A short passage from the master in which Prince Myshkin recalls the story of an imprisoned friend who suddenly had his death sentence reversed. It’s a remarkable depiction of how even something as beautiful as gratitude can be turned into a new Law. That is, when we make a gracious act into something that has to be lived up to, rather than received, we revert to the same old slavery. The Prince seems to hold on to some hope that some form of meaningful “reckoning” is possible, though maybe not observably so. The passage begins with Myshkin retelling his friend’s inner-monologue while imprisoned:

…he said nothing was more oppressive for him at that moment than the constant thought: ‘What if I were not to die! What if life were given back to me–what infinity! And it would all be mine! Then I’d turn each minute into a whole age, I’d lose nothing, I’d reckon up every minute separately, I’d let nothing be wasted!’ He said that in the end this thought turned into such anger in him that he wished they would hurry up and shoot him.”

…”You’re very fragmentary,” observed Alexandra. “…That is all very praiseworthy, but, forgive me, what ever happened to the friend who told you all those horrors…his punishment was changed, which means he was granted ‘infinite life.’ Well, what did he do with so much wealth afterwards? Did he live ‘reckoning up’ every minute?

“Oh, no, he told me himself–I asked him about it–he didn’t live that way at all and lost many, many minutes.”

“Well, so there’s experience for you, so it’s impossible to live really ‘keeping a reckoning.’ There’s always some reason why it’s impossible.”

“Yes, for some reason it’s impossible,” the prince repeated. “I thought so myself… But still it’s somehow hard to believe…”