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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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5. Notes from the House of the Dead


During the night of 22 April, 1849 in Saint Petersburg, twenty-eight members of the Petrashevsky circle were arrested and brought to the Peter and Paul Fortress. Petrashevsky and the other members of his circle were charged with crimes against the government. Among the convicts was a young writer by the name of F. Dostoevsky. The novelist was charged with the public reading of a letter to Gogol written in 1847 by Russian literary critic Belinsky in response to Gogol’s Selected Passages from My Correspondence with Friends. In the letter, Belinsky manifestly expressed his desire to see a feeling of self-awareness awaken in the Russian people, believing that this would be the catalyst that would lead the government to carry out social and legal reforms.

Exactly eight months later, on 22 December, the convicts were brought to Saint Petersburg’s Semenovsky Square, where, having all received death sentences, their executions were to be carried out. The prisoners were separated and the sentence was read out. Dostoevsky was in the second line, waiting for his turn.53 With only a few minutes to go before the writer was to be shot dead, the order was rescinded. Tsar Nicholas I had decided to commute the death sentence to different punishments. Dostoevsky was instead sentenced to four years hard labour and deportation to Siberia (katorga). From 23 January, 1850 to 15 February, 1854 the novelist served his punishment in the Omsk prison camp. The work Notes from the House of the Dead...

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