Sunday, January 25, 2009

Notes from Underground


"...we need only discover these laws of nature, and man will no loner have to answer for his own actions and will find it extremely easy to live. All human actions, it goes without saying, will then be tabulated according to these laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and well be entered on a schedule; or even better, certain edifying works will be published, like out contemporary encyclopedic dictionaries, in which everything will be accurately calculated and specified so that there'll be no more actions or adventures left on earth."


What do you think about Dostoevsky's or the underground man's view on human nature? What do they believe; do you feel the same way?

22 comments:

El Paco said...

Jane - I don't know if I can deal with that font color. It's messing me up, man.

bballinsupasta said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bballinsupasta said...

do you like the white better?

puddlewonderful said...

Dostoevsky-- or at least, his Underground Man-- displays his turn for romanticism here. He clearly despises the rationalism of enlightenment, he rants against it, glorying in the free will of man to do whatever he deems fit, although it may often be utterly unfit. I admire that.

I think in the Underground Man we are seen a conflict of realism and romanticism. It seems, to me, in many ways a response to those romantic authors which Dostoevsky references (Nekrasov, Gogol-- those are two mentioned in the footnotes). Here is a man who would dream of romanticism, who would live freely (maybe? in a different life?), who seems to desire to break the mold society and his unfortunate life have imposed on him. Maybe I have too much sympathy for him, but I feel like his unseemly looks, his poverty, his social situation have all limited him in life. What can a poor, dingy young man do in St. Petersburg, unrespected and disregarded as he is? Life seems to have pressed the will out of him, reducing him (like Hamlet?) to thought. (He dreams of regaining dignity, of bumping into officers, or reforming and exciting young prostitutes to virtuous lives-- but every time, he fails). I feel like Dostoevsky is speaking to Gogol and Nekrasov, who would write of reforming young women and daring young men, blazing revolutionary, brilliant, idealistic romantics paths for themselves through urban Russia, and saying, "Look. Here is the real Russian man. He reads your novels, and he wants the life you portray. But he is not your man, nobody is the man you describe. This fellow is a miserable louse, who can only dream or repress his dreams to avoid pain when he cannot fulfill them." The example of Liza is perhaps the most obvious testament to this-- in a footnote I read that often Russian romantics would have their heroes reform young prostitutes-- but here our Underground Man cannot completely. He inspires her, but he fails in winning her as a companion, and in the end he may in fact have deterred her.

Dostoevsky seems to me at once a romantic and a realist, a man who sees the romantic dream and admires its ideals but, simultaneously, realizes that it is merely an ideal, an impossible dream. To me, he writes with both a yearning for that dream and a hard, bitter understanding of its impossibility.

I mentioned Hamlet briefly above. Did anyone else notice that similar dichotomy between thoughts and actions, the struggle our Underground Man also has to realize his desires and to be more than just grand thoughts? But here, as I said, what I think limits him is his environment.

These are all my impressions. I have a sneaking suspicion I am in fact completely wrong, and making an utter damn fool of myself.

puddlewonderful said...

P.S. I LOVED NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND!!!!

puddlewonderful said...

*we see a conflict

I apologize-- my posts are so long I never edit them.

But anyway, none of y'all are going to read it, so no harm done! :D

Dean Elazab said...

I really enjoyed the notes from the underground, the character is much different from others and i found the style of writing great. It felt a lot like gunter grass' oscar.

bballinsupasta said...

I really like this quotations because it is so true. A lot of times I have wondered why people do such goofy things that are only going to hurt them later. Now I know that it will always happen to people.
"But I repeat for the one-hundredth time, there is one case, only one, when a man may intentionally, consciously desire even something harmful to himself, something stupid, even very stupid, namely: in order to have the right to desire something even very stupid and not be bound by an obligation to desire only what's smart."

Mr. Plainview said...

Having read all 473 words of a previous comment, I feel most enlightened. The Hamlet bit is very insightful. I would just like to tie Liza with The Tin Drum. I think—like Oskar—that our Underground Man may be short of confidence. Oskar uses fantastic events to impress the reader. He has underlying issues that we are to interpret from his wild story. Nobody believes he made love to Maria, but we can imagine he may have some longing for female companionship. The Underground Man seems to have conflicting feelings toward Liza. First, he tells her that she should leave the brothel; he leads her to believe he is able to save her. However, when Liza actually comes to see him, he is embarrassed by his poverty. He grows angry at her. Is this perhaps because he does not have confidence in the notion he can actually help her? Is he too afraid? As he says, “I even believe that the best definition of man is this: a creature who walks on two legs and is ungrateful.” The Underground Man does not want to be angry with her, but—being a human, an “ungrateful” wretch—there is not much he finds himself capable of doing to stop himself. If she were going to leave, it would be much easier for the Underground Man to be angry at her. I propose he throws her out so she won’t be able to hurt him later. The fact he chases after her illustrates he most certainly has some feelings for her. So, we have both Oskar and the Underground Man. The crucial difference, I believe, is that the Underground Man is more honest with the reader. He is at least honest about lying. Either way, the German and the Russian are very confused. They both attempt to channel their romantic ideas through the iron wall of realism.

tmichals said...

Like Michelle said in class yesterday, and maybe in her blog, I really do feel bad for him too. When she mentioned it in class yesterday, I had only read the first chapter and we a bit confused by the whole thing. However, once got a better grasp on his thinking and the plot, I took great pity for him. He just seems like the person who nothing good ever happens to and even when it does, it cannot truly be appreciated or recognized. I do also think that this is very realistic, unlike some others belief that it is not. Some of his thoughts, although often exaggerated or over-dramatized , are still very realistic ones.

jp said...

I don't think I agree with The Underground Man's idea that intelligent people are necessarily unhappy living in society. I think that's just his excuse for being perennially bitter - "I'm too smart to be happy." How easy it is to blame all your problems on being too intelligent for this world.

I think that, on the contrary, the smartest people are the ones who know how to be happy - the ones who can apply their intelligence to real life to find fulfillment in this world.

I think the Underground Man, then, is at that unfortunate level of intelligence where he's smart enough to understand the hierarchy and conformity inherent in most parts of society, but not smart enough to get past these conventions and find his own niche in the world.

puddlewonderful said...

I would argue, John, that there are different sorts of intelligence. Many brilliant people were never happy-- and yet they made some of the most wonderful contributions to society and/or the world. Indeed, it is an accomplishment, and one that takes great intelligence, to find one's niche and attain one's happiness, but it's not a purely intellectual endeavour. There seems to be another, intangible intelligence, involved in that-- a sort of common sense a lot of geniuses have seemed to lack. Maybe I'm stuck in this conceptual construct that the pursuit of greatness and genius cannot coincide with a life of fulfillment and happiness, but there seems to be some undeniable correlation between groundbreaking intellectual advancement and unhappiness-- not a constant association or necessary relationship, but a prevalent one. I suppose, at least in the philosophical realm, that thinking about life is always depressing. How can you be happy if you mentally pursue what so very many people have deemed an unhappy subject (or, rather, a subject with depressing possibilities/subsets)?

On the other hand, I'm not arguing with specifically the Underground Man in mind. He seems wrong in assuming that there are only two choices (sublime suffering & cheap happiness), but I do feel like those might be the only two choices available to him (perhaps there is only one-- sublime suffering). He is making an excuse-- not for perennial bitters, though-- I think he's making an excuse for the limits of his personality and his situation, deceiving himself into thinking that he's made a choice-- the better choice.

But I also don't think we can simply say that the "smartest" people are the ones who know how to be happy. In this postmodern world, I don't think there is such a think as objective "smartness"-- there are different kinds, and each of us value one type over the other. You, John, obviously value that smartness that leads to maximum happiness and fulfillment. I'll take whatever smartness life lends me-- if it sees fit to lend me any at all.

jp said...

Michelle -

You are right that a lot of smart people from history have been unhappy. You're probably right about there being different types of intelligence.

So to revise what I said earlier, I will just say intelligence is no excuse for unhappiness - and for the Underground Man to blame his unhappiness on being intelligent is just making excuses.

I've thought a little more about the psyche of the Underground Man, and - this might've been said in class before, if it was then just tell me and I'll give cred where it's due - but I think the reason the Underground Man is so bitter and antisocial is because he's afraid.

Putting forth effort towards accomplishing something leaves you vulnerable; it exposes the possibility of failure. If you never try, however, you can never fail.

The Underground Man sabotages his own life because he's afraid that if he puts forth a genuine effort to interact socially with others, to advance his career, and to be happy, then he might fail. In fact, he may have even convinced himself, in all his overthinking, that if he tries he WILL fail.

It's like what Homer Simpson told Lisa in one episode of The Simpsons:

"So you tried, and you failed. The lesson here is, never try."

What a sad little man. I almost feel bad for him... but then I remember that he brings all this misery upon himself.

jp said...

Wow. that got long. TOO LONG DIDN'T READ: Intelligence is no excuse for unhappiness. The Underground Man sabotages his own life in order to avoid trying to make a good life, and possibly failing at it.

Dean Elazab said...

I agree with john, the underground man is very elitist. he sits in his tower of intelligence and mocks the other people for following the rat race. he claims to see the strings and defies them, but all he is doing is driving himself into loneliness. his denial and rationalizing are both childish safegaurds to his true nature of being a sad and bitter man.

bballinsupasta said...

i think that he is afraid of being happy. it's a lot easier for him to make excuses to not be happy than for him to put himself out there and possibly be rejected.

Ehren said...

Yes, I agree with John and Dean. His intelligence is not a valid reason for him not being happy. He seems to rely on his intelligence as an excuse for things, which I think is ironic because if he was truly an intelligent person he would try to find ways ameliorate his unfortunate circumstances instead of brooding.

stephen said...

It certainly seems that the underground man whole-heartedly reflects upon the world and his surroundings in a calculated manner. This highly intellectual way of observing the world prohibits the underground man from interacting with others and acting bodly as he must alwayus consider consequences.

El Paco said...

John - I wouldn't say that he is purposefully trying to make his life miserable; I just think that being miserable is the only thing he knows how to do. Once you dig yourself into a hole like he has, it becomes very hard to get out. I think Dostoevsky's point is that society creates people similar to the underground man (I say that I think this is his point because he pretty much says so on the first page).

By the way, John, thank you for the TLDR version of your post. Michelle, you could learn from him.

puddlewonderful said...

Sorry; I'll try to remember to a TLDR version of my next long post.

ndepass said...

i agree with andrew about him not wanting to be miserable, but being stuck miserable because he has been that way for so long and he doesnt know how to be happy, which is kind of sad.......

bballinsupasta said...

i agree with nick. even though i think the underground man is arrogant, i do feel bad for him. he almost makes me want to cry.