Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov in 1880, when the art of recording and replaying sounds as they passed through the air was still an exciting and new concept. With recordings by Simon Vance, Frederick Davidson, and Tim Pigott-Smith, among many others in the current Dostoyevsky library, the advent of the audiobook – or “book on tape,” as we called it in the grand old days of analog – made it seem as if there had never been a novel that could not be listened to via speaker or ear bud. In the years since Dostoyevsky’s final novel, Karamazov has entered the public domain, which resulted in perhaps the most democratic audiobook of all time, the free version as read by volunteers worldwide and distributed by Librivox.
I can think of only two frontiers that could make an audio recording of The Brothers Karamazov exciting and new again. The first involves recording Dostoyevsky himself as he verbalizes his magnum opus “the way it was meant to be heard,” (as with so many studies – historical Jesus, historical Socrates, etc., we’d seek to hear the true utterances of the master himself and in this case we’d be utterly ashamed to admit that none of us know enough Russian to even value this reading) and the second involves getting a large number of public figures to record, one sentence at a time, the entire work from beginning to end. The first idea is on hold until I clear my time machine with the Oppenheimer Board of Ethics in science which, like my time machine, doesn’t exist yet. The second idea is #ProjectKaramazov.
I could go on about how important Dostoyevsky is to the art of literature, how influential he’s been to the writers who have followed him, or how The Brothers Karamazov is his finest work. I could cite the conversation from LOST where John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) and Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) discuss how Hemingway never felt like he could excel as a writer in a world where the artifacts of Dostoyevsky’s existence still remained. In reality, my motives are entirely selfish – Dostoyevsky is my favorite author and The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite book. If you’re a F. Scott Fitzgerald fan feel free to tweet daily about #ProjectTenderIsTheNight. For me it has to be #ProjectKaramazov.
How does Project Karamazov work? I, myself, or another member of #TeamKaramazov, make contact with a public figure – I use the term public figure very loosely to mean someone who is known, or should be known, on at least a nationwide basis, if not worldwide – and request a reading of one sentence from The Brothers Karamazov. As the public person prepares a recording, I prepare a bio to accompany the public figure’s performance of the sentence. Once I receive the recording, I publish the audio file and details about its reader for public consumption, and then the process begins anew.
Regarding the time frame of this project, I do not delude myself into thinking that #ProjectKaramazov will be completed within my lifetime. Just as there must be a variety of public figures to read the work, there must be a variety of “true believers” behind the scenes of #TeamKaramazov to make sure the project keeps going. Though readers will be recording passages from my favorite novel, this is ultimately not my project, at least not mine alone; it is a community collaboration where we will discuss literature, charity – certainly those focused on literacy and education – and what it means to create, to have your voice heard in a public forum. #ProjectKaramazov is all these things, but it is also simply one recitation of one story written long ago.
If you have any questions or comments about #ProjectKaramazov, this is a good place to share them.