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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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7. A Heated Debate


Peter Gast replied to Nietzsche’s letter of 7 March, 1887 with a letter on 18 March, 1887 in which he wrote:

“I found the news on Dostoevsky also interesting. Moreover, do you know that the inappropriate motto in Widmann’s article in ‘Bund’ came from Dostoevsky’s novel A Raw Youth (Leipzig, W. Friedrich 1886)? Up to now I still do not know anything about this Pole: recently, I found a little book of his short stories mentioned in Reclam’s Universal-Bibliothek; I ordered it.” (#444)

In this passage, Gast (who still believed that Dostoevsky was a Pole) refers to the review of Beyond Good and Evil that the editor and critic Joseph Viktor Widmann had published in the newspaper Der Bund in September, 1886 with the title Nietzsches gefährliches Buch (Nietzsche’s dangerous book). The review, which strongly criticized Nietzsche’s latest work for expressing dangerous ideas, opened with the following quote from Dostoevsky’s The Adolescent:

“With your permission, sir: I had a friend, Lambert, who at the age of sixteen said to me that when he was rich, his greatest pleasure would be to feed dogs bread and meat, while the children of the poor were dying of hunger, and when they had no wood for their stoves, he would buy a whole lumberyard, stack it up in a field, and burn it there, and give not a stick to the poor. Those were his feelings! Tell me, what answer should I give this...

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