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Dostoevsky and Roberto Mangabeira Unger: An Approach to Time

Lecturer: Millicent Vladiv-Glover

Originally Taught: Winter School 2018

In this short course, I will deal with two books: Dostoevsky’s last novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1881) and Roberto Unger’s recent monograph, The Religion of the Future (Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2014).

The reason I have chosen to confront Dostoevsky and Unger is because the 19th century Russian writer and the 21st century Brazilian philosopher-sociologist and politician (who is professor at the Harvard Law School) share certain micro- themes, which all converge into a macro-theme: this is the theme of the religious feeling of modern (and pre-modern ) European culture. This macro-theme of religiosity of modern European culture is connected to the question of ethics. Dostoevsky and Unger approach the question of ethics through their respective discourses: Dostoevsky approaches ethics through the medium of aesthetics. Unger approaches ethics through a sociological analysis of religiosity. Despite some overlaps, the answer each of these writers offers is different, in substance and in form. The difference in the two methodological approaches to the question of time – the aesthetic-philosophical and the sociological – will lead to an insight about the quality of the ethical value which either methodology is able to yield.

The question of ethics is connected for both writers to the question of time. Dostoevsky treats time in the context of the temporality – plot structure – of his novel. Unger treats time as a discursive category, against the background of subjective experience. While experience is a phenomenological category, Unger is not a phenomenologist. Dostoevsky’s epistemology, on the other hand, is grounded in phenomenology. Despite his personal dislike for Hegel, Dostoevsky’s novels resonate with Hegel’s phenomenology of spirit. This will be shown, in particular, with respect to a reading of parts of The Brothers Karamazov through the Master/Slave dialectic and section “Consciousness” (The ‘This” and ‘Meinen’).

Course Schedule

Seminar I: A critique of Unger’s sociology of time.

Seminar II: Dostoevsky as a Man of His Time: Note to Vremya (1860) and the “Russian Idea”

Seminar III: Temporality in Fiction (Kata Hamburger) and in Dostoevsky’s novels (Bakhtin)

Seminar IV: Temporality in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: Alyosha’s Plot Day

Seminar V: Dostoevsky and Hegel: The ‘Masters’ and ‘Servants’ in The Brothers Karamazov


  • Bakhtin, M. M. Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics. Ed. Caryl Emerson, intro. Wayne C. Booth. U of Minnesota Press: 1984.
  • Dostoevsky, F. M.  The Brothers Karamazov (1881) Penguin Classics. Trans. David Magarshack (1958, 1964)
  • Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A V Miller , with Analysis of the Text and Foreword by J N Findlay. Oxford, New York, Toronto, Melbourne, 1977. P. 105. (Paragraph 167: “B. Self-Consciousness, IV. The Truth of Self-Certainty).
  • Vladiv-Glover, S. (1993), “Dostoevsky, Freud and Parricide: Deconstructive Notes on the Brothers Karamazov,” New Zealand Slavonic Journal (1993): 7-34. (Invited paper to open new series of journal.) pdf supplied
  • Unger, Roberto Mangabeira The Religion of the Future (Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2014).