Call for Papers
Theme: Grand Inquisitors
Subtitle: Dostoevsky and Tarkovsky and the Western Philosophical Tradition
Type: Interdisciplinary Conference
Institution: Russian Cultural Centre
Location: London (United Kingdom)
The philosophical genius of both Fyodor Dostoevsky and Andrei
Tarkovsky was immediately apparent. Of Dostoevsky’s first novel, Poor
Folk (1846), renowned literary critic Vissarion Belinsky proclaimed
to the young novelist: “To you, an artist, the truth has been
revealed and proclaimed; it has come to you as a gift. So cherish
your gift, remain faithful to it, and be a great writer”. Similarly,
of Tarkovsky’s debut film, Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Ingmar Bergman
wrote: “My discovery of Tarkovsky's first film was like a miracle.
Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of
which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had
always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at
ease”. Despite turbulent careers compounded by often deleterious
relationships with the Russian state, both Dostoevsky and Tarkovsky
are considered grandmasters of their respective arts. This conference
considers the strong philosophical consonance between Dostoevsky and
Tarkovsky, their engagement and confrontation with the modern Western
philosophical tradition, and the nature of the religious
existentialism that grounds their most significant works.
Tarkovsky’s philosophical indebtedness to Dostoevsky is summarily
epitomised in a diary entry dated to April 30th, 1970: “Dostoevsky
could become the whole point of what I want to do in cinema”.
Dostoevsky’s own artistic purpose was fundamentally defined by a
spiritual epiphany he experienced during his imprisonment in Siberia.
The transformation of Dostoevsky’s literature upon his return to
European Russia occurred in part due to his new-found spiritualism
and in part owing to his new philosophical bearings. On February
22nd, 1854, while imprisoned in Siberia, Dostoevsky wrote to his
brother requesting books by Vico and Ranke, as well as “the Koran,
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and…without fail…Hegel, especially
Hegel’s History of Philosophy. My whole future is bound up with
that”. Hegelianism had permeated the Russian intelligentsia since the
1840s. The spread of German Idealism, borne itself through Cartesian
subjectivity and Kantian transcendental logic, contaminated Russian
high society with ideals of atheism and nihilism. It was such ideals
that Dostoevsky’s major novels, upon his return to writing, aimed at
overthrowing. Dostoevsky developed, across his literature and
political writings, a religious existentialism that would have a
profound influence on major subsequent philosophers, such as
Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert
Camus. Through his characters, Dostoevsky subverts the modern
dictates of science and reason in order to comport his readers toward
an understanding of human authenticity, that is, toward self-mastery
and self-control, itself grounded in the religious experience.
Faith and spirituality were predominant themes in Dostoevsky’s major
novels of the 1860s and 70s and in Tarkovsky’s films from 1966 to
1986. Echoes of Dostoevskyan religious existentialism reverberate
throughout Tarkovsky’s oeuvre, while the fundamental aspects of the
human condition explored in such works as The Idiot, Demons, Crime
and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov resonate with Tarkovsky’s
own character studies in Stalker, Andrei Rublev, Solaris, and The
Sacrifice. Like Dostoevsky, Tarkovsky stood against the tides of
rationalism and idealism, proclaiming that “knowledge distracts us
from our main purpose in life. The more we know, the less we know.
Getting deeper, our horizon becomes narrower. Art enriches man's own
spiritual capabilities, and he can then rise above himself, to use
what we call 'free will’”. Like Dostoevsky, Tarkovsky sought to
emancipate the human condition from its material and epistemological
bonds and turn it towards a mode of spiritual authenticity.
This conference aims at exploring not only the resonance of the
philosophies of Dostoevsky and Tarkovsky but also considers the
broader philosophical tradition within which both artists stand. That
is to say, how are we to understand the literature of Dostoevsky and
the cinema of Tarkovsky within the broader canon of the history of
philosophy? If, for instance, Dostoevsky himself effected through his
writings manifest shifts in contemporary philosophical thought,
particularly in the realm of existentialism, to what extent is
Tarkovsky engaging with such developments in his own time? This leads
to an inevitable comparison of Dostoevsky and Tarkovsky’s treatment
of the ‘West’ and its impact of its principles on the Russian state.
For Dostoevsky, this meant the encroachment of Western ideals upon
the Russian spirit, while for Tarkovsky this signifies the political
conflict of the Cold War characterised by the competing ideologies of
capitalism and communism. Ultimately, this conference aims at
developing a comprehensive understanding of the essential relation of
Dostoevsky and Tarkovsky beyond the structures of their respective
artistic genres in order to elucidate the degree of philosophical
consonance between two of the most important and influential Russian
artists in world history.
Scholars of all disciplines and at any stage in their academic
careers are invited to submit abstracts that engage with the
fundamental theme of the conference and provoke fruitful and edifying
interdisciplinary discussion. Some possible topics for discussion
include, but are not by any means limited to:
- In what ways does Dostoevsky through his literary and political
writings engage with Western philosophy? How does his literature
confront and resist the incursion of metaphysical thought upon the
Russian spirit and to what degree does it influence later
philosophers, particularly Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre?
- To what extent is Dostoevsky’s philosophy informed by his
- How does the aesthetic experience of Tarkovsky’s ‘poetic cinema’
espouse or oppose the philosophical aesthetics of the likes of
Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Schopenhauer, Dewey, and Beardsley?
- In what ways does Dostoevsky influence the films of Tarkovsky,
thematically or philosophically? To what extent is there a common
understanding of ‘Russianness’ between both artists?
- What is the nature of the religious existentialism that grounds
Dostoevsky’s later novels, particularly The Idiot and The Brothers
Karamazov, and how do such themes resonate with the subject of faith
that predominates many of Tarkovsky’s films, especially Andrei
Rublev, Stalker, and The Sacrifice?
Scholars of all disciplines and at any stage in their academic
careers are invited to submit abstracts of up to 300 words by May 8th
Notifications will be sent out within two weeks. Papers are expected
to last up to 30 minutes with 10 minutes for discussion to follow.
Stephen Mulhall (University of Oxford)
George Pattison (University of Glasgow)
Nariman Skakov (Stanford University)
Russian Cultural Centre, Kensington, London
Royal Holloway, University of London