Thursday, November 24, 2011

Notes from Underground: Prefatory Reading

I have been reading the background and sources from the Norton Critical Edition of Notes.

D’s letters are curious. The death of his wife, the constant stalling of his obligation to his brother to deliver his story and criticism, his repetition. Interesting for being so prosaic and banal.

In the segment on “Socialism and Christianity” he writes of Socialism and the individuals giving up of himself for the betterment of everyone. D. argues that this is impossible for the Socialist because to the Socialist it is immoral. On the other hand, the ideal Christian does just that, and refuses “recompense” unless he feels that by accepting he will love the donor even more.

The excerpt from Winter Notes compares the Crystal Palace to the worship of Baal, and the impossibility of brotherhood for Western nature. The reason for this impossibility is the focus on rights, individualism, isolation, self-preservation, personal gain, and self definition of the “I.” He goes on to argue that the highest form of individuality is found in sacrifice of one’s self for the good of everyone.

Further excerpts from other writers touched on utilitarianism, the good of seeking one’s advantage, and the longest excerpt, coming from Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done?, presents the enlightened utopia, with the Crystal Palace as an example of utopian achievement. This builds on to earlier sections’s tracing of the history of the development of “woman” as human. It is all unforgivably shiny and hopeful and drunk with the ideal of human progress.

Pevear’s Foreward has two parts. The first is a discussion of background information, the themes of the novel, the philosophical argument D wages against Chernyshevsky and English Utilitarianism. The second part is a translator’s note and commentary on the strangeness of the Novel’s tone.

The underground man has read the Enlightenment rationalists, the utilitarianists, and put those ideas to the test—he has taken the ideas to the fullest extreme, and as such is an indictment of them.

Having just finished another novel of a philosophical nature—The Magic Mountain—I am eager for Dostoevsky. Familiar, yes. Comfortable, possibly. But life giving, all the same.

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