Individualism and the Metaphysics of Freedom; Or, Deconstructing Dostoevsky


  • James Ferry The University of Rhode Island



Freedom is the ideal, made possible only by its supplement, originary unfreedom. In this essay, I argue that Dostoevsky’s text, Memoirs from the House of the Dead, shows that his concept of “freedom” becomes the “absent presence” (or the presence of an absence) which gives Dostoevsky’s narrator the idealization of a full, present freedom, which becomes increasing difficult to articulate. The mere concept of “freedom”, I argue, is for the narrator “ungraspable”. Both terms (freedom/unfreedom) are always already at work as an opposition, with the hierarchized term depending on the other for its identity. What our narrator is in effect chasing is the primary source or “origin” of freedom, that which imbues it with meaning — the supplement. In Derridean terms, the “supplement” refers to that which provides the metaphysical concept of “freedom” with the illusion of presence, the idea that it exists prior to and independently of its opposite. In this essay, I show how Dostoevsky’s text repeatedly deconstructs itself on this point; this feedback loop of freedom, the attempt to harness what clearly doesn’t exist in any containable form, serves as the basis for the aporia at the heart of the work, linked, inextricably, to its individualist ideology.

Keywords: Derrida, deconstruction, Dostoevsky, prison literature, supplementation, differánce