Journal Article

DOSTOEVSKY AND THE HERMENEUTICS OF SUSPICION

Bruce K. Ward

in Literature and Theology

Volume 11, issue 3, pages 270-283
Published in print September 1997 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online September 1997 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/11.3.270
DOSTOEVSKY AND THE HERMENEUTICS OF SUSPICION

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The contemporary philosopher, Paul RiCoeur, has characterized the dominant trend in modern interpretative thought as the ‘school of suspicion’, whose most significant ‘masters’ are Freud and Nietzsche. For them, to seek meaning—whether in a text, dream, discourse, or institution—is, first and foremost, to suspect ‘truth as lying’. It is my contention that Ricoeur could well have named Dostoevsky as a third master of this modern school of interpretation, for he, too, was preoccupied with exploring the possibility of ‘truth as lying’ whether to others or to oneself. The general concern of my essay is to clarify Dostoevsky's relation to the modern ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ in a manner which is mutually illuminating. The particular focus is on Dostoevsky's hermeneutics of suspicion as employed in The Brothers Karamazov, especially with the object of deciphering the avowed ‘love of humanity’ which motivats Ivan Karamazov's famous ‘rebellion’ against God. Ivan's humanism is highly ambiguous, as his words and actions (ofomission and commission) throughtout the novel demonstrate. I attempt to show that the ambiquity of Ivan Karamazov can be illumined as an exercise of suspicion on Dostoevsky's part which distinguishes between manifest sources of Ivan's moral stance and what is in reality its hidden basis. And, inorder to situate Dostoevsky in relation to the modern ‘school of suspicion’, his interpretation of the ambiguous text of humanism is compared with that of Nietzsche.

The dialogue which the essay sets up between Nietzsche and Dostoevsky on the problem embodied by Ivan Karamazov reveals areas of convergence and divergence. the former apparent in a shared suspicion of a secular humanism which affirms the love of humanity apart from religious faith; and the latter apparent in their different understandings of love—whether of humanity or of God. The comparison between Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, then, highlights the distinction between a hermeneutics of suspicion which is ultimately reductive in intent, and one which can be said to be ultimately ‘recollective’.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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