Edited By Josefa Ros Velasco
5 Nihilism, Depression, and Wholeheartedness. Metacognitive Strategies in 19th-Century Literature (Søren Harnow Klausen (University of Southern Denmark))
5 Nihilism, Depression, and Wholeheartedness. Metacognitive Strategies in 19th-Century Literature
Søren Harnow Klausen
University of Southern Denmark
Introduction: Nihilism and Depression
It is a commonplace that one of the most pervasive topics of 19th-century literature was the specter of nihilism. What has been much less widely observed—apart from the fact that the concept of nihilism emerged already at the end of 18th century, and should not be associated too narrowly with figures from the second half of the 19th century, like Turgenev or Nietzsche—is the close link between nihilism and depression. In textbooks and encyclopedias, nihilism is usually presented as a philosophical viewpoint, that is, as an articulated belief system, a deliberate and reasoned rejection of traditional beliefs in the meaningfulness of life, objective morality, or religious doctrines. However, when 19th-century intellectuals described a worrying tendency towards nihilism, they were not so much concerned with a theoretical stance or Weltanschauung as with a kind of mood or mental disease, a condition that befell individuals regardless of their explicit attitudes or intentions. While this condition was undoubtedly seen as connected to the rise of a more or less scientific, disenchanting world-view, the focus was on the psychological and existential ramifications. What was diagnosed in the literature of the time was a lack of ability to believe (and act, and feel), rather than a rational decision not to believe.
I will highlight the connection between nihilism and...
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