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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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4. Resentment


In order to explain how the feeling of resentment originates and develops, the underground man distinguishes between two rather different types of man who react to an offense in opposite ways. On the one hand, there is “the real, normal man” who, once he is possessed by the feeling of revenge, simply dashes straight for his object like a raging bull. No time is left for reflection and hesitation, so that the reaction is here spontaneous and immediate. On the other hand, there is “the man of the heightened consciousness” who represents the antithesis of the normal man. This type of man feels so inferior to the normal man, that he regards himself as a mouse. How does this mouse act, if he feels offended? Even if his desire of paying the offender back is more intense than that of the normal man, the man of the heightened consciousness is unable to avenge himself because of his hypertrophic consciousness. Instead of reacting spontaneously, this man is paralysed by doubts, thoughts and anxieties, so that having missed his opportunity to retaliate against the injurer, he has no other choice than “to wave the whole thing aside with its little paw and, with a smile of feigned contempt, in which it does not believe itself, slip back shamefacedly into its crack.” (NU: 12)31 It is precisely in this moment that the feeling of resentment originates and develops. Dostoevsky describes this mechanism of psychic self-poisoning with absolute mastery:

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