Drooling on the Pillow

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Notes From the Underground 

I'm about halfway through the third volume of Joseph Frank's remarkable five volume biography of Dostoevsky. It is as much an intellectual history of the times he lived in and a vivid account of the ideological and literary to-ing and fro-ing of those turbulent years. His prose is a tad academic, but it is lucid and refined; it reflects his deep love of his subject without being the least partisan. The first volume is primarily about the 1840's (replace the Cossacks with the Chicago PD and you've got 1968) and the second with his imprisonment and exile in Siberia.

I bring this up because I like to pile on the French as much as the next guy and in this case the next guy is Feodor Mikhailovitch himself.

This is Dostoevsky on his first trip west and his initial impressions of Parisians:

"The Parisian loves to do business, but it seems that even in doing business and in skinning you alive in his shop like a chicken, he skins you not, as in the old days, for the sake of profit, but out of virtue, in the name of some sacred necessity."

Now, I don't think that greed is a particularly or characteristically French trait, but I do think that for the past year and a half the French have been making the case that dressing it up as moral grandeur is.
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