Dostoevsky and Nietzsche : The Philosophy of Tragedy


     All this, of course, is not "scientific"; moreover, it is all diametrically opposed to the basic premises of modern science. And Dostoevsky knew better than anyone else how little support he could get from the latest acquisitions and achievements of the human mind. That is why he never tried to make science his ally, and, simultaneously, why he was equally wary of going into battle against it with its own weapon. He understood perfectly well that there are no longer any guarantees from Heaven. But the triumph of science, the certainty and manifestness of its incontestability do not reduce Dostoevsky to submission. After all, he told us long ago that, for him, a wall is not an insuperable obstacle, but merely an evasion, a pretext. To all scientific arguments he has one answer (Dmitry Karamazov): "How can I live underground without God? A convict can't exist without God." [Ibid., XII, 700] Raskolnikov arouses violent, implacable feelings of hatred in his fellow convicts because of his scientism, his adherence to indisputable evidence, his lack of faith, which, in Dostoevsky's words, they immediately sensed in him. "‘You're a pagan! You don't believe in God,’ they would shout at him. ‘You ought to be killed!" [Ibid.,V,541] It goes without saying that all this is illogical. From the fact that the convicts regard lack of faith as the most horrible of crimes, it by no means follows that we must deny the incontestable conclusions of science. Even if all convicts and men of the underground were to perish, we must not, because of them, revise the axioms recently acquired from the work of dozens of generations of men; we must not renounce a priori judgments, which were vindicated only a hundred years ago, thanks to the great genius of the Konigsberg philosopher [Kant].

     Such is the clear logic of the people who live above ground as contrasted to the vague yearnings of those from the underground. It is impossible to reconcile the two inimical sides. They struggle to the point of complete exhaustion and, à la guerre comme à la guerre, they are not fastidious about the means of struggle. Convicts have been slandered, cursed, and dragged through the mud since the world began. Dostoevsky tries to apply these same methods to free people as well. Why not, for example, make a vulgar lampoon of a scientist? Why not ridicule Claude Bernard? [Claude Bernard (1813-1878), a French physiologist - S.R.] Or slander and humiliate a journalist, an employee of a liberal publication, and along with him, all liberally inclined people?

     Dostoevsky did not stop at that. The things he fabricated about Rakitin! The most inveterate convict seems a noble knight in comparison to this future leader of the liberals, who for twenty-five rubles does not scruple to assume the role of pimp. All that is said of Rakitin is out-and-out slander of the liberals, and the slander is deliberate. Say what you will about them, there is no doubt that the best and most honest people joined their ranks. But hatred is not particular about its means. If they do not believe in God, they should be killed - this is Dostoevsky's inner impulse, this is what impels him to fabricate all sorts of cock-and-bull stories about his former liberal associates. The Pushkin Speech, in which all strata and parties of Russian society were apparently called on to unite, was in fact a declaration of unceasing struggle to the death. "Humble thyself, proud man; get to work, idle man." Surely Dostoevsky knew that these words would arouse a whole storm of indignation and resentment in the very people they were intended to reconcile. What do they mean? They summon the aboveground man to the underground, to penal servitude, to eternal darkness. Dared Dostoevsky hope for a single minute that anyone would follow him? He knew, he knew all too well, that those of his listeners who were unwilling to play the hypocrite would not accept his call. "We want to be happy here and now," - that is what each aboveground man thinks. What does he care if Dostoevsky has not yet completed his penal servitude? It is said that everyone present at the Pushkin Celebration was deeply moved by Dostoevsky's speech. Many even wept. But what is surprising about that? After all, the speaker's words were taken by the audience as literature, and only as literature. Why not be moved, why not weep? It is a most common story.

     But there also happened to be people who saw the matter in a different light and who began to object. They answered Dostoevsky by saying that they willingly accepted his noble words about love, but that this in no way prevented - it must not prevent - people from "concerning themselves with the establishment of happiness here on earth," or in other words, from having "social ideals." Had Dostoevsky allowed this, just this one limitation, he could have reconciled himself for good with the liberals. But he not only did not make concessions, he attacked Professor Gradovsky (who had undertaken the defense of the liberal cause) with such mad, with such unrestrained fury that it seemed as if Gradovsky were robbing him of his last possession. And the main thing is that Gradovsky not only was not repudiating the noble doctrine of love for man, to which Dostoevsky had devoted so many ardent pages in his Diary of a Writer, in his novels, and in the Pushkin Speech - on the contrary, he was basing all his plans for the social order on it, and on it alone.

     But this was precisely what Dostoevsky feared most of all. In Renan’s Preface to The History of Israel, there is a curious appraisal of the significance of the Hebrew prophets: "Ils sont fanatiques de justice sociale et proclament hautement que si le monde n’est pas juste ou susceptible de le devenir, il vaut mieux qu’il soit détruit: manière de voir très fausse, mais très féconde; car comme toutes les doctrines désespérées, elle produit l’héroisme et un grand éveil des forces humaines." [They are fanatics of social justice and loudly proclaim that if the world is not fair and is not about to become such, it is better that it be destroyed: a very wrong yet fruitful way of looking at things. For, as all desparate doctrines go, this one produces heroism and arouses a mighty energy in men - A.K.] In this very same way, Professor Gradovsky regarded Dostoevsky's ideas. He found them "essentially" false, but admitted their fruitfulness, i.e., their ability to arouse people and provide those heroes without which the progress of mankind is impossible. Actually, one could not have wished more. For a "teacher," at least, it should have sufficed. But Dostoevsky saw his condemnation in such an attitude toward himself. He had no need of "fruitfulness." He did not want to content himself with the handsome role of the old cardinal in "The Grand Inquisitor." He wanted one thing, and one thing only: to be convinced of the "truth" of his idea. And if necessary, he was ready to destroy the whole world, to doom mankind to eternal suffering - if only to guarantee victory to his idea, if only to rid it of all suspicion of being incongruous with reality. Worst of all was the fact that deep in his heart he obviously feared that right was not on his side and that his adversaries, although more superficial than he, were nearer the truth. That was what aroused such fury in him; that was what made him lose his self-control; and that is why he overstepped all the bounds of decency in his polemic against Professor Gradovsky. What if everything turns out exactly as scholars say, and his work, contrary to his will, ultimately plays into the hands of the liberals and proves to be fruitful, while the idea that guided him proves to be false, and if sooner or later, the "devilish good" actually does prevail on earth - an earth inhabited by content, joyful, and regenerated people beaming with happiness?

     It goes without saying that the most sensible thing for a man with such views and sentiments to do would be to steer clear of journalism, where he would inevitably run into the practical question: what is to be done? In novels and philosophical discussions, one can, for example, assert that the Russian people like to suffer. But how can such an assertion be put into practice? By proposing the formation of a committee to protect the Russian people from happiness? Obviously, that will not do. Moreover, one cannot even express one's joy constantly over forthcoming occasions when mankind will have to suffer. One must not celebrate when sickness or famine befalls man; one must not rejoice over poverty or drunkenness. People are stoned for things like that. Mikhailovsky reports that the idea expressed in articles in Notes of the Fatherland for January, 1873, according to which "the people, after the Reform, and partly even in connection with it, are threatened with the misfortune of being mentally, morally, and economically fleeced," seemed "a new revelation" to Dostoevsky. Very likely, Dostoevsky understood, or, more accurately, interpreted, the articles in Notes of the Fatherland in exactly this way. The Reform, in which visionaries had placed so much hope, had not only not brought the "hateful happiness," it was threatening terrible misfortune. Evidently, the matter could get along even without the gentleman with the retrograde physiognomy on whom the underground dialectician had relied. It is still a long way to the Crystal Palace if the most lofty and noble undertakings bring only unhappiness instead of abundant fruit.

     True, as a publicist, Dostoevsky did not say such things openly. His "cruelty" did not vet risk such frankness. Even more than that, he never missed a chance to castigate (and how he castigated!) all possible manifestations of cruelty. For example, he rebelled at European progress on the grounds that "rivers of blood would be shed" before the class struggle would do our Western neighbors even the slightest good. This was one of his favorite arguments, which he tirelessly repeated dozens of times. But here one can be quite certain that all argumenta are argumenta ad homines. Dostoevsky afraid of blood and horror? But he knew how to produce an effect on people, and when necessary, he drew terrifying pictures. At almost one and the same time, he was reproaching the Europeans for their struggle, which was as yet relatively bloodless, and adjuring the Russians to declare war on the Turks, although, of course, the most modest war requires more bloodshed than dozens of revolutions. Or another more striking example of his argumentation: Dostoevsky says that one of his "acquaintances" came out in favor of the retention of the flogging of children, because corporal punishment hardens them and inures them to combat. We are not, of course, interested in the opinion of his "acquaintance" (in Dostoevsky's Diary of a Writer, there is a multitude of "acquaintances" who express "original" opinions), but it is curious that Dostoevsky himself took an interest in this opinion and promised to think it over at his leisure. Yet this same Dostoevsky, who was so willing to deal out suffering to people, even to children, suddenly grew sensitive and sentimental when the question arose of the fate of Tatyana’s husband. [in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin - S.R.] Had Tatyana decided to leave him and make him unhappy, all ideals would have been tarnished forever! Well, now, I believe that many a person could be found, and not only among advocates of "cruelty," who would admit that a decent amount of "suffering" would by no means be wasted on this gentleman, who held his nose and shoulders so high. At any rate, wasted no more than it is on Russian children, who, as we well know, are not forgotten by "suffering" even when out of school. One can find a great many such examples in Dostoevsky. On one page, he demands renunciation of us in the name of delivering our neighbors from suffering, and on another, almost the very next, he sings the praises of this same suffering.

     From this, it follows that the underground man has nothing to say when he appears in the role of teacher of man. In order to keep up such a role, he must forever conceal his truth and deceive people, as the old cardinal did. And if it is no longer possible to remain silent, if the time has finally come to tell the world the secret of the Grand Inquisitor, then people must seek their priests not from among teachers as in the olden days, but from among disciples, who always perform all sorts of solemn duties willingly and in good faith. The teachers have been deprived of their last consolation: they are no longer acknowledged as the people's benefactors and healers. They have been told, and they will be told: physician, heal thyself. In other words: find your task, find your cause, not in the doctoring of our illnesses, but in looking after your own health. Look after yourself - only after yourself.

Orphus system

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