Is there still reason to read the works of Dostoevsky today? Is his
narrative – deeply Christian and at the same time anti-moralist – still
relevant? And above all, can it still guide the growth and education of
young people, against the tyranny of modern nihilism? These are just some
questions raised at the 7th International Poetics & Christianity
Conference, entitled Dostoevsky: Dwelling in Mystery.
The Conference, which took place on 27 and 28 April at the Pontifical
University of the Holy Cross in Rome, was a chance for general reflection
on the relationship between Dostoyevsky’s Christianity and the sense of
emptiness, loss and anguish experienced by modern man.
Dostoevsky: Universal novels for guiding youth
Nikolai Berdjaev, one of the most important analysts of the great Russian
writer, argued that the true protagonists of his novels were the ideas,
especially those on faith. Dostoevsky was not a theologian nor intended to
be; nevertheless it is correct to say that his novels can be termed “theological”
because the constant theme is the relationship between man and God.
This aspect, coupled with a very deep reflection on ethics, finds its
utmost expression in two novels: Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. In these works, most of the narration is
not made of actions, but of thoughts, often filled with anguish, loneliness
and despair. Always and in any case human thoughts on which the reader is
invited to reflect. In both novels, as in other works, the relationship
between the characters and God, which is present in and through
conscience, is always central, becoming often the key turning point of
As Eraldo Affinati, a successful Italian writer and a high school teacher, put it, Dostoevsky is “the man of rejuvenation, of
rehabilitation: of smoothing out the wrinkles”, recalling that in his work
there is a strong “pedagogical root”. The writer, in the end, “wants to
heal, not sicken: he aims to heal and bring hope, even if the hurt is
Alessandro D’Avenia, another succesfull Italian writer and a high school teacher too, Dostoevsky is the one who “on every page makes you feel within yourself a space open to the sacred” and conveys the idea that “in a Christian vision of the world, love has priority over knowledge.” Both authors, Affinati e D’Avenia discussed the influence of the great Russian writer in their lives and works.
In fact, “there is no increased knowledge of the world that is not preceded
by an increase in knowledge of love”. Being in front of a literary work is
like “living a mystery”: “while making a very interesting story happen to
you,”you are actually experimenting with another much larger story that
resonates in the life of every human being every day” .
In our modern society, infected with a widespread and present nihilism,
reading of Dostoevsky’s work is both illuminating and fascinating,
recognizing an extremely precious instrument for the guidance and education
of adolescents. If you want to know the depths of the human soul,
understand our crises and those of the world, then it is indispensable.
Exploring Dostoevsky through an interdisciplinary approach
The Poetics & Christianity Conference dealt with all of these themes,
from interdisciplinary perpective that ranged from theology to
anthropology, from painting to cinema. To be faithful to the versatility of
Russian writers’ thoughts and ruminations, the approach was open and
transverse – and not merely literary. Faithful to this cross approach, for
example, was the exhibition Voices in the Silence by Spanish artist
Cristina Aymerich, who through his paintings and video wanted to represent
the sense of mystery of Dostoevsky’s work. Or the German film critic José Garcia,
who highlighted the interest in Dostoevsky in contemporary cinema.
What is the Poetics & Christianity Conference
Poetics & Christianity, is an international study
forum for studiyng the intersection of artistic culture and expressions
of religious faith, with a special emphasis on narrative and dramatic
promotes international biennial Conferences to provide a place for meeting
and relationship between academics and artists coming from different fields
and approaches to work.