Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I finished the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel Brothers Karamzov a few days ago. I had first attempted to read this about 15 years ago and got bogged down in the middle. This time I had enough momentum to make it all the way to the end, and I'm glad I did. As I've been thinking about how to review this novel, I can't get Beethoven's final symphony out of my head... number 9, number 9 number 9... (apparently I can't get the Beetle's "White Album" out of my head either).
For me, the 9th symphony and Brothers K are in the same emotional territory and have the same plot. They start in chaos and tragedy, Brothers K with the broken family history and Symphony #9 with what sounds like an orchestra tuning. Both composer and writer are exploring the side of life that is tumultuous like deep waters in a gale. Unpredictable, chaotic, and dark with the occasional shock of white. "Aqua sea-foam shame" as Kurt Cobain put it.
Against the background of unorganized angst, comes glimpses of order. Though the order we see often isn't what we would like to see. Murder, deceit, selfishness, and our own role in the evil that we despise. In the Brothers K, this all comes together in the murder of the family patriarch and the feeling that it is everybody's and nobody's fault all at the same time. In the symphony, we get it as giant dissonant chords that come out of nowhere with tympanis rolling.
Of course, both book and song have glimmers of a hope which is greater than the immediate circumstance. These are the whitecaps on the waves. The glimpse of love, or of beauty in the midst of the storm.
The big payoff in both of the artistic works is saved for the end. I wouldn't call it a "happy ending" in either case, but it is a triumphant one. They seem to say that despite it's fallen state, life is an awesome privilege, especially when we realize that we face it with together, as brothers and sisters. It takes quite an artist to pull this off in a genuine way, but I think both Beethoven and Dostoevsky pull it off. So, check it out, take your date to the symphony, wade through this 1,000 page novel and ponder the grand themes of life!