- Nietzsche and Dostoevsky: Philosophy, Morality, Tragedy ed. by Jeff Love and Jeffrey Metzger
Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2016. xvii + 207 pp. isbn: 978-0-8101-3394-5. Paper, $39.95.
This volume collects eight essays on Nietzsche and Dostoevsky written by scholars from different humanities fields. What unites them is the idea that, after more than a century, the writings of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky and the relations between them still represent a major challenge for contemporary readers. The range of subjects that the authors tackle is wide, from crime, truth, art, and nihilism to pessimism, tragedy, and the unconscious. The result is a stimulating collection of essays that explore some of the similarities, as well as the radical differences, between two of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century.
The first essay is written in a literary style by Geoff Waite and Francesca Cernia Slovin, who consider both the question of Nietzsche's discovery and reading of Dostoevsky (with particular attention to the broad cultural context in which this discovery takes place) and the question of crime and the criminal, common to both thinkers. The focus is particularly on the similarity between two forms of criminality, the revolutionary and the intellectual, and Waite and Cernia Slovin suggest that Nietzsche's criminal thought was not too far from Russian revolutionary nihilism. To support this reading, they mention, among other passages, a letter to Georg Brandes (March 27, 1888; KGB III:5, p. 278) in which Nietzsche confesses that in Saint Petersburg [End Page 142] he would have been a nihilist, and a passage from Joseph Victor Widmann's review of BGE (Der Bund, September 16–17, 1886) in which Widmann claims that, two hundred years before, such a book would have brought its author to the scaffold. Other passages used to support this reading are, however, misinterpreted: Nietzsche neither pleads allegiance to the Assassins' maxim "nothing is true, everything is permitted" (21 and n. 82) nor endorses the massacre of the Decembrists (21), as Waite and Cernia Slovin claim. (For a discussion of such errors, see my Nietzsche and Dostoevsky: On the Verge of Nihilism [Bern: Peter Lang, 2015], 169–88 and 120, respectively.) Moreover, although suggestive, Waite and Cernia Slovin's approach is implausible: even if Nietzsche played with the idea of intellectual Verbrechen (recall his mention of Ovid's nitimur in vetitum), he would have rejected any association of his thought with a revolutionary political agenda such as that of, for instance, Pyotr Verkhovensky in Demons. Furthermore, if Nietzsche and Russian terrorists both aimed at shaking the foundations of society, they did so in radically different ways and had very different conceptions of how society should be rebuilt.
Jeff Love's fascinating chapter explores Nietzsche's and Dostoevsky's attitudes toward the indeterminacy that derives from the failure of traditional narratives to make sense of the world. Love's thesis is that both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky are "explorers in a sort of post-narrative landscape" (40), but that, in his questioning of the need for narrative itself, the latter proves more radical than the former. To support this thesis, Love analyzes the preface to the second edition of GS, focusing on the relation between sickness and healing, truth and art. According to Love, the convalescent Nietzsche accepts indeterminacy only up to a certain point. Indeed, the need for (a new kind of) art as well as the characterization of the will to truth as bad taste in GS P:4 are taken to show that Nietzsche, having disclosed the truth (or lack thereof), returned to the world of appearances and illusion. (Here it would be interesting to know Love's opinion of Nietzsche's well-known claim in TI that along with the true world we have got rid of the illusory one.) In contrast, Love argues, Dostoevsky is able to overcome Heideggerian Angst at indeterminacy, as shown by the figure of the prisoner in Ivan Karamazov's story "The Grand Inquisitor." Whereas the figure of the Grand Inquisitor (which Love interprets as a Nietzschean character) expresses terror at indeterminacy, the prisoner...