Stephen Hero, an Introduction

My copy of Stephen Hero (published by New Directions Publishing in 1963) has an interesting introduction by Theodore Spencer who edited the Harvard College Library version so I took notes…

Stephen Hero is the early unpublished manuscripts of Joyce that were replaced by The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The manuscript (in Joyce’s handwriting) was first made available to the public by Sylvia Beach, the first person willing to publish Ulysses. They were bought by the Harvard College Library in 1938 and were printed for the first time in 1944. Stephen Hero was likely written between 1904 and 1906.

Some accounts claim that Joyce had tried to publish it Stephen Hero, but was repeatedly rejected. Others claim he was simply frustrated with the results. Either way, most accounts concur that he threw the manuscript into the fire in frustration. His wife, Nora Joyce, pulled it out of the fire at the risk of burning her hands. What remained was pp. 519-902.

Whether or not Joyce had actually tried to publish the manuscript or simply burned it because he was frustrated with it, we do know he called it a “schoolboy’s production” and said he wrote it when he was 19 or 20.

According to Herbert Gorman, it was meant to be:

…an autobiographical book, a personal history, as it were, of the growth of a mind, his own mind, and his intensive absorption in himself and what he had been and how he had grown out of the Jesuitical garden of his youth. He endeavored to see himself objectively, to assume a godlike poise of watchfulness over the small boy and youth he called Stephen and who was really himself.

The surviving 383 pages cover Stephen Daedalus’ two years at the University. There are many characters and incidents that are not in Portrait, and others are developed much more fully than they are in Portrait. The growth of Stephen’s mind is also described in a much more direct way.

Theodor Spencer says Joyce replaced Stephen Hero with Portrait because he was “aiming at economy”. He wanted the center of the action to be within his consciousness. Also, the method of writing used in Stephen Hero is similar to that in Dubliners (objectively presenting one character or event after another) and Joyce did not want to duplicate method in his works. In Portrait, “the diffuseness of real life is controlled and ordered by being presented from a single point of view.” It merely hints at conversation which makes Stephen’s thoughts and actions more suggestive than they are in Stephen Hero. (For instance, Stephen has a full dialogue with his mother about his decision not to perform his Easter duty in Stephen Hero. The conversation is barely hinted at in Portrait.)

Spencer says there are five main themes closely related to the central theme of Stephen himself in both works:

  1. Stephen’s family
  2. Stephen’s friends, male and female
  3. The life of Dublin
  4. Catholicism
  5. Art

Stephen’s development:

…sloughs off the first four in order that the fifth may stand clear. When this happens, and art is defined, the artist may then return to the first four for his subject matter. In fact he has to return to them if his function as an artist is to be fulfilled.

Stephen as hero is an adolescent. Stephen as artist is an adult. Perhaps the Stephen in Stephen Hero is not yet the artist he was to become? In Portrait, Stephen is a “cold fish” and is above approval or disapproval. He is “already prepared for ‘silence, exile, and cunning’”. In Stephen Hero, we are far more aware of his personal struggles with family, friends, women, his Professors, and Catholicism. He is much more vulnerable and self-conscious.

According to the artist in Portrait, the true artist is impersonal:

The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.

Proper art (art that is true to esthetic emotion) is static. Improper art, on the other hand, is “kinetic” in that it moves us to do something. Portrait is static, Stephen Hero is kinetic. We feel sympathy for Stephen and hope for his success. Portrait is more mature, artistically. It illustrates Stephen’s artistic theory and does not expound upon it as does Stephen Hero.

Spencer points out a passage in Stephen Hero that is altogether absent in Portrait that explains Joyce’s theory of epiphanies. It begins on p. 210 with “He was passing through Eccles Street”. Spencer explains that Dubliners “is a series of epiphanies describing apparently trivial but actually crucial revealing moments in the lives of different characters.” Likewise:

The Portrait may be seen as a kind of epiphany – a showing forth – of Joyce himself as a young man; Ulysses, by taking one day in the life of the average man, describes that man, according to Joyce’s intention, more fully than any human being had ever been described before; it is the epiphany of Leopoldo Bloom, just as, years earlier, the trivial conversation overheard on a misty evening in Eccles Street (where, incidentally, Mr. Bloom lived) was the epiphany of those two people’s lives, shown forth in a moment. And Finnegans Wake may be seen as a vast enlargement, of course unconceived by Joyce as a young man, of the same view. Here it is not any one individual that is “epiphanized”; it is all of human history, symbolized in certain types the representatives of which combine with one another as the words describing them combine various meanings, so that H.C. Earwicker and his family, his acquaintances, the city of Dublin where he lives, his morality and religion, become symbols of an epiphanic view of human life as a whole, and the final end of the artist is achieved.

This theory implies a lyrical view of life:

It emphasizes the radiance, the effulgence, of the thing itself revealed in a special moment, and unmoving moment in time. The moment, as in the macro cosmic lyric of Finnegans Wake, may involve all other moment, but it still remains essentially time-less.

Joyce Hero

The introductory article in James Joyce Today is entitled “Joyce Hero”, a play on Joyce’s unpublished Stephen Hero, by Robert Glynn Kelly. He says that Joyce would not be happy with those of us who choose to read Stephen Hero because everything Joyce published was diligently and systematically “finished” at a very high level. Stephen Hero was not finished at this level. It provides too much background information which ultimately obscures the effect of Portrait.

Kelly contends that Joyce’s variety and excellence are genuine because Joyce studied his own nature and accepted it as a “divine commission” and “life-subsuming” responsibility.”

Part of being true to himself is the recognition that he lacked imagination. “He could not invent, he would only elaborate, develop, build up what was already there.” Fact, for Joyce, was sacred. He revered all the disparate things that happened, and as Joyce put it, “lodged in the room of infinite possibilities they ousted”.

Besides his reverence for fact, Kelly says Joyce was dedicated to symbols and correspondences (and mysticism and cabal). He did not make a hard distinction between science and superstition or fact and symbol so the real world was much more extensive for him than for most people. Many of the symbols and themes in his work were his personal obsessions with life such as exile, persecution, betrayal… He payed close attention to his life and lived it in order to write about it. (He didn’t live it and then write about it.)

His books are like poetry in that they are indeterminate. “All his logic and all his facts are at the service of his mysticism”. He does not report, he engages in transubstantiation. Joyce wrote:

I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has a permanent life of its own.

Kelly says that what Joyce worked for in his writing was an effect: something that can be understood by feel, but not by logic and does not rely upon the security of logic:

You can respond to the meanings of Ulysses, feel them, see them, experience them like life itself, and if you are a good critic you can evoke them for others. But you can never define them.

According to Kelly, a lot of us read Stephen Hero to make sense of Portrait – “to reduce the effect of the Portrait to meanings and origins” hoping we will better see the effect. But Joyce didn’t publish Stephen Hero precisely because he believed the meanings and origins within it obscures the effect he wanted for Portrait.

I read Portrait before I read Stephen Hero and I loved it without knowing “the meanings and origins”. But I must admit I’m very excited to read Portrait again now that I have the background information.

I suppose I feel a little guilty knowing that Joyce wouldn’t want me to read Portrait without knowing “the meanings and origins”, especially since he once threw the manuscript in the fire out of frustration. But hee must have preserved the unburnt part of the manuscript for a reason, so I don’t feel too terribly guilty.

Thomas Merton on “The Joyce Industry”

Thomas Merton is a fascination for me. He was a well-travelled not particularly religious Protestant with a degree from Colombia who became a Trappist Monk in Kentucky. He told a priest that reading Joyce had “contributed something to [his] conversion.” What about reading Joyce would make someone want to become a monk?

I’ll have to dig into that further. For now, I just want to take down some notes on Merton’s essay, “News of the Joyce Industry” which he wrote in 1969. It is a criticism of much of the scholastic study of Joyce at the time. Twenty dissertations appeared on Joyce between 1960-1963 and 5 books on Joyce had been published annually since 1960. (Just think of all that is out there now. There are endless podcasts, youtube channels and even Spotify channels on Joyce’s works!)

I am going to start at the end of his essay where he refers to an essay by William Blissett who quotes E.M. Forster on Joyce and Nietzsche on Wagner:

Forster remarked that “even the police are said not to comprehend [Ulysses] fully” (which comment still applies to those who take upon themselves the office of morally or politically “policing” Joyce’s work). But he added that when one had gone to the trouble to read one of Joyce’s big books, one will naturally tend to be pleased with his own achievement and call it “a great book, the book of the age. He really means that he himself is a great reader.” And Nietzsche said the same of Wagnerians. Lured into the mystery of Wagner, the hide-and-seek symbols, “in the midst of Wagner’s multiplicity, fullness and arbitrariness, they are justified, as it were, in their own eyes – they are ‘saved'”.

Merton says these two quotes explain the Joyce Industry. What matters is not what you say, but the ritual of saying it. Just as long as you make an effort to prove what you are saying, it doesn’t matter what it is. Nobody cares all that much because as long as you “pay enough homage to the Joyce establishment”, you can get away with anything.

Some Joyce scholars, according to Merton, “want to transubstantiate the bread of Ulysses and Portrait into the unearthly and arbitrary substance of their own fantasies.” What these scholars fail to realize is that Joyce accepted ambivalence and lived with it. He knew he had not escaped the rigidity of his Catholic upbringing, but he also knew he never would escape it. He broke with the Church and his parents subculture, but he did not renounce the ambiguities and conflicts built into Western civilization. The conscience of James Joyce:

…was the conscience of a European of the post-Victorian era, of a man in a sophisticated, complex, self-contradictory culture about to fall apart in World War I.

Freud’s Civilization and It’s Discontents helps “to understand what lay behind the comic judgment of society and its repressions in The Portrait of an Artist and Ulysses. “There is a big difference between a rigid puritanical repression of sex and “a civilized experience of ambivalence toward it.”

There are several scholars Merton does recommend:

  • William York Tindall, Hugh Kenner, and S.L. Goldberg are absolutely necessary for a full appreciation of Joyce.
  • English novelist Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange) called Here Comes Everybody: an Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader, the emphasis being on the healthy catholicity of Joyce (little c).
  • A collection of essays: James Joyce Today: Essays on the Major Works.
  • Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce. This was an abandoned project which was published in 1968. Merton said the unique interest lies in its imperfection and total lack of any “finish”.

From Merton:

The Giacomo notebook represents a pivotal development in Joyce’s ideas about love, from the erotic idealism of A Portrait of the Artist to the more ironic and mature realism of Ulysses. It deals specifically with the theme of spiritual seduction – and with the curious ambiguities involved in it… Joyce in Giacomo is clearly both Stephen and Bloom and, as Ellmann remarks in his introduction, the sardonic influence of Svevo is not unlikely. What comes clear in Giacomo is that Joyce, now middle-aged, has acquired the necessary ironic distance simultaneously to be in love and to see himself faking – or “forging” – his love. Giacomo Joyce is a lucid, ironic description of the involvement of art, eros, and social custom, of life, literature, and manners, of race, culture, history, in an essentially comic experience of love. It marks the crucial point at which the comic genius of Joyce emerges to full maturity and awareness.

James Joyce in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern

Bust of Joyce on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Strathern’s James Joyce in 90 Minutes is a fun and very informative little book. I already covered Strathern’s thoughts on Joyce & Modernism. Here are the biographical highlights I want to remember…

  • 1882 (Feb. 2): born in Rathgar – middle class suburb in South Dublin
  • 1888 (6 years old): sent to Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare which was regarded as the finest Catholic school in Ireland.
  • 1892 (10 years old): father lost his job and was never able to find regular employment again. Took on various part-time jobs including soliciting advertisements for a Dublin newspaper. James dropped out of Clongowes and schooled himself. His mother helped but she was responsible for 13 children and James’ father was abusive toward his mother and increasingly unavailable. (As a teenager, James had to pin his father down to keep him from seriously injuring his mother while his mother fled to a neighbor.) The family moved from neighborhood to more impoverished neighborhood which made James very familiar with Dublin districts.
  • 1893 (11 years old): Sent with brother Stanislaus to Belvedere College in Dublin. Was an excellent student. (Remained there until University.)
  • Teenage years: began to lose faith and experienced a dark night of the soul. Began writing poetry. He explained to Stanislaus “There is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the mass and what I’m trying to do. I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its own.”
  • 1898 (16 years old): entered University College, Dublin, the city’s Catholic University. Was supposed to rival Protestant Trinity College which had educated Oscar Wilde and philosopher Bishop Berkeley. But when Joyce entered, the Jesuits were imposing a rigid Catholic orthodoxy which created an air of mediocrity. Joyce attended irregularly.
  • 1900 (eighteen years old): wrote a long review of Ibsen’s final play When We Dead Awaken which was extended into an 8000 word review of Ibsen’s entire work. It was accepted by a prestigious London publisher. Ibsen read the review and sent Joyce a letter of thanks. Joyce wrote to Ibsen: “Ireland has produced nothing but a whine to the literature of Europe.” What he meant was that he sought to establish a real Irish tradition, not the current literary tradition of Ireland which was almost completely composed of Anglo-Irish or Protestant writers who were middle or upper class. (Joyce was a Celt with a Catholic background and he did not subscribe to middle-class mores.)
  • Joyce identified with Ibsen’s characterization of the feminine in large part because he was also imbued with a “feminine delicacy of touch”. His Catholic sexual repression had left him deeply ambivalent about his own sexuality. He was highly sexed and highly repressed which led to a perverse obsession with intimate bodily odors, a fetish he retained for the rest of his life.
  • He began having sexual encounters with prostitutes which were necessary for him as an artist and as a man. However, it created in him a deep shame. He also drank way too much.
  • Began writing prose he called “epiphanies”. This was a theological term referring to a heightened sense of consciousness in which a vision of the godhead or religious revelation takes place. For Joyce the revelation was spiritual but without any religious content or sacred meaning. His epiphanies occurred “in a vision of the soul of the commonest object… in the vulgarity of speech or gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.”
  • 1902 (20 years old): Graduated from University College, Dublin. He moved to Paris with the goal of becoming a writer. Four months later, he learned his mother was dying and he returned home. She died a few months after that and Joyce took a job as a teacher in Dublin to help care for the family, but his father spent what little money they had on alcohol. Joyce spent 10 days in Martello Tower with Oliver St. John Gogarty and began writing Stephen Hero based on the spiritual progress of Joyce himself (epiphanic formative experience).
  • 1904 (22 years old): met Nora Barnacle who had run away from her home and was working as a chambermaid in Finn’s Hotel. They met for a second time on June 16 which became the most famous date in 20th century literary history. Nora was 19 and still a virgin, but she slipped her hand into Joyce’s pants and brought him to orgasm while standing on the street. That changed Joyce’s life. Joyce continued drinking, however. He got into a fight and was looked after by a Jewish man, Alfred Hunter, which also assumed deep significance for him. Joyce ran away with Nora in October.
  • 1905 (23 years old): Nora and James moved to Trieste and convinced Stanislaus to join them. Stanislaus took a teaching position which allowed Stephen to write but James became “his brother’s keeper” and Nora and James began fighting. James continued to drink way too much and Stanislaus would sometimes have to carry him home. Realism & symbolism were the two main contending literary movements at the time. Joyce combined the two. His writing was utterly realistic but also suffused with symbolic meaning. Symbol and reality became one.
  • 1907 (25 years old): Completed “The Dead”, the final story in Dubliners.
  • 1909 (27 years old): Convinces several businessmen from Trieste to open a string of cinemas in Dublin. His Volta Cinema was the first cinema in Dublin. The scheme failed and Joyce was in financial ruin. This year, he also heard through the grapevine that Nora had been in love with someone else before she met James. He felt this was a betrayal, much like what he had written about in “The Dead”, and it became a major theme in later works.
  • 1914 (32 years old): Completes Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a reworking of Stephen Hero. This novel is not as “realistic” as Dubliners. The novel shows how the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish nationalist movement threaten to stifle the spirit of the artist, Stephen Daedalus. The interplay of Good and Beauty that is the central aesthetic theory proposed by Stephen comes from Thomas Aquinas. Joyce rejected Catholicism, but he also recognized its strengths and used them. The close of the novel conveys Stephen’s deepest worries and aspirations, but also the beginning of his literary talent. This book was an article of artistic faith, not autobiographical. He had trouble getting the book published and then finally received help from Ezra Pound. Dubliners was published and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was serialized in an influential London literary magazine.
  • This year, WWI began. Stanislaus was thrown into a camp for enemy aliens and James & Nora decided to move to neutral Switzerland. Nora spoke Irish, English and German, but James said her English and German weren’t comprehensible to an Englishman or a German. Now she had to learn another language. Joyce began writing Ulysses, which was even more autobiographical than Portrait yet more objective. The entire novel takes place on June 16, 1904, the day he met Nora. We experience the day as though we are inside the heads of the main characters. Harriet Weaver, a 41 year old unmarried English Quaker woman admired Joyce’s work and became his benefactor. Joyce had a disease that caused him to go completely blind in one eye and virtually blind in the other. Weaver helped pay his medical bills.
  • 1918 (36 years old): The first episodes of Ulysses began appearing in New York’s The Little Review. They continued to appear until 1920 when the magazine was sued by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Joyce moved back to Paris where he thought his writing would be better appreciated.
  • 1922 (40 years old): Ulysses was considered unpublishable, but is finally published by Sylvia Beach who owned Shakespeare and Company and admired Joyce’s work. It was published on Joyce’s 40th birthday. Stephen and Bloom are very different characters. Stephen is intellectual, meditative, has an extensive vocabulary, is more exotic and skillfully employed. Bloom has a more rapid-fire inner monologue which matches the outward attentiveness of his mind. (Like Joyce’s father, Bloom is an advertising man for a newspaper. Bloom also is taken from Alfred Hunter who took care of Joyce when he 22 and in the bar fight right after he met Nora. However, there was another incident when Joyce got drunk after finding out about Nora’s previous love affair that Bloom is based on as well: John Byrne had to take him home and he lived at 7 Eccles Street.) Joyce wanted to create an exact replica of Dublin so that if it was ever destroyed, it could be recreated from Ulysses.
  • Early 1930s: Lucia, Joyce’s daughter, was mentally ill. Joyce consulted Carl Jung but he could do little to help. Jung told him: “You are like two people going to the bottom of the river, but where as she is drowning, you are diving.” Meanwhile, Joyce continued to have operations on his eyes which were subsidized by Harriet Weaver. She had spent a huge amount of money on him by this point. Joyce continued to drink heavily. Despite his drunkenness and blindness, he began working on Finnegan’s Wake.
  • 1939 (57 years old): Finnegan’s Wake is published. It was called the ultimate literary carnation of Shame’s Voice (Joyce called himself Shame’s Voice) and was considered to be an “aberration of genius”. It was literature as puzzle. We have to abandon our habitual notions of meaning and preconceived notions of reading to “understand” it. Younger generations liked it. Samuel Beckett said that Finnegan’s Wake “is not about something; it is that something itself.” Joyce was a very ill man as Europe entered WWII.
  • 1940 (58 years old): The Nazi’s invaded France and James and Nora moved back to Zurich.
  • 1941, January 13 (59 years old): James Joyce fell ill with an ulcer and died, penniless.
  • 1951. Nora died.
  • Ulysses became known as the novel that most characterized the 20th Century. Bloomsday is celebrated every year on June 16 around the world.
  • “The Dead” is often listed among the top 10 greatest short stories ever written
  • Finnegan’s Wake is considered a cult work for gifted connoisseurs, including Nobel-prize winning American particle physicist Murray-Gell-Mann. The name “quark” came from Gell-Mann based on a passage in Finnegan’s Wake: “Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark. And sure as any he has it’s all beside the mark.”

James Joyce and Moderism

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso (1907)

James Joyce’s is said to be among the most influential writers of modernist fiction. He’s been called, “The Father of High Modernism” and even “The Priest of Literary Modernism“. But what is Modernism?

The only thing I really knew about it was that literalist Christians didn’t like it. Fundamentalism came into being in the early 1900s as a movement specifically against modernism. In 1907, the Catholic church held a Council in Rome where it decided to create a secretive Inquisition-like group that was responsible for taking action if they found evidence of modernism in Catholic Parishes. Do a quick search on YouTube and there are all kinds of current videos still decrying the heresy and “cancer” of modernism.

I did a little research…

Modernism began in the late 19th century and continued through the first several decades of the 20th century. (1890-1920s or thereabouts.) It was a reaction to the increasing industrialization and rapid growth of cities throughout the western world. (What had once been an agrarian society was increasingly becoming an industrial society driven by technology, mass production, division of labor…) Modernism was also a reaction to the horrors of WWI.

There was a feeling that the world was breaking up. Things no longer made sense in the way they once did. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity showed that time and space no longer existed as once thought. Freud was hugely influential on how people now understood the mind. Changes in education produced mass readership which allowed for the development of popular newspapers and popular culture. There were new powerful political structures (Democracy, Marxism).

Things had been changing, and continued to change, significantly which made life seem fragmented. There were no longer any “grand narratives” like Catholicism and there was a lot of skepticism that truth was knowable. Modernists rejected the certainty of the Enlightenment, and many also rejected religion.

Roger Griffin, professor of modern history and political theorist at Oxford Brookes University said that Modernists wanted to restore “a sense of sublime order and purpose to the contemporary world, thereby counteracting the (perceived) erosion of an overarching ‘nomos’, or ‘sacred canopy’, under the fragmenting and secularizing impact of modernity.”

Griffin defines Modernism as a broad cultural, social, or political initiative that was sustained by the spirit of “the temporality of the new”. There was an attempt to access a “supra-personal experience of reality” in which individuals believed they could cease being victims of history and instead become its creators.

According to Paul Strathern in James Joyce in 90 Minutes, Modernism was also a rejection of the materialistic, bourgeois-dominated society that came into being with industrialization. Many found it to be stifling, hypocritical and suffocating because unacceptable elements of behavior – primitive sexuality, instinctive aggression, and perversities of the imagination were swept under the carpet. This resulted in an Artistic and Social upheaval…

  • 1899 – Sigmund Freud published Interpretation of Dreams.
  • 1907 – Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – naked women hideously deformed into geometric shapes
  • Relativist nature of objects in Cubist paintings curiously paralleled the new Theory of Relativity which had recently been proposed by Einstein and would bring about a revolution in the world of science.
  • 1913 – Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. Strident discords and rampant primitivism caused a riot at it’s first performance in Paris.
  • 1914 – First World War – shattered smug and stable societies. Russia succumbed to communism.
  • T.S. Eliot – The Waste Land. Modernist yet sophisticated despair.
  • Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus – introduced an entirely new philosophical vision 
  • James Joyce’s Ulysses. The underside of human impulses rendered into art. Stream of consciousness made readers confront a true mirror of their thoughts, and they hypocritically chose not to like what they saw. Freud’s anarchistic unconscious rendered into all manner of literary forms, whose shocking authenticity and realism provoked outrage. 

As far as Joyce being the “Father of High Modernism”, Andreas Huyssen (professor of Comparative Literature at Colombia University) defines high modernism in literature as being characterized by a complete and unambiguous embrace of the “Great Divide”: there is a clear distinction between capital-A Art and mass culture. High modernism places itself firmly on the side of Art and in opposition to popular or mass culture. (Postmodernism rejects the “Great Divide”.)

The Grand Inquisitor – Charles B. Guignon (Part 2)

Part 2 of my notes from Charles Guignon’s introduction to The Grand Inquisitor ….

Alyosha, at the end of Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor, says that Christ “gave his innocent blood for all and everything” and seems to think that this resolves the problem of suffering. It’s perfectly sensible to a devout believer, perhaps, but completely misunderstands Ivan’s attack on faith. If the problem is how God can allow the suffering of innocents, then the suffering of one more innocent is not going to make things better. Ivan is suggesting that Christianity has worsened the human condition by placing intolerable demands on humanity. It holds up two sets of irreconcilable and unattainable ideals which has increased suffering in the world.

The irreconcilable and unattainable ideals Ivan is talking about are the opposition between the Inquisitor and the figure of Christ in the story. Guignon says that because the story is placed in the 16th century when Protestantism emerged, the Grand Inquisitor represents Roman Catholicism and Jesus represents Protestantism (according to Ivan not Dostoevsky). These are two opposing but equally fundamental interpretations of the significance of Christianity. Roman Catholics have been dedicated to achieving happiness and well-being for all. Protestantism, on the other hand, stresses the freedom and dignity of the individual. The glorification of freedom that the Grand Inquisitor attributes to Christ is in line with the Protestant emphasis on the individual. Martin Luther (leader of the Protestant reformation) abolished the priesthood and denied the existence of miracles in the contemporary world. Martin Luther said that people have to find faith in the solitude of their own hearts without any worldly intermediaries or supports. The harsh demands of Protestantism mean that only an elect will achieve salvation. And as the Inquisitor noted, this puts an overwhelming burden on people.

It’s important to keep in mind that Ivan is presenting an “either/or” way of thinking. The Grand Inquisitor is like Ivan. He’s an atheist who claims to love humanity and has dreams of achieving paradise on earth through reworking human society on rational principles. Like Ivan, the Inquisitor thinks of himself as a “great idealist” who is willing to live as an ascetic in order to become a superior human being. And like Ivan, his protestations of humanitarian love mask his deep contempt for people.

Ivan rightly recognizes that his own humanitarian aims are rooted in Christian heritage. But, because he tears them out of the context of faith in which they make sense, the ideals of happiness and freedom are inconsistent with one another and therefore, according to Ivan, cannot be realized. Either we follow the Catholic dream of happiness and peace for all in a vast totalitarian state and abandon our desire for freedom and dignity (turning people into slaves), or we accept the Protestant demand of individual freedom and responsibility without worldly supports and condemn the vast majority of humanity to a life of abject misery in a war of all against all.

All the unsolved contradictions of human nature (as Ivan puts it) are embodied in these oppositions: those between Utilitarian and Kantian ethical theories, between welfare liberalism and free enterprise conservatism, and between Marxist-Leninist collectivism and Western rights-based individualism. The problem of reconciling the ideal of the greatest good of the greatest number with the ideal of individual responsibility and dignity is as pressing today as it was a century ago.

Alyosha correctly sees that Ivan has only laid out the tenets of Western forms of Christianity. Dostoevsky tries to work out an alternative understanding of the significance of Christianity through that of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It’s easy to see that the Grand Inquisitor is motivated by pride more than by love of humanity. His show of brotherly love is really a desire for power. As Alyosha puts it, “It’s simple lust for power, for filthy earthly gain, for domination – something like a universal serfdom with them as masters – that’s all they stand for.”

Dostoevsky draws on a central tenet of the Christian tradition: God has given us a proper place in the scheme of things and any attempt to be more than what we are makes us less than human. Augustine said that God has placed us midway between the angels and the beasts and that any attempt to deny our creatureliness, to be like the angels, will leave us no better than the beasts.

In Russian spirituality, kenoticism as a way of life is considered to be of immense importance. Kenosis refers to Christ’s act of self-emptying – his submission to the most extreme humiliation and suffering in order to do the will of the Father. To live the kenotic way of life is to follow the example of Christ, accepting suffering in meekness and humility. The image of Christ shows us that we should embrace our concrete being on earth, with all its suffering and joys, without trying to be more than what we are. Dostoevsky wrote: “Christ walked on earth to show mankind that even in its earthly nature the human spirit can manifest itself in heavenly radiance, in the flesh, and not merely in dream or ideal.”

The only way to achieve release from egoistic individualism is through an act of surrender. This is the image of dying to oneself in order to be reborn into God’s grace which is fundamental to the entire Christian tradition. It’s a paradox. Victory is achieved through surrender. It is only through total release of the ego that one finds true fulfillment.

Ivan assumes that humans are isolated individuals with no real bonds to one another living in an essentially meaningless, value-neutral mechanistic universe, motivated solely by self- interest. If there is a God on such a view, he would have to be an entity located outside the world having no real connection to life on earth. So there are two choices. We either follow the path Ivan attributes to Christ and learn to live with our isolation accepting that the vast majority of human beings are condemned to a life of misery, or we follow the Grand Inquisitor and dedicate ourselves to bringing happiness and security to the masses of humans. But the only way to get people to buy into what the Grand Inquisitor offers is to superimpose the trappings of religion onto life – create an aura of “miracle, mystery and authority” – in order to give people a sense of shared purpose and community of worship. But the dilemma Ivan presents is inescapable only if we accept western assumption.

The West interprets happiness as the pleasurable feeling we get from having our desires filled, and it imagines true happiness to be the instant gratification of every desire. But as the Grand Inquisitor sees, this sort of “pleasure principle” threatens to lead to conflict among individuals who are in competition for limited resources, and for this reason he concludes that happiness is only possible within a totalitarian state.

Dostoevsky suggests that genuine happiness is found in the inner peace that comes from accepting life, together with all its joys and sufferings, on life’s own terms. It is by coming to understand that life is suffused with simple mysteries like those Zosima mentions – “it’s the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy” – that we find true happiness and freedom.

Ivan’s dilemma only works if we assume that humans are fundamentally isolated individuals. From the standpoint of a primordial sense of the connectedness of life, the Western image of isolated individuals motivated only by self-interest looks like a deformation of human nature rather than the bedrock “truth” about who we are.

Our aim in life is not to get into another world, but to work toward the deification of the world in which we find ourselves. Salvation is the process of not just individuals becoming divine, but of the entire world becoming divine. The divine is experienced as permeating all creation and filling everything with spiritual significance. As Zosima says, “If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.” Ivan, because of his lacerated stance, is incapable of the kind of love that would enable him to comprehend the mystery in all things.

Ivan tells Alyosha prior to the telling of his Grand Inquisitor story that the only way to be free of having dirty hands in the suffering of the world is to commit suicide. But what Zosima says is that we are all accomplices in the world and so we are all responsible and guilty for what occurs. This recognition of responsibility does not point to suicide but to taking action. We are our brothers keepers. We have to embrace our own responsibility for what happens in the world and to own up to it by acting to change things. As Zosima says: “There is only one means of salvation, then: take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins,… for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it really is so, and that you are to blame for everyone and for all things.”

The answer to the problem of suffering is not reached through theoretical insight, but through action that flows from the realization of connectedness and spiritual significance.

The Grand Inquisitor – Charles B. Guignon (Part 1)

I’ve been reading The Brothers Karamazov with the Vox Analogical Imagination group which has been extremely informative in terms of the various Christian perspectives and has fit in well with my recent Smith and Borg reading on Christianity.

The Grand Inquisitor is a fascinating argument in The Brothers Karamazov and I recently read a book dedicated to it. A good portion of the book is an explanation of Ivan’s argument and Zosima’s response. It’s by Charles B. Guignon and I found it to be extremely helpful. I highlighted a bunch of stuff while reading it so have attempted to summarize it here. It’s a lot of information so I’ll post it in two parts.

Ivan represents the rationalist. Dostoevsky agrees that the rationalist views are irrefutable so does not attempt to say what is wrong with Ivan’s views. What he does, instead, is attempt to show what is wrong with them by “displaying its destructive existential implications in the actions and interactions of the characters throughout the novel as a whole.” It is not important to Dostoevsky whether a proposition is true or false in some sort of abstract sense. What he deems important is whether or not the form of life they embody and express is viable.

Dostoevsky is suspicious of reform – especially reform copied from other nations. There were two forms in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century (coined Father and Sons by Turgenev). The Fathers (older generation – 1840s) were the Social Romantics. These were the liberal gentry who had been influenced by French Utopian Socialism, German Idealism, and the glorification of the individual in Romantic literature. They promised universal harmony on earth by applying scientific theories and re-engineering society. Even though they claimed their ideas were grounded in science, their ideas were primarily informed by the Christian philanthropic ideals of achieving heaven on earth. The Sons (the younger generation – 1860s) regarded Romantic idealism as half-hearted and dishonest. They insisted on carrying the insights of Western science through to their logical conclusions: If it is true, as science tells us, that all people are motivated solely by self-interest, and if it is true that all events result from material causes determined by the laws of physics, then the older generations “social gospel” and attachment to brotherly love are nothing but illusions that we need to get rid of. The younger generation of the 1860s rejected all Christian values and sought to create an ideal society based solely on the principles of mechanistic materialism.

Dostoevsky saw a gap between the theories and positions the reformers proposed and the actual feelings and motivations underlying their schemes. On the one hand they claim that they are acting out of unbounded concern for humanity. Their desire is to improve the human condition and to bring peace and happiness to earth. But on the other hand, the intellectual stance reveals a craving for power and a desire to stand above the crowd and be like gods. What appears as selfless devotion to others is, in actuality, pride and egoism. Dostoevsky believed that it is only by passing through the dark night of the soul and embracing human suffering that one can become fully human. The reformers sought to avoid suffering and thereby degraded it to something to pity, which likewise requires the degradation of human to object and is nothing more than a means to mask their contempt for mankind.

The “Karamazov” is very similar to what Freud later called the id. It is “a crude, unbridled, earthly force” which is the source of animalistic drives and passions. Dostoevsky didn’t see this earthly force as entirely negative. He believed it to be a fundamental part of our creaturely being and an inescapable part of who it is we are. But, to be human is to care about what sorts of character traits one has and that is why there can be honor among thieves or concern about one’s dignity even when in abject poverty. The idealistic aspect of our being is just as basic to us as is the “sensual”, Karamazov side. It is the paradox between the sensual and the idealistic that defines the human condition.

Dostoevsky had no patience for the reformist idea that human beings are fundamentally good and that it is their upbringing that causes evil. He said that seeing evil in this way made it “subjective” and turned it into something one could disown. To say there is no evil -only dysfunctional families or unfair social conditions – is to say that evil is not something a person does, but rather something that befalls a person from the outside. Dostoevsky believed that at the core of human nature, there is a deep-seated capacity for evil which cannot be explained away in psychological or sociological terms. It is a fundamental and irreducible part of our sensual nature and is as much a part of us as is our love of life and concern for others. (Dostoevsky actually kept clippings dealing with cases of cruelty to children and animals as did Ivan.) To totally rid ourselves of our darker desires would likewise require the destruction of what is best about us.

Two unsatisfactory responses to this “primal evil” are presented through Fyodor (and to some extent Dmitri) who gleefully embraces evil and takes an almost masochistic pleasure in his self-debasement. The other is that found in Katrina and Ivan who recoil from the evil present within themselves and seek to be rid of it by becoming a pure, perfect person (which mirrors the desire of the reformers). Dostoevsky believed that those who seek out this sort of perfectionism create an even deeper evil that comes from pride.

This form of self-denial for the sake of purification is called laceration and it leads to the use of human beings as tools to achieve self-enhancement. It’s a subtle manipulative power play and has two consequences. The first is a self-dissociation or self-fragmentation which causes individuals to swing between feelings of grandiosity and self-loathing. The second consequence is that it leads to fractured social relationships. The individual is more concerned with perfection and superiority than with individuals.

The idea that arose during the Enlightenment that we could achieve human well-being through greater knowledge undermined itself. The initial motivation for scientific objectivity was the dream of bringing about universal peace, justice and happiness by getting rid of the narrow, parochial attachments that sustained illusion and prejudice. But the mechanistic world view that came with the unfolding of scientific knowledge offered little motivation to commit to the values that initially motivated the Enlightenment. If nothing exists except inherently valueless objects in push-pull causal interactions, then universal peace, justice and happiness begin to seem like nothing more than human wishes. In the mechanistic world view, values are made, not found.

Ivan’s inability to understand Christ-like love is an expression of the Enlightenment’s detached, moral superiority that cuts us off from what makes compassion and genuine benevolence possible in the first place. Nothing can really matter anymore because the world is anonymous and in a sense, dead to us. It no longer speaks to us. Meaning becomes impossible and self-less love unintelligible like it is to Ivan.

The paradox of Ivan’s Westernized ideals is that the austere discipline of detachment and self-transformation undermines its own moral underpinnings. It creates a self-serving nihilism. Ivan reaches out to his brother for help, but he is likewise set on shattering his brother’s faith and thereby undermines his chances of being helped.

Guignon writes that what Ivan sets forth is this: “Either God exists or He does not exist. If God exists and permits such awful suffering, then God is cruel, there is no justice in the universe, and life is intolerable. Even if suffering is necessary for the future harmony, harmony is not worth such a price….Alternatively, if God does not exist, then the picture of the universe formulated by mechanistic materialism must be true. The ideals of justice, goodness, benevolence, dignity, are purely human projections of what we wish to be true and this is likewise intolerable. Dostoevsky thought that the problem of suffering as formulated by Ivan was “irrefutable.” So the rest of the book after the Grand Inquisitor is about showing how Ivan’s stance is not viable