In the second decade of the twentieth century, changes occurred in the perception of ‘insanity’ and ‘abnormality’ which contributed to the removal of some of the prejudices associated with the reception of Dostoevskii’s novels. In Vital Signs, Lawrence Rothfield examines the way these changes affected the use of clinical dis course in early twentieth-century fiction. For Rothfield, the ‘abandonment of the embodied person as the constitutive element of fiction’ and of the self as an organ izing point to begin with, are useful indicators of the passage from Realism to at least two species of Modernism, ‘the Joycean/Woolfian mode of Modernism’ and what Rothfield defines as ‘a second kind of Modernism.’ Thus, when asking ‘what then marks off the writing of Dostoevsky, Proust, Franz Jung, and Gide from the realistic writing of Balzac, Flaubert, or Eliot?’ Rothfield states:
This Modernism [the Joycean/Woolfian mode of Modernism] differs from realism in the intensity with which it questions the truth-value of the distinction between the pathological and the normal. In the realistic novels of Balzac, Flaubert and Eliot, this normal/pathological distinction serves a heuristic end. It permits the narrator to distinguish himself from his characters as a physician from his patients, and to make sense of them from a position of relative certainty as to what counts as significant. The celebrated distance and omniscience of the realist narrator is precisely the distance that separates those who are sick from those who recognize what sickness is. In the second kind of Modernism I have in mind, on the other hand, the pathological perspective becomes the dominant one — it is the narrator himself who is sick [...]. Not only is the writing subject now the sick subject, but the pathological perspective may even be cultivated for its own sake, [...]. 1For Rothfield, therefore, literary Modernisms can be defined as a counter-discourse, which rejects or criticizes the Realist and Naturalist ‘clinically coded notions’. As a consequence, the distinction, at the level of narrative, between health and disease, between sanity and insanity, becomes increasingly blurred. First, a slight alteration in the localization of disease occurs. Disease does not affect only a certain type of person with specific physical and moral characteristics, but can potentially affect everyone, and often disguises itself as normality. Excess of consciousness in itself is regarded as a disease, and the artist, being a person with a higher sensitivity, is more subject to it than anybody else. In Notes from the Underground (1864), Dostoevskii roots the link between the physical pains of the underground man 92and his psychological disorders in the underground’s man hyperconsciousness. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, this novel was very little known. More than his works, it was Dostoevskii’s life, or the highly romanticized versions of it circulating at the time, that provided the most vivid example of the thin line that separated sanity from insanity. Thus, what previously in Dostoevskii’s works had been looked upon with suspicion and abhorred as morbid, disturbing, and offensive to the Victorian sense of morality, at the beginning of the twentieth century was regarded as a plausible topic for debate and investigation. Just as clinical discourse had granted scientific authority to discourses otherwise regarded as inaccurate, similarly the discourse of psychoanalysis, which was gradually penetrating literary discourse, gave scientific credibility to problems related to a sphere until then not regarded as worthy of scientific analysis: the unconscious. The eccentricities of Dostoevskii’s characters, and indeed the anomalies of his adventurous life, were restored from the realm of the clinically incurable to the realm of the pathologically comprehensible.