Dostoevsky, the famous Russian writer whom we all have heard of..and if you are like me. Well, then he’s also a writer whom you have tried to read his works only to find out that he was way over your head and decided not to go back to him again. Dostoevsky has been that person to me. I tried to read Crime and Punishment long time ago and hated how long and detailed it was, I abandoned it -shame on me-, and never gave myself the pleasure of enjoying a sophisticated inner piece of literature ever again. Only recently, I got back to my sanity and thought maybe.. maybe Notes From The Underground will make me understand the whole fuzz about Dostoevsky. I began reading, you see, out of curiosity and found myself not satisfied; I was hungry for more.
I might have heard all about Dostoevsky genius, his philosophy, nihilistic views, and the solitudes of his works. All of that I have fully comprehended, but still, all the same, I was not even slightly close to realising how deeply he is capable of giving a near definition of life as what it is, a whole observation on the human soul, one that offers a darker than ever before look into the inner being. A miserable, gloomy look if it may be, but still an honest one. I was ashamed that for a second I thought I knew Dostoyevsky, because even now, I don’t. These notes are full of madness, I tell you. I have been driven, willingly, to chaos and madness by their few pages, and I have sold my soul to this book. Entirely.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, “Underground” starts with the unnamed character writing from the underground, a place he chose to live in after realising that life is not worth living, a complete waste of time. Full of isolation, misanthrope themes, this unnamed character speaks of the reasons why he’s become who he is, and then starts speaking of finding the purpose life -if there’s such a thing-, and how pain can be a pleasure to humans;
“Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment” … I had toothache for a whole month and I know there is. In that case, of course, people are not spiteful in silence, but moan; but they are not candid moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy is the whole point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan. It is a good example, gentlemen, and I will develop it. Those moans express in the first place all the aimlessness of your pain, which is so humiliating to your consciousness; the whole legal system of nature on which you spit disdainfully, of course, but from which you suffer all the same while she does not. They express the consciousness that you have no enemy to punish, but that you have pain; the consciousness that in spite of all possible Wagenheims you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching, and if he does not, they will go on aching another three months; and that finally if you are still contumacious and still protest, all that is left you for your own gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as you can, and absolutely nothing more………”
Here he speaks of Free Will;
“if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices — that is, an explanation of what they depend on upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula — then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances — can such a thing happen or not?……… “Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist…… ”
Two plus two is four, you can never be free. Even if there’s such a utopian world that exists -A Crystal Palace- a world of absolute perfection, man shall always do what is out of his own advantages only to prove his own individual existence. An animal-like behaviour.
The second part, Apropos of the Wet Snow,; is a look into the past of the Underground Man; he writes of how small and insignificant he often felt, how detached from the society he was, and of his moral views. He even shares these views with a prostitute called Liza, a prostitute whom he lectures and tries to save from being used more. Liza, after listening to The Underground Man and thinking that he may actually save her, he may be different, get our man address, and pays him a visit where she sees him in his greatest humiliation; poverty. The Underground Man; the man of books and intelligence living among mice and ashes. Once, again, he feels little and thus takes back all the good things he once said to her. Maybe out of disgust, fear, humiliation, he curses her and again shows his ugly side, or perhaps his only side to her. Liza, unlikely, chooses to embrace him maybe out of love…. or pity.
“They won’t let me…… I can’t be good”
Was the cry The Underground Man let out under Liza’s arms. His most sincere cry. Blaming society for his own sins, and incapability of love. Afterwards, he proves to be no different from others he wrote about, he continued to treat Liza badly and -acting against his own advantages- succeeds in making her leave. Certainly, he hesitates, but only to convince himself later that it was for the best. He admits, as a way to solace himself, that love is a mere struggle and wonders which are better a cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Clearly enough, Underground Man shall always choose exalted sufferings over anything.
Sometimes I wished The Underground Man had a name, so I can mention him in my silly conversations, or perhaps idolise it the way I idolise names like Dorian Gray, Kafka, and Hamlet. But thinking about it maybe it’s for the best to keep this hideous man, a man who was able enough to get to know life and chose isolation over it, as an idea rather than a person. Perhaps The Underground Man is the unnamed soul inside each of us, a rebellious perception of life.
The Underground Man ends his notes daring the readers that he, as isolated and lonely as he may be, has more life in him than any of us;
“there is more life in me than in you”
The Underground itself can be a metaphor. Let alone the men who chose to live in it. Going quite numb toward certain things, having this whole illusion of life and what it should be like. The Underground Man is the soul inside you, the disgusted disgusting part of you that you don’t want to talk about, and Dostoevsky isn’t afraid to show it.
“ … we’ve all grown unaccustomed to life, we’re all lame, each of us more or less. We’ve even grown so unaccustomed that at times we feel a sort of loathing for real “living life,” and therefore, cannot bear to be reminded of it. For we’ve reached a point where we regard real “living life” almost as labour, almost as service, and we all agree in ourselves that it’s better from a book. And why do we sometimes fuss about, why these caprices, these demands of ours? We ourselves don’t know why. It would be the worse for us if our capricious demands were fulfilled. Go on, try giving us more independence, for example, unbind the hands of any one of us, broaden our range of activity, relax the tutelage, and we … but I assure you: we will immediately beg to be taken back under tutelage. I know you’ll probably get angry with me for that, shout, stamp your feet: “Speak just for yourself and your miseries in the underground, don’t go saying ‘we all.’” Excuse me, gentlemen, but I am not justifying myself with this allishness. As far as I myself am concerned, I have merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry even halfway, and, what’s more, you’ve taken your cowardice for good sense, and found comfort in thus deceiving yourselves. So that I, perhaps, come out even more “living” than you. Take a closer look! We don’t even know where the living lives now, or what it is, or what it’s called! Leave us to ourselves, without a book, and we’ll immediately get confused, lost—we won’t know what to join, what to hold to, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. It’s a burden for us even to be of it, we consider it a disgrace, and keep trying to be some unprecedented omni-men. We’re stillborn, and have long ceased to be born of living fathers, and we like this more and more. We’re acquiring a taste for it. Soon we’ll contrive to be born somehow from an idea.”