Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Karen Levy

Committee Members

John Romeiser, Patrick Brady, Natalia Pervukhin


The works of Albert Cohen continue to inspire numerous critical studies each year, which usually treat him as a strictly Jewish writer. However, the origin of the author is merely an exterior layer that masks the nature of the struggle presented in his fictional and autobiographical texts. The essential focus of Cohen's project, which has eluded critics, is simultaneously much broader and more complex. In this study I will explore the far reaching psychological ramifications of Cohen's literary undertaking, which have considerable significance for every human subject regardless of origin. I will proceed with my investigation by peeling away the layers of his psyche to expose the core which generates the actual problem. Examining the protagonist's actions and philosophical positions, I will, first, reveal that they are motivated by a spiritual quest. However, Plato instructs us that a spiritual quest is inherent in every human, why then is Cohen's protagonist so tortured and destructive in his quest? There must be another layer underneath— the layer of his psychological core, severed from the world surrounding him. Lacan reveals that people must feel desire from the other in order to have a functional self. Unable to recognize desire, Cohen's protagonist cannot connect to the other. However, as Julia Kristeva explains religious and artistic forms enable a fractured self to reconnect to the symbolic world. Unfortunately, neither in fiction nor in autobiography does the protagonist manage to overcome his doubt. The fictional protagonist drowns in meaninglessness and finally succeeds in ending his life. There is, nonetheless, one more conspicuous element which remains heretofore unnoticed by critics: the author, the narrator, lives and, furthermore, contrary to the fictional protagonist, suicide is never mentioned. He manages to utilize art— in the form of literary creation— to forge a connection to the symbolic world. Through this study I hope to demonstrate the unique and extensive scope of Cohen's project, which presents a form of human despondency and isolation resulting not from a cultural or religious difference but one from an internal struggle with one's fractured self- an issue heretofore untreated by critics of Albert Cohen.

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