”Svidrigailov lives the life implied by Raskolnikov’s most fundamental theory. He oversteps, innovates, moves in any direction. His life is the endless utterance of a new language. One is tempted to say he is the better existentialist of the two but the word “existentialist” implies the intellectual acceptance of a theory, and Svidrigailov derives much of his power from the fact that he is unfettered by theory. We have already seen in the Underground Man how this particular sort of existentialism is essentially self-destructive. The theory proposes a pure spontaneity, but no one can be purely spontaneous who acts to demonstrate a theory. Raskolnikov in soliloquy desperately acknowledges that he cannot attain transcendent freedom, that he is, after all, no better than a louse: ‘… what shows that I am utterly a louse is that… I felt beforehand that I should tell myself so after killing her… The vulgarity! The abjectness!’ Raskolnikov is trapped in his own endless rationalizing consciousness. All the time, both in prospect and retrospect, he is constructing his own life as a story, and the whole point about the freedom he desires is that it must not be constructed in this way. Svidrigailov is free from this itch. He is not constantly saying to himself and to others, ‘Look how unpredictable I am.’ He lives without casuistry. (…)
But if Svidrigailov is as we have described him, what has happened to our picture of Crime and Punishment as showing the essential servitude of existential freedom? If we had only Raskolnikov to deal with, that position would be secure. But with the smiling figure of Svidrigailov watching us from the shadows as he watched Raskolnikov in the novel, a different hypothesis presents itself. Raskolnikov reverted to Christian values, not because the other path is intrinsically impassable, but simply because he, personally, lacked the strength to follow it. Doubtless his final submission shows more virtue, more goodness than his rebellion, but then virtue of that kind was never required of the existential hero. The implication is clear: Raskolnikov is an existential failure, and we know this because, stalking behind him through the novel is the living embodiment of existential success. (…)
If the lesson of the Raskolnikov spatial imagery is that his crime was the quintessence of un-freedom, what by parity of reasoning are we to make of the suicide of Svidrigailov? The Christian interpretation of Crime and Punishment, as we have seen, really needs here a similar bias in the narrative technique. But instead we are given water, space and air. (…)
(…) Heat, confinement and suffocation are one thing; wind, rain, and morning mist are another. If the former mean the denial of freedom, the latter must, by the language of the images we have learned, mean freedom; freedom with all its horror, but the real thing. We may say of Svidrigailov what was once said of another inhabitant of Hell:
…E parve di costoro
Quegli che vince e non colui che perde.”
It’s strange; the face I see in my nightmares isn’t the blank orb of Slender Man. It’s the piercing blue eyes of Javert.
Logically, it makes no sense. The ancient creature of death vs. his human servant. One is obviously more frightening than the other. And yet…. Slender Man no longer frightens me. What can he do to me? Kill me, or destroy my mind. He can’t destroy my mind unless I give in to fear. And I can’t give into fear unless I become afraid of him killing me. Once one stops caring about their life, it becomes an easy cycle to break.
Javert, though. He can do more than kill me, or drive me insane. He can make me lose. With Slender Man, it isn’t a question of winning or losing. There’s no competition; it’s like challenging a hurricane. He’s a force, not an opponent. But Javert, Javert is a human. And a human is something you can challenge. A human is something you should be able to defeat. Yet for all our encounters, not once have I gotten a victory over the man. Even the moments where I think I have won for sure, he steals a psychological victory from me at the last moment.
It doesn’t make sense. How can he keep beating me? He’s a slave to that thing; I’m a free man. He’s held back by his desire to protect his family and those close to him; I have no one I need to protect. He is chained by a sense of justice, admittedly a sense skewed by his master; I have no such beliefs preventing me from achieving my goals. I should be able to crush him like all the other pathetic humans I have encountered. Why does he keep winning?