The Appetite for Life


Ivan Karamazov in the novel Tthe Brothers Karamazov is the epitome of the man of reason, but this does not prevent him from knowing the joy of passion and love. He is also, presumably, the nihilist that does not believe in God, and hence can do anything he desires without moral consequences, but nonetheless he knows the importance of nature, life, love, and morality. He is the one who says if God does not exist, everything is permitted. But, As Ivan told his much more saintly brother, Alyosha,


“… even if I believed that life was pointless, lost faith in the woman I loved, lost faith in the order of things, or even became convinced that I was surrounded by a disorderly, evil, perhaps devil-made chaos, even if I were completely overcome by the horrors of human despair—I would still want to live on. Once I start drinking from this cup, I won’t put it down until I have emptied it to the last drop…many times I’ve asked myself  if there is anything in this world that would crush my frantic indecent appetite for life and have decided that nothing of the sort exists. This appetite for life is often branded as despicable by various  spluttering moralists and even more so by poets. It is of course the outstanding features of us Karamazovs.”


His appetite for life has overwhelmed his nihilism. Even though he is passionate about ideas, as Dostoevsky himself was, Ivan says,

“…so I want to live and go on living, even if its contrary to the rules of logic. Even if I do not believe in the divine order of things, the sticky young leaves emerging from their buds in the spring are dear to my heart; so is the blue sky and so are some human beings even though I often don’t know why I like them; I may still even admire an act of heroism with my whole heart, perhaps out of habit, although I may have long since stopped believing in heroism.”


Besides loving the world, including that world of nature he so glowingly described, the green world that emerges from its buds, he also loves the world of civilization—western civilization exemplified by Europe. It is where he finds meaning in a world that often seems meaningless. As Ivan said,

“I’ve been wanting to go to Western Europe and that’s where I’ll go from here. Oh  I know that going there is like going to a graveyard, I tell you!  The dead who lie under the stones there are dear to me, and every gravestone speaks of their ardent lives, of human achievements, of their passionate faith in the purpose of life, the truth they believed in, the learning they defended—and I know in advance that I’ll prostrate myself and kiss those stones and shed tears on them, although the whole time I’ll be fully aware that it’s only a graveyard and nothing more. And I’ll not be weeping out of despair, but simply because I’ll be happy shedding those tears. I’ll get drunk on my own emotion. I love those sticky little leaves in the spring and the blue sky, that’s what! You don’t love those things with reason, with logic, you love them with your innards, with your belly, and that’s how you love your own first youthful strength.”


After this magnificent speech in which he makes clear that he too is filled with passion, passion that includes the mind, includes intelligence, he asks Alyosha, his younger holy brother who has been preparing to become a priest, if this makes sense. And Alyosha says, “I understand only too well,” proving that he is also a Karamazov. All of them are filled with passion. All of them have this astonishing “appetite for life.” Even Alyosha, the near holy man, a near ascetic, says, “I’ve always thought that before anything else people should learn to love life in this world.”

He is no ascetic monk. He is a Karamazov.



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