Dostoevsky and the Epileptic Mode of Being

Paul Fung

Legenda (General Series)


10 December 2014  •  160pp

ISBN: 978-1-909662-08-7 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95


For Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-81), who lived with epileptic seizures for more than thirty years, illness is an ineradicable part of existence. Epilepsy in his writings denotes both a set of physical symptoms and a state of survival in which the protagonists incessantly try to articulate, theorize, or master what is ungraspable in their everyday experience. Their attempts to deal with what they cannot control or comprehend results in disappointment, or what Dostoevsky called a mystical terror. Dostoevsky's heroes are unable fully to understand this state, and their existence becomes 'epileptic' in so far as self-knowledge and self-coincidence are never achieved.

Fung explores new critical pathways by reexamining five of Dostoevsky's post-Siberian novels. Drawing on insights from writers including Benjamin, Blanchot, Freud, Lacan and Nietzsche, the book takes epilepsy as a trope for discussing the unspeakable moments in the texts, and is intended for students and scholars who are interested in the subject of modernity, critique of the visual, and dialogues between philosophy and literature.

Paul Fung is Assistant Professor in English at Hang Seng Management College, Hong Kong.


  • ‘Fung avoids the trap of a simplistic focus on Dostoevsky’s own real-life epilepsy. While noting the author's terror at the illness [...], he remains wisely off-trend by withholding any cod-scientific correlation between epilepsy and literary creativity. Fung’s interest is, rather, in what Dostoevsky wrote, more than the fact that his slow periods of recovery meant that he often could not write anything at all. And by focusing on ‘moments of caesuras and breaks’, Fung also sets himself apart from the myriad critics drawn to the famous scenes where verbal, and sometimes physical, arguments erupt with astonishing force... A Dostoevsky scholar to watch.’ — Andre van Loon, Review 31 online
  • ‘It’s a great philosophical read, which squeezes Dostoevsky and his characters in and out of the minds of any number of puissant Western thinkers. It deserves a welcome and respected place up on the bookshelves of Academia, next to the many fascinating books on the life and works of that perverse and talented genius of Russian literature: Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky.’ — U. R. Bowie, 7 July 2015
  • ‘This book continues the philosophical discussion of Fedor Dostoevskii started by Friedrich Nietzsche, Lev Shestov, Alex de Jonge, and many others. Paul Fung de- scribes existential experiences of caesura (suspension), timelessness, and anticipation of death, which he attributes to some of Dostoevskii’s characters and, possibly, to the writer himself.’ — Irina Sirotkina, Slavic Review 75.1, Spring 2016, 210-11
  • ‘Paul Fung opens new perspectives onto Dostoevsky's post-Siberian novels by focusing on their preoccupation, at once morbid and exalted, with the moment, whose ineffable paradoxes congeal metaphorically around the epileptic attack.’ — Mark R. Pettiss, Russian Review 75.1, 2016, 140-42

Bibliography entry:

Fung, Paul, Dostoevsky and the Epileptic Mode of Being (Legenda, 2014)

First footnote reference: 35 Paul Fung, Dostoevsky and the Epileptic Mode of Being (Legenda, 2014), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Fung, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Fung, Paul. 2014. Dostoevsky and the Epileptic Mode of Being (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Fung 2014: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Fung 2014: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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