The“Disease” Concept In The Literature Of F.M. Dostoevsky


F.M. Dostoevsky has revealed the new way to approach to the causes of diseases. It has become a diagnostic and therapeutic direction of homeosinergetic medicine of XXI. The writer develops the existential theory of understanding the cause of a disease not as a punishment but as an opportunity to heal. Synthesizing basic notions of synergetic medicine and linguistic model of the concept it is possible to describe the art "disease" concept represented by F.M. Dostoevsky as a gestalt. Its structure is represented by the nominations: healthy Spirit, Spirit disease, souls disease, body disease, mind disease, pain. In his works F.M. Dostoevsky revealed the essence of the new approach to the causes of diseases, which became the diagnostic and therapeutic direction of homeosynergetic medicine in the twenty-first century. The writer develops the existential theory of man's awareness of the causes of the disease not as punishment, but as opportunities for healing. Synthesizing the basic concepts of synergetic medicine and linguistic research model of the concept, it is possible to represent the structure of the artistic concept "Disease" in F.M. Dostoevsky’s representation in the form of a gestalt, the structure of which is synthesized through the nominees: a healthy Mind, a disease of the Spirit, a disease of the soul, a disease of the body, a disease of the mind, pain.

Keywords: Conceptexistentialismhealthy Mindgestalthomeosynergy


There is a lot of literature about Christian motives in the works of F.M. Dostoevsky. Moral problems of the characters, their spiritual tragedies are connected with their sins committed under the influence of "environment" and ideas against the God (Elkin, 2006, p. 54). In accordance with the author's plan the majority of the characters are sick: physically and psychologically, mentally and spiritually. Explaining the causes of the diseases F.M. Dostoevsky anticipates future scientific discoveries in field of mental diseases (Encyclopedic dictionary of medical terms, 2005). The diseases of Spirit, soul, body and mind are diagnosed in accordance with synergetic medicine rules and ideas of existentialism (Frolov, 2002, p. 43).

The notion "homeosynergy" (i.e. "spiritual medicine" and the appropiate term were introduced to the science by an Italian scientist, Dr. Luigi Marcello Monsellato: homeo - 'similar', syn - 'together', ergy - 'energy' (Monselatto, 2003, p. 123). The founder of homeosynergetic medicine M.Monsello told: "Disease - is already a healing process as the soul is cleaning through the body. The cause of a disease does not disappear, it remains. A person needs a doctor to realise his life way, the causes of his disease. Otherwise the person goes the path of sufferings, he is cleaning through the disease" (Popova & Sternin, 2005, p. 8).

Problem Statement

The homeosynergetic approach allows to bring the balance to the life energy of a person to heal the soul and body healing the Spirit (Dostoevskiy, 1984, p. 86). It is the energy of Spirit that materializes physical structure of human being including a physical body. A disease should not be considered as a fatality, but as a language that our physical body "speaks". Pain is the expression of suffering energy. It helps a person to realize his mistakes towards eternal laws of the Universe.

The author's language is not just a verbal means to express the idea of fiction, but "one of means to get access to person's consciousness, content and concept structure as a unit of thinking" (Popova & Sternin, 2007, p. 7). A concept is a global unit of thinking activity. It is a part of a person's consciousness. Z. D. Popova and I. A. Sternin allow two general models to study concepts: logical (from a concept to language means of its expression) and linguistic (from a key-word to the concept). Linguistic analysis focuses on the associative field of a concept basing on the key-words - nominations of the concept (as cited in Vorkachyov, 2002, p. 93).

Research Questions

Zusman (2001) distinguishes an art concept. He means "mental formation of a writer's consciousness. Its meaning is expressed in the semantical and associative context of literature"; an art concept "pierces the whole work structure, goes out of its borders, connecting a particular text with the other texts of the writer, religious and cultural constants of the nation and world view of the writer" (p. 24).

The concepts can be classified according to different reasons. Each of them expresses the "cognitive reality". Z. D. Popova and I. A. Sterning suggests classifying concepts ""according to the type of knowledge, reflection of the reality, that they represent" : ideas, schemes, notions, frames, scenarios, gestalts (as cited in Zusman, 2001, p. 31).

Vorkachyov (2002) tells that gestalt - is "a complex, integrated functioning thinking structure organizing the variety of separate phenomena in the consciousness. Gestalt is an integrated image that combines sensory and rational elements as well as dynamic and static aspects of the reflected object or phenomenon" (p. 94).

Purpose of the Study

The notion "gestalt" was introduced to psychiatry in 1951 by psychoanalyst Friedrich Perls, gestalt-therapy founder. Its main advantage is the integrated approach to the disease considering psychic, body, spiritual and social aspects of the illness. The scientist believes that people have a lot of geltalts which are easy to get rid of, it is just necessary to find them: "There is no need to dig into subconsciousness, we need to learn to notice what is evident. An integrated gestalt is a person with his environment and they mutually influence each other" (Vorkachyov, 2002, p. 94).

Gestalt-therapy completes the method of existential analysis of disease causes. "Existential analysis (lat. existentia - existance) - analysis of a patient's biography to find the sense, purposes and aims of his life, inner abilities of his personality to reassess his moral ideals and values; E.A. is used to elaborate psychotherapeutic recommendations to a patient" (Popova & Sternin, 2005, p. 7)..

Research Methods

Existentialism as a philosophy of existence makes an accent on the uniqueness of human being calling is irrational. In order to really understand a person it is necessary to study his life together with his relationships with the world. There are four main types of human existence (being in the world): physical, social, psychological (personal), spiritual (suprapersonal). Existential therapy considers psychological health and possibility of psychological diseases to be connected with righteous and dishonest ways of existence. J. Bugental tells that righteous living is to fully understand certain moment of life and take the responsibility for the choice of living. In reality it is rather hard and people live the most of their life in dishonest way, i.e. reject the risks connected with the choice and try to shuffle off the responsibility.

F.M. Dostoevsky's idea about the significance of a disease develops existential theory that a person realises a disease not as a punishment but as an opportunity to heal. The author published the novel "Idiot" in 1868 in "Russkyvesrnik" journal. It anticipated the development of the gestalt theory in psychiatry. It is no coincidence that the writer, who suffered from epilepsy and was good at medicine science about psyche, considered that the cause of body diseases was the discord of a person with the world around him and with his conscience.

Synthesizing basic notions of synergetic medicine and linguistic model of concept we present the structure of the "disease" art concept of F.M. Dostoevsky as a gestalt (as cited in Popova & Sternin, 2005, p. 7).

Gestalt structure of the "disease" concept is represented through the following nominations: healthy Spirit (associative field is expressed by the following elements: holy martyrs, the righteous, the blessed, fool in Christ, the elders), disease of the Spirit (associative field is expressed by the following elements: lack of faith, animosity, vanity, permissiveness, passion), disease of soul associative field is expressed by the following elements: mental patiences, possessed, tyrants, hysterics, monomaniacs), disease of body (associative field is expressed by the following elements: phthisis,paralysis, typhus,scurvy), disease of mind (associative field is expressed by the madness element), pain(associative field is expressed by the following elements: doubts, turmoil of guilt, compassion, guilt). Let’s move to table “Basic notions of synergetic and linguistic model” (Figure 01).

Figure 01. Basic notions of synergetic and linguistic model

The main character of the "Idiot" novel - knyaz Lev NikolaevichMyshkin is a "positively brilliant" person, a moral ideal created by the writer to illustrate the image of the person with healthy Spirit. He is a blessed righteous person who does not know the meaning of the word vanity and passion. His absolute love to people has no borders. Knyaz Myshkin is sincere to those who love him and those who despise him. He always follows the call of his heart. He speaks directly and emotionally as he tells only truth and does not hide his thoughts. Speaking about the last moments of a criminal before execution, knyaz concludes that the most severe pain is to wait for death and that turmoil of soul brings more pain than body sufferings: "... torture, for example; the sufferings and wounds bring pain to the body, hence it disturbs from the mental sufferings, so you are suffering only from wounds until you die" (Popova & Sternin, 2005, p. 78). The knyaz lives according to God's commandments. Although he suffers mentally - feels compassion for people. It is the highest form of soul anguish, martyrdom, available only for people with health Spirit.


F.M. Dostoevsky keeps curing people with his art. He fulfils the God's Covenant. His characters undergo a painful way of Spirit healing through the diseases of Spirit, diseases of soul diseases of body, soul pain. It is possible to heal the Spirity and be spiritually free only by accepting body pain or spiritual pain. The ordeals can be undergone with the God's name on your lips, devoting your life to people. Then you will be happy like Sonya Marmeladova, knyaz Myshkin, elder Zosima: "All righteous, saints, all the holly martyrs were happy" (Popova & Sternin, 2005, p. 8).

The novel "Brothers Karamazov" was published in 1880, two months before F.M. Dostoevsky died. It became the quintessence of the writer's philosophical concept: "The best thing a person can do with his personality is to destroy his I, give it to everybody undividedly and selflessly" (Frolov, 2002, p. 172). Elder Zosima is happy, feeling that his days are almost over, because he has "fulfilled the God's Covenant" (Vorkachyov, 2002, p. 96). F.M. Dostoevsky names the chapters gradually in his novel "Brothers Karamazov" to develop the idea: "Elders", "Pleasant women who have Faith", "A lady of little Faith", "The sensualists". Thus chapter order is the opportunity for readers to undergo the way back to the origins of sins and rethink their life.

"A lady of little Faith" is about landowner Khokhlakova who confess to wise elder Zosima that she is suffering from the lack of faith. Ivan Karamazov has doubts about the divine beginning of the Earth, but elder Zosima blesses him: "Be thankful to the God who gave you the highest heart which is able to suffer like that". Soul anguish - is the cleansing of the soul from the seduces and passions, it is redemption of sins through the inner pain, through repentance. Mentally ill characters can heal or get rid of disease turmoil by God's grace. Hysteric - is a severe disease of women. It happens due to hard exhausting work, hard childbirth, hopeless grief; hysterics screamed or even barked, their body trembling with cramps - "were possessed" (Popova &, Sternin, 2007, p. 73). The hysterics felt better when a priest was reading the prayer covering the patient with a stole.


F.M. Dostoevsky contrasts mad people to mentally ill characters. He describes the types of them in "The House of the Dead": those who grimace (HD, p.260), neshechko (HD, p.261), unhappy (HD, p. 263). This typology can be observed in the novel "Idiot". Nastasya Filippovna hysterically calls herself mad after the conversation with Aglaya about their letters. But knyaz observing her desperate mindless face says with supplication: "But she's so... so unhappy!" (Popova & Sternin, 2007, p. 92).

Dostoevsky suffered from epilepsy. That is why he wondered about the causes and consequences of his disease as he understood that his condition was severe and could develop to madness. His subtle irony over himself is tragic: what is more terrible - mental disease or madness? The author's self-irony is expressed in the words of Lizaveta Prokofyevna, the General's wife, to her daughter Aglaya: "I'm a fool with the heart but without mind while you're a fool with mind but heartless; both we are unhappy, both we suffer" (Popova & Sternin, 2007, p. 102).

Madness cannot be cured. From the one hand, it is the punishment for the sins, from the other hand, it is the release from mental anguish. F.M. Dostoevsky ingeniously develops the idea with the wordplay. "It is truth that when the God wants to punish, first of all, he delights the mind", - says Lebedev, trying to make a hint on knyaz Myshkin's kind heart who returns him back his "lost" four hundred rubles. Does it mean that knyaz Myshkin is a "fool with mindless heart", i.e. mentally ill? Is not he a mad person, as the society calls him? Knyaz Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin has a brilliant intelligence, ability to analyse himself, skill to control his painful attacks: "The feeling of life, self-aware was almost tenfold during these moments which seemed to be like lightnings. Mind, heart were illuminated with the extraordinary light; all the wariness and doubts somehow fade away, were settled into a higher calmness full of mind". Knyaz Myshkin is not an idiot, he is kind, sincere, honest. "Compassion is the most important and, perhaps, the only law of human being" for him (Dostoevskiy, 2002a, p.246).

The soul of mad people does not suffer, they do not feel their disease because they do not know about it. What is the cause of madness? Each of us has subconscious pity to himself. It can become a cause of clouding the mind. Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova, caring for her dying husband, screams at the priest with irritation: "Thank God, he is dying! Less damage!"(Gladuschak, 2004, p. 18). The neighbours jostle to the door "feeling content what can always be noticed even in the closest people if something bad happens to people around them" (Gladuschak, 2004, p. 51). The answer to the question can be found in the Raskolnokov's dream about the trichinas: "People who took them into themselves momentally became insane. <...> Villages, cities and nations were infected by insanity. <...> People killed each other with senseless animosity" (Dostoevskiy, 2002b, p. 554). Raskolnikov's dream in the context of World War can be explained as a civil war and political coup d'etat. The disease of the society, total insanity starts with the animosity considered to be normal. It is an attempt to climb the steps which lead down. From the point of view of homeosynergetic philosophy the main cause of the "civilization disease" is time compression. The diseases of body is the highest degree of retard of a person from "his" time. Body is the most inertial part of person. In relation to mind and Spirit it always lives in past. The hierarchical model "body - soul - Spirit - mind" is built on the time speed. That is why it can take the whole life for body to return back to "its" time, decades - for soul, years - for spirit, - hours - for mind. It is understanding the causes of the disease which is responsible for the result of Spirit healing (Dostoevskiy, 2014b, p. 167).

"Notes from the Underground" starts with the words: "I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man." (NU, p.43). The ellipsis prompts us to think about the cause of the character's disease, but the next affirmative sentence after the ellipsis helps to make the definite conclusion: people became mad because of the aggressive world perception. Hence the saving power combating evil - the power of good, the faith in God is necessary. The writer believes that Animosity and tyranny become an incurable disease: "Blood and power besot: a person becomes rude, dissolute; mind and senses can get and, finally, like the most weird things. A person and citizen die in the tyrant forever. And it is almost impossible to return back to human dignity, repentance, revival" (Dostoevskiy, 2014a, p. 57).

From the Christian and synergetic medicine point of view a disease is good because it can save a soul of a person, make a moral coup inside him, make him to approach God.

Disease can help a person to grow up spiritually but only in case it becomes a voluntary suffering when a person consciously choses to undergo the trial by pain in accordance with God's will. In this case a person reveals patience, humbleness and obedience which should be awarded. Body disease and the sufferings of a patience, undoubtedly, are closely connected with the condition of his Spirit and soul. Archbishop Luka (Voyno-Yasnetsky) writes in his book "Duh, dusha, telo" [Spirit, soul, body]: "The powerful influence of a patience's psyche to disease is well-known. His spirit condition, trust or distrust to his doctor, the depth of his faith and hope to be cured determine the end of the disease. Psychotherapy which is mostly verbal or rather spiritual influence on the patience is a recognized method to cure many diseases which often shows brilliant results" (Dostoevskiy, 2014a, p. 217).

The saving concept of cleansing the Spirit through diseases of soul and body is represented through the words of characters of the main F.M. Dostoevsky's novels.

How to escape from insanity if you have already committed a terrible evil? "Suffering should be accepted and atoned, that is needed", - answers Sonya Marmeladova (Dostoevskiy, 2002b, p. 227).

Where is the Good power that shows us the right spiritual way? "Look at the child, look at the God's dawn, look at the grass as it grows, look into the eyes which love you..." - bequeaths the Blessed knyaz Myshkin (Dostoevskiy, 2014c, p. 589).

What are the main life virtues which help to save healthy Spirit? "Let's be, firstly and first of all, kind, then honest, and then - let's not forget about each other", - concludes Alesha Karamazov (Vorkachyov, 2002, p. 96).

All F.M. Dostoevsky's art is stitched with red thread of healing through pain and sufferings idea. Anticipating synergetic medicine theories and existential approach to the causes of diseases, the writer proclaims eternal truth of compassion, love to people and divine laws of human being in his art. The disease should be considered as suffering for sins, redemption through pain brings cure to Spirit. Reading F.M. Dostoevsky's novels, an insightful reader comprehends the divine commandments and cures his soul.


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Artyushkov, I., & Mukhametzyanova, R. (2020). The“Disease” Concept In The Literature Of F.M. Dostoevsky. In I. Murzina (Ed.), Humanistic Practice in Education in a Postmodern Age, vol 93. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 80-86). European Publisher.