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Beware of the resurgent Russophobia

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“Vladimir Putin adores Fyodor Dostoevsky,” I recently read in an article. “A close reading of the legendary author’s texts reveals the feeling might have been mutual.”

Before long I also read that in Italy a university had cancelled a literature course on Dostoyevsky over the Ukraine crisis. If the world were left at the mercy of such acts of juvenile lunacy, we will sooner lose the moral parameters of our earthly existence than we do the environmental conditions of human survival. What has Dostoyevsky to do with Putin? We might as well ban Faulkner because we oppose the Ku Klux Klan – or stop reading Emile Zola because we do not like Marine Le Pen. What sheer sophomoric puerility is this?

People around the world aghast at the barbarity of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (as they were with Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq) must be very careful not to fall into this trap. “A plague on both your houses,” we should instead say both to Putin and his nemesis as we reach for our copies of the masterpieces of Russian literature to reread in protest, beginning of course with Dostoyevsky.

Years ago, I was a member of the jury at a film festival in St Petersburg, Russia, on which occasion a Russian colleague generously gave me a tour of the neighbourhood in which Dostoyevsky had lived when writing Crime and Punishment (1866), a book I first read when I was a poor undergraduate student in Tehran, not too dissimilar to the main character of the novel, Rodion Raskolnikov – minus, of course, murdering any pawnbroker Iranian counterpart of Alyona Ivanovna.

I was walking through that neighbourhood like a pilgrim retracing every inch of it graced by the memories of a lasting monument to a man’s literary genius, a novelist whom Nietzsche had praised as “the only psychologist from whom I had something to learn”, the towering moral figure on whom Freud wrote his iconic essay, “Dostoyevsky and Parricide”.

Maligning a whole civilisation

Extract Dostoyevsky from our moral memories and we will be one step closer to Dante’s Inferno. Dostoyevsky is

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