Quoting Ippolit

Portrait of Dostoyevsky in 1872

I’m reading The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (thanks for the recommendation, Brian!), and came across this portion of a speech by a character named Ippolit:

“. . . there is something at the bottom of every new human thought, every thought of genius, or even every earnest thought that springs up in any brain, which can never be communicated to others, even if one were to write volumes about it and were explaining one’s idea for thirty-five years; there’s something left which cannot be induced to emerge from your brain, and remains with you for ever; and with it you will die, without communicating to anyone perhaps, the most important of your ideas.”

We do our best with words, music, painting, dance, touch, and so many more forms of expression, and yet – there is always “something left,” according to Ippolit. Feels like that to me, much of the time. I begin with an idea, I write it in my journal, a blog post, a song; or I tell it to a friend – and in the writing or the telling other ideas sprout, other factors and perspectives become involved, and though I may still be able to experience my understanding of the original idea, I cannot, no matter how I try, exhaustively articulate it. I find this interesting.

A little before the above quote, Ippolit was expounding about Christopher Columbus being his happiest not when he discovered America, but when he was discovering it. He said, “. . . the highest moment of [Columbus’s] happiness was just three days before the discovery of the New World, when the mutinous crew were on the point of returning to Europe in despair. It wasn’t the New World that mattered, even if it had fallen to pieces. Columbus died almost without seeing it; and not really knowing what he had discovered. It’s life that matters, nothing but life – the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all [bold type mine].”

I’ve thought this often, that it seems every conversation, every action, is part of the process of discovery, and it is that process that I enjoy far more than any actual discovery. Once I have made a discovery, it is gratifying, but then I want to move on to discover something more. I thought maybe this was some “postmodern” idea I had absorbed, but there it is in Dostoyevsky’s novel of 1868.