Valerii Briusov’s Fiery Angel and the Demonic Aesthetic

Peter Huk, California Lutheran University

While parodying and negating Nietzsche's ethical project, Vladimir Solov'ev deliberately separates himself in his essays from the phenomenon of Nietzscheanism. He shuns the movement and attempts to derail any proponents of Nietzschean ideals that may equally adhere to his thinking. He even provides mis-readings of Nietzsche in such essays as "Idea of the Superman" (1899) and "Literality or the Truth?" (1897). However, as Solov'ev's own followers have pointed out, the ideas of both philosophers can be accepted in tandem and syncretized without a fear of contradiction. This paper presents one particular point of convergence between the two philosophers in their analyses of human subjectivity and the critique of the Cartesian ego.

Whereas Solov'ev focuses on the fundamental problem concerning the perceiving subject in essays that deal with authenticity and imposture, Nietzsche deals extensively in On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) with the subject that arises from grammar and the splitting of an act into doer, deed, and object. Nietzsche confronts the tradition based on grammar, along with conventions put forth by a politics and an economy based on grammar and the logic behind the division of act and agent from process. This grammatical procedure constitutes a construction of the subject and an avowal of judgments that mark this subject in relation to any resulting actions. This, Nietzsche states, is an unsound practice that results in lies for life. Solov'ev, similarly questions the integrity of the formulation of the Cartesian ego in his Theoretical Philosophy (1897-99). He interrogates the notion of cause and effect in consciousness and the formulation of the cogito, ergo sum. His basic challenge is to determine how one perceives without the hindrance of hypostasized concepts and how one acts in authenticity. A similar concern characterizes these two opposed philosophers’ pursuits as they analyze grammar to discern the parameters of the thinking subject.

Solov'ev's phenomenological critique of authenticity and imposture is evident in the Three Conversations (Tri razgovora, 1899) and in the "Short Story of the Antichrist." Within these last works of Solov'ev we can detect the likeness of Nietzsche in the call for authenticity and in the caution against the impostor. The ambiguities that arise in Solov'ev's texts differ from the ambiguities in Nietzsche's by reason of Solov'ev's appeal to philosophical categories and literary genres, as Judith Deutsch Kornblatt notes, and by reason of Nietzsche's appeal to challenging conventions within language. However, these two thinkers give fundamentally similar critiques with fundamentally different strategies; this accounts for the apparent differences and, perhaps, the intentional mis-readings.


Kornblatt, Judith Deutsch. "Soloviev on Salvation: The Story of the 'Short Story of the Antichrist.'" Russian Religious Thought. Eds. Judith Deutsch Kornblatt and Richard F. Gustafson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. 68-87.

---. "The Truth of the Word: Solovyov's Three Conversations Speaks on Tolstoy's Resurrection." Slavic and East European Journal 45: 2 (2001): 301-21.

Solov'ev, Vladimir. Sobranie sochinenii Vladimira Sergeevicha Solov'eva s 3-mia portretami i avtografom. Eds. S.M. Solov'ev and E.L. Radlov. 2nd ed. 10 vols. St. Petersburg: Prosveshchenie, 1911-14. Rpt. with 2 additional vols., Brussels: Zhiz'n s Bogom, 1966-1970.