Dostoevsky Essay Research Paper Thesis Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky Essay, Research Paper

Thesis: Dostoevsky’s manic and depressive episodes aided in his ability to

properly illustrate the workings of the human mind, through his writing.

Outline: I. Introduction II. What is Manic Depression and Depression? III. Other

Writers with Mental Illnesses IV. Dostoevsky’s Life V. Analysis of

"Notes┘" VI. Conclusion Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, author

of several acclaimed books-including "Notes From Underground"-a

semi-autobiographical story, introduced a new form of writing,

"stream-of-consciousness", to Russia and Europe. Soon, this form of

writing that would become the mark of the Existentialist, spread to the

America’s. Interestingly enough, the "stream-of-consciousness" that

manifested itself in his writing was actually the product of a mood disorder,

which can be characterized by intensely emotional thoughts. Caught in a rift of

contrasting thoughts, the Manic-Depressive-commonly endowed with superior

artistic abilities, can be very insightful to the ways of man. Manic-depression

can clinically be defined as a mood disorder with two contrasting states: mania

and depression. There must be an occurrence of one or more Manic or Mixed

episodes and often, the individual has also had one or more Major Depressive

episodes in the past. In Manic-Depressive disorder, also known as Bipolar

disorder, the manic and depressive episodes recur in varying degrees of

intensity. The DSM-IV describes Manic and Depressive episodes as: "The

essential feature is a distinct period when the predominant mood is either

elevated, expansive or irritable, and when there are associated symptoms of the

manic syndrome." These symptoms include hyperactivity, pressure of speech,

flight of ideas, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep,

distractibility, and excessive involvement in activities that have a high

potential for painful consequences, which are not recognized. The manual

describes depressive episodes as: "The essential feature is either a

dysphoric mood, usually depression, or loss of interest or pleasure in most

usual activities and pass-times. This disturbance is prominent, relatively

persistent, and associated with other symptoms of the depressive syndrome."

These symptoms include appetite disturbance, change in weight, sleep

disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings of

worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating or thinking, and thoughts of

death or suicide, or suicidal attempts. Manic Depression is also due to a

biochemical imbalance in the brain. These biochemical reactions include the

"increasing and decreasing of intra- and extracellular sodium, chloride,

and potassium (Beck 65)." The inclining and declining of these functions

support the contrasting manic and depressive moods. "The spirit of genius

no free-floating, absolute power, but is strictly bound to the laws of

biochemistry and the endocrine glands." This again credits the idea that

manic-depression can stimulate artistry. Though it is difficult to prove

Manic-Depressive disorder among those who have passed away, the occurrence of

this behavior and has been traced through letters written to friends and family,

and personal accounts. Creative people, such as Keats, Woolf, and Dostoevsky,

have been named among those who had this illness. Keats’s notes and letters were

evidence of his violent mood swings; his surgery lecture notes, embellished with

many impromptu sketches in the margins were evidence of his wide-ranging

interests, and also of his mercurial nature. Woolf became violent and delusional

in her manic episodes, and when she was in a depressive state, she barely spoke

or ate, and attempted suicide. Born in the hospital for the poor, Dostoevsky was

the second of seven children. He led a happy and peaceful childhood where he

held particular warm feelings towards his family. "It is not abnormal for

one with the Manic-depressive syndrome to live a life of normalcy┘ that

is, of course, until an element of unpleasantry enters his life (Ostow

82)." His father, murdered by his own serfs, had a hot tempered and

irritable state of mind. His mother, described as tender and sensitive with a

literary and musical talent, died when Fyodor was fifteen-years-old. After

graduating from St. Petersburg’s Academy of Military Engineers as lieutenant, he

was assigned to a military department. Dostoevsky worked there for one year

before he realized that working in a department gave him no satisfaction, and

that he wanted to write and work as an author. Later, he became acquainted with

the utopian socialist group, for which he seemed to have become strongman. This

association got him four years in Siberian prison. After a four-year stay at the

Siberian prison, he married a widow and later regained his rights as a nobleman.

Periods of relative prosperity and happiness stopped abruptly Dostoevsky’s wife

and brother died. He was left alone with his brother’s debts, and was resorted

to gambling as a way out from economic difficulties. Except for the last ten

years, the Dostoevsky family suffered from economical difficulties caused by

brother’s debts, an always-begging stepson and Fyodor’s gambling spree. They

also were extremely unlucky regarding their three children. Like Dostoevsky’s

life, his writing contained many avenues down which one could lose his- or

herself. He begins his two-part "Notes From Underground" with a stream

of ironies, a forewarning to the reader of what lies ahead. Seemingly unfocused

and ambiguous, it is possible to see through his writing, and detect his

manic-depression in his style. An obvious example of this is the terminal

confusion in his writing: "I am a sick man… I am a week man. An

unattractive man. I think my liver hurts. However, I don’t know a fig about my

sickness, and am not sure what it is that hurts me. I am not being treated and

never have been, though I respect medicine and doctors. What’s more, I am also

superstitious in the extreme; well, at least enough to respect medicine. (I’m

sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, sir, I refuse to

be treated out of weakness." This terminal confusion is reminiscent of

human nature, and its never-ending cycle. Throughout calamity and affirmative

events in human life, we, as human beings have the tendency to chase our

thoughts, analyzing and dissecting them. Like those in the depressive state,

Dostoevsky, who wrote in the same tempo as his thought patterns, basically

illustrated the way our thought processes work. As though in the midst of

conversation, Dostoevsky assumes the reader’s irritability, "what precisely

am I? — then I will answer you: I am one Collegiate assessor". He refers

to himself as his post. Dostoevsky’s depressive episode comes into play.

"During a depressive episode, feelings of detachment may be exhibited by

the patient, as he may refer to himself in the third person or as an object (Ostow

128)." Likely, it is very much so like humans to refer to themselves as

what they are capable of contributing to society. Detached and forlorn,

depressives get lost in their own worlds. Frantically grasping for what is solid

before them is, at times, the only thing that will keep them together. In this

example, Dostoevsky referring to himself as his post is his way of affirming his

humanity. Dostoevsky was obviously very aware of his Manic-depressive disorder,

He repeatedly points out that he is "overly conscious", and that it is

his sickness and a real sickness. Like some manic-depressives-those being few in

number, he was somehow able to predict his mood changes and was able to make use

of them accordingly. An example of a manic stream of consciousness is as

follows: "To live beyond forty is indecent, banal, immoral! Who does beyond

forty — answer me sincerely, honestly? I’ll tell you who does: fools and

scoundrels do. I’ll say it in the faces of the elders, all these venerable

elders, all the silver-haired and sweet-smelling elders quotation marks! I’ll

say it in the whole world’s face! I have the right to speak this way, because I

myself live to be sixty. A live to be seventy! I’ll live to be

eighty!…weights! Let me catch my breath…" Extremely energetic and

feisty, characteristic of a manic episode, Dostoevsky once again chases his

tail, and we see into the mind of a human being. We have a front row seat of his

hyperactivity rise to the point of exhaustion. He begins with tuning forty, and

goes on to explain how aging beyond this would be indecent-a morbid thought. We

see him quickly rise to the point of pure babble. Excessive speech is also

characteristic of the mania syndrome. Woolf was known to speak on end, night and

day for three whole days, unceasingly (Jamison 56). Dostoevsky refers to himself

a "normal" human being — one who is not overly conscious, as an

insect. There should be no shock that one would think so lowly of himself.

Behind the mask of "the Underground Man", he examines his emotional

stamina, referring to himself as an insect, or a low species of the living (Murry

3). According to Dostoevsky, not thinking and not being conscious, both

internally and externally, is a luxury. In "Notes From Underground",

Dostoevsky takes on a guided tour of the functions of the mind. Debilitating

psychological illnesses can be held accountable for one compulsively

questioning, and burdening themselves with existential thoughts. Dostoevsky’s

Manic-depression gave him, ironically, this ability.

Burke, James. "High Point, Low Point". Excite, 1997. Hershman, D. Jablow

& Lieb, Julien, MD.. A Brotherhood of Tyrants. New York: Prometheus Books,

1994 Jamison, Kay, MD.. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. New

York: Random House, Incorporated, 1995 Lord, Robert. Dostoevsky: Essays and

Perspectives. Berkley and Los Angeles: University Press, 1970 Murry, J.

Middleton. Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Critical Study. London, 1916 Ostow, Mortimer,

M.D.. The Psychology of the Melancholy. New York, Evanston, and London: Harper

& Row, Publishers, 1970 Wasiolek, Edward. Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction.

Cambridge: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1964


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