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FROM DOSTOEVSKY TO AL-QAEDA: What Fiction Says to Social Science

FROM DOSTOEVSKY TO AL-QAEDA: What Fiction Says to Social Science Nina Pelikan Straus Here, for once, the line between writing and the world is direct, explicit, substantial, and observable. And, we shall doubtless soon see, consequential.     lifford Geertz, “Which Way to Mecca?” —C At midpoint in Demons—also titled The Possessed or The Devils in English translations of Dostoevsky— Pyotr Verkhovensky, the novel’s master of terrorist ceremonies, expresses adoration of the mysterious Nikolai Stavrogin: “You are my idol! . . . You have the air of being everyone’s equal — yet everyone is afraid of you—this is good.” Verkhovensky continues: the “aristocrat [who] goes among democrats is captivating! It’s nothing for you to sacrifice life, your own or some one else’s.”1 Dostoevsky’s novel probes fantasies that those who seek to understand terrorism now approach via social science. What can a novel of 1872—written by a “cruel talent” who, it is said, reveled in the evils he described — tell us about terror that social science cannot?2 1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage, 1994), 419, henceforth cited parenthetically in the text. 2. See Nikolai Mihkailovsky, Dostoevsky     Cruel Talent, —A trans. Spencer Cadmus (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardus, 1978). 12:2 DOI 10.1215/0961754X-2005-002 © 2006 by Duke University http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

FROM DOSTOEVSKY TO AL-QAEDA: What Fiction Says to Social Science

Common Knowledge , Volume 12 (2) – Apr 1, 2006

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2006 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0961-754X
eISSN
1538-4578
DOI
10.1215/0961754X-2005-002
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Nina Pelikan Straus Here, for once, the line between writing and the world is direct, explicit, substantial, and observable. And, we shall doubtless soon see, consequential.     lifford Geertz, “Which Way to Mecca?” —C At midpoint in Demons—also titled The Possessed or The Devils in English translations of Dostoevsky— Pyotr Verkhovensky, the novel’s master of terrorist ceremonies, expresses adoration of the mysterious Nikolai Stavrogin: “You are my idol! . . . You have the air of being everyone’s equal — yet everyone is afraid of you—this is good.” Verkhovensky continues: the “aristocrat [who] goes among democrats is captivating! It’s nothing for you to sacrifice life, your own or some one else’s.”1 Dostoevsky’s novel probes fantasies that those who seek to understand terrorism now approach via social science. What can a novel of 1872—written by a “cruel talent” who, it is said, reveled in the evils he described — tell us about terror that social science cannot?2 1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage, 1994), 419, henceforth cited parenthetically in the text. 2. See Nikolai Mihkailovsky, Dostoevsky     Cruel Talent, —A trans. Spencer Cadmus (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardus, 1978). 12:2 DOI 10.1215/0961754X-2005-002 © 2006 by Duke University

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Apr 1, 2006

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