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Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND, has held many labels, such as being a case history of nuerosis or a specimen of modern tragedy. The most popular label it has obtained however, is being the author’s defense of individualism.

The novel is writen as a performance, part triad, part memoir, by a nameless personage who claims to be writing for hiomself but consistently maipulates the reader–of whom he is morbidly aware– to the point where there seems to be no judgement the reader can make which has not already been made by the writer himself.

The underground man is represenative as a product of individaul pathology or a biographical accident. He is "one of the characters of our recent past," part of a generation that is living out its days among us. Internal eveidence makes it clear that his generation is of the 1840s. He shows the fate of the isolated petty clerk and Dostoevkian dreamer twenty years after, surveying his wasted life in the new spiritual climate of the 1860s and at the same time finding justification for his own grotesque being in the simplistic views of the human nature now current.

IN the first part of the novel, the underground man describes himself and his views, and attempts, as it were, to clarify the reasons why he appeared and is bound in our midst. The mention of his self and his views raise thequestion of how the two are related. Are we to understand his views as the product of his wasted life or independently? There are also the same views that are bound in the paradox. He dismisses the "laws of nature" and wilfully denies that twice two is four. The common sense even today with his views–but it underlies most of the art we think of as "modern":

"And why are you so frimly,

so solemnly convinced that

only the normal and the

positive–in short, only

well-being–is to man’s

advantage?…Afterall, man

may be fond of only well

being. And man is sometimes

extremely fond of suffering

too. And here there is no

need to consult world

history; ask yourself, if

you’re a man and have lived

at all. As for my personal

opinion, it’s even somehow

indecent to love only well

being."

Now don’t confuse this idea with sufering. Here he is simply touching on a quest in which pleasure is of no use–it is the quest for self-determination and self-affirmation.

UNderground, the man seeks truth, setting "authenticity" above goodness or happiness as he reopens the question of what it means to be human. This is what he seeks the answer to in dangerous and repugnant regions.

Paradox is used as contradiction in the underground man’s "confession", fired by passion with generalizations that seem liable, as well as, hyperbolic. He cravs isolation, yet thirsts for human contact. He rejects that "laws of nature," yet explains his inertia has their inevitable product. He seeks the reader’s sympathy, yet he does all he can to preclude it. He suffers and proclaims pleasure in it.

"Reason accounts for twenty-second of human thought," he declares. Now, take for example, his often-cited arguments about freedom and individuality. He makes an outstanding case against social utopias as denying "the most important thing– our personality, our individuality." And how is the latter expressed? As spontaneous desire, even caprice:"One’s own free, untrammeles desires, one’s own whim’ no matter how extravagent, one’s own fancy, be it wrought up at times to the point of madness–all of this is precisely the most advantageous of advantages which is omitted, which fits into no classification, and which is constantly knocking all the systems and theories to hell."

He speaks of wnting to live "in order to saticfy my whole capacity for living, and not just my reasoning capacity alone." And he seculates that striving may be more important to man than achieving, the journey more important than arrival at the goal. Yet, how has he lived? For what has he striven?


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