What If the Real Demons Were the Friends We Made Along the Way?
In the month since I finished reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons and set it on my end table (next to my tasteful yet practical reclining reading chair), the novel’s content and presence has haunted my mind. The cream-coloured ‘Penguin Classics’ paperback (1987, David Magarshack trans.) seemed to emanate sheer significance and meaning across my living room. Moving back to my computer to browse /lit/, hoping for a way to express the significance I had just experienced, I encountered people asking if Joyce’s biographer’s daughter’s 1000-page shitpost is any good, people trying to sell me baby shoes, Uncle Ted posting. The usual shit.
I scrolled through Twitter screenshot threads and wallowed in the senseless and degenerate happenings in modern America (yes, we’re all degenerate faggots. And I’m tired of pretending we’re not). So many things brought me back to Demons. It seemed that every event had a parallel in Dosto’s third masterpiece.
Not to mention all of the people in my personal life who seemed to show up in the novel.
Take our earliest female protagonist, one Varvara Stavrogin. She reminds me of my Aunt Elinor (who herself admits to having modeled her lifestyle, appearance, and voice on those of Nancy Pelosi). She’s wealthy, strong-willed, and prideful. And she has come under the false impression that she’s capable of handling serious thoughts in a meaningful manner without the agency of men.
Or how about Pyotr Verkhovensky? He reminds me of this lad I went to school with who was an ‘idea man,’ yet who always had to get those around him to do the dirty work, apparently not recognizing that he was a transparent, manipulative fuck with no charisma—that guy’s name was Rick and he now unironically works in the Prime Minister’s Office.
(Sidenote regarding this character: I recently watched the 2014 miniseries version of Demons directed by Vladimir Khotinenko without subtitles. Haley Joel Osment’s turn as Verkhovensky was Golden Globe-worthy).
Then there is Ivan Shatov, the proto-cuck who’s actually a pretty cool guy. I don’t know anyone of that description in real life, but I wish I did. In every man who’s humiliated himself or abandoned a noble cause just to get a piece of pussy, there’s a bit of Ivan Shatov. For this reason alone, he deserves what he got.
Kirillov, whose doppelganger I met in high school (a fella by the name of Jake), is the real hero of the story, if I may say so. We all know practical people. We all know thoughtful people. We all know helpful people. We all know suicidal people… but all four at the same time? This guy is the total package, even if it wasn’t all realized by the end.
And then there is our hero, Stepan—the mildly out-of-date, cringe-inducing, disgusted, frantic, delusional, and ultimately faithful fellow who reminds us all why there isn’t a more loathsome creature in the twenty-first century than a Boomer. He’s cultured, bilingual, and a neurotic mess—cut from the same cloth as modern-day heroes such as Slavoj Zizek or Rudy Giuliani.
But the character from the novel I encounter most often—the one whose presence truly haunts or possesses the modern landscape more than any other; whose loathsomeness, repugnance, and degeneracy is beyond anything one might encounter in the twenty-first century (outside of the Folsom Street Fair, an Amber Rose Slutwalk, or a Drag Queen Story Hour)—is none other than Nikolai Stavrogin himself. I’ve known many dangerous men, many perverted men, many hungry, desperate, and soulless men. But they do not hold a candle to Stavrogin. I don’t see him in them, I see him in myself. Every day.
Did Dorian Gray ever smash a mirror, or was it just his portrait? Did Dick Diver deserve to get his ass kicked? Did Raphael Tisserand ‘die with his boots on’? Was Kirillov murdered, or did he suicide? Do /lit/posters hate themselves or just what they do? And, at the end of the day, does what we do determine who we are?
More than outward actions, which are obscured by the potential to seek an audience’s approval, our inner thoughts and beliefs—our demons, as it were—make up the substance of our existences. Therefore, the demons are our friends. And we’re all swine.