This article argues that the early twentieth-century Dostoevsky criticism of Russian Symbolist thinkers, roughly contemporaneous with Henry James's New York Edition prefaces, laid the foundation for an alternative line of novel theory, engaged not with the novel's claim to the status of high art but with the possibility of an unmediated exchange between literature and life. Interpreting Dostoevsky as a precursor to their own ideal of “life-creation,” Symbolist writers like Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Viacheslav Ivanov formulated the influential cultural construct called here the liminal Dostoevsky: Dostoevsky as a novelist who not only represents characters at the extremes of human being but also transgresses the conventional boundaries of literary texts. The liminal Dostoevsky became vital to two foundational works of novel theory, Georg Lukács's The Theory of the Novel (1916) and Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Creative Art (1929). While Lukács's later conversion to Marxism led him away from the ideal of erasing the boundary between art and life, Bakhtin pursued it throughout his writings, smuggling the logic of Symbolist life-creation into the language of modern literary theory. Now is an apt moment to revisit this genealogy. As writers and theorists of autofiction and the contemporary novel renew the dream of transcending aesthetic representation, it is crucial to historicize and interrogate our tendency to privilege the novel's capacity for dialogue with the reader over its capacity to weave immersive fictional illusions. Dostoevsky's example suggests, instead, that these two sides of novelistic creation exist in productive and perpetual tension.

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