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They are also enamored of German idealism—”the good and the beautiful” of Schiller’s rhapsodic writing. No, but he spouts many of Dostoevsky’s ideas and antipathies; the book is certainly an appropriate introduction to Dostoevsky the Slavophile reactionary who emerged in his final years.But “Notes” is a canny work of literature, not a tract: Dostoevsky may have put his own ideas into the mouth of a brilliant man, but he undermined him as a self-destructive mess at the same time.Reason is only one part of our temperament, the underground man says.
Dostoevsky worked on the text in 1863 and published it the following year in , the magazine edited by his brother Mikhail.
“Notes from Underground” feels like a warmup for the colossus that came next, “Crime and Punishment,” though, in certain key ways, it’s a more uncompromising book.
What’s wrong with such techniques, in both their cynical or ameliorative uses, was simply stated by Sartre, in 1945: “All materialist philosophies create man as an object, a stone.” The underground man says that, on the contrary, human beings are unfathomable, unknowable.
Given the opportunity, they may deny, for themselves, the certainty that two and two makes four. Because the mere right to deny the obvious may be more important than the benefit of sheepishly acknowledging it.
Petersburg, “that most abstract and pre-meditated city,” and a man unable to act and also unable to stop humiliating himself and embarrassing others.
A self-regarding, truculent, miserable, paralyzed man. As I began reading “Notes” again recently (in Andrew R.The modern element in “Notes from Underground” is Dostoevsky’s exultation in human perversity.You can read this book as a meta-fiction about creating a voice, or as a case study, but you can’t escape reading it also as an accusation of human insufficiency rendered without the slightest trace of self-righteousness.He alternately teases, insults, and abases himself before them.They are people besotted, he believes, with Western ideas of progress—the ideologies of utilitarianism, socialism, evolution, the greatest good for the greatest number, and so on.Predictors of human behavior, as the underground man says, generally assume we will act in our own best interests. The same question might be asked today, when “rational-choice theory” is still a predictive model for economists and sociologists and many others.When working-class whites vote for Republican policies that will further reduce their economic power—are they voting in their best interests?In the first part of the novel, the underground man, after introducing himself, complains, in his ejaculatory, stop-and-start way, about the spectacular Crystal Palace built in London (this was back in 1851).He rails against everything that the building represents—industrial capitalism, scientific rationality, and any sort of predictive, mathematical model of human behavior. You can easily imagine what Dostoevsky would make of modern sociology, psychology, advertising techniques, war games, polling of any sort.What the two fictions share is a solitary, restless, irritable hero and a feeling for the feverish, crowded streets and dives of St.Petersburg—an atmosphere of careless improvidence, neglect, self-neglect, cruelty, even sordidness. Dostoevsky himself had recently returned from exile, and his St.