Dostoevsky and Nietzsche : The Philosophy of Tragedy


     At first glance, the task seems simple. But look at it for a moment from the standpoint of Dostoevsky, the underground man, the Grand Inquisitor, and you will understand the torment that is concealed in this simplicity. To doctor oneself, to look after oneself, to think of oneself in the underground, when, apparently, no doctoring is any longer possible, when nothing is left to devise, when all is finished! But it is amazing: when man is threatened with inevitable death, when an abyss opens before him, when his last hope vanishes, he is suddenly relieved of all his burdensome obligations to the people, to mankind, to the future, to civilization, to progress, et cetera, and in place of all this, he is presented with the simplified problem of his lone, insignificant, and ordinary personality. All tragic heroes are "egoists." Each of them calls the whole universe to account for his unhappiness. Karamazov (Ivan, of course) declares bluntly: "I do not accept the world." What do these words mean? Why is it that Karamazov, instead of hiding from dreadful, insoluble problems as everyone else, goes straight at them, charges them just as a bear charges a huntsman's spear? After all, it is not because of ursine stupidity. Oh, how well he knows what insoluble problems are and how man must beat his already clipped wings against the walls of eternity! And nevertheless, he does not give up. No Ding an sich, no will, no deus sive natura tempts him to reconciliation. This man, forgotten by good, treats all philosophical systems with undisguised contempt and disgust.

     Karamazov says: "Some sniveling moralists call the thirst for life despicable." Not one of Dostoevsky's heroes who questions fate ends up a suicide, with the exception of Kirillov, who it is true does kill himself, but not to withdraw from life, but to test his strength. In this respect, they all share old Karamazov's point of view: they do not seek oblivion, no matter how difficult life may be for them. Ivan Karamazov's youthful daydreams, which he recalls in his conversation with the devil, can serve as an interesting illustration of this "point of view." A certain sinner was condemned to walk a quadrillion kilometers before the heavenly gates would be opened to him. But the sinner was stubborn. "I won't do it," he said. He lay down and refused to move from the spot. Thus he lay for a thousand years. Then he rose and started out. He walked a billion years. "And two seconds had not passed after the heavenly gates had opened to him when he exclaimed that for those two seconds, he would have walked, not only a quadrillion, but even a quadrillion quadrillion kilometers, even if it were raised to the quadrillionth power." [Dostoevsky, op. cit., XII, 272].

     Such were the things Dostoevsky pondered over. Those staggering quadrillions of kilometers traversed, those billions of years of nonsense endured for the sake of two seconds of heavenly bliss for which the human tongue lacks the necessary words are merely an expression of the thirst for life about which we have been talking. Like his father, Ivan Karamazov is an egoist through and through. Not that he cannot, he does not want to try in some way or other to dissolve his personality in a noble idea, to fuse it with the "primordial," with nature, et cetera, as philosophers recommend. Although he received a very modern education, he is not afraid to make his demands in the face of the entire body of philosophical science. He is not even afraid that he will be confused (and at the same time rejected) with his father. He bluntly says so himself: "Fyodor Pavlovich, our dad, was a swine, but he thought correctly." [Ibid., 702] And Fyodor Pavlovich, the swine, who saw and knew perfectly well the opinion people had of him, "thought" that even though he had lived long enough, this life was too little for him. He also wanted immortality for himself. This is shown by the following conversation with his children:
"Ivan, tell me, is there a God or not?"
"No, there's no God." "Alyosha, is there a God?" "There is a God."
"Ivan, is there immortality, in some form or other - well, at least a little, a tiny bit?"
"There's no immortality either."
"You mean, there's a complete blank? But maybe there is something or other. After all, there can't just be nothing."
"Absolutely nothing."
"Alyosha, is there immortality?"
"There is."
"Both God and immortality?"
"Both God and immortality..."
"Hmm. More than likely, Ivan is right."
     As you see, like father, like son. Dostoevsky endows even Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov with the ability to seek the "sovereign idea." After all, you must admit that the conversation is most characteristic. "More than likely, Ivan is right" - this is merely an objective conclusion which kept thrusting itself on Dostoevsky and which he feared so much. But the important thing here is the fact that Dostoevsky found it necessary to show Fyodor Pavlovich in a good light. It may seem to the reader that if there is immortality, it is not, at any rate, for such vermin as Fyodor Pavlovich, and that some law will certainly be found that will put an end to this disgusting being. But Dostoevsky cared little for the views of the readers. He keeps Rakitin at a mile's distance from his sovereign idea, but lets the old man Karamazov walk right up to it - he accepts him, if only partially, into the honorary society of convicts. Accordingly, all that is ugly, disgusting, difficult, and agonizing - in brief, all that is problematic in life - finds an ardent and exceptionally talented mouthpiece for itself in Dostoevsky. As if on purpose, he tramples before our eyes on talent, beauty, youth, and innocence. In his novels, there are more horrors than in reality. And how masterfully, how truthfully he describes these horrors! We haven't one artist who could describe the bitterness of insult and humiliation as Dostoevsky does. In the stories of Grushenka and Nastasya Filippovna, nothing strikes the reader so much as the disgrace these women must suffer. Nastasya Filippovna says of Totsky: "He would come here, disgrace me, insult me, infuriate me, seduce me, and then leave - I wanted a thousand times to throw myself into the pond." [Ibid., VI, 184]

     And how much agony Grushenka suffered in recalling the wrong done her! She says: "Now that man who led me astray has arrived, and I've been sitting here waiting to hear from him. And do you know what that offender has been to me? Five years ago, when Kuzma first brought me here, I used to stay inside, biding from people, so they wouldn't see or hear me. I was a thin, silly girl, and I'd sit here sobbing. For nights on end I wouldn't sleep! I'd keep thinking: ‘Where is he now, the fellow who led me astray? Probably laughing at me with another girl. Oh, if only I could see him, if I could meet him sometime - I'd really get even with him. Oh, how I'd get even with him.’ At night, in the darkness, I'd sob into my pillow and think back over all this. I'd torment myself on purpose and gloat over my anger. ‘Oh, I'll get even with him, I really will get even with him!’ That's what I'd cry out lying there in the dark. And then I'd suddenly think that I wouldn't do anything at all to him, and that he was laughing at me then, or maybe had completely forgotten me, and I'd throw myself from the bed to the floor, break into helpless tears, and shake - I'd lie there shaking until dawn. In the morning, I'd get up madder than a dog, ready to tear the whole world to pieces. Then, what do you think? I began to save my money, I became merciless, I put on a lot of weight. I grew wiser - don't you think so? No, indeed, no one in the whole world sees or knows it, but when it gets dark, I sometimes lie there as I did five years ago, when I was a silly girl, clenching my teeth, crying all night long, and thinking: ‘Oh, I'll get even with him, I really will get even with him!’ Did you hear everything I said?" [Ibid., XII, 420]

     That is how convictions "are born" in Dostoevsky's heroes and heroines, to say nothing of Raskolnikov, Karamazov, Kirillov, and Shatov. They were all subjected to unprecedented humiliation. How cleverly Dolgoruky (A Raw Youth) is thrown out of the gambling casino! How the underground man is humiliated! Dostoevsky assembled all the means at his disposal in order once again to strike a blow of unprecedented power at the reader's heart, but this time it was not to make the reader a better person or to have him magnanimously consent to call the humblest man his brother on Sundays and holidays. Now the task was different. Now it was necessary to force science, or "ethics," as Rakitin and Dmitry Karamazov call it, to admit that the chief problem of life cannot be solved by a felicitous arrangement of things for the majority, by the future happiness of mankind, by progress, by ideas, et cetera - in brief, by all that had previously been used to justify the disgrace and destruction of the individual man. And indeed, when faced with reality as depicted by Dostoevsky, the most inveterate and convinced positivist, the very best person would be ashamed to think of his ideals. When "egoism," which everyone slanders so much, leads to tragedy, when the struggle of a solitary human being turns into unceasing torment, no one would have the impudence to use lofty words. Even believing hearts grow silent. But here we encounter not the doctrine of the positivists or idealists, not philosophical theories or scientific systems. People can be brought to reason, philosophers and moralists can be restrained in their pursuit of synthesis and the formation of systems, if they are shown the fate of tragic people. But what can be done with life? How can it be forced to reckon with the Raskolnikovs and Karamazovs? As you know, it has neither shame nor conscience. It looks indifferently on the human comedy and the human tragedy. This question leads us from the philosophy of Dostoevsky to the philosophy of his successor, Nietzsche, the first person openly to display on his banner the terrible words: the apotheosis of cruelty.

Orphus system

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