Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

The “Comedic Coefficient” in Dostoevsky: Tragicomedy in The Idiot

Fri31  Mar02:30pm(15 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 250


Alina Wyman1
1 New College of Florida, United States


From the outrageous stand-up comedy of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov to the pretentious, multi-lingual jokes of Stepan Trofimovich in Demons, to the стёб-like antics of Ivan’s Devil, Dostoevsky’s world abounds in comedy, forcing his readers to take Dostoevskian laughter seriously and to reflect on its metaphysical and spiritual necessity. Dostoevsky’s hero may be funny or ridiculous or markedly devoid of a sense of humor, as it were, born without a funny bone, but no matter what it may be, the character’s relationship with humor, his “comedy coefficient,” is always philosophically relevant in Dostoevsky’s world. This paper will reflect on the philosophical significance of laughter in Dostoevsky and will examine the use of tragicomedy in The Idiot as a way of enacting an existential or global joke, an important motif in Dostoevsky’s post-Siberian prose, starting with Notes from Underground. I will demonstrate that, like the Underground Man, Ippolit finds himself an unwitting subject of a providential pun (kalambur) and will discuss his strategic response to the global joker. Building up on the work of J. Spiegel, I. Lapshin and R. Belknap and using Vladimir Solovyov’s and Lev Pumpiansky’s theories of laughter, I will argue for the spiritual efficacy of a comedic response to existential or ontological jest in The Idiot and explore the weaknesses of Ippolit's metaphysical rebellion, exposed through laughter in the novel.