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Dostoevsky through the Lens of Orthodox Personalism: Synergetic Anthropology and Relational Ontology as Poetic Foundations of Higher Realism

  • Author(s): Winsky, Peter Gregory
  • Advisor(s): Vroon, Ronald W;
  • Shneyder, Vadim
  • et al.
Abstract

Studying Dostoevsky’s poetics according to the principles of Orthodox Personalism—a school of thought that utilizes Anthropological and Ontological discourse to analyze contemporary philosophical and theological questions—frames a well-traversed area of scholarly interest within a novel literary, philosophical, theological, and historical perspective. This dissertation offers a unique interpretation of his work in relation to three areas of focus. The first area, Synergetic Anthropology and Relational Anthropology, serves to establish boundaries of realism as a genre for Dostoevsky according to his Christian, yet non-Western, worldview. Second, Personalist aesthetics operate at theoretical and practical levels within the novels to create dynamic motion between typological levels of fictional beings. The third area, Hesychastic tradition, an Orthodox monastic methodology that guides adherents toward a mode of authentic being-in-relation, is coded into the novels by Dostoevsky and opens his texts to a mode of higher realism. As an author, Dostoevsky seeks to unravel the mystery of the human being, and in order to engage this mystery his poetics become innovative, attempting to rise up to a “higher” level of realism to faithfully depict the world according to Dostoevsky’s Orthodox Weltanschauung. The questions of whether and how Dostoevsky achieves this higher realism have been debated since before the author’s death in 1881. Investigating these still-disputed questions through the lens of Orthodox Personalism according to the writings of scholars such as Vladimir Solovyov, Sergei Horuzhy, Christos Yannaras, and John Zizioulas, all of whom have contributed to the development of a mode of discourse that has blossomed from Dostoevsky’s engagement with Orthodox philosophy, requires a new language of literary analysis in order to ascertain certain fundamental qualities of the author’s oeuvre that have been overlooked or misinterpreted. This analysis lays bare the foundations of Dostoevsky’s artistic output. It is essential to expose these foundations in order to shed light on Dostoevsky’s authorial intentions, but also, and more importantly, to express why his work continues to generate contemporary interest in academia, in interpretations across other mediums such as film, music, and graphic novels, and in the minds of young people who read him at the high school and university levels globally. Dostoevsky’s deep concern for the human person as an individual of infinite value stems from the particular Orthodox conceptions of human uniqueness, the capacity for self-emptying love, and freedom. But these concepts, as conveyed through his artistry, are universal. The dissertation investigates the particulars of Dostoevsky’s ideology from the tradition in which he works in order to promote further study on his artistic output from various perspectives based on these principles. The first chapter consists of an exposition of the Orthodox Personalist tenets of Anthropology and Ontology juxtaposed with Western views. The second chapter uses this exposition to set the boundaries of Dostoevsky’s realism and to create a typology of fictional being within his novels and compares each of these four levels with other Russian authors. The third chapter investigates how Dostoevsky’s theory of aesthetics within the Orthodox context functions within the novels, pushing his fictional beings into higher typological levels and disrupting narrative form. The fourth and final chapter discusses how principles of the Orthodox Hesychastic tradition are utilized by Dostoevsky to unify his views on being, the person, and beauty and how this synergy raises his artistic output to the realm of higher realism. In the conclusion I argue that although Orthodox Personalist literary analysis is uniquely suited for Dostoevsky studies, this novel mode of analysis is applicable to other genres and forms of fiction through the idea of threshold art.

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