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Author: Riley M. M. Ossorgin
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Doctor of Philological Sciences, Lecturer and Director of the “Russian Program” at Fordham University, New York, USA

For citation:

Ossorgin R. How the Inmates’ Polyphonic Play Performs the “All Creation” Icon. Dostoevsky and World Culture. 2019. № 1(5). Pp. 41-54.

Issue: 2019 №1(5)
Department: HERMENEUTICS. SLOW READING
Pages: 41-54
DOI: 10.22455/2619-0311-2019-1-41-54
UDK: 82+821.161.1+2-526.6
BBK: 83+83.3(2=411.2)+86.2
Keywords: Dostoevsky, Icon, Sobornost’, Liturgy, Theotokos, Play, Nativity, Visual Polyphony.

Abstract: This article interprets the Marian icon “In Thee All Creation Rejoices” as the theological, liturgical, and visual context for the prisoners' play scene in Dostoevsky's Notes from the House of the Dead. Both the “All Creation” icon and the John of Damascus Hymn that it illustrates, feature prominently in St. Basil's liturgy, which, like the prisoners' play, accompanies the Nativity holiday. The author emphasizes the visual orientation of the novel beginning with the narrator’s description of his collected writings as “Scenes from the House of the Dead”. The visual elements of the “All Creation” icon reappear within the chapter called “Predstavlenie”, in which the narrator Gorianchikov describes the “strange picture” of the prison theater, play and audience. The author contends that the play is a literary performance of the icon and its central theme of sobornost’. The prison play house “scene” mimics the visually polyphonic icon by crowding the prison theater with spectators who sit in front, above, behind and around the stage, on which a female lead appears. These spectators both perform and watch the play, becoming co-creators of the spectacle. Whereas the Nativity feast ends in the prisoners’ debauchery and isolation, the day following Nativity by contrast, the day of the play, culminates in the joy of the shared feast of the Theotokos. Her presence, in the form of the “All Creation” icon that lurks beneath the surface of the chapter at the novel’s core, advocates for amnesty over punishment of criminals, as did Dostoevsky.

 

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