7. The Philosophy of Tragedy

Lev Shestov (1866–1938)
Dostoevskii i Nitshe: filosofiia tragedii / Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: the Philosophy of Tragedy
Berlin: Izdatel’stvo “Skify”, 1922

Lev Shestov was a Russian existentialist philosopher who, in his early career, analysed texts (such as those by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy) through the application of Friedrich Nietzsche’s works. Dostoevsky and Nietzsche was published in 1922 by Skify (Scythians), a Jewish-Russian publishing house in Berlin, which held a predominantly left-wing socialist revolutionary political stance during its operation.

In Shestov’s view, the texts of both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche emphasise suffering as a necessary component to seeking salvation. The main character of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, for example, suffers as he struggles against himself, society, and morality towards utilitarian ideals he feels the need to follow. By the end of the text, however, Raskolnikov, in despair, seeks salvation in the Bible and returns to faith. Shestov notes that though both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche believed that suffering and tragedy were inevitable in life simply due to the act of being born into a world of impurity brought about by man’s sin, they also recognized that only through such suffering was one truly able to seek salvation and redemption in the face of God.

Melissa Teo

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