Monday, December 29, 2008

"The Double" Dostoevsky


Mochulsky writes of The Double: We are again presented with the problem of the loneliness of the human soul, the solitude of consciousness, the escape underground.
Golyadkin himself in one of his last frenzied outbursts to an imaginary interlocutor says of his double: He’s another person, your Excellency, and I’m another person too; he’s apart and I am really myself by myself too; I’m really myself by myself, your Excellency, really myself by myself.

In The Double,- and indeed in Dostoevsky’s early period in general- it is only in solitude that the self is encountered. However, the notion of the self is very fluid, very uncertain, very fractured. In the long monologues (delivered to the reader) which are one of the most salient structural features of the work, Golyadkin sometimes speaks of himself in the first person What an addlepate I am! sometimes in the second You silly old fool, you silly old Golyadkin, sometimes in a dialogue between first and second No, you and I had better be patient, Yakov Petrovich, let us wait and be patient sometimes in the third This Golyadkin’s a rascal, don’t take any notice of him, and don’t mix him up with the other, but the other one’s honest, virtuous, mild, free from malice, and sometimes even in the plural: Being scared is our special line. Even the practice of talking to oneself, implies an ontological split: Who speaks? Who listens?

With others, in company, on the other hand, a mask is assumed, a role is played, and the self is subsumed, lost, drowned or buried, placed to one side, or put away. This creates an anxiety of being, an anxiety which registers in two ways: the projection onto the world of a double; and in dreams, in which subconscious anxieties are revealed. In the dream of Chapter 10, a terrible multitude of duplicates springs into being and obstructs the whole town. Society itself becomes a fracturing of selves; we are other people. Either way the boundary of the self is uncertain: is the self my own solitude? Or is it the roles we play with others? Is it both of these? Is it none?

The real interpretive problem for the reader is deciding whether the double exists in the world, or only as a figment of Mr Golyadkin’s imagination. Other characters appear to see the double, but there is always the possibility that we are seeing their reactions through Mr Golyadkin’s eyes. Although the narrator is always scrupulous to designate Mr Golydakin senior as the real or geniune Mr Golyadkin, and Mr Golyadkin Junior as the man who called himself Mr Golyadkin, or the other, or Mr Golyadkin’s perfidious friend, the objectivity of the narrative voice nonetheless is imperiled by a sneaky use of free indirect discourse to maintain ambiguity. The narrative voice starts out being quite objective, limiting itself to descriptions of scenes and actions the dirty green smoke begrimed dusty walls of his little room,… from his bed he ran straight to a little round looking glass, but gradually as the story progresses and Mr Golyadkin’s situation becomes more fraught, narrative objectivity and certainty evolves into something both more ironic, with sarcastic references to the timid, rabbit-like Golyadkin as our hero, and less objective. The narrative voice reflects Golyadkin’s ontological doubts and anxieties in an increasing multiplicity of voices (a Bakhtinian diglossia), mirroring (doubling) the character’s fracturing of self.
Let’s look at a scene in detail. Here is the opening of chapter 9:

Everything, apparently, and even nature itself, seemed up in arms against Mr. Golyadkin; but he was still on his legs and unconquered; he felt that he was unconquered. He was ready to struggle. He rubbed his hands with such feeling and such energy when he recovered from his first amazement that it could be deduced from his very air that he would not give in. yet the danger was imminent; it was evident; Mr. Golyadkin felt it; but how to grapple with it, with this danger? - that was the question. The thought even flashed through Mr. Golyadkin's mind for a moment, "After all, why not leave it so, simply give up? Why, what is it? Why, it's nothing. I'll keep apart as though it were not I," thought Mr. Golyadkin. "I'll let it all pass; it's not I, and that's all about it; he's separate too, maybe he'll give it up too; he'll hang about, the rascal, he'll hang about. He'll come back and give it up again. That’s how it will be! I'll take it meekly. And, indeed, where is the danger? Come, what danger is there? I should like any one to tell me where the danger lies in this business. It is a trivial affair. An everyday affair. . . ."

We can identify three different voices here:
i) an omniscient objective narrator,
ii) free indirect discourse, in which the narrative voice mimics the character’s voice or reflects the character’s point of view without actually quoting it,
iii) and direct speech, which is presented simply to the reader as the thoughts of the character.
Let’s indulge in some Barthesian analysis here and divide the paragraph up into lexias showing the breaks between the voices. An asterisk * signals the end of a lexia and a switch to another voice:

Everything, * told in voice ii) apparently, * told in voice i) and even nature itself, seemed up in arms * ii) against Mr. Golyadkin; * i) but he was still on his legs and unconquered; * ii) he felt that he was unconquered. * i) He was ready to struggle. * ii) He rubbed his hands with such feeling and such energy when he recovered from his first amazement that it could be deduced from his very air that he would not give in. * i) Yet the danger was imminent; it was evident; * ii) Mr. Golyadkin felt it; * i) but how to grapple with it, with this danger? * ii) - that was the question. the thought even flashed through Mr. Golyadkin's mind for a moment, * i) "After all, why not leave it so, simply give up? Why, what is it? Why, it's nothing. I'll keep apart as though it were not I," * iii) thought Mr. Golyadkin. * i) "I'll let it all pass; it's not I, and that's all about it; he's separate too, maybe he'll give it up too; he'll hang about, the rascal, he'll hang about. He'll come back and give it up again. That's how it will be! I'll take it meekly. And, indeed, where is the danger? Come, what danger is there? I should like any one to tell me where the danger lies in this business. It is a trivial affair. An everyday affair. . . ." * iii)

The first two voices are woven subtly together so that one hardly has time to register their differences in the flow of reading: an illusion of objectivity is thus created. Nonetheless, it does not go far enough to dispel an underlying, ghostly, whispering anxiety: is the double real or not?

Structurally, the novel works like a literary Rorschach blot, with events mirroring or doubling each other: two appearances by the doctor, two gate crashing scenes, two scenes where Mr G is lurking in shadows, behind the cupboard, behind the woodpile, two carriage drives, two interviews between Mr G and his double, two scenes in the office, two encounters with the double in an eatery in which Mr G is left to foot the bill, two shopping scenes, one in the arcade, one when commissioning Petrushka to buy an overcoat…

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Thank you very much for your review, I was at a lost as to how to interpret The Double. You've given a lot of insightful thoughts to chew on, once again thank you for this review.

Dan Z said...

This is such an awesome look at The Double- one of my favourite stories. It's an incredible comedy of psychology, and your interpretation has help open a world of possibilities inside the original.
Cheers!