An existential reading of Camus and Dostoevsky focusing on Camus's notion of the absurd and Sartrean authencity



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Texas A&M University


Albert Camus (1913-1960) describes morally corrupted society in his later fiction, The Fall (1956), yet, seeks to find authenticity to share the suffering of others to establish communal bonds and responsibility, specifically revealed in "The Growing Stone" (1957). Camus frequently denies his alignment with existentialism; yet, in his major novels, he frequent portrays a dark side of human existence: a sense of weariness with the habitual aspects of daily life and a keen awareness of the absurd lead Camusian heroes to complete nihilism and utter despair, which shows Camus's strong affinity with existentialist ideas. Further investigation of Dostoevsky's anti-hero, the underground man, and the demigod Kirilov reveals that Dostoevsky's vision of kingdom is not so optimistic in spite of dominant thematic concern of Christian resurrection and eternal life in Dostoevsky's major works. Only moral anarchy and spiritual sterility coexist in his kingdom. I, thus, investigate Dostoevksy's unique approach to existence without God, in which he eventually declares himself to be a forerunner of existentialism. Camus does, in fact, recognize Dostoevsky as an important predecessor. In particular, Camus examins Dostoevsky's depiction of alienated characters rebelling against the world as they understand it. Thus, in Chapter I, my focus lies in a discussion of the theory of the absurd, with Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus as a valuable supplement that opens the way for an existential approach to Camus's literary production. Having identified our condition of absurdity as a dilemma requiring a response, Camus (and our study) turns to Dostoevsky's reflections on modern antiheroes. In Chapter II, keeping my attention on The Myth of Sisyphus, I explore Dostoevsky's fictional character, Kirilov, of The Demons. Along the same lines, in Chapter III, I investigate Jean-Baptiste Clamence of The Fall (1956), with respect to the underground man in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (1864). Dostoevsky's two pre-existential works, however, fail to provide protagonists who possess authentic selfhood. Their rebellions are ultimately failures. Thus, I analyze D'Arrast of "The Growing Stone," in Exile and Kingdom (1958), who ultimately glimpses a potential for human solidarity and freedom in the fundamental structure of the human personality and social existence. This marks Camus's fullest expression of a response to a fundamental human dilemma which Dostoevsky's fiction helped him to grasp more fully.