Sunday, January 03, 2010

Foma Fomich Opiskin

In Foma Fomich Opiskin we have the grand tyrant, master of the universe, king and audience rolled into one, king in the country of the blind. Dostoevsky's master stroke in The Village of Stepanchikovo sees Foma Fomich tyrannize the household that has given him refuge; from a jester, a court fool to master of his master, Foma Fomich's decree is law. Foma Fomich is a virtual god, Colonel Rostanev must do as he is told. If anything displeases Foma Fomich, he stops eating, punishes the servants and orders everyone around. What have I done to deserve this Foma, asks Rostanev; please Foma, please! The three days that we spend at Stepanchikovo with our narrator are filled with the most outrageous antics possible. It is bedlam but high bedlam. One is reminded of Gogol and those who are aware of the influence of the latter on Dostoevsky identify this Gogolian universe of comedy, farce, melodrama, parody and an insane display of nonsense from everyone in the Rostanev household.

Foma Fomich, a take clearly on Gogol's Akaky Akakevich, is what Bakhtin, in what I feel is the best book of literary criticism possible, Problem of Dostoevsky's Poetics, calls the carnival king. Everything being carnival, mennipean satire and Gogolesque farce, Foma Fomich starts annoying us before we have met him. We are like the narrator: our sensitivities are hurt but by the time the action closes, everyone including the reader feels a kind of tiresome revulsion at the goings on at Stepanchikovo though it cannot be otherwise. This world should be exactly like it is, tears and tragedy and bizarre comedy.

Stepanchikovo, like Poor Folk is from Dostoevsky's pre-Petrashevsky Circle days and we did not yet have the characters from his four famous works. Clearly these are not the days of the grand Inquisitor, these are the days of the carnival king. In Foma Fomich, Dostoevsky has numerous digs at Gogol, who he admired a lot but who he felt represented a certain kind of Slavic representation and beheld him as being responsible for a narrative in the Russian novel that Dostoevsky clearly despised. Foma Fomich, while not entirely Gogol is very nearly Gogol and yet Dostoevsky raise certain issues of social justice and sexual inequality. It can also be read as a piece of pure drama which the critics maintain it was originally intended to be. Foma Fomich is clearly not impressed with his valet's name: Vidoplyasov must find a new name, Falalei the servant must not behave like a villager and the other servant must learn French!

Rostanev is now considered to be first example of the ridiculous man, in comparison to say Turgenev's concept of the superfluous man. Some early Dostoevsky critics consider Rostanev to be a beautiful individual, a hero. However, Foma Fomich, who is the object of this post is a representation of a person who lacks awareness and is not able to understand the disparity between what he actually is and what he believes he is.In this world turned upside down, we retreat like the narrator and watch the action unfold at a safe distance. However, this mad world would not be worth visiting if the court was not held by Foma Fomich.

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