Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

God and the devil are fighting: The scandal of evil in Dostoyevsky and Camus
by O'Brien, Stephen M., Ph.D., City University of New York, 2008, 436; 3311250
Abstract (Summary)

By comparing the ways in which Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Albert Camus address the scandalous problem of evil, and by following an interdisciplinary approach adducing arguments based on Western philosophical and theological classics, this study highlights the novelists' exceptional bond. Although both view evil as a primordial issue and reject the solution proposed by the Catholic Church, their own answers clash. While Dostoyevsky accepts Russian Orthodoxy's teachings on God, the Incarnation, the Redemption, contrition, forgiveness, reparation, immortality, and the resurrection, Camus first embraces full-fledged absurdism and then atheistic humanism, and hence considers the human condition ultimately meaningless.

The dissertation's central contention is that each writer fails to ground his philosophical position on evil adequately. Because he largely neglects arguments from apologetics—arguments which this dissertation sketches—Dostoyevsky fails in his self-professed intention of refuting Ivan's atheistic discourse in the "Rebellion" chapter of The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky also destroys his own polemic against Catholicism in "The Grand Inquisitor" by undermining Russian Orthodoxy, since, like Catholicism, it, too, incorporates miracle, mystery, and authority. Camus ignores apologetics and assumes the truth of atheism, thus begging the question.

The deficits in the authors' arguments are analyzed in chapters that consider the following topics: the foregrounding of the suffering and death of children, child molestation and capital punishment viewed as paradigmatic evils, mortality seen as a monumental evil, the tragedy of suicide, Ivan Karamazov's dictum "Everything is lawful," and the hypothesis of Camus's possible movement at the end of his life toward the Catholic Faith. Dostoyevsky's failure to sharpen Ivan's polemic is examined in the context of the Old Testament's child-killing passages. The Catholic concept of limbo is clarified in response to Camus's attack on it.

The evidence for additional hypotheses is discussed: that the intertext for Philippe's death in Camus's La Peste is Mikhailov's death in Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead, that psychopathology supports a reading of Liza's breakdown in The Brothers Karamazov as the outcome of Ivan's having seduced or raped her, and that Dostoyevsky's recurrent theme of adult sexual attraction to minors may reflect his encounters with prostitutes who may have been underage.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Beaujour, Elizabeth K.
Commitee: Aciman, Andre, Blum, Antoinette, Gardiner, Anne Barbeau
School: City University of New York
Department: Comparative Literature
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Romance literature, Slavic literature
Keywords: Camus, Albert, Catholic, Catholic church, Dostoevsky, Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, Evil, France, Russia
Publication Number: 3311250
ISBN: 9780549611370
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