This essay studies a crucial feature of Dostoevsky's novelistic poetics, and the poetics of Crime and Punishment (1866) in particular, in light of contemporaneous debates regarding the historical fate of Russia. The novel, I argue, is a thought experiment exploring the emerging condition of multi-historicity—that is, a simultaneity of multiple emplotment possibilities for the Russian state. In order to bring these possibilities to light, I read the novel with an eye on Dostoevsky's journalism from the early- to mid-sixties, a period characterized by an urgent recognition of the openness of Russia's historical future.
Mediating between the novel and its contemporary journalistic discourse with the help of the formal (narratological) categories of character and emplotment, I argue that the novelistic search for the proper emplotment of its enigmatic hero corresponds to the search in contemporary journalism for the proper trajectory of the Russian nation, which, with the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, is perceived as pregnant with multiple historical possibilities. As an enigma soliciting narrative solutions, Dostoevsky's socially underdetermined (raznochinets) hero is best understood as a formal condition of the possibility of exploring Russia's position at the intersection point of multiple historical vectors. As such, the hero enables a series of temporal shapes, laden with historiographic significance, to be considered and then either chosen or dismissed. A re-inscription of Crime and Punishment into the context of journalistic debates from the period of Great Reforms thus allows us to read the novel as a political allegory that stages and imaginatively resolves the socio-temporal contradictions structuring a world torn between conflicting demands for continuity and radical change.