SYMMETRY, DISSYMETRY, AND ANTISYMMETRY IN DOSTOEVSKY'S
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Name: Veronika Makarova, Assistant Professor, Meikai University; Guest researcher AIST, Japan (b. St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia, 1965).
Address: Faculty of Languages and Cultures, Meikai University, 8 Akemi, Meikai, Shin-Urayasu, Japan.
Fields of interest: Linguistics (phonetics), applied linguistics (language teaching methods), cross-cultural studies (students' learning attitudes across cultures; national stereotypes), Russian literature (also ikebana, symmetry).
book, about 40 papers on the above listed subjects.
Dostoevskyís works have been earlier analysed in terms of duality. The
paper concentrates on the novel Crime and Punishment. The author
demonstrates that (dis)symmetry and antisymmetry are the major structural
elements in the novel which are manifested at the levels of characters,
important objects and ideas, composition and text structure.
The concept of (dis)symmetry and
antisymmetry deeply penetrates the art of the West and the Orient (Nagy,
1996). In the analysis of literature, symmetry studies have been mostly
confined to poetry (e.g., Shubnikov and Koptsik, 1974),
whereas it can be helpful to extend them to other genres, such as prose
(e.g., Lyons, 1996). Dostoevsky's works have never been
a subject of a specific symmetry study, yet the theme of duality in his
art is so powerful that it even became the title of one of his stories
(The Double) and has repeatedly attracted the attention of literary
critics (Chizhevsky, 1962; Rahv, 1962;
Monfort, 1963; Jones, 1990). Dostoevsky
himself is often described as an antisymmetrical figure, i.e. composed
of contradictions (Bursov, 1974). In Crime and Punishment
the theme of duality is not expressed explicitly at the surface level,
and therefore the novel is not usually considered in relation to this theme.
However, as this paper tries to show, duality, and wider notions of (dis)symmetry
and antisymmetry are the leading structural elements manifested on all
the levels of the novel.
2 (DIS)SYMMETRIES IN CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
2.1 (DIS)SYMMETRIES OF CHARACTERS
The complex relations between the
characters of the novel were earlier described by Bakhtin
as the 'poliphony of the characters and their voices' (1929). Characters
of the novel fall into groups showing a clear case of distorted symmetry
(or dissymetry) and antisymmetry. In fact, Dostoevsky stops very short
of creating antinomes (two antisymmetrical sides of the phenomenon). The
main character of the novel (Raskol'nikov) is transposed in his utmost
'good' features to the character of Razumihin, his friend, and in his utmost
'bad' extension -- to the character of Svidrigailov, his enemy. Razumihin
and Svidrigailov perform the function of the 'guardian angel' and 'devil'
who according to Orthodox mythology accompany every person throughout his/her
life and metaphysically represent the Godly and the Beastly parts of a
human being. Raskol'nikov appears as if between two mirrors both of which
show his potential alter ego. Svidrigailov and Razumihin are in love with
Raskol'nikov's sister Dunya, who has yet one more admirer-- her fiancé
Luzhin. Linked via Dunya, these men form another symmetry group whereby
the qualities dissymetrically reflected are 'villain (romantic or unromantic)
vs honest person and successful vs failing (socially and in business)'.
Svidrigailov is initially a successful romantic honest villain, Luzhin
is an unromantic successful villain pretending to be honest, and Razumihin
is an unromantic unsuccessful honest person. These qualities, however are
not exactly stable and change along the novel contributing to its dynamism.
Another symmetry group with Raskol'nikov as its axis is composed by the
main female characters of Sonya (Raskol'nikov's prostitute girl-friend),
his sister Dunya and his mother. All the three women love Raskol'nikov
and are willing to do anything for him. Raskol'nikov loves his mother and
sister and passively accepts Sonya's love. Proud Dunya is contrasted with
the virtuous prostitute Sonya. Many other minor symmetry groups can be
found in the novel. In her life as well as in death, the intended victim,
the vicious pawnbroker, is accompanied by her double, the unintended victim,
her meek sister Lizaveta. The Raskol'nikov family (who survive and stand
firm despite any pressure) find their antipodes in the Marmeladov couple
who break down and die unable to support each other and resist the pressure
of the hostile society.
2.2 (DIS)SYMMETRIES IN THE COMPOSITION
The main dissymetry in the novelís
composition is between the reader's knowledge of who the criminal is and
the line of police investigation. The characteristic feature of the composition
is the doubling of the novel into the world of thought and the world of
feverish dreams and hallucinations. The border between them gets washed
away, they rotate in a yin-yang symmetry pattern not only in the tormented
mind of Raskol'nikov, but in the mind of the reader as well. The initial
concept of 'murder' appears to emanate ripples all over the surface of
the novel. A dream of a murdered horse and a 'mind murder' precede the
'real-life' murder of the pawn-broker and result in what Raskol'nikov calls
'murdering himself'. The murder as a solution appears again in the relations
between Dunya and Svidrigailov, and re-echoes in the suicide of Svidrigailov
and the tragic deaths of both elder Marmeladovs. We can see how in these
dissymetrical transformations the murder appears in different aspects:
murder for achieving personal or 'pseudo-altruistic' goals, murder for
defence, murder as an accident, a murder of an individual by society, murdering
oneself. The real criminal Raskolínikov doubles with the 'false' criminal.
The suicide of Svidrigailov, who is Raskol'nikov's 'Beastly' Alter Ego,
prepares Raskol'nikov's spiritual re-birth. Even the objects in the novel
bifurcate, like the axe, the murder weapon, which appears in reality from
the same place as in the dream. Raskol'nikov's coffin-like room is an extension
of his gloomy thoughts and self-inflicted limitations as well as psychological
and mental barriers. At the same time the room is a shrunk copy of the
suffocating Russian society. The circles of Raskol'nikov's thoughts intertwine
with the spiral development of the novelís discourse and plot.
3 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
A solution to the question why such
complex dissymmetrical and antisymmetrical structures were necessary for
the novel can be found firstly, in the association of dissymmetry with
dynamic change (Nagy, 1996). Raskol'nikov's confused mind runs in circles,
it is a perfect assymetry (or negative symmetry). The external forces affect
his mind and he searches for symmetry (harmony) first in a disoriented
way (reflected in the dissymmetries of the surrounding characters and the
plot development). His mind is like a coil pressed too hard which uncurls
in a riot of destruction, and then after many leaps comes to the position
of equilibrium. Finally harmony approaches when in the epilogue Raskolínikov
comes to peace with himself and the world, which is significantly represented
in the content line as a unification with his 'ying' counterpart Sonya.
If we follow understanding of symmetry as harmony and agreement (Ilgen,
1996), than from a strongly dissymetrical state, Raskolínikov gets into
a stage with a higher degree of symmetry. Secondly, dissymmetries help
to "recover process-history" (Leyton, 1992), i.e. dissymetries
of Raskolínikovís mind allow to reconstruct the forces which lead him to
this state, and the changes in the symmetry groups of the main characters
indicate the flow of time. One more function of dissymmetries in the novel
is in making the reader think, since the latter process is born of the
"relation, combination and mutual exclusiveness among concepts" (Tsukamoto,
1996, p. 329). Strictly speaking, symmetry is a mathematical concept, and
it is not directly applicable to works of literature in the same way as
to geometrical figures. It is obvious, however, that some literature, like
the novel Crime and Punishment analysed here, exhibits a high degree
of (dis)symmetry. It appears useful to consider the ways of describing
and measuring the degree and type of symmetry in prosaic literary works.
Ilgen, F. (1996) The synchronizing self: A search for harmony as a process of symmetry breaking, In: Ogawa, T., Miura, K., Masunari, T., and Nagy, D., eds., Katachi and Symmetry, Proceedings of Katachi U Symmetry, Tsukuba University, Tsukuba, Japan, November 21-25, 1994., Tokyo: Springer-Verlag, 315-322
Nagy, D. (1996) The Western Symmetry and the Japanese Katachi shake hands: Interdisciplinary study of symmetry and morphological science (formology), In: Ogawa, T., Miura, K., Masunari, T., and Nagy, D., eds., Katachi and Symmetry, Proceedings of Katachi U Symmetry, Tsukuba University, Tsukuba, Japan, November 21-25, 1994., Tokyo: Springer-Verlag, 27-46.
Lyons, P. (1996) Women's narratives and anti-narrattives: Re-reading Japanese traditions, In: Ogawa, T., Miura, K., Masunari, T., and Nagy, D., eds., Katachi and Symmetry, Proceedings of Katachi U Symmetry, Tsukuba University, Tsukuba, Japan, November 21-25, 1994., Tokyo: Springer-Verlag, 109-116.
Tsukamoto, A. (1996) Styles of thinking, In: Ogawa, T., Miura, K., Masunari, T., and Nagy, D., eds., Katachi and Symmetry, Proceedings of Katachi U Symmetry, Tsukuba University, Tsukuba, Japan, November 21-25, 1994., Tokyo: Springer-Verlag, 323-332.