201. After completion (VI)
Crime and Punishment tells us that the path to genuine religious experience can only be found in concession to our basest desires. What leads Raskolnikov to a tear-stained acceptance of the Gospel, on his knees before his prostitute-wife Sonya in Siberia, is the murder of two old women. The murders are conducted, supposedly, on rational grounds; Raskolnikov wishes to demonstrate that he is a superior type of person, the type who can kill without remorse and under cool control; only such people should be allowed to murder, in his view—they become the Napoleons of crime. His murders induce a fever in him; and this fever breaks his previous condition, one of lassitude and torpor.
It is possible to imagine Raskolnikov as a man who never left his bedsit, never killed, and so went on to a dead career; perhaps he would be an academic translator for his friend Razumikhin—doubtless he would turn up at church from time to time in a half-hearted way, without real conviction. His violation of the fundamental law—the prohibition of murder—brings him to God, and so his actions constitute the most real path to Christianity there can be; anything less is a husk.
Dostoyevsky was a gambler; he was the type to put everything on red, all in. Raskolnikov was based on Dostoyevsky’s own melancholy disposition, he is also a gambler. He goes all in on his desires for murder; and, in the end, he wins big. The position is somewhat similar to that developed by mystics, particularly those of the left-hand path; the bands of Sufi assassins for whom, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” This position is sometimes used as a pretext for libertinage; actually, adherents of this path would be bound to a master whom they were required to obey without question. If he said, “Throw yourself off this bridge,” the novice would be obliged to do so at once; the magical contention would be that to commit the act without thought would save your life by divine grace expressed in a catlike fall of the type that cannot be planned consciously. After many years of this life “anything was permitted”; but to live in this way for a sustained period of time would destroy any inclination to self-indulgence.
The point is not that we all have to go out and murder old women—although perhaps some of us do. Rather, if, say, you are compelled to walk from Berlin to Paris, then you should give in to the compulsion and abandon everything; quite a few men do just so—the German, George Dibbern, who sailed across the world to New Zealand in the midst of the Great Depression, leaving his family behind, was one such man. If you want to get the real thing, you have to go right into the deepest compulsion, no matter the consequences. Raskolnikov and Sonya, the double murderer and the whore, are a diabolical inversion of what is usually considered holy; yet they are precisely the type of people Jesus associated with—tax collectors and whores.
Nietzsche’s last act before he went mad was to embrace a beaten horse on an Italian street. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov dreams of his home town and pictures a horse that receives a savage beating from its owner—it is unable to pull a cart of revellers who have exited a tavern. Nietzsche’s act of compassion took place at the same age as Dostoyevsky when he wrote Crime and Punishment; his act echoes his admiration for Dostoyevsky. Nietzsche’s anti-humanism doubtless inclined him to think many animals are more noble than the men who misuse them; so he became Raskolnikov in his last moments of sanity. Given that in the next sequence Raskolnikov murders, perhaps Nietzsche’s next move would have been bloody. Nietzsche is often superficially characterised as the arch-atheist—not true, even intellectually—but it seems that he wanted to become Raskolnikov, the man who achieves knowledge of God through the profane.