The Gift of Active Empathy

E-book – $39.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3338-9

Cloth Text – $120.00

ISBN 978-0-8101-3337-2

Paper Text – $39.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3336-5
Publication Date
June 2016
Page Count
344 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Gift of Active Empathy

Scheler, Bakhtin, and Dostoevsky
Alina Wyman

This innovative study brings the early writings of Mikhail Bakhtin into conversation with Max Scheler and Fyodor Dostoevsky to explore the question of what makes emotional co-experiencing ethically and spiritually productive. In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Bakhtin's well-known concept of the dialogical partner expresses what he sees as the potential of human relationships in Dostoevsky's work. But his earlier reflections on the ethical and aesthetic uses of empathy, in part inspired by Scheler's philosophy, suggest a still more fundamental form of communication that operates as a basis for human togetherness in Dostoevsky. Applying this rich and previously neglected theoretical apparatus in a literary analysis, Wyman examines the obstacles to active empathy in Dostoevsky's fictional world, considers the limitations and excesses of empathy, addresses the problem of frustrated love in The Idiot and Notes from Underground, and provides a fresh interpretation of two of Dostoevsky's most iconic characters, Prince Myshkin and Alyosha Karamazov.
About the Author

ALINA WYMAN is an assistant professor of Russian at New College of Florida.

“Wyman’s book is a thoughtful addition to what Slavic literary criticism does so well: cultivating the productive relationship between literature and moral philosophy. . . . The book is remarkable in its philosophical prowess and depth of literary analysis. It will surely become a useful guide to those who seek a better understanding of Dostoevskii, as well as a philosophical self-help manual with the highest potential for spiritual regeneration.” —Alex Spektor, Slavic Review

“Wyman’s book is a perfectly constructed circumference, where three major dots—Scheler, Bakhtin, and Dostoevsky—are connected in an intrinsic manner by a scholar who thoroughly examined all major psychological novels by Dostoevsky and did so through the magnifying optic of the two most prominent thinkers of the twentieth century. I am delighted to see such a book published.” —Slav N. Gratchev, The Russian Review

"Bakhtin’s book on Dostoevskii was attacked as ‘idealist’ by its first Marxist reviewers in 1929. Ever since, its dazzling but not watertight case for polyphony and the dialogic word has prompted philosophically equipped critics to offer correctives. Alina Wyman is among the best. Her method is to use the younger Bakhtin to improve upon the older, with the help of the German phenomenologist Max Scheler, whose work on sympathy Bakhtin admired... The Gift of Active Empathy might well be not a process, not a device, not a skill incrementally learned novel by novel, but simply and luminously a gift. —Caryl Emerson, Slavic and East European Review