Who is Shestov
Lev Shestov (1866-1938) is a Russian-Jewish philosopher of existentialism. In France he is well known as Léon Chestov. Variously described as an irrationalist, an anarchist, a religious philosopher, Shestov's themes were initially inspired by Nietzsche until he found a kindred spirit in Kierkegaard. Among his contemporaries he entertained long-standing philosophical friendships with Martin Buber, Edmund Husserl and Nikolai Berdyaev.
Shestov's development as a thinker lead him to undertake a vast critique of the history of Western philosophy which he saw broadly as a monumental battle between Reason and Faith, Athens and Jerusalem, secular and religious outlook. He thus engaged on what he termed a "pilgrimage through the souls" of such greats as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Blaise Pascal, Descartes, Plotinus, Spinoza, Plato, Luther and others.
This site proposes a number of Shestov's works in extenso. The English translations published mainly by Bernard Martin (1928 - 2001) in the 1960's, have long been out of print. Were it not for the dedication of this academic, the most important of Shestov's writings would not be available to the English reader today.
Conversations with Lev Shestov
by Benjamin Fondane
- As the years go by it becomes harder and harder for me to keep believing that the wall can be broken down, that one can defeat impossibility. I did not grow used to this struggle, it does not pacify me, on the contrary every day it becomes harder, more laborious, painful to carry on. But as long as I have the least shred of hope I will refuse to "sanctify" necessity (as Schelling does)... and I shall refuse even when there is no more hope left...
- Berdyaev calls himself an existentialist. But he always goes back to the same questions: "Did Kierkegaard regain Regina Olsen? Did Job recover his dead children? Has there ever been a single Christian who actually moved mountains? You know as well as I do that none of these came to be." And I answer him: "Don't you think that Kierkegaard was fully aware of that? But that's precisely the starting point of his philosophy - he sets out on a war against what he knows only too well. That's what makes him into an existentialist. But you can't follow him there, that's the very thing that makes you turn back - so how come you call yourself and existentialist?"
Dostoevsky on death
from "The Idiot"
Dostoevsky was undoubtedly one of those who possessed this double vision. But when did the Angel of Death visit him? The most natural thing would be to suppose that it happened at the foot of the scaffold when sentence of death was read out to him and his companions. However, it is probable that "natural" explanations are out of place here. We have got into the realm of the unnatural, of the eternally and essentially fantastic, and if we want to see anything, we must abandon all those methods and procedures which previously gave a certainty, a guarantee to our truths and our knowledge. It is possible that a yet more important sacrifice may be demanded of us. We may perhaps have to admit that certainty is not a predicate of truth, or, to express it better, that certainty has absolutely nothing in common with truth. (LEV SHESTOV, The Conquest of the Self-Evident)
Man against God
The book of Job
The whole book is one uninterrupted contest between the "cries" of the much-afflicted Job and the "reflections" of his rational friends. The friends, as true thinkers, look not at Job but at the "general." Job, however, does not wish to hear about the "general"; he knows that the general is deaf and dumb - and that it is impossible to speak with it. "But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God" (13:3). The friends are horrified at Job's words: they are convinced that it is not possible to speak with God and that the Almighty is concerned about the firmness of His power and the unchangeability of His laws but not about the fate of the people created by Him. Perhaps they are convinced that in general God does not know any concerns but that He only rules. That is why they answer, "You who tear yourself in your anger, shall the earth be forsaken for you or the rock be removed from its place?" (18:4). And, indeed, shall rocks really be removed from their place for the sake of Job? And shall necessity renounce its sacred rights? This would truly be the summit of human audacity, this would truly be a "mutiny," a "revolt" of the single human personality against the eternal laws of the all-unity of being! (LEV SHESTOV, Speculation and Apocalypse)
About the website
The [Intro] section contains a comprehensive introduction to Shestov's life and philosophy by Bernard Martin. It is rather long but gives a good idea of what to expect. A condensed version was published in Theology Today.
The [Texts] section is a Library of Shestov's works in English and in Russian.
The bibliography [Biblio] is complete as to Shestov's published works but is not up-to-date or comprehensive as to the various editions available. This especially concerns the French and Russian editions which are many and happily in-print.
In the [Links] section are collected Shestov-related links in various languages as well as relevant philosophy resources.
The [Talk] section is there for your comments, suggestions, discussions etc.
Conversations with Lev Shestov by B. Fondane - English translation of the full version available.
[ Dossier Fondane ] New section on this site with related documents and links.
What is Bolshevism? - facsimile of the 1920 booklet (in Russian).
Shestov as I remember him - reminiscences by Herman Lovtzky, Shestov's brother-in-law (in Russian).
Journal of thoughts - Shestov's diary from 1919-1920 (in Russian)
In memory of Jacques Riviere - short article (in Russian)
Preface to "Beginnings and Endings" (in Russian) - main contents of the book are available online elsewhere.
Shestov or the Purity of Despair - article by Czeslaw Milosz.
Preface to "Great Vigils" (in Russian) - main contents of the book are available online elsewhere.
Idealism and Its Critic - review by John Bayley.
Bibliographia Shestoviana Serbica - by Bogdan Lubardic
Leon Chestov. Bibliographie. - by Nathalie Baranoff-Chestov, ed. 1975 (in French & Russian)
[ Search engine update ]. It is now possible to search each book separately. The search box on the TOC pages (table of contents) will directly search the contents of that particular section. Elsewhere the search boxes are set for the entire site.
Nikolai Berdyaev was a life-long friend of Shestov and their intense debates in private and in print kept the arc of Russian philosophy vibrant and well-strung for many years. Visit the Berdyaev English site at www.berdyaev.com
La Société Léon Chestov has now a bilingual website for those interested in Shestov-related studies.
Magister's online library has made available in Russian the most important of Shestov's works which were previously impossible to find on the internet.
"For Plato, philosophy is not knowledge or science - one cannot call the 'practice of death' a science - but something of a completely different order. He wishes to render the human vision not more penetrating but, on the contrary, less so..."
"What does reason know? Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning (some things, perhaps, it will never learn; this is a poor comfort, but why not say so frankly?) and human nature acts as a whole, with everything that is in it, consciously or unconsciously, and, even if it goes wrong, it lives."