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Nietzsche and Dostoevsky

On the Verge of Nihilism


Paolo Stellino

The first time that Nietzsche crossed the path of Dostoevsky was in the winter of 1886–87. While in Nice, Nietzsche discovered in a bookshop the volume L’esprit souterrain. Two years later, he defined Dostoevsky as the only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn. The second, metaphorical encounter between Nietzsche and Dostoevsky happened on the verge of nihilism. Nietzsche announced the death of God, whereas Dostoevsky warned against the danger of atheism.
This book describes the double encounter between Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. Following the chronological thread offered by Nietzsche’s correspondence, the author provides a detailed analysis of Nietzsche’s engagement with Dostoevsky from the very beginning of his discovery to the last days before his mental breakdown. The second part of this book aims to dismiss the wide-spread and stereotypical reading according to which Dostoevsky foretold and criticized in his major novels some of Nietzsche’s most dangerous and nihilistic theories. In order to reject such reading, the author focuses on the following moral dilemma: If God does not exist, is everything permitted?
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11. On the Possible Reading of Crime and Punishment


By following the thread offered in the correspondence, we face another issue of great importance for the analysis of Nietzsche’s engagement with Dostoevsky: his possible reading of Crime and Punishment. Between the end of April and the beginning of May, 1887 Nietzsche was in Zurich. On 29 April, he sent Overbeck (who was in Basel) a postcard, telling him that he had just arrived in Zurich and he wished to see him. Overbeck paid a visit to his friend the next day and went back to Basel on 1 May. On this occasion, he lent Nietzsche a work by the young Karl Bleibtreu (editor and critic of the Magazin für die Litteratur des In- und Auslandes) entitled Revolution der Litteratur and published the year before. On 4 May, Nietzsche sent a postcard to Overbeck, writing that Bleibtreu had left him with “a bitter feeling.” (#843) Nine days later, the philosopher, filled with indignation, sent the work back to Overbeck:

“Lastly, I send you back the ‘Bleibtreu’, which I do not want to be faithful to even for a moment.119 I cannot absolutely assume that his pretensions are based on true qualities […] Byron and Scott in the present Germany! Compatible with the adoration of Zola! What psychological short-sightedness, e.g., in the brief dismissal with which he considers Dostoevsky’s last work!” (#847)

In the quoted passage, Nietzsche specifically refers to the Prologue to the second edition of Bleibtreu’s Revolution der Litteratur, in which Bleibtreu made...

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