"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, December 10, 2021

Dostoyevsky, Kristeva, and Williams Meet in the Bar of a Bulgarian Dacha

Look at this highly interesting trifecta of writers: Dostoyevsky, Julia Kristeva, and Rowan Williams. All three appear in a new book just published: Dostoyevsky, or The Flood of Language by Julia Kristeva. Translated by Jody Gladding. Foreword by Rowan Williams (Columbia University Press, 2021), 112pp. 

Kristeva is a fascinating scholar and psychoanalyst I have paid too little attention to on here and elsewhere. My sole venture so far was here, writing about her book on psychoanalysis and faith. I also started her Nations without Nationalism but don't think I ever finished it. She comes out of a Bulgarian Orthodox background and has written many books, most of which remain on my endlessly expanding To Be Read list--including New Maladies of the Soul. 

Williams, of course, is the former archbishop of Canterbury, and easily the most scholarly and accomplished man to hold that office in centuries. His scholarship on the Christian East, as seen in such books as his most recent, Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought and the Eastern Christian Traditionis highly respected. And he has--of course he has--written his own book on Dostoevsky, along with scores of others of interest to Eastern (and Western!) Christians. 

Back to the new translation of Kristeva for which Williams has provided the foreword. About this new book, we are told this by the publisher:

Growing up in Bulgaria, Julia Kristeva was warned by her father not to read Dostoyevsky. “Of course, and as usual,” she recalls, “I disobeyed paternal orders and plunged into Dosto. Dazzled, overwhelmed, engulfed.” Kristeva would go on to become one of the most important figures in European intellectual life—and she would return over and over again to Dostoyevsky, still haunted and enraptured by the force of his writing.

In this book, Kristeva embarks on a wide-ranging and stimulating inquiry into Dostoyevsky’s work and the profound ways it has influenced her own thinking. Reading across his major novels and shorter works, Kristeva offers incandescent insights into the potent themes that draw her back to the Russian master: God, otherness, violence, eroticism, the mother, the father, language itself. Both personal and erudite, the book intermingles Kristeva’s analysis with her recollections of Dostoyevsky’s significance in different intellectual moments—the rediscovery of Bakhtin in the Thaw-era Eastern Bloc, the debates over poststructuralism in 1960s France, and today’s arguments about whether it can be said that “everything is permitted.” Brilliant and vivid, this is an essential book for admirers of both Kristeva and Dostoyevsky. It also features an illuminating foreword by Rowan Williams that reflects on the significance of Kristeva’s reading of Dostoyevsky for his own understanding of religious writing.

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