Book: “Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties: Translations and Considerations”

Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties: Translations and Considerations

Rainer Maria RilkeJohn J. L. Mood (Translator)

Here is a mini-anthology of poetry and prose for both aficionados and those readers discovering Rainer Maria Rilke for the first time. John J. L. Mood has assembled a collection of Rilke’s strongest work, presenting commentary along with the selections. Mood links into an essay passages from letters that show Rilke’s profound understanding of men and women and his ardent spirituality, rooted in the senses.

Combining passion and sensitivity, the poems on love presented here are often not only sensual but sexual as well. Others pursue perennial themes in his work—death and life, growth and transformation. The book concludes with Rilke’s reflections on wisdom and openness to experience, on grasping what is most difficult and turning what is most alien into that which we can most trust.


Book: “Confessions”


Augustine of HippoHenry Chadwick (Translator/Introduction)Albert Cook Outler (Translator) …more

Augustine’s Confessions is one of the most influential and most innovative works of Latin literature. Written in the author’s early forties in the last years of the fourth century A.D. and during his first years as a bishop, they reflect on his life and on the activity of remembering and interpreting a life. Books I-IV are concerned with infancy and learning to talk, schooldays, sexual desire and adolescent rebellion, intense friendships and intellectual exploration. Augustine evolves and analyses his past with all the resources of the reading which shaped his mind: Virgil and Cicero, Neoplatonism and the Bible. This volume, which aims to be usable by students who are new to Augustine, alerts readers to the verbal echoes and allusions of Augustine’s brilliant and varied Latin, and explains his theological and philosophical questioning of what God is and what it is to be human. The edition is intended for use by students and scholars of Latin literature, theology and Church history.


Western People Will Remain Neurotically Miserable Until They Consider This Teaching

Ancient wisdom survived for a very good reason. Will you use it?

Rami Dhanoa

Rami Dhanoa

Published in Orient Yourself

Jan 16 (

Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz.

Did you know the entire foundation of Freud’s work has been called ‘pseudoscientific’ by critics?

He wasn’t studying the norm of human psychology. He studied neurotics and sexually repressed beatniks on the fringes of society — figuring out all the reasons why our minds go downhill.

So if, from its very inception, Western psychology’s study of mental health has been all about its negative axis, can it show us how to find the (permanently) positive?

Not a chance.

So upgrade your toolkit, quickly

The term mental health is thrown around without any real acknowledgement of the etymological implications of phrasing it the same way as physical health.

Just like the body and its various systems, your mind has inputs and processes, too.

Except these encompass much more: worldview, habits, and cultural beliefs, in addition to the nervous system.

The Dalai Lama once remarked that a mental affliction is anything that disturbs the balance of the mind.

By that definition, Western Civilization is practically a gigantic insane asylum that actively encourages affliction in the form of big box shopping, horror movies, trauma-pornographic news stories, and outrage activism.

But that’s precisely why the technique to come out of this madness is so radically simple.

Test yourself with this

Eastern and Western paradigms of psychology differ, but there is one thing that is just common sense, across cultures and civilizations.

People who can keep their cool are always considered more mature than those quick to ignite the flames of passion.

It’s epitomized most succinctly in the following verse from one of the most popular Hindu philosophical texts, the Yoga Vasishta:

To be unperturbed is the foundation of blessedness (sri). One attains liberation by it.

To human beings even the conquest of the three worlds, without the conquest of the mind, is as insignificant as a blade of grass!

In Indic cultures, the honorific sri often precedes the names of great leaders or spiritual teachers, but the word itself means abundance.

The greatest prosperity and highest achievement in a Dharmic civilization is the eradication of mental perturbances and the ability to function in a world full of them without being imbalanced and possessed by their pull.

This is the great tragedy of the modern world

Despite all the rapid influx of Eastern philosophical ideas like mindfulness, have we actually managed to integrate East and West?

We’re barely able to acknowledge our cultural and psycho-philosophical poverty, in comparison to Asia!

If Western psychology had started seriously studying living Buddhas, accomplished yogis, and Olympic-level meditators sooner, it might have come to the conclusion that there is a profound level of freedom from afflictions that should be the point and purpose of psychology in the first place.

Thankfully, the tools to get there are now more accessible than ever, and it’s never too early to start.

This technique is precisely what the West needs

Your inner imperturbability is the litmus test. Not only for how you function in outer life, but how effective your inner one is (with all its so-called meditation practice).

  • If you get easily disturbed by outer and inner events that pop up, practice slowing, steadying, and stilling your mind until you regain control over your reactions.

Developing resilience to affliction is all about remaining balanced in the face of it.

The practice calm-establishing meditation is the most common prerequisite of all higher Buddhist practices; it’s even been said that without this trait fully established, we don’t even have minds. Our minds have us.

This message is echoed in the Yoga Sutras, which say the ability to fix your mind on one object (most commonly the breath, a mental image, or the mind and the appearances that arise within it) should be the method for overcoming afflictions.

It’s so simple

We place the object, and detach from our tendencies to get caught up in anything else.

We detach even from our willpower’s tendency to get itself hijacked/caught up in something else. “You” are now a calm, instantly self-correcting, laxed but bright witnessing awareness.

The profound difficulty of this dawns when you realize how deeply we’re conditioned into doing the opposite: of humoring the afflictive tendencies.

Distraction, lethargy, sensual desire, rumination, and aversion multiple whenever we are mindless enough to let them.

Yet this too can be overcome merely with continued practice, which provides a powerful new conditioning!

If you’re keen on learning more about specific meditations from a well-reputed scholar, the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies has some free recordings of guided meditations that have profoundly helped me.

Mental health isn’t about mental illness

It’s about developing resilience to it.

Thinking of my mental health as a spectrum was the easiest way for me to begin recovering from chronic dysthymia and social anxiety.

If insanity and illness are at the bottom, then the opposite end isn’t health and stability.

It’s enlightenment, or total freedom from the afflictions in the first place!

This is something worth striving for, no matter where you are along the path. And the first step to that freedom?

The smaller freedom of simply being able to sit for 20 minutes at a time, observing a point of focus, and releasing the mind’s obsession with distraction.

Before long, you’ll know exactly what it means to be resilient.

Rami Dhanoa

Written by Rami Dhanoa

·Editor for Orient Yourself

Re-thinking human potential with meditation & Indic philosophy.

Scientists Are Finally Taking Altered States of Consciousness Seriously

If we want to understand our consciousness, we must not be afraid to break new ground.

By: Marc Wittmann


Through greater or lesser variations in consciousness we can learn a lot about the processes that underpin the self-conscious mind. However, for a long time extraordinary consciousness experiences have either been ignored by the mainstream natural sciences or have been explicitly denigrated as nonexistent — as the fantasies of cranks. In states of consciousness that are produced during spontaneous mystical experiences for some people, in experiences associated with meditative states, in drug experiences, in states of hypnosis or trance, and sometimes while listening to music, the perception of time and space is altered in extreme ways, as I document throughout my book “Altered States of Consciousness.”

This article is excerpted from Marc Wittmann’s book “Altered States of Consciousness.”

In addition, notwithstanding the variability of such experiences and their circumstances, the accounts of people who have had extreme experiences, whether in situations of danger (near-death experiences) or in the face of particular neurological and psychiatric conditions, further suggest extraordinary states of consciousness wherein time, space, and the experience of self are intensely altered. These phenomena, too, were largely ignored by scientists in the second half of the 20th century because conventional scientific theories could not furnish any explanation. For example, the “ecstatic auras” of Fyodor Dostoevsky that preceded his epileptic attacks, which were associated with incredible feelings of happiness and harmony with himself and the world, have only recently become the subject of serious neurological research.

The “ecstatic auras” of Fyodor Dostoevsky that preceded his epileptic attacks have only recently become the subject of serious neurological research.

Times are changing. The very fact that in the past few decades the theme of consciousness itself has become a central topic for psychologists and neuroscientists signals a transformation in the scientific landscape. For example, it is said among distinguished brain researchers that just 30 years ago they dared not disclose that their actual research topic was consciousness — they had to say they were studying visual perception, or processes of attention. The prevailing advice was not to “out” yourself as a consciousness researcher before achieving permanent tenure of employment. Of course by then, psychology was no longer dominated by the kind of behaviorism that, with its stimulus-response models, rejected consciousness as superfluous. But even subsequent paradigms in the cognitive sciences had no need for the concept of consciousness. How much harder it was then for scientists who were researching “altered states of consciousness.” If consciousness itself was unworthy of attention, there was certainly no need to investigate altered states of consciousness.

Sociologists of science must take a close look at what has caused this turn toward an acceptance of the phenomena. There is, for example, the punishment of Ignaz Semmelweis in the 19th century, whose hygiene rules for hospitals were dismissed as “speculative nonsense,” although they merely dictated that after dissecting corpses doctors should wash their hands before attending births in the maternity wards. The Austro-Hungarian doctor had shown empirically that in wards where the doctors washed their hands, cases of puerperal fever decreased significantly. Semmelweis’s available empirical findings were simply ignored. A new generation of doctors would have to replace the old before the deadly puerperal fever could be combated effectively.

Had it been introduced just a few years earlier, research by the neurologist Olaf Blanke into out-of-body experiences would have probably been dismissed as “speculative nonsense.” Under experimental conditions, Blanke triggered an out-of-body experience in a female neurological patient at the University Hospital in Geneva. In 2002 he published his findings in Nature, one of the two most important natural science journals. During spontaneous out-of-body experiences, people have the impression that they can leave their body and float above it, observing themselves from above. Accident victims also report such experiences, as have some patients after a cardiac arrest (as can be read in the impressive accounts of Péter Nádas) who, to all appearances, were unconscious at the time of the out-of-body experience but who nevertheless can later recount their experience in detail. Patients report having “seen” the scene of the accident, and the procedures carried out by the paramedics and emergency doctors on their body, as it lay on the ground and they observed all this from above.

The patient described by Olaf Blanke and his colleagues had had electrodes implanted to evaluate her epileptic attacks by measuring the seizure activity in response to local stimulation, a procedure in which the patient remains fully conscious. Electrically stimulating the angular gyrus region on the right side of the brain led to selective perceptions of alterations in physical position. In the case of two stimulations, the patient reported a feeling of weightlessness and that she was around two meters above the bed, very close to the ceiling. The patient had no knowledge of which area had just been stimulated. These somatosensory experiences, of a type reported by people again and again, could thus be triggered experimentally and linked to processes in a narrowly circumscribed area of the brain. Of course this does not mean that out-of-body experiences are situated strictly locally in the right angular gyrus; but it suggests that this part of the brain is a significant factor in the occurrence of such experiences, in a way we do not completely understand.

Had it been introduced just a few years earlier, research by the neurologist Olaf Blanke into out-of-body experiences would have probably been dismissed as “speculative nonsense.”

Moreover, some of the stimulations produced the feeling of falling suddenly from a height. Many people are familiar with this sensation, as it sometimes happens shortly before falling asleep: You have the feeling of falling; you might even think you will fall out of bed onto the floor. But nothing has happened — you are still lying peacefully in bed. Olaf Blanke’s neurological research also provides clues to these better-known states of consciousness. This feeling of falling at the onset of sleep might also be traced to neural processes in the area of the angular gyrus, operating with some minor glitches. (Of course, the publication of these research results in a prestigious scientific journal was also due to the fact that the researchers were working with methods of brain research, making it more acceptable.)

This transformation in the sciences is also evident in contemporary research into the short-term and long-term effects of meditation. The practices of focused silence and contemplative prayer have existed for millennia. It is striking that over the last decade psychologists and brain researchers have more frequently addressed meditation as a research topic, and this work increasingly garners media attention. Meditation, as a form of psychological intervention, has even been incorporated into hospitals’ clinical practice. Research findings on the effects of meditation are clear: Just a few weeks’ practice of meditation improves performance in terms of attentiveness and short-term memory, effects that demonstrably accompany alterations in brain structure. It can also be seen that those who meditate perceive their bodies more intensively, achieve stronger emotional self-control, and in the long term experience more positive emotions. More important, however, in the context of my work, is the fact that people who meditate regularly have extraordinary consciousness experiences — of calmness of thought, or of the self being one with the world — during their meditation, sometimes even after a short time of practice; more frequently, however, after they have been meditating intensively for many years. For some years these experiences have also been recorded scientifically. For example, in a study that may call to mind disconcerting images, Carmelite nuns were examined using a brain scanner as they prayed, in order to identify the brain activity associated with a mystical communion with God.

But what has enabled such a shift in scientific approach, whereby these “speculative” phenomena more and more are being examined by mainstream researchers? Perhaps it is thanks to a new generation of researchers, who completed their education in a society — reflected in its universities — that is moving toward greater social and psychological openness. Perhaps linked to this new openness is the fact that more people who have had such intensive experiences have by now pursued scientific careers. The neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger, who conducts research alongside Olaf Blanke, theoretically processing the results pertaining to the relationship between body and consciousness, had a few out-of-body experiences himself as a young adult — experiences that led to a search for answers.

Further, there are scientists whose own formative experiences, whether with meditation or with hallucinogens, influenced their choice of profession; some have gone on to investigate extraordinary states of consciousness. Of course, the employment of established methods of brain research in this work has been a factor in its growing acceptance in the scientific community as a whole. Ultimately, though, it is up to the researchers to first tackle the topic itself, then hold their ground in the arena of more traditional ideas and among entrenched academics who may not be so open to new ones.

“Openness to experience” is one of the five dominant human personality traits (the so-called Big Five). In his book “Consciousness Beyond Life,” Pim van Lommel shows how personality influences scientists to ignore phenomena, describing doctors’ attitude of denial toward the topic of near-death experience. The book recounts an episode that took place at a conference on the topic, when a doctor responded to a speaker:

“I’ve worked as a cardiologist for twenty-five years now, and I’ve never come across such absurd stories in my practice. I think this is complete nonsense; I don’t believe a word of it.” Whereupon another man stood up and said, “I’m one of your patients. A couple of years ago I survived a cardiac arrest and had an NDE, and you would be the last person I’d ever tell.”

Scientific dogmas and attitudes to life are scarcely ever changed through rational argument. Such shifts require life-changing experiences, of the “road to Damascus” kind, that affect the researcher emotionally. Toward the end of his life and after a heart attack, the logical positivist A. J. Ayer, whose philosophy might be summed up as “only what can be empirically proven and is factually and logically correct exists,” had a near-death experience that at least got him thinking. The London Sunday Telegraph gave Ayer’s description of his near-death experience the strapline “What I saw when I was dead.” If Ayer had previously been an avowed atheist, who assumed that there was nothing after an individual’s death, he now spoke more cautiously. He still remained an outstanding analyst, and reasoned that for a time after the cardiac arrest brain functions might still exist that could have produced these experiences. In his last essay, “Postscript to a Postmortem,” Ayer describes how, affected by his experience, he relinquished his polemical position against the belief in life after death in favor of a still skeptical but nevertheless more open-minded attitude. For him the idea of an afterlife was now at least worthy of research. And indeed for some years there has been vigorous research activity into near-death experience, which is published in the most important medical journals.

Even perhaps the most important sleep researcher had to undergo his own dramatic experience before he began to take dreams seriously and ascribe meaning to them.

Even perhaps the most important sleep researcher, it is said, had to undergo his own dramatic experience before he began to take dreams seriously and ascribe meaning to them. It is hard to believe, but Allan Hobson, the sleep researcher, discovered only toward the end of his career that “dreams are not just froth.” For his entire life as a researcher, Hobson had fought with great conviction and polemic against Sigmund Freud’s dream theory, repeatedly emphasizing the random and chaotic nature of dream contents. Then the accident happened: After a stroke affecting the brain stem, in a specific region that is linked to the sleep-wake cycle and which he himself had studied over the course of his career, Hobson was unable to sleep for eight days and did not dream for a month. This brought about a psychotic state in which he began to hallucinate the most incredible narratives. To his annoyance, however, no doctor was interested in the content of his “merely” subjective hallucinations. This life-changing experience motivated him to get involved more intensively and systematically with the subjective aspect of sleep and the substance of sleep consciousness. Only his own perspective was enough to convince him.

If we want to understand our consciousness — our subjectivity — then we must put aside our prejudices and transcend certain boundaries of our own creation. The American philosopher Thomas Nagel describes this attitude of mind in the introduction to his book “The View from Nowhere”:

I believe that the methods needed to understand ourselves do not yet exist. So my book contains a great deal of speculation about the world and how we fit into it. Some of it will seem wild, but the world is a strange place, and nothing but radical speculation gives us hope of coming up with any candidates for the truth.

I do not consider the ideas in my book to be radical speculation. I have brought together empirical findings from various branches of the sciences to form a whole. From this emerges a clear picture of the psychological and neuronal foundations of our time consciousness, as it is linked to our consciousness of self. From speculation we reach hypotheses. And, in the empirical sciences, hypotheses are there to be tested. This is the business of the researcher. To be continued.

Marc Wittmann is Research Fellow at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany. He is the author of “Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time” and “Altered States of Consciousness,” from which this article is excerpted.

Elon Musk Claims the First Human Subject Has Gotten a Neuralink Implant In Their Brain


The first human patient has reportedly had the Neuralink computer chip implanted into their brain, according to a tweet from Elon Musk, marking either a milestone for people with neurodegenerative disorders, or one giant leap for oligarch mind control.

It’s a sign of who Elon Musk is that perhaps the most useful and meaningful company he has co-founded, the Fremont-based Neuralink whose technology could potentially give paralyzed people the power to move things, is best known for Elon knocking up an attractive young female executive to the dismay of pop star Grimes. So the maturity issues and unnecessary personal drama have thus far overshadowed what may be the most important (or dystopian) of any product in the checkered Musk portfolio.  

Neuralink, if it’s all it’s cracked up to be, would build a coin-sized computer chip that would be implanted into the human brain, and allow thoughts (in the form of brain chemical signals known as neurons) to control objects, likely connected objects like computers or smartphones. And according to Reuters and a tweet from Neuralink co-founder Musk, a Neuralink chip has been implanted into the brain of its first human subject.

Mind you, this is just Musk claiming on Twitter that “The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well. Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.” There is no data presented here to back any of this up, nor anything scientifically peer-reviewable. (And Musk is the same guy who claimed that the glitchy mega-fail of the Ron DeSantis campaign announcement chat on Twitter was somehow a wild success).

But as Reuters points out, the FDA has given Neuralink clearance to do clinical trials on human subjects. So there is some adult oversight here.

CNN explains that the first product Neuralink is trying to develop is called Telepathy, which hopes its chips can be placed in part of the brain that controls movement. The chip would then send signals to a connected device, like a smartphone or computer, such that a person with paralysis or neurodegenerative diseases could then control said devices.

But Neuralink has had its share of screwups, too. Reuters reported in late 2022 that botched Neuralink experiments led to the deaths of more than 1,500 animals, which then led to a federal probe into the company. Plus as KTVU reminds us, Nueralink’s first request for human trials was rejected by the FDA, though the trials are federally sanctioned and underway now.

It’s also important to note that Neuralink is not the only company in the game. Other startups like Synchron also hope to build brain-computer interfaces, and they’ve got a couple-year head start on Neuralink, as they’ve been doing approved clinical trials since 2021.

“The idea of brain-nervous system interfaces has great potential to help people with neurological disorders in future,” British Neuroscience Association president Tara Spires-Jones said in an interview with the UK’s Science Media Center. “However, most of these interfaces require invasive neurosurgery and are still in experimental stages thus it will likely be many years before they are commonly available.”

In the case of Neuralink, the human thoughts (neurons) would communicate with an app. And yes this could be a massive breakthrough for the physically impaired. But it’s also crossing a rubicon where apps not only store your location data, but humans thoughts themselves. That may be cause for concern given tech companies’ track record on privacy, and there are also ethical concerns over the potential for manipulation of human emotions.

Related: Elon Musk Showcases Working Neuralink Implant in Pig, Livestreams Brain Activity [SFist]

Image: Neuralink surgically implant some computer components onto the surface of your brain to control equipments (Getty Images)

Tarot Card for January 31: The Fopur of Swords

The Four of Swords

The Lord of Truce marks a period where we are able to rest and recover, after a difficult time in our lives. It will appear after trauma – the breakdown of a relationship; a troublesome and worrying time financially; an operation or major illness.

There will always have been conflict and stress beforehand, this card marks the kind of breathing space we often need in order to clarify our view of the situation, to gather our strength and to decide how best to move forward. When this card appears in a reading, the first thing it tells us is that it is time to rest, time to stop worrying about the things that have happened.

However, it must be noted that Truce is not peace. This is a respite – a down time in which we can catch our breath, ease our tension and relax for a brief time. But once that has been done, we need to recognise that there is still more to be done – the battle isn’t over yet. So when acting under the influence of this card, bear in mind that first you must take it easy, but then you must begin to plan your next step.

If we fail to do that, then when the effect of the Lord of Truce passes away, we shall be left high and dry, with no route planned for our future. And in that case the turmoil which preceded this card may well manifest again.

Sometimes, when the card comes up with a ‘person’ card, it indicates that a rift can begin to be mended between two people who have been at loggerheads previously. In this case, again, it is important to stress that this card does not indicate peace – as before, much more work will need to be done before the damage is entirely healed. We need to be on our guard, too, for other people running personal agendas which may mean that the ‘truce’ is more convenient than sincere.

Book: “Works of Love”

Works of Love

Søren KierkegaardHoward Vincent Hong (Editor)Edna Hatlestad Hong ((Editor))

The various kinds and conditions of love are a common theme for Kierkegaard, beginning with his early Either/Or , through “The Diary of the Seducer” and Judge William’s eulogy on married love, to his last work, on the changelessness of God’s love. Works of Love , the midpoint in the series, is also the monumental high point, because of its penetrating, illuminating analysis of the forms and sources of love. Love as feeling and mood is distinguished from works of love, love of the lovable from love of the unlovely, preferential love from love as the royal law, love as mutual egotism from triangular love, and erotic love from self-giving love.


This work is marked by Kierkegaard’s Socratic awareness of the reader, both as the center of awakened understanding and as the initiator of action. Written to be read aloud, the book conveys a keenness of thought and an insightful, poetic imagination that make such an attentive approach richly rewarding. Works of Love not only serves as an excellent place to begin exploring the writings of Kierkegaard, but also rewards many rereadings.

Why You Should Read Dostoevsky

Rational Badger

Rational Badger

Sep 16, 2023 (

Dostoyevsky beyond Crime and Punishment

Portrait of Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872

For most of my life, I have not been much of a fiction reader. But in 2018, I gave it a serious try, particularly about Russian literature (I am lucky to be able to read these masterpieces in the original language), and I fell in love with it. Since then, I have read tens of thousands of pages of Russian literature and haven’t looked back since. You can find the article I wrote about my experiences and views on Russian literature here.

As I got into my reading quest, I often carried books with me. This led to some interesting conversations (it is amazing how popular Russian Literature is in Türkiye, where I live). One of the topics that came up time and again was Dostoevsky, particularly Crime and Punishment. One of the masterpieces of world literature. But while it was impressive to see how many people had read the novel, or knew about it, it was significantly fewer people who had read any other works by Dostoevsky. Beyond Crime and Punishment, there was typically very little to talk about.

This is unfortunate. Dostoevsky’s literary legacy is worthwhile to explore. It is profound and is rich with works that delve into the complexities of human nature, spirituality, morality, and existentialism. Let me try to convince you why you should read more of Dostoevsky, and highlight the specific works that I believe are not to be missed.

Let’s start with why. Dostoevsky has had a profound impact on literature, psychology, and philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche said about Dostoevsky that he was “the only psychologist I have anything to learn from”. Dostoevsky basically launched Existentialism with his Notes from the Underground, and heavily influenced Camus, Kafka, and Sartre. Or did you know that Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver with Robert de Niro is closely based on Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground? Or this — when Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather, he was inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Or take Woody Allen’s Match Point — and the obvious parallels of the story with Crime and Punishment.

Reading Dostoevsky’s works can be a deeply enriching and thought-provoking experience for several reasons:

  • He is a master at exploring and describing human psychology. His characters grapple with moral dilemmas and inner conflicts. Dostoevsky shows the inner darkness and inner struggles that we can often relate to. Making moral choices is a typical theme — the complexities of how people arrive at these decisions, how they fail to make moral choices, and the consequences of their actions shown through the lens of his characters provoke ethical introspection. Intricate insights into the minds of his characters are what makes Dostoevsky’s works unique for his time and frankly, for any time.
  • His novels often explore philosophical (including existential) themes. Dostoevsky often goes into complex topics, purpose and meaning of life, the search for meaning, the nature of free will, the existence of God, religion, the nature of evil, suffering, and morality, prompting us, the readers, to reflect on our beliefs and philosophies.
  • His social and political commentary. Dostoevsky critically examines the social and political issues of his time, in Russia, including poverty, radical ideologies, dangers of groupthink, and class struggle. He was clearly against the serfdom system but did not approve of egalitarian systems and utopias (in some of his works he seemingly foresaw the arrival of communism).
  • He creates complex and nuanced characters. Dostoevsky’s characters are not good or bad. They feel real, relatable, multi-dimensional, flawed, and deeply human. Alyosha, Dmitri, and Ivan Karamazovs, as well as their father Fyodor, Prince Myshkin, Rodion Raskolnikov, Father Zosima, Nastasya Filipovna, Sonia Marmeladova, Grushenka, Nikolai Stavrogin, the Underground Man and so many others.
  • His works have cultural and historical significance. Dostoevsky created some of the best works of the classical literature. Familiarity with his works is essential for anyone interested in the history and development of literature.
  • His works leave a strong and lasting emotional impact. Dostoevsky’s works evoke strong emotions. Regardless of whether it is tension or philosophical debates, reading Dostoevsky can be intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging. After every work of his I read, I wanted to read the views of literary critics and ordinary readers. The novel itself was not enough. I felt like I needed to have a discussion with someone, to go over my takeaways and see if other people came out of the reading experience with different conclusions. I constantly caught myself forming very strong opinions on what characters did or did not.

I should add that something that seems to have strongly influenced Dostoevsky’s works is that at the age of 28, he was almost executed as he belonged to a group of dissidents and was pardoned at the last minute. He was instead sent to a Siberian labor camp, an experience that of course influenced Crime and Punishment, but also gave him plenty of material to work with, for example in constructing the detective elements in his novels — such as Brothers Karamazov.

Dostoevsky’s storylines have turns and twists, but it always feels natural. Believable. Even when unexpected. We see the extremes people are capable of. The good and the bad. As much as I love to read Bulgakov and Tolstoy, it is in Dostoevsky’s works that I feel like — yes, I can see this happening, I can see myself ending up in a similar predicament to his characters. And I think that is the most important thing that Dostoevsky manages to achieve in his work — we know it could be us. We could be Raskolnikov, or Myshkin, or Stavrogin. If the circumstances of our life are shaped differently, completely possible. As Solzhenitsyn said: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”

In today’s fast-paced world, when we are anxious to learn (as we should), we might tend to focus on non-fiction. There is nothing wrong with that. But to understand ourselves, to understand other people, our communities, and societies, fiction is irreplaceable. And if you read fiction, read classics I say. Reading a few of Dostoevsky’s works might have a better impact on your understanding of yourself and others than going through a psychology textbook.

Here are my favorites of Dostoevsky’s works (other than Crime and Punishment) that I wholeheartedly recommend. I have only selected five, but you could easily extend this list with other amazing works by Dostoevsky:

  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Idiot
  • Demons
  • Notes from the Underground
  • The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Don’t forget Crime and Punishment of course. I assume you have already read it, and if you have not, add it to the list too. 🙂

The Brothers Karamazov, 1880

“I think the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.” — Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

This line gave me chills. Naturally, this is a line by a character, not necessarily something Dostoevsky himself believed.

What is this almost 1,000-page book about? This is a detective story that is an exploration of faith, free will, doubt, and moral responsibility. The story is about three brothers, the mysterious murder of their father, and their complex family dynamics. Each brother is different — Dmitry is passionate and impulsive, Ivan is the rational intellectual, and the youngest Alesha is spiritual and compassionate. Through exploration of their actions, thought processes, and interactions (the story has a complex narrative structure — we get to see multiple perspectives) we examine the human soul and morality.

Freud called it “the most magnificent novel ever written”. Einstein called it “the ultimate psychological and philosophical novel, the most wonderful thing I’ve ever laid my hand on”. The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s last great novel and it is the deepest and most complex one, arguably his greatest work.

The Idiot, 1868–1869

“Beauty Will Save the World” — Dostoevsky, The Idiot

At some 600 pages, Dostoevsky’s favorite work, The Idiot is about kindness and innocence in the world of cynicism and moral decay. It is the story of Prince Myshkin, a naive man (who others call an ‘idiot’) who returns to Russia after being abroad for epilepsy treatment (note that Dostoevsky himself was an epileptic). His moral purity is in stark contrast with the corrupt society of Saint Petersburg he finds himself in. Myshking, a version of Don Quixote, gets entangled in the lives of two women (amazing characters), Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaya Yepanchin, the story takes us through a series of complex, emotional, and tragic events, exploring themes of love, individual values versus societal norms, idealism versus pragmatism, atheism versus religion, trauma and guilt.

The Idiot was perhaps Dostoevsky’s most personal novel and an amazing exploration of the theme of good versus evil.

Demons, 1872

If you want to overcome the world, overcome yourself — Dostoevsky, Demons

At over 750 pages, Demons is perhaps one of Dostoevsky’s most underrated novels. I loved it. I read it and re-read it immediately after. Demons is perhaps the most political of Dostoevsky’s works. In a typical Dostoevsky style, it focuses on a murder story and explores themes of radicalism (particularly among the educated class), terrorism, extremism, and predicts the arrival of communism and its likely destructive consequences, but also critiques capitalism, particularly social inequality. Demons can be interpreted as a warning, which Russia unfortunately did not heed.

As usual, Dostoevsky paints a complex picture though. Not all revolutionaries are described as evil or nihilists. I think Dostoevsky’s genius was that he could appeal to young revolutionaries and religious conservatives at the same time.

The quote above, for example, is by Ivan Shatov, who was torn between his revolutionary ideals and inner moral conflicts. He meant that real change begins with self-awareness and moral transformation. Compare that to Nikolai Stavrogin, the charismatic and morally conflicted character. He engages in acts that are morally repugnant and shocking, and could not care less, or at least wants to seem like he does not. His nihilism seems to be a result of his inability to otherwise find meaning or redemption.

Demons is a highly complex and thought-provoking novel and quite frankly, in this novel, Dostoevsky is at his most terrifying. More than Crime and Punishment in my view. A masterful exploration of the darkness that can consume the human soul.

Notes from Underground, 1864

I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea— Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground

At some 120 pages, this is a shorter entry in the list, but one of the most powerful. In this piece, Dostoevsky goes deep into the exploration of the human mind, with its contradictions. It is a monologue by a nameless character. There is reason and irrationality. Struggle for meaning and authenticity, as you can see from the quote above, cynicism. Isolation and self-destructive behavior.

Notes from Underground is a powerful critique of rationalism and is the work that launched existentialist literature, serving as an inspiration for Kafka, Camus, Sartre, and many others. Notes from Underground leaves a strong impression — it is a psychological exploration that triggers reflection on our own struggles and existential dilemmas, engages the reader philosophically, particularly on the topics of free will and morality, it has an interesting narrative style. What I found impressive was how Dostoevsky created an unlikeable character which we gradually develop empathy for, forcing us to appreciate the complexity of being a human.

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, 1877

I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of mankind — Dostoevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

This is a short story, but there is a lot packed into it. It describes how one man decides to commit suicide after despairing about humanity and the world. He falls asleep and is transported to another world where he finds a perfect society of pure and innocent beings. I don’t want to spoil the story if you have not read it, but let’s just say this is a story of moral redemption, the transformation that the main character goes through. The dream prompts him to reevaluate his views, resulting in a renewed sense of purpose. I would put the Dream of a Ridiculous Man in my top 10 of best short stories ever written.

And here you are. Let me add that yes, Crime and Punishment is a masterpiece. But to truly appreciate Dostoevsky, one needs to venture beyond his most famous work and dig into the entirety of his literary legacy.

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Rational Badger

Written by Rational Badger

I am a humanitarian worker fascinated about helping people reach and exceed their potential. I write about learning, self-improvement, BJJ and much more.