Dostoevsky and Nietzsche : The Philosophy of Tragedy


     Herein is the essence of what Nietzsche called the "unbedingte Verschiedenheit des Blicks." Herein is what distinguishes his view of life from all other philosophical world views that have thus far existed. Human reason, human wisdom, and human morality, having conferred on themselves the right of definitive and final judgment, said to him: you are crushed, you are mined, there is no salvation for you, there is no hope for you. Wherever he looked, he heard these cold, ruthless words. The loftiest ultrametaphysical doctrines did not at all differ in this case from the judgments of common, ordinary men who have never glanced into a book. Schopenhauer, Kant, Spinoza, the materialists, and the positivists, in observing Nietzsche and his fate, could tell him nothing more than is contained in the famous statement of a phlegmatic Belorussian to his drowning comrade: "Don't ruin your health, Foma; go to the bottom!" The only difference is that the "scholars" were not as frank as the Belorussian peasant, and, moreover, they demanded an attitude of respect, compassion, reverence, and even gratitude toward themselves: after all, they provide metaphysical or moral consolation! After all, they are not of this world - they are of pure reason, of conceptio immaculata! And all that is not with them, all that is against them, belongs entirely to the contemptible, wretched, earthly human ego, from which philosophers, thanks to the loftiness and genius of their nature, had fortunately liberated themselves long ago.

     But Nietzsche felt that all metaphysical and moral ideas had completely ceased to exist for him, whereas the greatly slandered ego had grown to unprecedented, colossal proportions and had blotted out the entire world before him. Another person in his place would have submitted, perhaps for good; another person would even have died with the conviction that his was the misfortune to appear in this world without those lofty virtues that adorn other people, particularly those eloquent and pathetic teachers of good. But, fortunately, even before his illness, Nietzsche himself had managed several times to appear in the role of teacher, and consequently he already had in his own past a certain amount of material for "psychology." Looking back over his early literary works, which had won such enthusiastic praise from Wagner and other celebrities of the time, he naturally had to ask himself the question: "After all, my appearance was no less noble and ideal than that of all other writers. I preached goodness ardently and well, I invoked truth, I sang hymns to beauty - probably no worse than Schopenhauer himself in his youthful works. Yet, one heavy blow of fate-a simple, ordinary, stupid event, a misfortune that could have happened to anyone, to the great and the small of this world - and I suddenly became convinced that egoism, which I never suspected in me, is just as characteristic of me as it is of any ordinary mortal. Doesn't this mean that all other teachers also are hypocritical, that they, too, when they preach truth, goodness, love, and mercy, are merely playing a solemn role - some of them sincerely and unwittingly, as I once did, others perhaps dishonestly and deliberately? Doesn't this mean that all great and saintly men, if they were put in my place, would find as little solace in their truths as I did? And that when they spoke of love, self-sacrifice, and renunciation, there was concealed in all their pretty phrases, like a serpent among flowers, that same devilish egoism which I so unexpectedly discovered in myself, and which I am so desperately and fruitlessly fighting?" This still vague idea - perhaps it is not even idea, but instinct - determined the nature of Nietzsche's immediate quests. He had by no means been so confident in freezing ideals, as he says in his diary for 1888. In his writings, we have scores of indications as to how much wavering and doubt he had to experience in the early days of his independent creative work.

     In his literary legacy, there is a remark relating to 1876, i.e., to the period when he was writing Human, All-Too-Human: "How is it possible," he asks himself, "to find pleasure in the trivial thought that the motives of all our actions boil down to egoism?" [Ibid., XI, 133] As you see, there is as yet no certainty: the thought seems trivial to him, but some force, which is still incomprehensible to him himself, attracts him to it. Later, in 1886, when casting a retrospective glance at the genesis of Dawn, he said: "In this book, you see the underground man at work - digging, mining, undermining. You can see him - always provided that you have eyes for such deep work - making his way slowly, cautiously, gently but surely, without showing signs of the weariness that usually accompanies a long privation of light and air. It might even be said that he is content with his work in the dark. It even begins to seem as if some faith is leading him on, as if he finds solace in his work. Perhaps he needs a long period of darkness, he needs an unintelligible, hidden, enigmatic something, for he knows what awaits him: his own morning, his own redemption, his own rosy dawn." [Ibid., IV, 3] But he was still a long way from faith, from dawn. His favorite thought, from which he never parted at the time, and which he varied in the most diverse ways, is expressed in the following aphorism: "Do you think that all good things have at all times had conscience on their side? Science - unquestionably a good thing - has got along for a considerable time without conscience, and it has always made its way into life without any pathos, clandestinely, by roundabout ways, hiding behind a veil or a mask, like a criminal, or at best, with the feeling a smuggler must experience. Good conscience has bad conscience for its stepping-stone, not for its opposite. For all that is good has at one time been new and consequently strange, antimoral, immoral, and has gnawed like a worm at the heart of its fortunate discoverer." [Ibid., III, 49]

     This explains well enough how much struggle, wavering, and doubt Nietzsche had to bear on his "new" path. It was terrifying for him everywhere to see the "human," only the human, but at the same time, it was necessary. It was not out of mere curiosity, not even out of scientific inquisitiveness that he began his underground work: he needed a long period of darkness, he needed the incomprehensible, the mysterious, the enigmatic. Oh, how he was tempted to go "back" - to that simple, easy, well-organized world in which he had lived in youth! How he wanted to reconcile himself with "conscience," to acquire again the right to speak solemnly and in concert with all teachers about lofty subjects! But all paths "back" were forbidden him. "Up to now," he says, "we have meditated least profoundly on good and evil: this was always too dangerous a subject. Conscience, a good reputation, hell, and at times even the police, have not permitted and do not permit frankness; in the presence of morality, as before all authority, we are not permitted to think, much less to speak: here we must obey! Since the beginning of the world, no authority has voluntarily agreed to become the subject of criticism; and to criticize morals - to regard morality as a problem, as problematic - did that not mean becoming immoral oneself? But morality has at its disposal not only every means of intimidation wherewith to frighten away ruthless criticism; its strength and security lie rather in a certain art of enchantment, in which it is a past master - it knows how to inspire. It can often paralyze the critical will with a single look, or even lure it to its side, yes, even turn the critical will against itself, so that the critic, like a scorpion, thrusts the sting into its own body. Morality has since time immemorial possessed all the resources of the art of convincing: there is no orator who would not turn to it for assistance. Morality has shown herself to be the greatest mistress of seduction ever since men began to discourse and persuade on earth - and, as for us philosophers, she has been a veritable Circe for us." [Ibid., IV, 5]

     And so everything in life is merely "human, all-too-human" - and in this is salvation, hope, and a new dawn? Could one think up a more paradoxical statement? As long as we only had Nietzsche's early works, in which he assured us that objective truth alone is important for him, we could explain to ourselves such strange thinking by regarding Nietzsche as a member of that fairly widespread group of scholars who sit in their ivory tower and forget the world, people, and life while engaged in their theoretical work. But now it is obvious that Nietzsche never was a positivist. For what has positivism in common with a new dawn? Positivism has its own dawn, its own hopes, its own justification; its faith is in utilitarian morals, those same morals that Nietzsche had so stubbornly and for so long undermined. Utilitarianism, realizing that it can in no way help the inhabitants of the underground, deliberately ignores them. True, it sets man's happiness as its task, and, in principle, does not wish to deny anyone the right to life. But in those instances when a person has been denied it by so-called circumstances beyond his control, utilitarian morals are helpless, and not wishing openly to admit their impotence, they throw themselves into the arms of idealism. Imperceptibly to the untrained eye, they replace the words "man's happiness" with other words that are quite similar at first sight - "the majority's happiness." But the similarity here is only superficial. "The majority's happiness" does not mean the same as "man's happiness" - it means the direct opposite. For in the latter case, it is assumed that everyone will benefit, whereas in the former, the minority is sacrificed to the majority. But does positivism have the right to call for sacrifice, can it justify sacrifice? After all, it promised happiness and only happiness; after all, over and above happiness it sees no meaning in life, and then suddenly - sacrifice! It is clear that in a difficult moment, it cannot get along without the aid of idealism; it is less clear, but just as certain, that utilitarianism never even wanted to break away from ideals It was merely flaunting its scientific nature, but deep down in its soul (utilitarianism had a "soul" - who would have thought it!), it believed in justice, goodness, truth, spontaneous intuition, in all the lofty and sacred words. And, as was already pointed out, Dostoevsky, in depicting Rakitin as "greasy," was slandering the creed of positivism.

     But Nietzsche had long since taken leave of ideals. "The majority's happiness" did not attract him. Sacrifice? Perhaps he was still capable of being inspired by this pretty word, but, alas, he no longer had anything to sacrifice. What could he offer? His life? That would not be sacrifice, but suicide. He would have been glad to die in order to rid himself of this hateful life. But rich gifts only are brought to the altar; and a wretched, exhausted, and mutilated being is not to the taste of good, which, like pagan idols, demands young, fresh, beautiful, and happy lives that are untouched by suffering.

Orphus system

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