Albert Camus Talks About Nihilism & Adapting Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed for the Theatre, 1959

If there is no God, said Fyo­dor Dos­toyevsky, life is mean­ing­less. And with­out mean­ing, men and women will “go stark, rav­ing mad.” For the deeply skep­ti­cal and agnos­tic Albert Camus, Dos­toyevsky’s books were a rev­e­la­tion. While he could­n’t agree with the Russ­ian nov­el­ist’s pre­scrip­tion of faith in an unseen deity, Camus felt Dos­toyevsky had con­vinc­ing­ly described the tragedy of man’s exis­tence in an indif­fer­ent uni­verse.

Camus first read Dos­toyevsky when he was 20 years old, and lat­er called it a “soul-shak­ing expe­ri­ence.” He was moved by the moral weight of Dos­toyevsky’s words. When the hor­rors of Stal­in’s purges came to light, Camus refused to look away. As he lat­er said, “The real 19th cen­tu­ry prophet was Dos­toyevsky, not Karl Marx.”

One of Dos­toyevsky’s works that affect­ed Camus the most was the apoc­a­lyp­tic 1872 nov­el The Pos­sessed, which in recent years has been trans­lat­ed as Demons or The Dev­ils. It’s a com­plex sto­ry of a con­flict­ed Russ­ian soci­ety as it descends into anar­chy and chaos with the spread of nihilism. The themes explored in The Pos­sessed were so absorb­ing to Camus that in 1959 he pub­lished a three-act stage adap­ta­tion, Les Pos­sédés. The play pre­miered on Jan­u­ary 28, 1959 at the Théâtre Antoine in Paris, and on that day he gave an inter­est­ing inter­view with Pierre Dumayet for French tele­vi­sion, which you can watch in the video above. In the pro­gram hand­ed out at the the­ater that night, Camus described the nov­el­’s impor­tance: “Les Pos­sédés is one of the four or five works that I rank above all oth­ers. In more ways than one, I can say that it has enriched and shaped me.”

You can down­load a copy of The Pos­sessed and oth­er works by Dos­to­evsky from our col­lec­tion of 375 Free eBooks. Major works by the great Russ­ian author can also be found in our Free Audio Books col­lec­tion.

by | Permalink | Comments (14) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (14)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.