The Odd Man Karakozov

The Odd Man Karakozov: Imperial Russia, Modernity, and the Birth of Terrorism

Claudia Verhoeven
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Odd Man Karakozov
    Book Description:

    On April 4, 1866, just as Alexander II stepped out of Saint Petersburg's Summer Garden and onto the boulevard, a young man named Dmitry Karakozov pulled out a pistol and shot at the tsar. He missed, but his "unheard-of act" changed the course of Russian history-and gave birth to the revolutionary political violence known as terrorism.

    Based on clues pulled out of the pockets of Karakozov's peasant disguise, investigators concluded that there had been a conspiracy so extensive as to have sprawled across the entirety of the Russian empire and the European continent. Karakozov was said to have been a member of "The Organization," a socialist network at the center of which sat a secret cell of suicide-assassins: "Hell." It is still unclear how much of this "conspiracy" theory was actually true, but of the thirty-six defendants who stood accused during what was Russia's first modern political trial, all but a few were exiled to Siberia, and Karakozov himself was publicly hanged on September 3, 1866. Because Karakozov was decidedly strange, sick, and suicidal, his failed act of political violence has long been relegated to a footnote of Russian history.

    In The Odd Man Karakozov, however, Claudia Verhoeven argues that it is precisely this neglected, exceptional case that sheds a new light on the origins of terrorism. The book not only demonstrates how the idea of terrorism first emerged from the reception of Karakozov's attack, but also, importantly, what was really at stake in this novel form of political violence, namely, the birth of a new, modern political subject. Along the way, in characterizing Karakozov's as an essentially modernist crime, Verhoeven traces how his act profoundly impacted Russian culture, including such touchstones as Repin's art and Dostoevsky's literature.

    By looking at the history that produced Karakozov and, in turn, the history that Karakozov produced, Verhoeven shows terrorism as a phenomenon inextricably linked to the foundations of the modern world: capitalism, enlightened law and scientific reason, ideology, technology, new media, and above all, people's participation in politics and in the making of history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6028-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Transliteration, Translation, Dates, and Dramatis Personae
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The epigraph to this book comes from the preface to The Brothers Karamazov (1880). It is Dostoevsky’s preemptive strike against readers who will say that the book’s hero, Alyosha Karamazov, is not much of a hero at all: “What has he really done? To whom is he known, and for what? Why should I, the reader, spend my time studying the facts of his life?”¹ Dostoevsky concedes the critique and admits that Alyosha is “a strange man, even an odd man,” but then he turns around and comes back with the argument that in fact the odd man “bears within...

  6. Chapter 1 From the Files of the Karakozov Case: The Virtual Birth of Terrorism
    (pp. 10-38)

    Terrorism virtually emerged from the Russian autocracy’s mishandling of April 4, 1866. It was the government’s slanted analysis of twenty-five-year-old Dmitry Vladimirovich Karakozov’s attempt on Alexander II that brought into being this new political specter. This is true even though the Karakozov case was tried before the empire’s newly reformed and highly respected justice system, and most people thought the Supreme Criminal Court had checked and balanced the autocracy’s reactionary reading of the case. No doubt, had the case been tried before the notoriously corrupt old courts, many more of Karakozov’s alleged co-conspirators would have been sent to the gallows....

  7. Chapter 2 The Real Rakhmetov: The Image of the Revolutionary after Karakozov (Being Also an Episode in the Reception History of What Is to Be Done?)
    (pp. 39-65)

    Regarding the Archimedean point he made with his Black Square (1913), the artist Kasimir Malevich once noted, “Today it is God, tomorrow Nitrogen, the day after a new X, and all names and X-s will form the sum total of misunderstandings.”¹ In the wake of Karakozov’s attempt on Alexander II, one of the main “X-s” society mobilized to mend meaning and make sense of what had happened was “conspiracy.” Around this notion public discourse fluttered feverishly, and when it finally settled, there appeared, following the form of a particular type of conspirator, a decisive image of the revolutionary.

    Not that...

  8. Chapter 3 “A Life for the Tsar”: Tsaricide in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
    (pp. 66-84)

    Among scholars of Russian revolutionary history, it is well known that Karakozov’s failure to assassinate Alexander II unleashed a wave of patriotic jubilation (which, so they say, proves that the empire was still too traditional to embrace progressive politics). That the wave’s mighty crest carried to hallowed heights the figure of some Osip Ivanovich Komisarov, however, is barely remembered. And of all the memorabilia that once upon a time flooded Russia’s developing markets, a sole survivor now hangs in Moscow’s erstwhile Museum of the Revolution, accompanied by a brief caption: “Medal in memory of Tsar Alexander II’s deliverance by O....

  9. Chapter 4 Raskolnikov, Karakozov, and the Etiology of a “New Word”
    (pp. 85-103)

    Because the stories produced by April 4 have always obstinately refused to agree with one another, the event hurls the historian straight into the chaotic heart of history’s homonymic nature. The date marks not only the original act of revolutionary terrorism, but also an as yet unsolved crime: did Karakozov act alone or as part of a conspiracy? Unless the case is closed, it seems, discovering the proper narrative for this event will remain as elusive as its motive is mysterious, and therefore April 4 always tempts the historian to search for the source of the crime, to locate the...

  10. Chapter 5 Armiak; or, “So Many Things in an Overcoat!”
    (pp. 104-127)

    This chapter analyzes the meaning of Karakozov’s appearance on April 4, 1866, where “appearance” means both historical emergence and physical looks. For reasons that have been discussed in the first half of this book, Karakozov is the odd man out of the revolutionary movement; he does not quite fit in with the other figures in this tradition. The symbol I have chosen to represent this fact is Karakozov’s peasant armiak, a garment much more complicated than would seem from its simple cut. Karakozov’s armiak, however, has more than symbolic value: its material reality had consequences for Karakozov himself, for the...

  11. Chapter 6 “Factual Propaganda,” an Autopsy; or, the Morbid Origins of April 4, 1866
    (pp. 128-149)

    When Dostoevsky brought Raskolnikov to trial at the end of Crime and Punishment, the author staged the judicial proceedings in such a way that they would hide the complexity of the case. The radical novelty of Raskolnikov’s crime goes unmentioned as he is presented to the court in the recognizable guise of a poverty-stricken and mentally affected student. Thus the examining magistrates and presiding judges found that

    the crime itself could have been committed only in a state of temporary mental derangement, so to speak, as the result of homicidal mania. . . . This conclusion coincided happily with the...

  12. Chapter 7 The Head of the Tsaricide
    (pp. 150-173)

    On September 6, 1866, three days after Karakozov had been hanged on Saint Petersburg’s Smolensk Square, one of the clerks of the Third Section reported rumors that students had crossed over to Golodai Island, sought and found the site of the tsaricide’s unmarked grave, and covered it with flowers.¹ True in its specifics or not, this would have been but one of many illegal excursions to Karakozov’s grave: several reports verified the trend, which neither guards, nor arrests could check.² It would also have been but one of the more innocent trips to the island, which served as the city’s...

  13. Conclusion: The Point of April 4, 1866
    (pp. 174-180)

    This book has shown that the birth of terrorism was intimately related to modernity—economically, politically, socially, and culturally. Now, therefore, it should be possible to discern that this violence essentially expresses the spirit of things modern, a spirit that senses that the world is historical, that history is contingent, and that contingency provides the chance for change. Modernity denotes historicity, above all, and terrorism knows it—for terrorism is not only modern, but self-consciously so: it is violence perpetrated by those who think they can deliver the future from the past by intervening in the present, because in their...

  14. Appendix A Dramatis Personae
    (pp. 181-184)
  15. Appendix B Individuals Involved in the Investigation and Trials
    (pp. 185-187)
  16. Appendix C The Karakozov Case, 1866–Present: Sources and Historiography
    (pp. 188-192)
  17. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 193-194)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 195-218)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-226)
  20. Index
    (pp. 227-232)