Wonder: to enter the Divine palpitating in everything

August 2020

Rimini, Tuesday 18th August – “If one single man has the power to pervert everyone, a single man could also
have the ability to convert everyone, he just need the courage to follow the truest desire of his heart and
experience wonder”. This is how Tat’jana Kasatkina, director of the research centre “Dostoevskij e la Cultura
Mondiale” (Dostoevskij and World Culture) at the Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy
of Sciences, describes the play “The dream of a ridiculous man” staged at the Rimini Meeting with Mario
Sala and directed by Lorenzo Loris of the Teatro Out Off in Milan. After the play, some students from Moscow
and Modena that had worked on the text in the last months expressed their comments and considerations.
The anonymous protagonist of Dostoevskij's monologue, published in 1877 in his magazine "A Writer’s Diary",
is an ordinary man, nauseated by his inconsistency and the mockery of others (he is, in fact, "ridiculous"),
to whom something extraordinary happens, which stops him at the edge of the abyss and saves him.
In this play, some analogies with Dante’s Divine Comedy could be drawn. It begins when his decision to
commit suicide, a decision, paradoxically, that is made by looking at "a little star", the only one sparkling in
a night "that could not be darker" (Dante’s "shadowed forest"?). But then a little girl pulls him by the elbow
and cries for help because her mother is dying. He shoos her away and goes home to shoot himself in the
head. But that encounter has marked him, it has made him feel wonder; Kasatkina says that "he has broken
the boundaries of the isolation of a heart of stone".
Once he gets in his miserable flat, he sits down and takes the revolver out, with which he would have shot
himself “if it hadn’t been for that girl” (Is she another Beatrice under a new name?).
He does not do it, however, because he has to solve a dilemma first: if he had done an ignominious deed on
Mars and then returned to Earth, would he or would he not have felt shame for what he had done? While
reflecting, he, who never slept at night, falls asleep until dawn (Dante was also full of sleep at the beginning
of the Comedy) and has a dream. He dreams that he is shooting himself, but not in the head: in the heart,
"because dreams," he says, "proceed not from reason but from desire, not from the head but from the
heart and that dream on November 3rd showed me the truth, it gave me a new great and strong life”. He
dreams that after his suicide, a mysterious being (a new Virgil?) pulls him out of the tomb and takes him on
a fantastic journey (and a "fantastic tale", Kasatkina recalled, "for Dostoevsky is always extremely real").
This "dark and unknown being" takes him for a flight, making him burn millennia and sidereal spaces (isn’t
it true that Dante flies to Heaven?) and promising him, with "a certain sadness in his words", that he would
have seen everything.
The planet on which they land is a kind of primordial earth, an Eden, "another land as delightful as heaven",
where everything is perfect and innocent, where people live without any fault and don’t desire anything
anymore because they have "a life already full; and they were beautiful, beautiful, beautiful". Those beings
"had no temples or churches, not even a faith", but the " firm knowledge that when their earthly joy was
fulfilled to the limits of earthly nature, there would then come for them, both for the living and for the
dead, a still greater expansion of their contact with the Entirety of the universe. They lived in a kind of total,
mutual, general love.” But suddenly, everything changes: that Eden is corrupted, men become evil, there is
no longer harmony either among themselves or with nature. That Eden is transformed in today's world, it
gets sick. Why? Whose fault is it? "It was I who perverted them all. How it could happen I don't know, but I
remember it clearly. Like an atom of plague, I infected that whole land with myself." Through him, sin had
returned to the world. It returned through him and that seemingly insignificant act of rejection of that crying
In the dream, in that extraordinary compression of time and space, the protagonist saw the consequences
of his actions. "What we do is not lost," comments Kasatkina, "but it is the cause of the world's appearance.”
The ridiculous man, at this point, awakens, with still in his ears the mockery and derision of those distorted
men, who would have wanted to put him in a mental institution, because he and his remorse and his vow
of atonement were becoming dangerous for them. He woke up and decided that his existence would be life
and preaching, preaching of what he had dreamed of, "because I saw the truth with my own eyes, I saw its
glory.” They will tell him that he had dreamed, but he will narrate the "dream", because "the fantastic is supremely
real". In the dream, he discovered the keystone of everything, the one that could bring heaven
back on earth: "Love others as yourself, that's what is essential, and that's all, nothing more is needed. It is
an old truth, repeated and read a million times, and yet it did not take root" (like Dante’s "Love that moves
the sun and the other stars").
In the last line, the moment from which everything started reappears: that little girl. "I found her again and
that's why I’ll go, I’ll go."
"Dostoyevsky's story," explains Kasatkina, "is a story about the illness of contemporary man: isolation, the
separation of the individual from others and the world. And the most evident symptom is the absence of
the capacity to wonder: everything is the same, everything is indifferent, everything is on the same level.
But the writer also indicates a possible cure: to return to wonder and "wonder", in Russian, means to enter
into the divine, into that divine which palpitates in everything we have before us and which unites us with
all living beings. Marvel breaks the isolation and binds men to the level of their deepest core, of their

[Quotes edited by translator]