top of page

Writing as/for change

I continue to work my way through Dostoyevsky, written by Julia Kristeva in 2020. For a moment I considered whether I should be reading the original French text, but as this is the year I've pledged to stop throwing extra hurdles along my own lane, I'm soldiering on with English. I mean, I'm struggling enough as it is.

I received some good advice on how to tackle this book. Just read slowly through and absorb what you can as you go along, without worrying too much about it. So rather than agonize over the meaning of each line, I'm swimming across the surface, looking up and down, and occasionally behind me.

Very different than when I was in university the first time, reading mostly pre-Socratic and Medieval philosophers, taking notes and more notes, trying so hard to make sense of the texts. And for each one, I would wind up with a decent exegesis but no real sense of the feelings behind the words, as if language were a game I could play but only by the rules, not its spirit.

(For those who are interested, I'm borrowing the idea of language as game from Wittgenstein.)

So, back to the book at hand.. A couple bits bobbed to the surface as I was reading, right where I could see them. Note that these are from the Introduction written by Rowan Williams. I still haven't made proper inroads into Kristeva's work itself. I'll get there, baby steps.

Dostoyevsky wrote Demons in 1872. In a chapter that was apparently held from publication for many years, Stavrogin asks Bishop Tikhon to read his confession detailing the sadistic sexual abuse of a child. And Tikhon, rather than responding to the moral question - the depraved, bankrupt nature of the act - takes a narrative perspective instead. He wants Stavrogin to realize that whatever his desire in making this story public, he won't achieve it. It cannot serve as a real confession, because the narrator (and so therefore the reader as well) remains unchanged in the telling of the story.

As Williams explains, Tikhon offers...

... an invitation for Stavrogin to recognize that he cannot access repentance and forgiveness by a text written as he has written his confession. He must become another person, another kind of narrator himself, another kind of writer.

Why did that resonate with me? I'm not sure. I have to think about it some more. But there's something very important in there about what it is to be a powerful writer, and by that I mean someone who creates an experience which effects change both in the creator and the one who is responding.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page