Friday, October 14, 2011

The Grand Inquisitor

I just finished The Grand Inquisitor and have the seedlings of a theory about it that will need me finishing the whole 701 pages to finally work out. But the start of it is along these lines: Ivan seems the archetypal rootless intellectual who argues often, maybe always, reflexively, which is to say, just for the sake of arguing, who takes positions he disbelieves and makes cases for them for intellectual sport. He longs for human connection but his cynicism and restless intellectuality obstruct that.

So (at least) a few things are going on when he tells Alyosha his long, brooding prose poem: he longs to make a human connection with his brother as exemplified by the kiss Christ returned in the end lays on the Inquisitor and the kiss Alyosha lays on him; he longs to shock Alyosha out of his (to Ivan) religious naiveté and to reclaim him from Father Zossima by his extended argument from suffering, in which he catalogues the terrible victimizations of children; he also engages in his usual intellectual sport making a shocking case for the devil just because he can and it pleases him to.

My embryonic theory has it that we are not really meant to engage this case for the devil seriously (though we are meant to confront the reality of suffering and evil.). We are rather meant to see Ivan's prose poem more as a function of his complex character both in itself and as he displays himself in his relations with his brothers and his father.

After all, he thinks to himself, at the beginning of Book V Chapter 6, "...For so many years I've been silent with the whole world and have not deigned to speak, and all of a sudden I reel off a rigmarole like that."

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