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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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9. Petersburg-Style Nihilism


Although the influence of the reading of L’esprit souterrain is most likely not to be traced to the preface to Daybreak, this does not exclude the possibility that the same influence may have been at work in the fifth book of The Gay Science. The fifth book was written in October 1886,103 while the final draft was sent to the publisher Fritzsch at the end of December. However, Dellinger (2012: 340 f.) has drawn attention to the fact that Nietzsche had the manuscript in his hands once again in February 1887. On this occasion, Nietzsche renumbered the manuscript, added section 358, and sent the manuscript back to Fritzsch on 18 February104 – six days after the first mention of Dostoevsky in the correspondence.105 According to Dellinger, it is plausible that during these days Nietzsche made also some revisions and additions. Given this chronology, and taking into account the similarity between Nietzsche’s account of consciousness as a sickness in section 354 and the underground man’s definition of a pronounced consciousness as a “maladie” (ES: 162), Dellinger concludes that Nietzsche’s allusion to “he who lives among the most conscious Europeans” (GS, 354) could possibly be a reference to Dostoevsky.106

Dellinger’s hypothesis seems to be supported by other possible allusions to Dostoevsky in the fifth book of The Gay Science. As Miller (1973: 212) has already pointed out, section 365 contains the following clear allusion to the “underground” motif: “this entire subterranean, hidden, mute, undiscovered loneliness that we call...

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