On Book Six of The Brothers Karamazov

by Mark Chmiel

For Cab Yau

Perhaps these will speak to you as we reconsider Dostoevsky’s masterpiece…

“where we read truly, where the experience is to be that of meaning, we do so as if the text (the piece of music, the work of art) incarnates (the notion is grounded in the sacramental) a real presence of significant being. This real presence, as in an icon, as in the enacted metaphor of the sacramental bread and wine, is, finally, irreducible to any other formal articulation, to any analytic deconstruction or paraphrase….To be ‘indwelt’ by music, art, literature, to be made responsible, answerable to such habitation as a host is to a guest — perhaps unknown, unexpected — at evening, is to experience the commonplace mystery of a real presence.”

“A canon is the individually internalized cluster of crystallization of remembered, of exegetically re-enacted texts or text fragments which result from (very often) unsought, unwilled encounter with and answerability to ‘real presence.’ The authentic canon is not, or is not in the first place, the product of reasoned intention.”

“A syllabus is taught, a canon is lived.”

“[We are] servants to the text, scrupulous ecstatics, for in reference to the canonic, scruple and ecstasy are one.”

–George Steiner