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Literature made easy, I think.

Notes from the Underground Part 1

Continued from here & here.

Part 1 falls into an introduction, three main sections and a conclusion.

(i) The short introduction propounds a number of riddles whose meanings will be further developed.

(1) Chapters two, three and four deal with suffering and the enjoyment of suffering;

(2) chapters five and six with intellectual and moral vacillation and with conscious “inertia”-inaction;

(3) chapters seven through nine with theories of reason and advantage;

(c) the last two chapters are a summary and a transition into Part 2.

War is described as people’s rebellion against the assumption that everything needs to happen for a purpose, because humans do things without purpose, and this is what determines human history.

Secondly, the narrator’s desire for pain and paranoia is exemplified by his liver pain and toothache. This parallels Raskolnikov’s behavior in Dostoevsky’s later novel, Crime and Punishment. He says that, due to the cruelty of society, human beings only moan about pain in order to spread their suffering to others. He builds up his own paranoia to the point he is incapable of looking his co-workers in the eye.

The main issue for the Underground Man is that he has reached a point of ennui[1] and inactivity[2]. Unlike most people, who typically act out of revenge because they believe justice is the end, he is conscious of this problem. Though he feels the desire for revenge, he does not find it virtuous; this incongruity leads to spite and spite towards the act itself with its concomitant circumstances. He feels that others like him exist, yet he continuously concentrates on his spitefulness instead of on action that avoids the problems he is so concerned with. He even admits at one point that he’d rather be inactive out of laziness.

The first part also gives a harsh criticism of determinism and intellectual attempts at dictating human action, which the Underground Man mentions in terms of a simple math problem two times two makes four. He states that despite humanity’s attempt to create the “Crystal Palace,” a reference to a famous symbol of utopianism in Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done?, one cannot avoid the simple fact that anyone at any time can decide to act against what is considered good, and some will do so simply to validate their existence and to protest that they exist as individuals. This type of rebellion is critical to later works of Dostoevsky as this type of rebellion is used by adolescents to validate their own existence, uniqueness and independence in the face of the disorder one inherits under the understanding of tradition and society.

In other works, Dostoevsky constructs a negative argument to validate free will against determinism in the character Kirillov’s suicide in his novel the Demons (that sumbebekos is supernatural). Notes from Underground is the marked starting point of Dostoevsky’s moving from his psychological and sociological themed novels to novels based on existential and human experience in crisis.

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Filed under: Existentialism, novel

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