Book Review: László F. Földényi: Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts Into Tears

FALL 2020

by Hazel Antaramian Hofman

Cohort ’17

Book Cover Dostoyevsky reads Hegel in Siberia and Burts into Tears Image courtesy of the author.
Book Cover. Image courtesy of the author.

We may be more familiar with the names of Dostoyevsky and Hegel than of the author of Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears, László F. Földényi, professor at the University of Theatre, Film, and Television in Budapest, Hungary. It is from my interest in his chapter: ‘The Fatal Theater of Antonin Artaud,’ that I learned of his collection of essays, translated by Ottilie Mulzet and published by Yale University Press in 2020. Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears, as well the title of one of the essays, is a literary assortment in response to the spiritual repercussions after the Enlightenment. Given as modes of mise en scene, Földényi casts his protagonists: Dostoevsky, Goethe, Artaud, Nietzsche, and Elias Canetti, among others, “as the main actors” (Földényi vii) working within the shadows of where mystery lies.

By way of his heroes, Földényi reveals that which was concealed by the Enlightenment. As such, metaphysics is brought back to the fore, transformed in a manner of how shadows cast darkness from the glaring light above because to exist they need each other as “[n]either can be imagined without the other. Illumination existing without darkness is not a part of the human world, just as darkness without illumination is not…the two cannot truly be differentiated from each other” (Földényi ix). Each chapter frames the metaphorical dichotomy of light and darkness. Földényi gives us these dualities as he has his characters interplay with their nemesis: “Hegel and Dostoyevsky. Reason and the monsters. Happiness and melancholy. Faust and Mephistopheles. Lord Chesterfield and the Demon of Frankenstein. The Whole and the Fragment” (Földényi xiii). This is how Földényi allows metaphysics to return into the scene, re-introduced as an integral part of multiplicity, equally devoted to notions of elucidation, like that of reason.

A collection of art forms, myths, artists/thinkers, and etymological tracings are assembled as the edges of the cast shadow to the boundedness of Enlightenment and its heritor of thinkers. Földényi’s argument can be understood by the essay bearing the book’s title: Dostoyevsky is imagined reading Hegel in Siberia in the Spring of 1854, years before he wrote his masterpieces. Dostoyevsky responds to Hegel’s lectures on the philosophy of world history, where we discover the philosopher’s “exclusion and repudiation” (Földényi 33) of Siberia (and Africa) as part of his European inquiry regarding historical culture development after the Greeks. Földényi wants us to consider the bounded divinity in the Hegelian interpretation of history as that operating in a closed system of rationality. Each day takes on a similar trajectory where such humanist ideals have unrelentingly extinguished offerings of an unbounded metaphysics, a place where wonder is not subjected to measure. Yet it is not of the irrational that Földényi says he is veering us toward since “[e]verything that is rational or irrational finds itself within the confines” (Földényi 30), secular or religious narratives intertwined with political overtones. Narrating with thirteen essays, Földényi illustrates places of transcendence and unsubordinated freedom.

Work Cited

Földényi, László F. Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears, translated by Ottilie Mulzet. Yale University Press, 2020.