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Spring Symposium on UR and Community Engagement has ended
Tuesday, April 24 • 11:15am - 11:35am
“A Positive Failure”: Holy Foolishness, Paradox, And Narrative In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot

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This project addresses the Eastern Orthodox cultural phenomenon of the holy fool and how it functions paradoxically in the narrative of The Idiot, which is often regarded as Dostoevsky's most bizarre and difficult novel. The purpose of holy fool is to provide a Christian ideal of provocative goodness in a society otherwise dominated by lust and greed. The novel’s titular character, Prince Myshkin, attempts to fulfil the religious identity of the holy fool, but ultimately fails in view of the novel’s tragic ending. This seemingly unredemptive ending informs the critical reception of the novel as a failure. However, Myshkin’s failure was intended by Dostoevsky from the beginning and is, I will argue, the conflict meant to engage its readers in an interpretative exercise to consider the compatibility of spirituality and the competing secular egoisms of 19th century Russia. This interpretative exercise also goes beyond 19th century Russia by causing the reader to rethink the definitions of illness, idiocy, and sanctity.


Tuesday April 24, 2018 11:15am - 11:35am
232 Karpen Hall