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On Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Beginning in August, the Lyceum Institute will hold a three-week Symposium discussion titled “A Dilemma of Ideology and Faith”, on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. This symposium is open to all enrolled members but we are also accepting applications (see below) for a limited number of spots available to the public.

We strongly recommend the use of Constance Garnett’s excellent translation. It is readily available from many online booksellers.

About Crime and Punishment

Published in 1866, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment—composed after spending ten years in Siberian exile—is often regarded as the first great novel of his career. At the heart of the story is a tension between a theory of greatness (or of the indomitable supremacy of the human will) and the realities of love, faith, and the reality of being human. The protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, struggles with the beliefs conveyed through higher education (a strange confluence of ideologies which converged in the St. Petersburg of the 1860s) and the deeper roots of his relations to other persons.

Thus, we find the “ideological intoxication” of utilitarianism, nihilism, socialist utopianism, and mechanistic materialism clashing against the ecstatic love of self-sacrifice and true fortitude. We encounter the madness of ideas and the torment of conscience; the conflict of evil, apathy, and good; and at the center, the drama of the human heart, torn by convictions, seeking its true rest.

Dostoevsky’s prose (in Garnett’s translation) reads quick, at times frantic—evocative and catching—and, at other times, dwells upon details, drawing us into the significance of the mundane, exaggerating nuance to emphasize the extraordinary truths of what we so often obscure to ourselves. But the heart of his writing unfolds in the dialogues of his characters. Just as his descriptive prose unveils the world we obscure to ourselves through an aesthetic inattentiveness, his dialogue penetrates into the heart of thought and feeling to which we, in our worldly ways, all too often allow ourselves to grow numb.

We hope you will join us!

Reading Schedule

Our discussion sessions will meet for three consecutive weeks, at 4pm Eastern Time on Sunday afternoons. We may add a secondary time if there is sufficient interest and ability to host. Our schedule is as follows:

8/13 – Parts I & II
8/20 – Parts III & IV
8/27 – Parts V & VI

If this endeavor is successful, we will host more literature reading groups in the future. Discussion sessions will be recorded, but only enrolled Lyceum members will have access to them.

Public Application

We are offering limited spots to the public! We will evaluate each application and notify those accepted by 6 August 2023. Please fill out the form below.

The Challenge of Chivalry

Written by an anonymous author in the late 14th century, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight continues to entice the human spirit: drawing us toward something grand, mysterious, and—perhaps most of all—towards the betterment of our own virtue. The titular hero, captured in poetic verse, exemplifies chivalry. Sir Gawain demonstrates courage, piety, courtesy, honesty, honor, and chastity. He also shows us the struggle to maintain these virtues against real and sometimes contrary temptations.

In 2021, David Lowery’s cinematic adaptation, The Green Knight—which he wrote, directed, edited, and produced—was released to critical acclaim. Notably, the film differs from the poem almost as black from white. It presents context, characters, settings, and even many of the actions in an almost inverted light from those of the anonymous author. To some, this may seem a merely “postmodern” contrarianism. But, regardless of its differences, the film, too, captivates us and for reasons not dissimilar—even if by opposed means.

For both, it seems, present a version of chivalry’s challenge: one, situated in a chivalric context; another, placed amidst decline. The former gives us an image we may hold up as an ideal. Does the latter hold up a mirror to ourselves? What does an un-chivalric age do to a would-be chivalrous man?

On 5 January 2023 [edit: delayed from December because of travel woes], the Lyceum Institute will hold a Symposium on The Challenge of Chivalry: Sir Gawain & the Green Knight. We will feature the poem in our discussion, but draw out certain themes through comparison and contrast with the film, as well. What does it mean to be chivalrous? How does this concept of virtue fit into our present times? This Symposium is free to all enrolled members. Both reading the poem and watching the film (or at least reading a synopsis) are recommended. Note that the film is not suitable for children.

Lectio Commedia: Dante, Poet of Hope

Beginning October 6th, every other Wednesday Dr. Mark McCullough (PhD in Humanities from the City University of New York) will facilitate a 45-minute discussion on one canto of Dante Alighieri’s masterwork The Divine Comedy at 12pm ET: the Lectio Commedia: Dante, Poet of Hope. This will be preceded by a reading of the canto with a brief commentary and explication on a given theme the Friday prior.

Join us as we explore the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, walking in the footsteps of Dante and his guides, and putting a concrete presentation of evocative imagery to insightful Thomistic moral doctrine.

“One test of the great masters” wrote T.S. Eliot, “is that the appreciation of their poetry is a lifetime’s task, because at every stage of maturing—and that should be one’s whole life–you are able to understand them better.”

Of these masters, Eliot chose Dante as the one he owed more to than any other poet. He said the debt he owed Dante “is the kind which goes on accumulating, the kind which is not the debt of one period” but of his whole life.

Indeed, Dante is a poet for all seasons. His Divine Comedy is the summit of his poetic powers. No one can claim to be well-versed in the great literature of the Western Canon without having encountered Dante’s vision of hell, purgatory, and heaven.

Translator Dorothy Sayer’s admitted that few modern readers are able to appreciate Dante’s vision without understanding something of the poet’s theological, political, and personal background. Yet who among us has the time to tackle all of this?

To address this difficulty, I have designed a twice-a-month course on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Starting October 6 at 12 noon, and every other week thereafter, for one hour, we will discuss a canto or two together. I have taught Dante for many years and am currently writing a book on Dante and psychology. In this course, I welcome anyone who desires to understand Dante better.

I will be reading from a number of translations, including Mark Musa, Robert and Jean Hollander, and Allen Mandelbaum. Look for audio uploads of my reading and discussing Dante’s poetry.

Dr. McCullough

This program is open to all members of the Lyceum Institute. Enroll here today.

[Symposium] Paradise Lost – Book IX

Paradise Lost

Book IX: The Fall of Adam and Eve

John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) is the most ambitious and complex poem ever written in English. Composed while Milton was blind and in political exile, the poem tells the story of angels’ rebellion in Heaven, the creation of the universe, and humanity’s fall into sin. Equal to its Homeric and Virgilian predecessors, the epic was an instant classic and inspired generations of poets. Today the poem continues to draw readers to its unrivaled depiction of Satan and attempt to “justify the ways of God to men.”

Join psychotherapist and former literature professor Dr. Mark McCullough for a two-part introduction to and discussion of one of the poem’s most significant passages, book 9 which dramatizes Paradise Lost’s central scene: the fall of Adam and Eve. No prior experience is necessary to join the discussions, though participants are asked to read book 9 and familiarize themselves with a few additional online interview/lectures about the poem prepared by Dr. McCullough.

This two week event (5/12-5/19) is available to all Lyceum Institute members.

(If you aren’t a member yet, first, you may want to re-evaluate your life decisions, and second, you can sign up here.)