dostoevsky, karamazov, nietzsche

Nietzsche: The Fifth Karamazov Brother

It is unlikely that Nietzsche ever read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, though he did praise lavishly the Russian author’s “Underground Man” and allowed that the writer was a psychologist worthy of his attention.

To one steeped in Dostoevsky and familiar with Nietzsche’s own ambivalent certitudes, it is not hard to link him to this family of 19th Century fictional archetypes — all wrestling with the implications of a world that is in the process of rejecting God.

The four Karamazov Brothers — children of the insidious buffoon Fyodor — are:

Dmitri, the eldest who might qualify as a life-affirmer in Nietzsche’s terms,

Ivan, the tormented intellectual who is stretched out on the rack of the very morality Nietzsche is at pains to excoriate,

Alyosha, the saintly secular monk Dostoevsky hopes will carry human destiny forward, and:

Smerdyakov, the imitative imbecile who infers the homicidal urges of his brothers and acts them out in the parricide that is the novel’s principal crime.

Nietzsche, is the fifth Karamazov — Like Ivan he has passed through Dostoevsky’s furnace of doubt — but gone even farther than the tormented Ivan.