After finishing Dostoevsky’s “The Devils” again, I was struck by how sad Stavrogin’s decision made me despite the atrocities he committed; and I also found myself thinking about spell-binding sunsets.
Whenever I find myself awed by the brilliant colors of a setting sky, two scenarios take place: I either enter into a mode of appreciation and become distracted from my life; or I experience deep, untapped other-worldly emotions en route to a moment of transcendence.
When I’m spell-bound, I can experience it in two ways: Incapable of thought or overwhelmed with thought.
And from my experience, either predicament leads to paralysis.
In the past, whenever a woman has made me pull over the car to look at a sunset, I’ve always been more spell-bound by the girl and her deep appreciation for beauty—and her willingness to share that beauty with me—than the sky itself. Afterwards, I reflect on the experience and wonder how sharing something so small with someone else can prove to be so meaningful.
The truth is that you sometimes have to move out of the moment to process things. Kierkegaard said that to reach the spot you have to move away from the spot, and I’m not so sure any of Dostoevsky’s characters are willing to take a step back so they can see themselves in light of their own views about God and politics.
Once I learned the fate of Stavrogin and closed the book, I was left with the impression that almost all of the characters are spell-bound by their own idea of a beautiful Russia, except for Stavrogin, and perhaps Shatov. I also found it interesting that almost every character had the courage to act on his or her beliefs, which makes reaching a belief the core value of the book.
Apparently, for Stavrogin, the resulting guilt from his actions could not be reasoned away. He was spell-bound alright, but by his acts of nihilism, which no philosophy could provide an escape. When he ended up taking his own life, I get the feeling he did so quite certain in the existence of God.