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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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12. Jesus as Idiot


Another subject that has caused heated debate among scholars in past years is Nietzsche’s possible reading of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. This novel was published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869. As Dostoevsky explains in the letter to Apollon Maikov of 12 January, 1868 the idea behind his novel was to depict “an absolutely wonderful person.” (CL II: 297) This concept obviously had a moral nuance and Dostoevsky chose the Nazarene as the main model for his character. Curiously, the result was Prince Myshkin, the main character of The Idiot, a sort of Russian Don Quixote: a young man, about twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, recently awoken from his idiocy, blonde hair and blue eyes, peaceful and meek, epileptic (as Dostoevsky himself was), innocent and naïve, inclined to Christian forgiveness and physiologically like a child.

Dostoevsky’s novel was translated into French by Victor Derély and published by Plon for the first time in April, 1887 with an Avertissement from de Vogüé (Id: I–XI), whereas August Scholz’s German translation first appeared in 1889 (published by S. Fischer, Berlin). Neither in Nietzsche’s published works, nor in the posthumous fragments, nor in the correspondence is it possible to find a direct reference to The Idiot. Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s late characterization of Jesus and, more specifically, certain passages from The Anti-Christ and the posthumous fragments of 1887–88 have led many scholars in past years to consider the hypothesis that Nietzsche read The Idiot as the...

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