As far as I can tell Dostoevsky scholarship in the West remains strong; ironically, with a few notable exceptions, the postmodern/gender studies + studies/ Marxist literary bunch have essentially left Dostoevsky alone. This is somewhat inconceivable because few writers provide as much potential grist for mills of political correctness as Dostoevsky does. In other words, if I were a contemporary literary scholar obsessed with the unholy trinity of DIE (diversity, inclusivity, equality), I would have an absolute field day with Dostoevsky’s works. Nonetheless, the so-called scholars who do reside in such ideological mindsets have shown little interest in taking on Dostoevsky in any extensive degree. If they address him at all, it is merely to deride. These enlightened scholars probably consider Dostoevsky and his work hopelessly regressive, to the point of deserving nothing more than a mere scoff and a rejection symbolized by a callous wave of the hand. Though this is fine posturing, I personally believe leftist scholars have ignored and avoided Dostoevsky for one simple reason – he is too damn tough.
I imagine when leftist/liberal critics and scholars read Dostoevsky they immediately realize he has them figured out, that they are confronting a thinker who has thoroughly evaluated their positions and reasoning and, having comprehended them, understands the inherent weakness and evil nestled in their ideologies. Simply put, Dostoevsky sees through these contemporary leftist/liberal thinkers and scholars of ours because they are, essentially, no different from the ones he knew in nineteenth century. He is not only immune to their mind tricks and verbal balderdash, his work demonstrates how leftist ploys can be countered and, ultimately, defeated. In essence, his novels offer an antidote, which is why contemporary leftists would rather merely dismiss him and his work and focus their attention elsewhere.
As I reread The Brothers Karamazov now, one question keeps recurring in my mind – if Dostoevsky wrote the novel today, would it stand a chance at being published in the West?
For me the answer is no. No matter how I try to envision it, there is simply no way I could imagine a major mainstream New York or London publisher accepting The Brothers Karamazov for publication if Dostoevsky were to submit it to them now. In fact, I believe publishers in the West would reject TBK at once, without even giving it the slightest shred of consideration. Here’s why:
As mentioned above, Dostoevsky’s surgical and thorough destruction of liberalism in TBK flies in the face of everything most publishers in the West support and propagate. His championing of Christianity and Christian themes would also be frowned upon. Thus, I cannot imagine any publisher in the West voluntarily taking the political risk of publishing such a work today.
Sure, the book is currently in print in the West; thus, in essence, publishers are publishing TBK at the moment and have been for the better part of century, but to me this amounts little more than sound business practice rather than eagerness. Since TBK is part of the classics portfolio, publishers are assured the novel will sell a certain amount every year, so they do not mind keeping the book in print. Its status as a classic boxes it in and makes it easy to write off politically today. Publishers can simply point to it and say, “Well of course it’s regressive, it was written in the 1800s before people realized how wonderful progressivism is!” Nevertheless, I very much doubt any major publisher would risk publishing TBK if Dostoevsky submitted it to them today. Their immediate reactions would be – Who would read this? How could we market it? Their answers to those questions would be no one and no how.
A novel full of long-winded dialogue where a single character’s speech can span ten pages? Forget about it.
If it had something to do with the Trump collusion story, it might stand a chance, but sadly, TBK does not address this issue.
“Unlikable characters” is a common complaint from contemporary readers of TBK. In all fairness, TBK is full of them. Dostoevsky would stand a better chance today if he wrote about transgender, bisexual dimension-travelling, shape-shifting vampires that come to Earth to fight an evil, racist patriarchy of handsome but sinister white men who are actually all bigoted werewolves whose only mission in life is to roam the night and terrorize diverse minorities and people of color.
To sum up, thankfully Dostoevsky is still in print, and his books will remain accessible for the foreseeable future, but if Dostoevsky were a young, unpublished writer living in New York or London today, it would be difficult to imagine any publisher touching his material. Perhaps he would have a chance in his native Russia, but if the book were published there, would a translation ever see the light of day in the West? My gut says no.
Well, enough of these conjectures. I am eyeing the paragraph I wrote above, the one about the transgender, bisexual, dimension-travelling, shape-shifting vampires, and I think I might be on to something. I feel inspired. A vague plotline is starting to form in my mind. By God, that will be my next book! I’m going to start writing it today. I think it even has a shot of making the big time. I can envision a film adaptation and everything! The critics will love it!
Sorry, Dusty, old boy. If you want to be an important writer today, you simply have to get with the times.