Yulia Mikhailovna is not a central character in Dostoevsky’s Devils. Nevertheless, she is someone who becomes the center in a different sense: she becomes the sun of her world. In just one page of a particular psychological finesse, Dostoevsky describes a character who loses her humanity by wanting to become more than she is.
“But whether as a result of excessive poetic feeling or the sad and repeated failures of her youth, suddenly, with the change in her fortune, she felt specially selected, almost anointed, one of those ‘upon whom a tongue of flame had descended.'”
What does such a person do when she perceives she has been chosen? She transforms herself into the world’s savior:
“She dreamt of bestowing happiness and reconciling the irreconcilable…”
Beautiful and noble desires for which someone may feel to be called and imagine that they cannot come to be in the absence of her work, her determination to change the world in such a way as to experience happiness. For everyone is obligated to be happy; everyone must live in this world as perfectly as possible, and she is called to bring it about.
But this dream of bestowing happiness upon all can only be done in one way: “She dreamt of bestowing happiness and reconciling the irreconcilable, or, to be more precise, unifying everything and everyone in adoration of her own person.”
This is the feature of all self-proclaimed saviors, be them family members or politicians: they perceive the world must be in a certain way, according to their own criteria of beauty, and they don’t understand your “inability” to live in it. Just like everyone else, they also perceive the world as a solar system, but inevitably fall into the temptation of judging life, perhaps even without realizing, from the position of the sun.
Perhaps there is no higher suffering than that of the one who believes that she dedicates her life to you in her attempt to create a beautiful world in which you have to live. In her focus on the beauty that she imagines, she forgets about you, and so she remains alone, creating everything around her in a mirror, in a splendid life that clones everyone of her cells. The suffering is multiplied by the ungratefulness she perceives in you: “I dedicated my life to you, and you throw it in the trash by not accepting it.” It is the hell that all tyrants who perceive themselves as their nations’ saviors must live in. But it is also the hell that we, in our daily, small lives, can live in if we ever believe we can “fix” other human beings.
What Dostoevsky does here, in just a few lines, is a description of the corrupted meaning of love: it always starts with the self and it returns to the self.
I always run away from saying anything about a possible solution. Still, since it is Dostoevsky, I will say one thing: perhaps the solution is still the solar system. I am not talking about another solar system than the one in which the self-proclaimed saviors live. The difference is that the solar system of the pseudo-saviors is interpreted through their understanding of love, that which begins from the self and ends in the self. Hell is not outside this reality; it is inside it and is the manifestation of our inability to leave the self behind (and so in our inability to love). The “other” solar system (but again, it is the same solar system) is the one which Alyosha describes at the end of Brothers Karamazov, the one of brotherhood and sisterhood with the others just as they are. It is one in which I see my role as that of a star in a constellation, having responsibility for the beauty of the constellation that was already given to me, and so for the stars that were already given to me, for whose lights I am responsible but whose lights I cannot repair or fix through my power, because the light does not originate in me. And so I have to deny myself to the point in which the light of the true Sun illuminates through me and, hopefully, would help the others rekindle their candles.