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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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6. The Insulted and Injured


After the positive response to the reading of L’esprit souterrain and Souvenirs de la maison des morts, on the recommendation of Overbeck67 Nietzsche read Dostoevsky’s The Insulted and Injured, translated into French with the title Humiliés et offensés and published by Plon in 1884. Once again, Nietzsche’s reaction was positive. As we already know, in the letter to Gast of 7 March, 1887 Nietzsche wrote to his friend that he had read the novel “with the greatest respect for the artist Dostoevsky.” (#814) To this brief remark, which does not provide much information, we can add the testimony of Meta von Salis-Marschlins who, in her work dedicated to Nietzsche Philosoph und Edelmensch, recalls an evening walk at Silvaplana Lake during which the conversation turned to Dostoevsky’s The Insulted and Injured:

“As he told me during an evening walk at Silvaplana Lake, Nietzsche was reduced to tears as he read Humiliés et offensés, a deeper, more humble, abasing work [Meta von Salis refers previously to Adalbert Stifter’s novel Indian Summer], almost unbearable for proud men because of its heroes being persecuted and beaten. He – this is the salient point – condemned a whole range of feelings in their culmination not because he did not have them, but on the contrary, because he did have them and understood their danger.” (quoted in Gilman 1981: 581)

According to Meta von Salis’ account, Nietzsche abhorred the feelings that the reading of Dostoevsky’s novel aroused in...

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