Dostoevsky and Nietzsche : The Philosophy of Tragedy


     Thus, we must least of all seek in Nietzsche's works those conclusions to which he came in rejecting the longings that naturally arose in his soul. On the contrary, for our part, we must systematically and consistently reject and eliminate all such judgments, just as one eliminates all illegitimate claims. Let a sick and suffering man speak as a sick and suffering man, and only about subjects that are of importance to him. Nietzsche says that an unbedingte Verschiedenheit des Blicks leads to the horror and chill of loneliness, and that deep distrust of life threatens even more horrible results. We know all that, and nevertheless we demand from Nietzsche only the truth about his life. And the main thing, after all, is that he himself wants with all his might to speak out, to reveal his agonizing secret to the reader, as Dostoevsky does in his "Grand Inquisitor." Otherwise, what was the purpose of the prefaces? Why not leave us with the belief that the two volumes of Human, All-Too-Human are ordinary books in which a healthy man is reasoning as a healthy man about subjects of equal interest to everyone? If Nietzsche did not express himself frankly and openly to his dying day, it was only because he dared not risk such a step, or more probably, because the time had not yet come to speak frankly with people about everything. In their minds, there is already a glimmer of the new truth, but for the time being it seems to be not truth, but a scarecrow, a horrible phantom from another world that is alien to us. People dare not call it by its real name; they speak of it in semi-hints, conventional signs, and symbols. We saw the cunning to which Dostoevsky resorted: his thinking is almost impossible to pin down; it is even difficult to follow; it slips and writhes like an eel, and finally, as if on purpose, disappears in a thick fog of irreconcilable contradictions.

     The same is true of Nietzsche. You must pay the closest attention, you must have that "sympathetic eye" about which he speaks, in order to understand his works and not become lost in the confusion of unfounded hypotheses, arbitrary psychological conjectures, lyrical digressions, and enigmatic images. He knows this himself: "It is not for nothing," he says, "that I was and perhaps still am a philologist, i.e., a teacher of slow reading. It trains one, finally, also to write slowly. At present, it is not only my habit, but even my taste to write nothing but what will drive to despair everyone who is in a hurry. Philology is that esteemed art, which demands one thing above all from its followers - to step aside to give themselves time to think things over, to quiet down, to decelerate their movements." [Nietzsche, op. cit., IV, 10]. But perhaps patience and good will alone are insufficient. Schopenhauer was right when he remarked that "personal experience is a necessary condition for understanding both poetry and history: for it serves as a sort of dictionary of the language which they speak." Such a dictionary is to a certain extent also required when one reads Nietzsche's works. For despite all his theoretical deliberations, he was nevertheless obliged to use his own experience as his sole source of knowledge: "In whatever situation you may be," he says, "let your-i self serve as the source of your experience." [Ibid., II, 266] And it is, of course, impossible to do otherwise. This system of pretense can at best give a handsome outward appearance to a writer's works, but by no means will it ever provide him with their necessary content. Thus, in Dostoevsky, the thinking of the underground man is concealed behind the façade of an accusatory narrative: "Look," it seems to say, "what bad, selfish people there are, and how these poor bipeds are sometimes possessed by egoism." However, Nietzsche was no novelist; he could not speak through the "mouths" of supposedly outside heroes; he needed scientific theory. But are there really no theories that could fit his new experience?

     Provided there is a desire to look for it, a theory will be found. Nietzsche decided on positivism, which bases its utilitarian point of view on morality merely because, when so desired, morality gives fullest scope to the underground idea. Like Dostoevsky, he could have become an extreme idealist and played the role of accuser. He could have chastised all manifestations of egoism, i.e., he could have spoken of his own "base" thoughts and raged at his readers as Count Tolstoy does. The choice of form was decided partly by chance and partly by the peculiar cast of Nietzsche's character and the mental depression he had experienced in the early years of his illness. He lacked sufficient strength to thunder and curse, so he joined up with cold cognition. Then, in his later works, he began to feel at home in his role and armed himself with menacing bolts of lightning. But in Human, All-Too-Human and Dawn, we are faced with a positivist, a utilitarian, and a rationalist, who is coldly and calmly reducing all the loftiest and noblest manifestations of the human soul to their basest and most rudimentary form, supposedly for purposes of theoretical knowledge. "Human, All-Too-Human," Nietzsche writes in his diary for 1888, "is a monument to a crisis. It is a book for free minds [ein Buch für freie Geister]: almost every sentence in it expresses a victory; I have liberated myself in it from all that is alien to my nature. Mi idealism is alien to me; the name of the book says: where you see a manifestation of idealism, I, alas, see merely that which is human, all-too-human. I know people better." [Förster-Nietzsche, op. cit., II, 296] As you see, in 1888, Nietzsche was much bolder and more confident than in 1876, when he wrote Human, All-Too-Human. But, nevertheless, he relies even here on the fact that he knows "people," i.e., not himself, but others! Yet the entire content of Human, All-Too-Human was taken solely from his own experience: Nietzsche had only the possibility of convincing himself that idealism was alien to him, that in his soul the seat of ideal aspirations was occupied by Human, All-Too-Human impulses. And in 1876, this discovery not only did not gladden him, it destroyed him. After all, he was still completely imbued at the time with Schopenhauer's doctrine. After all, at almost this very time, while praising his teacher, he exclaimed: "Schopenhauer teaches us to sacrifice the ego, to subordinate it to the noblest goals - especially those of justice and mercy." [Nietzsche, op. cit., I, 410]

     Can one believe that he immediately renounced the "noblest" goals and acknowledged his own human needs as the sole legitimate and just ones? Alas, he did not go that far, nor could he do so even at the end of his life-but at the moment of his split with Schopenhauer and Wagner, he, of course, regarded his incapacity for self-sacrifice as a monstrous anomaly of psychological make-up, characteristic of him alone. Before deciding to speak of himself gradually and unobtrusively under the cover of a universally recognized scientific theory, he spent many a sleepless night trying to return his dissolute soul to the lofty doctrine of self-sacrifice. But all attempts proved fruitless. The more he tried to convince himself of the necessity of renouncing his ego and the brighter he painted for himself the picture of the future prosperity of mankind, the more bitter, insulting, and painful it was for him to think that he would not be present at the triumph of life, that he was even deprived of the possibility of actively assisting in the coming victory of mankind. "People will reach their highest goals; there will not be one humiliated, wretched being on this earth; truth will shine forth to each and everyone. Is that too little to console your poor heart with, can't that atone for your disgrace? Forget yourself, renounce yourself, look at others, admire and rejoice at the future hopes of mankind, as the sages have taught us to do since time immemorial. Otherwise, you are twice a nonentity. Otherwise, you are not only a broken man, but also a morally doomed one." Such words, and even more dreadful ones, which are used by a man only when alone with himself, and which were never before brought out into the open by a single one of the boldest psychologists, not even by Dostoevsky, were whispered to Nietzsche by his conscience, which had been reared on idealist doctrines. After all, he came from a family of Lutheran pastors: his father and grandfather were preachers, his mother and grandmother were daughters of preachers.

     Have you ever had occasion to hear or read German Protestant sermons? If so, you will understand what was taking place in Nietzsche's soul. He was not asked if he could meet the demands made on him. No one wanted to strengthen, guide, or encourage him. Day and night, he heard only a stem voice thundering over him and pronouncing the terrible adjuration: ossa arida, audite verbum Dei. Nietzsche understood then that it was useless for him to expect anything more from people. For the first time in his life, he knew what it meant to be completely alone. The whole world was against him, and, therefore, he was against the whole world. Compromise, concession, and agreement were impossible. For it was one of two things: either Nietzsche was right, or his tragedy was indeed so profound, so unprecedentedly horrible that all people must forget their usual joys and sorrows, their daily cares and interests and go with him into eternal mourning for a young life that had been unjustly ruined, or he must renounce himself and fulfill - not hypocritically, but with all his heart and soul - the demands being made on him in the name of eternal wisdom. But if it was impossible to force the entire human race to share the grief of one German professor, then, vice versa, it was equally impossible, by using all sorts of threats and torments, to extort from this German professor a voluntary renunciation of his rights to life. The whole world and one man had collided, and it turned out that these two forces were of equal magnitude; more than that, on the "world's" side were all the traditions of the past, all human wisdom from past ages, Nietzsche's own conscience, and finally, evidence itself. And on Nietzsche's side - well, what did he have on his side but despair?

     Then what was it that supported Nietzsche in this mad and unequal struggle? Why did he not retreat before his infinitely powerful adversary? Where did he get the courage not only to fight, but even for one minute to look such an enemy straight in the face? True, the struggle was horrible and unprecedented. But, because of this, it astonishes us all the more. Doesn't it have concealed within it that truth about man, which we were discussing at the end of the preceding chapter? And doesn't this mean that human truth, by rising along with the world against Nietzsche, was a lie?

Orphus system

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