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Dostoevsky, Sechenov and reflexes of the brain: to a stylistic genealogy of Notes from Underground

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It is customary to consider Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground as the first text that anticipates his subsequent great novels in combining psychological, ideological, and philosophical features with narrative experimentation. While the genesis and content of the philosophical ideas espoused by the Underground Man have been studied extensively, almost no research has been done on the connection of the novella with contemporaneous psychology and physiology. One may wonder whether there is a good reason to study these matters. What could this approach tell us about the poetics of Dostoevsky and the evolution of the novelistic form in nineteenth-century Russia? In his talk Dr Vdovin will juxtapose Notes from Underground with the most prominent Russian text on physiology produced at the beginning of 1860s, I. M. Sechenov’s Reflexes of the Brain to explain how Dostoevsky succeeded in creating not only an influential philosophical text, but also an experimental narrative that expands the capacities of psychological prose.

Alexey Vdovin is Assistant Professor of Russian Literature and Deputy Dean for Research at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (Faculty of Humanities, Moscow). He is the author of a biography of Nikolai Dobroliubov in famous series Lives of remarkable people (Moscow, 2017), Kontsept glava literatury v russkoi kritike 1830–1860 (Tartu, 2011) and co-editor of Khrestomatiinye teksty: Russkaia pedagogicheskaia praktika i literaturnyi kanon XIX veka (Tartu, 2013). His fields of expertise are the history of Russian literature and culture in the Age of Realism, Russian literary criticism and aesthetics, and the history of concepts.

This talk is part of the Slavonic Studies series.

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