“The Only Truth Is Silence”: Stavrogin’s Confession Revisited in J.M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg
The lively intertextual dialogue J.M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg (1994) carries on not only with F. M. Dostoevsky’s Devils (1871–72), but also with several other major works in the Dostoevsky canon is a commonplace in Coetzee criticism. Within this rich web of Dostoevskian allusions, the present paper aims to scrutinise an issue which Coetzee’s “Confession and Double Thoughts: Rousseau, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky” (1985) brings into the limelight; namely, the “dead end” of endless secular confession, the hyperconsciousness it entails and the intricate connection between identity, confessional narrative, truth – and silence. Examined in this light, The Master of Petersburg comes to grips with the novel – and fictional character – which, within the realist context, is the major forerunner of the representation of the endless semiosis of narcissistic crisis (abjection), associated with modernism according to Julia Kristeva (1982: 18), and rooted in the disappearance of the stabilising third term of Western narcissistic subjectivity – call it logos, God, or nature (Lawrence Cahoone qtd. in Kochhar-Lindgren 1993: 5). More precisely, in my reading The Master of Petersburg follows through the far-reaching implications of Dostoevskian confessional dialogue represented in “Stavrogin’s Confession” and summed up by Coetzee in the paradoxical statement that “the only truth is silence” (1985: 225). By doing so, Coetzee’s novel becomes an allegory of the coming into being of the speaking subject in confession – and narrative – in a universe devoid of faith and grace. Thereby, way ahead of its time, it provides a poststructuralist reading of Devils as a...
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