“The main question” in Dostoevsky

In Dostoevsky’s penultimate novel, The Adolescent (earlier translated as A Raw Youth), the first-person narrator and protagonist, Arkady Makarovich Dolgoruky, eventually makes the repugnant finding that he has “the soul of a spider.”1

Salvation is not to be found through an impossible purification or mystical vision.  Instead, in conversation with his legal father, Makar Ivanovich Dolgoruky, and his biological father, Andrei Petrovich Versilov, Arkady is struck by the idea that “true strength” needs its own demise:

[Makar Ivanovich Dolgoruky:] “Well, but how could there not be godless people as well? There are such as are truly godless (…) and I think there must needs be.”
“There are, Makar Ivanovich,” Versilov suddenly confirmed, “there are such, and ‘there must needs be’.”
“There certainly are and ‘there must needs be’!” escaped from me irrepressibly and vehemently, I don’t know why; but I was carried away by Versilov’s tone and was captivated as if by some sort of idea in the words “there must needs be”. (The Adolescent, 1875, Pevear and Volokhonsky translation)

Humans are the new godlessness needed by God in creating what does not “merely reflect or repeat” an existing (aka “old”) equivalence:

dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old. (Take Today, 22)

  1. “The soul of a spider” links up with the Maelstrom in Dostoevsky through the etymology of ‘spider in Danish ‘spinder’, German ‘Spinner’.  As Arkady notes: “It still seems to me at times that I’m spinning in the same whirl, and that the storm is about to rush upon me, snatch me up with its wing in passing, and I will again break out of all order and sense of measure, and spin, spin, spin…”.