Scene 12: Meeting

Kirilov and Peter in the living room of the rooming house.

Peter: Sit down, I have something to say to you. I came to remind you of the agreement binding us.

Kirilov: I am not bound by anything or to anything.

Peter: What, have you changed your mind?

Kirilov: I have not changed my mind. But I act according to my own will. I am free.

Peter: All right, all right. I am willing to admit that it is your own free will, provided that your will hasnít changed. You get excited about a word. You have become very irritable of late.

Kirilov: I am not irritable, but I donít like you. Yet I shall keep my word.

Peter: But it must be very clear between us. You still intend to kill yourself?

Kirilov: Still.

Peter: Fine. Admit that no one is forcing you to it. All right, all right. I expressed myself very stupidly. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, no one can force you. Let me go on. You belonged to our organization and you confessed your plan to one of its members?

Kirilov: I did not confess anything; I simply said what I would do.

Peter: Good, good. Indeed, there was no reason to confess anything. You simply made a statement. Fine.

Kirilov: No. itís not fine. Youíre just talking. I made up my mind to kill myself because I want to. You saw that my suicide could help the organization. If you commit a crime here and the guilty are pursued, I blow out my brains, leaving a letter in which I declare that I am the guilty one. So you asked me to wait awhile before killing myself. I answered that I would wait, since it didnít matter to me.

Peter: Good. But you gave your word to write the letter with my help and to wait for my orders. Only in this matter, of course, for in everything else you are free.

Kirilov: I didnít give my word. I agreed because it was a matter of indifference to me.

Peter: If you wish. Do you still feel the same?

Kirilov: Yes. Will it be soon?

Peter: In a few days.

Kirilov: Of what should I declare myself guilty?

Peter: Youíll know in time.

Kirilov: Good. But donít forget this: Iíll not help you in any way against Stavrogin.

Peter: All right, all right.

(Shatov enters from an inner room. Kirilov leaves.)

Peter: Itís good for you to have come.

Shatov: I donít need youíre approval.

Peter: You are wrong. In the fix you are in, you will need my help, and I have already used up considerable breath in your favor.

Shatov: I donít have to answer to anyone. I am free.

Peter: Not altogether. Many things were entrusted to you. You have no right to break off without warning.

Shatov: I sent a very clear letter.

Peter: We didnít understand it clearly. They say that you might denounce them now. I defended you. They have agreed now for you to be free if only you return the printing press and the papers. Where is the press?

Shatov: In the forest. I buried everything in the ground.

Peter: In the ground? Very good! Why, itís very good indeed!

(There is a knock at the door. The plotters enter: Liputin, Virginsky, Shigalov, Lyamnshin, and a defrocked seminarian. As they settle down, they are already talking. Stavrogin comes in.)

Virginsky (at the door): Ah! Here is Stavrogin.

Liputin: Heís just in time.

The Seminarian: Gentlemen, I am not accustomed to waste my time. Since you were so kind as to invite me to this meeting, may I ask a question?

Liputin: Go ahead, comrade, go ahead. Everyone here likes you since you played that practical joke on the woman distributing religious tracts by sticking obscene photographs in her Bibles.

The Seminarian: It wasnít a practical joke. I did it out of conviction, being of the opinion that God must be destroyed.

Liputin: Is that what they teach in the seminary?

The Seminarian: No. In the seminary they suffer because of God. Consequently they hate him. In any case here is my question: has the meeting begun or not?

Shigalov: Allow me to point out that we continue to talk aimlessly. Can the authorities tell us why we are here?

(All look toward Peter, who changes his position as if he were about to speak.)

Liputin: Lyamshin, please, sit down at the piano.

Lyamshin: What? Again! Itís the same every time!

Liputin: If you play, no one can hear us. Play, Lyamshin! For the cause!

Virginsky: Why, yes, play, Lyamshin.

(Lyamshin sits down at he piano and plays. All look toward Peter.)

Liputin: Peter, have you no declaration to make?

Peter: Absolutely none. But I should like a glass of cognac.

Liputin: And you, Stavrogin?

Stavrogin: No, thanks, Iíve given up drinking.

Liputin: Iím not talking of cognac. Iím asking if you want to speak.

Stavrogin: Speak? What about? No.

(Virginsky gives the bottle of cognac to Peter, who drinks a great deal during the evening. But Shigalov rises, dull and somber-looking, and lays on the table a thick notebook filled with fine writing, which all look at with fear.)

Shigalov: I request the floor.

Virginsky: You have it. Take it.

(Lyamshin plays louder.)

The Seminarian: Please, Mr. Lyamshin, but really we canít hear ourselves.

(Lyamshin stops playing.)

Shigalov: Gentlemen, in asking for your attention, I owe you a few preliminary explanations.

Peter: Lyamshin, pass me the scissors that are on the piano.

Lyamshin: Scissors? For what?

Peter: I forgot to cut my nails. I should have done so three days ago. Go on, Shigalov, go on; Iím not listening.

Shigalov: Having devoted myself wholeheartedly to studying the society of the future, I reached the conclusion that form the earliest times down to the present all creators of social systems simply indulged in nonsense. So I had to build my own system of organization. Here it is! (He strikes the notebook.) To tell the truth, my system is not completely finished. In its present state, however, it deserves discussion. For I shall have to explain to you also the contradiction to which it leads. Starting from unlimited freedom, I end up in fact with unlimited despotism.

Virginsky: That will be hard to make the people swallow!

Shigalov: Yes. And yet - let me insist upon it - there is not and there cannot be any other solution to the social problem that is mine. It may lead to despair, but there is no other way.

The Seminarian: If I have understood properly, the agenda concerns Mr. Shigalovís vast despair.

Shigalov: Your expression is more nearly correct than you think. Yes, I was brought smack up against despair. And yet there was no other way out but my solution. If you donít adopt it, you will do nothing worthwhile. And someday youíll come around to it.

The Seminarian: I suggest voting to find out just how far Mr. Shigalovís despair interests us and whether it is necessary for us to devote our meeting to the reading of his book.

Virginsky: Letís vote! Letís vote!

Lyanshin: Yes, yes.

Liputin: Gentleman! Gentlemen! Letís not get excited. Shigalov is too modest. I have read his book. Certain of its conclusions are debatable. But he started form human nature as we now know it through science and he really solved the social problem.

The Seminarian: Really?

Liputin: Yes indeed. He proposes dividing humanity into tow unequal parts. About a tenth will have absolute freedom and unlimited authority over the other nine tenths, who will have to lose their personality and become like a flock of sheep. Kept in the state of complete submission of sheep, they will, on the other hand, achieve the state of innocence of sheep. In short, it will be Eden, except that men will have to work.

Shigalov: Yes. Thatís how I achieve equality. All men are slaves and equal in their slavery. They canít be equal otherwise. Hence it is essential to level. For instance, the level of education and talent will be lowered. Since men of talent always tend to rise, Ciceroís tongue will have to be torn out, Copernicusís eyes gouged out, and Shakespeare stoned. There is my system.

Liputin: Yes, Mr. Shigalov discovered that superior faculties are germs of inequality, hence of despotism. Consequently, as soon as a man is seen to have superior gifts, he is shot down or imprisoned. Even very handsome people are suspect in this regard and must be suppressed.

Shigalov: And even fools, if they are very notable fools, for they might lead others into temptation of glorying in their superiority, which is germ of despotism. By these means, on the other hand, equality will be absolute.

The Seminarian: But you have fallen into a contradiction. Such equality is despotism.

Shigalov: Thatís true, and thatís what drives me to despair. But the contradiction disappears the moment you say that such despotism is equality.

Peter: What nonsense!

Liputin: Is it really nonsense? On the contrary, I find it very realistic.

Peter: I wasnít speaking of Shigalov or of his ideas, which bear the mark of genius, of course, but I meant all such discussions.

Liputin: By discussing, one might reach a result. That is better than maintaining silence while posing as a dictator.

(All approve this direct blow.)

Peter: Writing and constructing systems is just nonsense. An aesthetic pastime. You are simply bored here, thatís all.

Liputin: We are merely provincial, to be sure, and therefore worthy of pity. But up to now you havenít brought out anything sensational either. Those tracts you gave us say that universal society will be improved only by lopping off a hundred million heads. That doesnít seem to me any easier to put into practice than Shigalovís ideas.

Peter: The fact is that, by lopping off a hundred million heads you progress faster, obviously.

The Seminarian: You also run the risk of getting your own head lopped off.

Peter: Itís a disadvantage. And thatís the risk you always run when you try to establish a new religion. But I can very well understand, sir, that you would hesitate. And I consider that you have the right to withdraw.

The Seminarian: I didnít say that. And I am ready to bind myself definitively to an organization if it proves serious and efficient.

Peter: What, you would be willing to take an oath of allegiance to the group we are organizing?

The Seminarian: That is to sayÖWhy not, ifÖ

Peter: Listen, gentlemen, I can understand very well that you expect from me explanations and revelations about the workings of our organization. But I cannot give them to you unless I am sure of you unto death. So let me ask you a question. Are you in favor of endless discussions or in favor of millions of heads? Of course, this is merely an image. Are you in favor of wallowing in the swamp or of crossing it at full speed?

Lyamshin: At full speed, of course, at full speed! Why wallow?

Peter: Are you therefore in agreement as to the methods set forth in the tracts I gave you?

The Seminarian: That is to sayÖWhy, of courseÖBut they still have to be specified!

Peter: If you are afraid, there is no point in specifying.

The Seminarian: No one here is afraid and you know it. But you are treating us like pawns on a chessboard. Explain things to us clearly and we can consider them with you.

Peter: Are you ready to bind yourself to the organization by oath?

Virginsky: Certainly, if you ask it of us decently.

Peter (nodding toward Shatov): Liputin, you havenít said anything.

Liputin: I am ready to answer that question and any others. But I should first like to be sure that there is no stool pigeon here.

(Tumult, Lyamshin rushes to the piano.)

Peter: What? What do you mean? You alarm me. Is it possible that there is a spy among us?

(All talk at once.)

Liputin: We would be compromised!

Peter: Iíd be more compromised than you. Hence, you must all answer a question which will decide whether we are to separate or go on. If one of you learned that a murder was being prepared for the good of the cause, would he go and warn the police? (To the seminarian) allow me to ask you first.

The Semiarian: Why me first?

Peter: I donít know you so well.

The Seminarian: Such a question is an insult.

Peter: Be more precise.

The Seminarian: I would not denounce the group, of course not.

Peter: And you, Virginsky?

Virginsky: No, a hundred times no!

Liputin: But why is Shatov getting up?

(Shatov has in fact stood up. Pale with wrath, he stares at Peter and then strides toward the door.)

Peter: Your attitude may harm you greatly, Shatov.

Shatov: At least it may be useful to the spy and scoundrel that you are. So be satisfied. I shall not stoop to answering your vicious question.

(He goes out. Tumult. Everyone has got up except Stavrogin. Peter drinks another glass of cognac.)

Liputin: Well! The test has done some good. Now we know.

(Stavrogin gets up.)

Lyamshin: Stavrogin didnít answer either.

Virginsky: Stavrogin, can you answer the question?

Stavrogin: I donít see the need of it.

Virginsky: But we all compromised ourselves and you didnít!

Stavrogin: Well, then, you will be compromised and I wonít be. (Tumult.)

The Seminarian: But Peter didnít answer the question either.

Stavrogin: To be sure. (He goes out.)

Peter: Listen! Stavrogin is the delegate. You must all obey him, and also me, his second, unto death. Unto death, you understand. And remember that Shatov has just clearly taken his stand as a traitor and that traitors must be punished. Take an oathÖCome now, take an oathÖ

The Seminarian: To what?

Peter: Are you men or arenít you? And will you hesitate before an oath of honor?

Virginsky: But what must we swear?

Peter: To punish traitors. Quickly, take an oath. Hurry, now. I must catch up with Stavrogin. Take an oathÖ

(They all raise their hands very slowly. Peter rushes outside.)