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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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15. An Unexpected Silence? A Recapitulation of Nietzsche’s Discovery and Reading of Dostoevsky


With the analysis in the previous section, the examination of Nietzsche’s reception of Dostoevsky comes to an end. Until proven otherwise, Nietzsche discovered Dostoevsky in Nice during the winter of 1886–87, that is, precisely in those years in which the vogue of Dostoevsky was growing in France, largely thanks to de Vogüé’s writings. Perhaps because of an instinct of affinity and kinship, perhaps simply because he had already heard of Dostoevsky, Nietzsche’s attention was drawn in a bookshop to the volume L’esprit souterrain. He read the two pieces that made up the volume (The Landlady and Notes from Underground): his joy was beyond bounds. He had found a kindred spirit, a keen psychologist, whose discovery he compared to that of Schopenhauer and Stendhal. From that moment forth, Nietzsche started a deep and fruitful inner dialogue with Dostoevsky.

In the last two years before his breakdown, Nietzsche read L’esprit souterrain, Souvenirs de la maison des morts (Notes from the House of the Dead), Humiliés et offensés (The Insulted and Injured) and Les possédés (Demons). He also may have read Crime and Punishment (presumably in French translation) and most likely L’idiot, even if we cannot dismiss the possibility that he knew both novels from an indirect source (a review or an article). Moreover, Gast sent him the volume Erzählungen von F. M. Dostojewskij which contained five of Dostoevsky’s short stories (The Landlady, A Christmas Tree and a Wedding, White Nights, A...

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