrem continues to shrug his shoulders unconcernedly, Kuzma breaks down and begs to be forgiven. From the familiar Romantic plot, we might expect the thief Kuzma, like Hugo’s Jean Valjean at the hands of the Bishop of Digne, to be spiritually regenerated by Efrem’s failure to accuse him.4 Chekhov, however, interprets the scene in his own way. As Kuzma repeatedly begs forgiveness (like Chervyakov before him), Efrem refuses to engage the thief, telling him to appeal to God instead. Here, the conflict between engagement and detachment acquires theological overtones as the enemies play out a battle between incompatible modes of immanence and transcendence. As Kuzma evokes Christ in his entreaties for condescension, he simultaneously plays the Christological role of the trembling, suffering individual: “He ran in front of Efrem and began to look him in the eye, as if hoping to convince himself that he was not alone. ‘Forgive me, for the love of Christ,’ he said, trembling with his whole body.” But Kuzma, crying out for compassion, meets only with transcendent impassivity from his enemy: “Under the influence of ... Efrem’s indifference, in which there was so little that was ordinary and human, Kuzma felt himself to be alone, helpless, abandoned to the mercy of a frightening, wrathful God” (6:128). As Efrem maintains his dignified godlike aloofness and Kuzma jumps up and down in trembling agitation, Chekhov provides a sketch of the disconnection between these spheres of existence in human psychology (the human and the more-than-human; the immanent and transcendent). At this early point in his career, he is content simply to show the impossibility of intersection between them; Efrem conquers his opponent through nonresistance, but it is of an unsettling, cruel sort, one whose remoteness is as problematic as Kuzma’s tortured immediacy. Chekhov’s early masterpiece, “The Enemies” (“Vragi,” 1887), represents a more ethically complex treatment of the conflict between impassioned petitioner and impassive patron. In the story, a wealthy aristocrat, Abogin, arrives at Dr. Kirilov’s house in a state of emergency. His wife has had a sudden seizure, she could be dying, and Kirilov is the only doctor in the area. The timing could not be worse. Just five minutes earlier, Kirilov’s only son has died of diphtheria. The doctor’s wife is in catatonic shock, lying motionless over the boy’s corpse in the other room. Kirilov himself resembles a corpse, stunned and unresponsive in his grief. He tells Abogin to go away, but, much like in the stories discussed above, the hysterical petitioner refuses to give up, and the doctor, like his earlier counterparts, finally agrees to help as the only way to be rid of him. When they arrive at Abogin’s house, they discover that the wife was not really ill and had simply feigned her seizure in order to escape with her lover. The story focuses on the aftermath of this discovery. Abogin, sobbing from a broken heart, and Dr. Kirilov, incensed at being submitted to such a vulgar melodrama in his time of grief, stand face to face in the living room and find it intensely difficult to understand each other. 4 Thomas Winner, for example, argued that the “thief is regenerated because his victim refuses to report him.” See Winner, “Èexov’s ‘Ward No. 6’ and Tolstoyan Ethics,” Slavic & East European Journal 3 (Winter 1959): 322.

Chekhov and the Divided Self


In the bitter argument between Abogin and Dr. Kirilov, we encounter a more focused template for the struggle between the immanent and transcendent counterparts that we have observed in some of the other early stories. Here the argument can be rephrased as a conflict between “melodrama” and “metadrama”—that is, between a “melodramatic” character caught emotionally within the confines of a dramatic situation and a “metadramatic” enemy observing the same situation ironically from outside. Having discovered his wife’s infidelity, Abogin, utterly engrossed by his anguish, becomes the embodiment of melodramatic passion.5 “His face, hands, and posture,” we are told, “were mangled with the disgusting expression not quite of horror, not quite of tormenting physical pain. His nose, lips, mustaches, all his features moved and, it seemed, tried to tear themselves away from his face. His eyes seemed to be laughing from pain.” Standing across from him, Kirilov displays a radically opposite demeanor: “Looking over his dry figure, one wouldn’t believe that this person could have a wife, that he could cry over a child.” Forced to witness Abogin’s blubbering, Kirilov is keenly aware of being in the midst of what seems like a theatrical production, and he protests in clear metadramatic terms. “‘I am being forced to play in some kind of vulgar comedy,’” he declares, “‘to play the role of a stage prop!’” Abogin tries to respond, but he cannot grasp Kirilov’s perspective. Instead, he reaches out to Kirilov from within his melodrama. “I didn’t notice that [my wife’s lover] was coming round every day, I didn’t notice that he came today in a carriage!” Kirilov, in turn, holds to the meta level. In the context of his son’s death, he cannot believe that Abogin would dare expose him to such a frivolous display of histrionic emotions: “‘Don’t you see that this is a desecration of an individual,’” he asks Abogin, “‘a mockery of human suffering!’” (6:38–40). The conflict of these “enemies” takes place on two non-intersecting planes. Abogin cannot see himself from outside. He is overwhelmed by the painful details of unrequited love, injustice, and betrayal. “‘I swear to you that I loved this woman,’” he declares to Kirilov, unable to fathom that Kirilov does not care. “‘I loved her piously, like a slave. ... What was this lie for? I don’t demand love, but why this horrid deceit? If she didn’t love me, why not just say it outright, honestly, especially as she knows my views on the subject’” (6:40). Kirilov’s response to Abogin, conversely, reflects a complete contempt for the internal dimensions of Abogin’s plight. From outside of it, Kirilov perceives not the moral, but the structural aspect of his enemy’s suffering; he sees only a distasteful generic melodrama of which he wants no part: I don’t need your vulgar secrets, let the devil take them. ... If from excess you get married, and then fly into a rage and play out melodramas, what does it have to do with me? What do I have in common with your romances? ... No one gave you the right to make a stage prop out of a suffering person! (6:41) Kirilov refuses to enter the theatrical performance that Abogin offers him; he refuses to take up the proffered role of a “stage prop” in Abogin’s little “melodrama,” and he is amazed that his enemy could so utterly fail to understand his contempt. 5 A. D. Stepanov shows how closely Abogin’s situation coincides with the genre expectations of the melodrama in Russia of the time in Problemy kommunikatsii u Chekhova (Moscow, 2005), 168–70.


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As critics have noted, the enemies’ conflict is informed by a class struggle.6 Kirilov expresses his disgust for the oblivious aristocrats who live their idle lives in fancy drawing rooms. There is, however, another important dimension to this enmity. In the argument between these two characters, Chekhov begins to formulate—however preliminarily, and perhaps unconsciously—his method for approaching the struggle between the sphere of disembodied consciousness and the immediacy of life. Kirilov’s dilemma—to have retreated from life in response to grief and despair and yet to be continually faced with the primitive, ugly, and ridiculous concerns of human beings—lies at the center of Chekhov’s emerging philosophical project. The detached mind finds itself unwillingly tied to a messy, dramatic human situation. Not being able to rid itself of that other component, consciousness becomes more and more withdrawn and develops a greater aversion to the world, while the imperfect creature it encounters—Chervyakov, Murashkina, Kuzma, Abogin—cries out all the more desperately for forgiveness and recognition. That Chekhov introduces these two characters as enemies in his early stories, that he has them misunderstanding, irritating, killing, and hating each other, points ahead to the problem of reconciliation, one that would require extensive thought and experimentation in his later works. DISEMBODIED CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE MELODRAMA OF LIFE Kirilov’s metadramatic position with regard to the suffering of his enemy provides a useful model for understanding an enmity that resonates in so many of Chekhov’s works. Those characters who suffer from a developed sense of awareness tend to see life as a collection of narrative structures and dramatic devices. Chekhov comes to express the relationship between estranged consciousness and life, so central to European Romanticism, German Idealism, and Russian literature and philosophy, as a literary problem: that is, how does a character accept a role within a narrative, when he or she sees the generic constructs that underlie human interactions so clearly, and when all the inauthentic narratives that life offers appear to be so banal, finite and clichéd?7 6 Critics continue to disagree over what motivates the hatred between the enemies. The Soviet critic Vladimir Ermilov, for one, viewed the hostilities in terms of the hard working man coming into contact with the stuffed bourgeois leech (Ermilov, “Ego druz’ia i vragi,” in A. P. Chekhov [Moscow, 1959]). Many scholars, without sharing Ermilov’s Marxist agenda, agree that the opposition is informed, to quote Robert Louis Jackson, with the “dark class history of Russia” (Jackson, “‘The Enemies’: A Story at War with itself?” in Reading Chekhov’s Text, ed. R. L. Jackson [Evanston, 1993], 64). Stepanov phrases it as “the aristocrat vs. the raznochinets” (Problemy kommunikatsii, 167). Joseph L. Conrad, like Chekhov’s narrator, describes the antagonism as based upon “the ultimately incommunicable grief and isolation felt by all men in similar situations.” See Conrad, “Unresolved Tensions in Chekhov’s Stories,” Slavic & East European Journal 16:1 (1972): 59. Some recent studies have expressed wariness towards this approach. Stepanov, for one, argues that there is a definite discrepancy between the “authorial ‘declaration’ and the story’s ‘figuration’ [figuratsiia]” (Problemy kommunikatsii, 167). Jackson, moreover, argues that there is a problem with the narrator’s explanation but admits that it is difficult to explain why: “I accept this interpretation ... with my head—I see the design very well—but I do not wholly feel it with my heart” As Jackson speculates, Kirilov and Abogin appear to be “enemies in some deeper sense” (“The Enemies,” 61, 65). 7 In the early twentieth century, assessing Russia’s problems in the light of the Russian literary tradition, Mikhail Gershenzon, like many of his contemporaries, described the schism between “consciousness” and “life” as particularly endemic to Russian society: “We are cripples because our personality is split and we have lost the ability for natural development where consciousness grows together with the will. Our consciousness,”

Chekhov and the Divided Self


“Verochka” (1887), also written when Chekhov was twenty-seven, presents the problem of metadramatic consciousness most succinctly. The hero, Ognyov, is an academic, a statistician who specializes in watching human processes from a distance. As he walks with a beautiful woman on a summer night, he cannot help noticing what he perceives to be theatrical devices at play in their surroundings: “Observing ... the fog and the moonlit August evening, Ognyov thought that he was seeing not nature, but a stage effect in which unskilled pyrotechnicians ... had crouched beneath the bushes and, along with the light, were letting white smoke into the air” (6:71). In this seemingly artificial setting, Verochka makes him an ardent declaration of love: “Weeping, laughing, with little tears flashing on her eyelids, she told him that ... she had fallen passionately, madly and deeply in love with him.” Ognyov, however, cannot reciprocate these emotions, for he cannot help noticing the exaggerated sentimentality of her speech: “God only knows whether it was bookish reason that spoke to him or an insurmountable habit for objectivity, which so often stops people from living, but Vera’s joys and sufferings seemed to him overly sentimental, unserious” (6:78). At the same time, Ognyov is repelled by his own inability to succumb to the melodrama of life. From his position of aesthetic distance, he curses his impassivity, suspecting that there is something important in it all that he cannot access: “Lord, there is so much poetry and meaning and life in all of this that even a stone would be touched, but I ... I am stupid and absurd! (6:80). The protagonist’s frustrated desire to accept a role in the theatrical production, his suspicion that there is something sacred but incomprehensible to him, an objective observer, in Verochka’s love, forms a prominent theme in Chekhov’s early mature period. The narrator of “A Boring Story” (“Skuchnaia istoriia,” 1889), like Ognyov, suffers the moral agony of having acquired a detached awareness of things. He sits at the dinner table with his family, months away from his death, and tries to play along, but he is continually put off by the generic predictability of their interactions. As closely as he watches his loved ones, he cannot make out their redeeming characteristics, and he is vaguely aware of a hidden life in them to which he has lost all access. The narrator presents a detailed critique of his wife and daughter, but Chekhov’s criticism of his narrator is deeper and more subtle. “My protagonist,” he noted in a letter, “—and this is one of his most important characteristics— relates too carelessly to the internal life of those around him.”8 Here Chekhov phrases the problem of consciousness and its relation to life not simply as a psychological observation, but as an artistic and philosophical challenge. How does the conscious mind, which sees the structural reality of the human situation laid out so clearly from outside, find a way of entering into the mysteries concealed within these structures? Over the length of his career, Chekhov worked hard to portray the reintegration of estranged consciousness into life. Many of these early attempts were retroactively edited or dismissed by the author, often with a sense of shame. In “A Little Joke” (“Shutochka,” 1886), the narrator-protagonist coldly manipulates the trusting Nadenka, argued Gershenzon, “like a locomotive that has broken away from its train, vainly rushes off on its own, leaving our sensual and volitional life far behind.” See Gershenzon, “Creative Self-Consciousness,” in Vekhi. Landmarks: A Collection of Articles about the Russian Intelligentsia, trans. Marshall S. Shatz and Judith E. Zimmerman (New York, 1994), 51. 8 Chekhov letter to A. N. Plescheev, September, 30, 1889, PSS, Letters 3:255.


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implanting the idea of love into her mind and watching from a distance as she experiences the joys and passions of her love. He watches her standing in her garden, dreaming about love and, like an author manipulating a character through an aesthetic boundary, he peers through a crack in the fence, whispering the words “I love you” into the wind and watching her cheeks flush in response. A younger Chekhov had the narrator finally abandon his aesthetic distance and leap across the fence to propose marriage to Nadia. In this early version, the dissonance between metadrama and melodrama was overcome without much difficulty. However, Chekhov later discarded this ending, intensifying the cruelty of his narrator rather than settling for easy redemption.9 In the later edit, instead of proposing, the protagonist simply wonders at his own inexplicable detachment: “And now that I’ve grown older, I can’t understand why I said those words, why I played that joke on her” (5:24). Among these early stories of the reintegration of consciousness into life,10 Chekhov was particularly displeased with “Lights” (“Ogni,” 1888) for its “tediousness” and “heavyhanded philosophizing” (filosomuda).11 The protagonist, Ananyev, initially presents himself as a parody of existential ennui: “I wasn’t more than twenty-six years old but I knew perfectly well that life was pointless and that it had no meaning and that everything was deceit and illusion” (7:114). He seduces Kisochka, a talented woman suffering in the provinces, while inwardly dismissing her emotions as clichéd histrionics. “‘For me in Kisochka’s tears,’” he explains, “‘in her trembling and in the dull expression of her face, there was a frivolous French or Ukrainian melodrama’” (7:127). Ananyev abandons Kisochka but soon realizes that the only way to escape despair and moral fragmentation is to return to her and to take responsibility for his act: “My normal thinking, I understand now, only began when ... my conscience sent me back to N., and when, without sly philosophizing, I repented to Kisochka, asked for forgiveness like a little boy and wept together with her” (7:136). Chekhov was ashamed to submit this manuscript for publication, describing it as “boring, automatic, and sluggish,” and he did not include it in his collected works. As a young artist in the process of discovering his mature themes, he was perhaps conscious of playing too flippantly with 9 On Chekhov’s redaction of the story in 1899 see I. N. Sukhikh, Problemy poetiki A. P. Chekhova (Leningrad, 1987), 62–63. 10 Another description of the integration of consciousness that was discarded by Chekhov can be found in “The Bet” (“Pari” [1889]); here the lawyer becomes convinced of the absurdity of life during his prolonged isolation, and he eventually opts out of his bet with the banker altogether, citing his disgust for the human comedy. The lawyer’s act of rebellion, climbing out the banker’s window and thus rejecting millions of rubles, represents a radical renunciation of the world. Chekhov originally wrote a conclusion to the story, which described the lawyer’s return to the banker’s house and his reconciliation with life: “I was so wrong!” he declares: “The sun shines so brightly! Women are so charmingly beautiful! Wine is so delicious! Trees are wonderful! Books are but a weak shadow of life and this shadow stole everything from me!” (PSS 7:565). The lawyer’s return, again too easy a redemptive turn, was cut in a later revision. See Chekhov letter to Popova, June, 17, 1903, PSS, Letters 11:224. 11 “I’m a bit ashamed of [“Lights”]. Such tedium and so much heavy philosophizing ... that it becomes unctuous. It’s unpleasant, but I can’t not send it because I need money like I need air” (Chekhov letter to Leont'ev-Shcheglov, May 3, 1888, PSS, Letters 2:262). Chekhov derided “Lights” in a letter to Suvorin (October, 27, 1888), comparing it to more authentic and profound works that were yet to be written: “This is all boring, automatic, and sluggish and I am annoyed by the critic who attributes significance, for example, to ‘Lights.’ It seems to me that I deceive with my works, as I deceive many people with an overly serious or cheerful face” (PSS, Letters 3:289).

Chekhov and the Divided Self


a difficult artistic problem. Consciousness could not be reintegrated into life easily, in the form of an edifying dramatic denouement. A proper handling would require more thought and greater restraint. The “enemies” thus appear repeatedly in different guises among Chekhov’s works as a persistently stated problem, which continues to deepen in complexity with each new manifestation. They quarrel over the most varied ideological differences, yet they are consistently underpinned by these opposing perspectives of detachment and engagement, one of them watching the comedy freely from the wings, the other blindly immersed within the human situation. In “Gusev” (1890), as the enemies lie dying together in the sickbay of a ship, Pavel Ivanych observes his primitive counterpart and expresses his superiority: “‘You are a stupid, pitiful person,’” he tells the uncomprehending, suffering Gusev, “‘you understand nothing. I am a different story altogether. I live consciously, I see everything as an eagle or a falcon sees when it flies over the earth and I understand everything’” (7:331–33). As much as Pavel Ivanych tries to explain their situation to Gusev from outside, Gusev cannot understand him, and, like Abogin to Kirilov, he continues to appeal for justice from within his tragic situation: “Gusev does not understand Pavel Ivanych; thinking that he is being upbraided, he tries to justify himself” (7:329). Similarly, in “The Duel” (1891), the zoologist Von Koren prizes his vast conscious perspective on the human evolutionary process, and he despises his adversary, the neurotic, painfully sensitive and excitable Laevsky. While Von Koren touts his ability to transcend the forces of determinism by the use of reason, Laevsky, befuddled by the engrossing complications of his life, tries not to see too far ahead so as not to perceive his own dishonesty in a clear light. By this period of Chekhov’s writing, these characters are too complex to act as mere theoretical polarities within a dialectical relationship. Laevsky is fully capable of self-consciousness, and Von Koren is probably guilty of simple old-fashioned jealousy with regard to Laevsky. In each other’s presence, however, they are hypnotized by the structure of their hatred. Laevsky trembles, smiles ingratiatingly, quivers with anxiety, and Von Koren looks on with academic disgust, observing the “patterns” of his enemy’s behavior with scientific exactitude: “Laevsky spoke and it was unpleasant that Von Koren listened to him seriously and attentively and looked at him attentively, without blinking, as if studying him. And he was annoyed with himself that, regardless of his dislike for Von Koren, he couldn’t drive the ingratiating smile from his face.” For Von Koren, Laevsky is a “microbe,” a “Japanese monkey,” a “slave,” a “weed,” a “locust,” or a “noxious” genetic “infection” in the evolutionary system. For the weak and imperfect Laevsky, Von Koren is a “magnificent person” who would never befriend him and would only “turn away with contempt.”12 Through all the layers of complexity, we can still discern Chervyakov and the general here caught within the same absurd but increasingly profound argument. In “House with a Mezzanine” (“Dom s mezoninom,” 1896), written five years later, the enemies know to dislike each other from their first introduction. Lida, who has adopted an ardent role as a fighter for social justice, feels an instinctive loathing for the bored, disengaged, and unaffiliated artist. They argue bitterly about social institutions, about hospitals, education, and the need to help the peasants, but the real, deeper quarrel is 12

See Chekhov, “Duel',” PSS 7: 423, 369, 393, 408, 373–74, and 397.


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ontological: Lida “despised the alien in me,” observes the artist, “She disliked me because I was a landscape painter and ... because I, it seemed to her, was indifferent to what she so deeply believed” (9:178). While Lida insists on an ethically meaningful position within life, the artist argues for freedom from all these pressing concerns, and he paints the countryside from a distance, emphasizing the superiority of his transcendental consciousness: “‘I’m above [the things of the world],’” he tells Zhenya: “‘A person should consider himself higher than lions, tigers, stars, higher than everything in nature, even higher than what is incomprehensible and seems miraculous’” (9:180). By this late period in Chekhov’s writing, the antagonism between disembodied consciousness and life, or between transcendent and immanent enemies, has deepened into a substantial argument between aesthetic and ethical perspectives.13 As much as he dreams of finding a place for himself in the house with the mezzanine, the artist is banished from Lida’s home and remains frustrated in his attempts to reintegrate himself into the world. I do not mean to represent this “enmity” plot as simply an endlessly repeating and therefore tedious or predictable structure. In “The Bride” (“Nevesta,” 1903), written at the end of Chekhov’s career, when the fiancé declares his love (“Oh how happy I am! I’m losing my mind from rapture!”), Nadya, like her many estranged precursors, sees only the tired melodramatic structures that inform her counterpart’s rapture. “It seemed to her that she had heard all this long ago, very long ago, or had read it somewhere ... in an old, torn novel that she had already long ago cast aside” (10:208). Nadya’s ironic vision prompts her to reject her family, her fiancé, and her past as she attempts to escape the determined, hackneyed text of life. From one angle, Nadya’s disposition would seem to be only a slightly modified repetition of Ognyov standing in the garden across from Verochka (presented sixteen years earlier), or of Kirilov turning away with disgust from his pathetic adversary. As we shall see in the next section, however, this interaction conceals a vast catalogue of psychological complexity that Chekhov developed through multiple instantiations. He studied the process by which both characters could overcome their role as enemies in the dialectic by embracing their enemy’s position as another self, and by gradually developing and negotiating an inner relationship between these two selves. It is in this inner representation of the enmity that the power and complexity of Chekhov’s ethical vision becomes most apparent. DOUBLES, BROTHERS, INNER SELVES A brief look at three representative stories from Chekhov’s late period—“Three Years” (“Tri goda,” 1895), “A Visit to Friends” (“U znakomykh,” 1898), and “Lady with a Little Dog” (“Dama s sobachkoi,” 1898)—can help to elucidate how the external dramatic clash 13 Drawing partly on Kierkegaard, Mikhail Bakhtin in the twentieth century posited a juxtaposition between “ethical” and “aesthetic” space in his meditations on the artistic process. An author, in Bakhtin’s early writings, must be able to stand both inside and outside of life; he or she must be able to occupy both the ethical sphere, “a participant inside of life (practical, social, political, moral, religious), understanding it from inside,” as well as the aesthetic, an individual “who can be active from outside of life, who can love it from outside” and whose activity is “outside of meaning.” “To find a substantial approach into life from outside—this is the task of the artist.” See Bakhtin, Avtor i geroi: K filosofskim osnovam gumanitarnykh nauk (St. Petersburg, 2000), 209.

Chekhov and the Divided Self


between typological foils comes to reflect an inward, more difficult-to-dramatize conflict within the individual. Alexei Laptev and his brother, Fyodor, of “Three Years,” are, in many ways, two versions of one person. They are almost identical in appearance, and they share the same childhood experiences, especially the trauma of growing up together in the constrictive environment of their merchant family’s textile factory. As adults, however, they have adopted divergent attitudes to life, and it has become unbearable for them to be in each other’s presence. Alexei has forsaken the family business, has lost his religious faith, and finds it impossible to engage in anything wholeheartedly. “‘I can’t adapt myself at all to life, cannot become its master,’” he confesses to a friend: “‘Other people utter stupidities or they cheat and do so joyously, but I ... feel only uneasiness or complete indifference’” (9:75). Alexei’s pious brother Fyodor, conversely, is passionately engulfed in responsibilities, always bustling fretfully within the gates of the family factory. While Alexei watches life uneasily from outside, Fyodor loses himself among a myriad of dramatic roles: His brother, Fyodor, who used to be so quiet, thoughtful, and extremely delicate now with the look of a very busy and important person, with a pencil on his ear, ran about the factory, patted customers on the shoulder, and shouted at the workers: “Friends!” Apparently, he was playing some kind of role, and in this role Alexei did not recognize him. (9:35) As inauthentic as Fyodor seems to him, however, Alexei cannot simply dismiss his brother as a fool, for the connection between them extends too deeply. Despite all their differences, Fyodor serves as a constant reminder, as if in a mirror, of Alexei’s own imperfect nature, the self that he has spent his life trying to escape: “His brother Fyodor resembled him to such a degree that people thought they were twins. This resemblance constantly reminded Laptev of his own appearance and now, seeing before him a short red-faced man with thin hair on his head and narrow unrefined hips, who looked so unattractive and uncultured, he asked himself: ‘Can I really be like that?’” (9:31). The brothers, taken together, constitute an intriguing image of the divided self. One lives a meaningful existence inside the factory gates—that is, within the ethical realm of responsibility and engagement—while the other languishes self-consciously outside, watching vigilantly and rejecting every role or identity as false. When Fyodor is hospitalized after a nervous breakdown, Alexei understands that half of his life has vanished: “‘I have the feeling that our life has ended and a new grey half-life has begun. I wept when I discovered that Fyodor was helplessly ill. We spent our childhood and youth together and at one time I loved him with my whole soul ... and it seems that in losing him I am forever tearing myself away from my past’” (9:86). In his brother’s absence, Alexei is challenged to overcome his moral fragmentation. Now that it is no longer possible to engage in a simple enmity with his brother, Alexei is called upon to take charge of the family factory and to become more than an estranged consciousness, to develop that side of his nature for which Fyodor once stood in. In the final scenes, the alienated brother, Alexei, sits inside the factory where he has taken charge, watching the gates close around him, dreaming of escape and wondering why he has accepted this position within life. Here, we encounter a definitive image of the


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Chekhovian protagonist who attempts to negotiate two simultaneous lives. In sacrificing his transcendental invincibility, Laptev has journeyed into the realm of the ethical, retaining both sides of his nature in the process. This movement vividly presents Chekhov’s view of the process of moral development. Laptev leaves behind the external dialectic that he plays out with the world, that of the rebellious skeptic to his brother’s dogmatism. The moral individual, in Chekhov’s world, discovers this dialectic within; he or she gradually develops an inward tension between impulses toward authenticity (the desire to discard all dogmatic structures and false roles) on one hand, and a hunger to participate and to assume responsibility, on the other, even as a stranger in a world of aesthetically ridiculous structures. Having developed this notion of the two selves in battle—one inside of life, the other outside—Chekhov was able to reenvision his old love story with greater complexity. Ten years after Ognyov was faced with Verochka’s declaration of love, Podgorin finds himself in the same position in “A Visit to Friends.” Like Ognyov, Podgorin is presented with a lovely heroine on a beautiful summer evening: “She stood and waited for him ... to profess his love and then they would both be happy on this quiet, wonderful night. White, pale, slender, very beautiful in the moonlight, she awaited caresses” (10:22). As with Ognyov, the aesthetic genre expectations strike Podgorin as so melodramatic that he cannot in good conscience consent to play a part in the narrative: “All these moonlit nights had worn themselves out, and those white figures with thin waists, and the mysterious shadows, and towers, and estates and ... such people as he himself, Podgorin, with his cold ennui, constant irritation, his inability to accommodate himself to real life” (10:22). In Podgorin, however, “there are two people”: one detached and powerful, the other shy and afraid. “In court and with clients he carried himself haughtily and he always expressed his opinion directly and brusquely ... but in his personal intimate life ... he was shy and sensitive and couldn’t say anything straightforwardly.” This second “shy and sensitive” self within Podgorin is embryonic; it can hardly even speak properly. From a life of isolation, Podgorin’s consciousness has grown powerful while “he still had experienced nothing of life” (10:7), and thus his structural understanding of the world is much more acute than his ability to live in it. Podgorin’s friends, like Lopakhin’s in The Cherry Orchard, are hoping that he will save them by marrying their Nadenka and by redeeming the finances of their estate. To them he is a savior, a kind of god-man. With his highly developed consciousness, he is distant and powerful enough to fix their lives, yet as their friend, he is near enough to fall in love with Nadenka and to become one of them. When Podgorin becomes momentarily drawn in and begins dancing with Nadya in the drawing room, everyone, including Podgorin, sees it as a moment of potential salvation, as if Podgorin, like a secular Christ, had become a man in order to save them: “Looking at him, everyone came to life, became merry, as if they had grown younger; everyone shone with hope: Kuzminki [the estate] is saved!” (10:17). When Podgorin turns away from his friends and refuses to save their estate, the act is a facet of his metadramatic understanding, his ability to step outside of his own immediate situation and to observe it aesthetically. He decides that the narrative is too uninteresting, that if he had discovered a more original and compelling narrative, it would have been possible to bind himself to a role: “He would have preferred ... a different woman who would tell him something interesting, something new that had nothing to do with love or

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with happiness. And if she talked of love, then let it be a call to new, lofty and rational forms of life” (10:22–23). Chekhov’s intrinsic answer to Podgorin’s dream for new, more aesthetically appealing forms, however, had already been formulated in those early sketches where generals and successful writers could not rid themselves of annoying petitioners. In Chekhov’s world, it is not a sophisticated and intriguing human situation that clings to the alienated consciousness and refuses to let go, but the most ordinary and prosaic of demands. Ultimately, there are no new forms, only the same words and themes repeated again and again, as in the case of Chervyakov who can only keep apologizing to the general. Life presents itself to consciousness in the form of Fyodor Laptev bustling about the textile factory or, in the best possible scenario, in Verochka’s clumsy declarations of love. In each case, the individual faces the moral problem of accessing the mysteries within what appears to be a worn-out inauthentic narrative. Masha describes this process of accessing the existential depths hidden within banal literary motifs in The Three Sisters: “When you’re reading some novel, it seems that it’s all trite and understood, and then you fall in love yourself and you discover that no one knows anything” (13:169). Masha’s simple insight reverberates in Chekhov’s stories as a meditation on the problem of having two selves. In “Lady with a Little Dog,” when Gurov first seduces Anna, he finds himself in the awkward position of Ognyov or Podgorin. While Anna grieves her fallen state, Gurov perceives her concerns from outside as clichéd and melodramatic: “Listening to her, Gurov felt bored already. He was irritated by the naïve tone, by this remorse, which was so unexpected and out of place. If it weren’t for the tears in her eyes, he would have thought that she were joking, or playing a role” (10:133). The story depicts Gurov’s unexpected initiation into life from his aesthetic perch, as a second self is born and comes to maturity. For Anna and Gurov, loving means nurturing two lives, one of consciousness and alienation, the other of passionate engagement: He had two lives: one ... that was full of conventional truth and deceit, fully resembling the life of his acquaintances and friends; and another life which took place in secret. And ... everything that was important, interesting, necessary to him, in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that composed the core of his life, all this happened secretly. (10:141) In this passage, Chekhov reevaluates the divided self not as the site of a tragic moral paralysis, but as a sign of wisdom, as an initiation into life from outside. From an unengaged aesthetic perspective, as Gurov observes, all the lives of his acquaintances, all the predictable human dramas, look the same—empty, meaningless, and hackneyed. In Gurov’s experience of love, however, a second secret and meaningful life emerges, as he becomes capable of binding himself to his life with Anna and of accepting its laws even while always conscious of another aesthetically absurd existence.14 This is not so much duplicity as the discovery 14 See Caryl Emerson’s description of Gurov’s doubleness as a positive phenomenon, and as an implicit response to Tolstoy’s dream of living one unified and authentic life: “Doubleness is not duplicity. It is precisely the sincerity of what is hidden that makes tolerance so necessary and moral condemnation so difficult. ... That we can act in the world not as we are ‘in reality’ is, for [Chekhov’s] Gurov, a very good thing” (Emerson, Cambridge Companion to Russian Literature [Cambridge, England, 2008], 164).


Yuri Corrigan

of an inner moral dialectic, of two selves—one that strives for authenticity, the other that senses and values its role in the ethical sphere. Moral development, for Chekhov, involves not the elimination of a false self, but the forging of a connection, however volatile, between these inner adversaries. “WARD SIX”: KENOSIS, OR THE JOURNEY OF CONSCIOUSNESS INTO LIFE If, at the turn of the nineteenth century, Kant and German Idealist philosophers articulated the problem of two selves as a philosophical truth, Russian writers and artists struggled to come to grips with this insight in terms of immediate human psychology.15 Lermontov perceived the two selves as the cause of a severe moral malaise.16 “There are two people in me,” Pechorin muses as he tries to understand his profound unhappiness, “one lives in the full sense of the word, the other thinks and judges the first.”17 Turgenev later attempted to schematize this problem, describing these two selves as polar archetypes within the individual. He described Hamlet (who watches consciously) and Don Quixote (who lives fully) as the “the two fundamental and opposing features of human nature, the two ends of the axis on which it revolves.”18 For Kierkegaard, whose approach to the question had so much in common with the Russians, the idea of a self could only be thought of as a relation between competing selves within the individual. “The self,” he writes, “is a relation that relates itself to itself.” In other words, the self is not merely a synthesis of two things (“of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity”); rather it is the process of negotiating a relationship between these divergent elements.19 “Ward Six” (“Palata No. 6,” 1892) is perhaps Chekhov’s most direct depiction of this existential problem, as the protagonist witnesses the painful birth and development of a second self, one that desires to live inside of life, even if “life” is an enclosed, stifling, and rotting hospital ward. Here, we encounter yet another example of Chekhov’s “enemies.” In this case, the impassive, transcendent Dr. Ragin does not dismiss his adversary, but 15 See, for example, Kant’s argument, articulated in “Groundwork,” that we that we have both an “intelligible” self, a transcendental ego that is free from the laws of determinism, and a “sensible” self that is subject to those laws, and thus that we must be capable of living two lives simultaneously: “That [the human being] must think of himself in this twofold way rests on his consciousness of himself as an object affected through the senses and his consciousness of himself as an intelligence ... and thus as belonging to the intelligible world” (Kant, “Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals,” in Practical Philosophy, trans. Mary J. Gregor [Cambridge, England, 1999], 103). 16 For a description of the evolution of self-consciousness in nineteenth-century Russia see Donna Orwin, Consequences of Consciousness: Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy (Stanford, 2008), 12–33. 17 Mikhail Lermontov, Sobranie sochinenii v dvukh tomakh (Moscow, 2000), 2:118. 18 Ivan Turgenev, “Gamlet i Don-kikhot” in his Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v tridtsati tomakh (Moscow, 1980), 5:331. On this point, Turgenev bears some resemblance to Hegel, his Hamlet and Don Quixote reflecting Hegel’s dialectic between “disrupted consciousness” and the “honest soul” in The Phenomenology of Spirit, the polarities between which, for Hegel, as for Turgenev, the individual negotiates a dialectical, speculative identity. See especially “The World of Self-alienated Spirit,” in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford, 1977) 296–321. For an excellent reading of this part of Hegel’s dialectic see Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge, MA, 1972), 26–52. 19 Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, ed and Trans Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, 1980), 13.

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searches him out, sensing that he has something to learn from his psychotic and excitable patient.20 Ragin is initially presented as a definitive example of the estranged consciousness, an individual with an advanced philosophy of detachment and disengagement. He is fully cognizant of the absurdity of his situation as a doctor who does nothing for his patients and receives a salary, but he perceives this as simply the lot of the conscious mind: “When a thinking person reaches maturity and comes to a ripe consciousness,” he reasons, “then he unwillingly feels himself as if in a trap from which there is no exit” (8:88). An intellectual with great respect for the disembodied mind and disgust for the things of the world, Ragin consistently laments the movement into being from non-being, from transcendence to immanence: “It was completely unnecessary,” he remarks, “to extract a person from nonbeing with his exalted, almost godlike mind, and then, as if as a joke, to turn him into clay” (8:90–91). Sitting in his apartment, reading, the doctor curses his immanence, struggling to shirk all ties to the world and to transcend into the sphere of pure thought. “It is against one’s will,” he insists grudgingly, “that one is called forth by means of some accidents from non-being into life” (8:89). For the formation of Ragin’s foil—the patient Gromov—Chekhov chose both a prisoner and a psychotic, that is, an individual who is both physically and psychologically trapped within life. Unlike the impassive doctor, Gromov is “always excited, worried, and tense with some vague, undefined expectation” (8:74). Gromov’s paranoid fantasies, which lead to his confinement in the ward, represent a tragic version of the melodramatic sensibility. All of life’s phenomena, in Gromov’s mind, can be tied into a meaningful, if terrifying, narrative: “The officer walked by his windows unhurriedly: that must mean something. Here two people have stopped near the house and are silent. Why are they silent?” (8:78). Gromov’s acceptance of the meaningful connections between and among phenomena requires a rejection of intellectual awareness: “Facts and common reasoning convinced him that all these fears were nonsense and psychosis ... but the more intelligently and logically he reasoned, the stronger and more tormenting became his emotional anxiety.” Gromov’s madness is thus portrayed as a complete relinquishing of consciousness, and a surrendering to chaotic immediacy: “Finally, seeing that it was useless, [Gromov] completely threw away his reasoning and gave himself over fully to despair and terror” (8:79). The debates between Ragin and Gromov directly reflect their respective positions outside and inside of life.21 Ragin counsels his patient on the existential values of 20 See Liza Knapp’s analysis of Ragin’s initiation into the cathartic emotions of fear and pity in “Fear and Pity in ‘Ward Six’: Chekhovian Catharsis,” in Reading Chekhov’s Text, 145–54. 21 There have been many descriptions of the arguments between Ragin and Gromov. These explications often focus on the ideological nature of the debates. For example, Donald Rayfield conceives of the opposition as between “activism and quietism” (Rayfield, Anton Chekhov: A Life [New York, 1997], 270–71). Vladimir Kataev describes the opposition between “activity” and “passivity,” but focuses on the similarities between the two characters as potentially more significant than their differences (Kataev, Proza Chekhova: Problemy interpretatsii [Moscow, 1979], 189–91). Michael Finke stresses the importance of contextualizing the arguments, not taking them simply as “quietism, the stoic position of mind over matter” against “ethical activism and sensitivity to pain.” Finke insists that they should be read as “symptomatic behavior, signifiers on the plane of personality rather than—or, better, in addition to—elements of a philosophical argument” (Finke, Seeing Chekhov: Life and Art [Ithaca, 2005], 112).


Yuri Corrigan

consciousness and detachment, on the importance of “comprehending life and utterly despising the foolish vanities of the world” (8:97), while the patient laughs at the doctor’s stoicism, expressing his passion for life in all its nearness: “Why are you telling me about ... some kind of comprehension? ... I love life, I love it passionately! I have paranoid delusions, constant tormenting fear, but there are moments when the thirst of life takes hold of me and then I am afraid to lose my mind! I want terribly to live! Terribly! ... So passionately do I desire those vanities, those cares” (8:97). Like so many of his counterparts in other stories, Ragin sees Gromov’s gestures as “theatrical”; unlike those other characters, however, he simultaneously feels a growing attachment to his counterpart: “[Gromov’s] gesture seemed theatrical [to Ragin] and at the same time very attractive” (8:96). In their arguments, Gromov preaches a kind of kenosis (the “divine condescension” or the “voluntary self-humiliation of Christ”) to Ragin, invoking the immanence of Christ against Ragin’s stoical transcendence.22 “Christ reacted to life by weeping,” Gromov explains, “by smiling, becoming sad, angry, even being overcome by misery; he didn’t meet his sufferings with a smile and he didn’t despise death, but prayed in the garden at Gethsemane that the cup would pass” (8:102). Having spent his life reading books and despising the visible world, Ragin enacts the process described by Gromov; he begins to develop human feelings, learns to struggle with small-mindedness and frustration (“‘This real life is getting to me, the one [Gromov] told me about,’ he thought, angered at his pettiness” [8:112]), and discovers a longing for human company. Chekhov describes how the transcendental superman learns to sit in his landlady’s kitchen, peeling potatoes, and goes to Church in order to be close to people.23 Ragin’s journey from detachment to engagement, the movement from “non-being” into “being” which he so despised, reflects this theological concept of kenosis, reenvisioned as an existential journey. Chekhov’s kenotic narrative depicts the psychological process in which the alienated mind—which previously enjoyed a transcendent invincible position outside of the human comedy—becomes bound to an ethical role within life. Ragin attempts to escape; he tries to evoke abstract thoughts of how everyone will die, and he imagines how the earth will look millions of years in the future from outer space. Having begun his movement into life, however, he can no longer think of the human situation from so far away. “These rationalizations no longer helped,” we are told: “Hardly had [Ragin] begun to imagine the earth after a million years when 22 Ruth Coates, “The First and the Second Adam in Bakhtin’s Early Thought” in Bakhtin and Religion: A Feeling for Faith, ed. Susan M. Felch and Paul J. Contino (Evanston, 2001), 69. The concept of kenosis was derived from Philippians 2:5–8: “Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are.” On kenosis and Russian spirituality in general see Steven Cassedy, “Bely’s Theory of Symbolism,” in Andrey Bely: Spirit of Symbolism, ed. John Malmstad (Ithaca, 1987), 304. See also Alexei Bogdanov, “Ostranenie, Kenosis and Dialogue: The Metaphysics of Formalism according to Shklovsky,” Slavic and East European Journal 49:1 (2005): 48–62. On kenosis and the Russian saint’s life see George P. Fedotov, The Russian Religious Mind, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 1946), 1:94–131. For the Christological undertones in the depiction of Gromov see Anatoly Sobennikov, “‘Ward Six’ – The Protagonist and his Idea,” in Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: Poetics. Hermeneutics. Thematics, ed. J. Douglas Clayton (Ottawa, 2006), 99. 23 On the notions of conscience and consciousness in Ragin see R. E. Lapushin, “Tragicheskii geroi v ‘Palate No. 6’: Ot nevol'noi viny k sovesti,” in Chekoviana. Melikhovskie trudy i dni: Stat'i, publikatsii, esse, ed. V. Ia. Lakshin et al. (Moscow, 1995), 60–65.

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Khobotov [the district doctor], in his tall boots, would poke his head out of the bare rock” (8:116). Ragin’s incarceration in the ward—the story’s central image—occurs at the emotional pinnacle of his journey into life: “‘So this is reality!’ thought [Ragin] and he became afraid” (8:121). Trapped inside the ward, Ragin experiences the emotions that he had observed in others—fear, helplessness, despair—especially in the presence of Nikita, the prison guard, who violently blocks any possibility of escape: “The moon, the prison, the nails on the fence, and the distant fire in the ... factory were all frightening. ... [Ragin] assured himself that there was nothing special about the moon and about the prison ... but he was suddenly seized by despair; he clutched the bars with both hands and shook them with all his might” (8:121–22). The image of Ragin desperately shaking the prison bars while looking out at a frightening world—reminiscent of Alexei Laptev locked inside the factory gates at the end of “Three Years”—represents Chekhov’s unsettling depiction of the god-man, the consciousness that has placed itself within life, that has bound itself to the wheel of determinism through an impulse of compassion. Now, within the ward, Ragin experiences reality on multiple levels, on one hand as the inmate immersed in pain and suffering, and on the other as the disembodied consciousness that is capable of grasping the ethical significance of his experience: It was terrifying. ... He bit the pillow and gritted his teeth from pain, and suddenly, amid the chaos, the frightening, unbearable thought flickered in his mind that precisely this kind of pain had been experienced for years daily by these people who now seemed like dark shadows in the moonlight. (8:125) In Ragin’s duality, Chekhov formulates a complex ethical sensibility. Ragin’s struggle with life is a far cry from a general being sneezed upon, or from a banker dealing with an annoying client. However, an artistic project emerged in those early sketches where adversaries, bound by their static roles, fought a battle filled with artistic and philosophical potential. In order to achieve the transformation of estranged consciousness artistically, in order for the protagonist to become capable of identifying so fully with these “dark shadows in the moonlight,” Chekhov meditated extensively on this conflict, returning to it through numerous representations, as he learned to portray the individual’s ability to outgrow and overcome the determining force of a dialectical argument.

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