What is the date today?

Like a man on an exhausting walk across the tundra I am not quite sure where I am. It all looks the same in every direction, featureless; there is no landmark to act as a guide, only the voices that usher me on step by step.

I am reading The Brothers Karamazov. I have no idea if I like it or not but its there, expansive, intimidating. The weight of orthodox icons, obsessive men, religious doctrine and snow is crushing. The snow isn’t another character aiding or impeding but it’s profoundly immanent. It has to be as its Russia and vastness and snow are inscribed into the national character.

The Brothers Karamazov is almost like a long plane flight where the past is erased and the future is uncertain. All there is for the time being is an aisle, the sound of air conditioning and the strange man two seats up on the left who sits very straight in his chair and is still wearing his business shoes.

Freud said the book was” the most magnificent novel ever written.” His reasons for that high opinion may lie in his own profession. His praise was more than likely formed by seeing the work within his own analytical work in psychology. The characters of Karamazov are nothing if not complex – sublime material for a mind, such as Freud’s, to interpret.

It’s almost too predictable to state that Nabokov didn’t share the same view. There is a shambling, rambling never-ending quality to the book which would have provoked stern moral disapproval from him.

Reading very long books is like having one’s mind wiped. They are worlds unto themselves. The stuff on Orthodox doctrine is not easy and seems to have no end. It’s quite difficult to find the beginning too. If you have no compass for such long digressions on faith in that church it is bewildering. All those names and patronymics become hypnotic and it’s a shame we don’t have them. Even so I have forgotten my name Perhaps it’s Sergei Michailovich by now. I’ll have to check in the list of characters.

In the post Fiction is good for absolutely nothing I went over a Cold War story of how the KGB used Dostoevsky to understand their enemy. The CIA, on the other hand, spent millions on game theory and psychologists like the Canadian, Dr Cameron, who proposed a means to erase memory and impose new structures on the human mind.

How any of Russia’s enemies were like the characters in The Brothers Karamazov is intriguing. Government officials are more median type personalities than anything in Dostoevsky. Those characters tend to be on the margins. Maybe by reading Dostoevsky the KGB had forgotten what their objective was.

Despite all his work, Dr Cameron’s ECT treatment in the 1950s was a complete failure. All his patients could say after they had had their brains wiped and restored was “I am at ease with myself.” That is not a very durable sentence. Cameron and the KGB had discovered the means to baffle themselves.

I need to find a new direction. Disorientated people are often asked simple things to establish their mental state such as: What is the date today; what month is it; who is the president of the United States?

I know this; it’s, err, right there…it’s Ford – I’m right, aren’t I?

Guy Cranswick
9th February 2014

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