My Favorite Russians

A version of this essay was published in the Gray Matters section of the Houston Chronicle on 27 December 2015.

It is impossible to explain Russia. But I have to try. http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/gray-matters/article/It-is-impossible-to-explain-Russia-But-I-have-to-5979794.php?t=96073205e6&cmpid=twitter-premium via @HoustonChron

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This week I teach Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a wild ride of a novel that gets you into the head of a murderer.  It is heavy stuff, hard to read, and not because of the sentences.  You feel like you are on a roller coaster, in the mind of someone who might be a sociopath, or a political malcontent, or just a guy who is so crushed by poverty that he doesn’t really know what he is doing.

Except when he does.

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Even before William James was talking about “stream of consciousness,” before his brother Henry was becoming the father of the “psychological novel,” Fyodor Dostoevsky was writing the prose that happens after you have experienced things like flirting with political dissent, enduring the spectre of epileptic seizures, facing a firing squad.

I kid you not.

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Steve Jobs Meets Sophocles

In a previous post (JoePa Meets Nero), I considered the tendency of people to damn the entirety of man’s life’s work because of the evil he committed or allowed. I began wondering, though, if this river ever flows the other way.  Are there people who have made such vast positive contributions that their negative actions are disregarded or ignored?  I found 2 such examples separated by almost 2500 years with surprisingly similar stories: Steve Jobs and Sophocles.  Both were universally acknowledged as geniuses in their own day.  Both were evidently quite lousy people and cruel to those closest to them.  In both cases, people overlooked the latter because of the former. Continue reading