The other night I feverishly read aloud the first quarter of Notes from Underground. Tonight, or rather this morning, I re-read the first two sections of Part I.
I am a sick man… I am a wicked man. An unattractive man.
The underground man repeatedly makes statements, claims, of his acting contrary to his own advantage—not out of altruism, but out of “wickedness.” He is educated, but persists with superstition. He refuses to see a doctor, although he is superstitious enough—his claim—to “respect medicine.”
He is too conscious. He is neurotically self-conscious. Conscious that his acts of wickedness are affectations. Conscious of “swarming” elements within him that were contrary to his wickedness.
He claims he cannot become anything, because no intelligent 19th c. man can—in the focus on freedom, they can be nothing—characterless. Only fools and scoundrels become anything. The man of character is limited rather than free.
Q: Is he trying to be fool and scoundrel in order to become something?
Again, consideration of too much consciousness. Expresses a voluptuousness of humiliation and despair.
Themes of guilt and self-loathing pitted against the “laws of nature,” which make guilt and self-loathing pointless… and yet they persist.
I first read this in early adulthood. I remember being struck by how much I related to the u.m. He writes that his burden of consciousness was something he felt was uniquely his—he kept it secret, in shame, believing that no one else felt such things. I remember being amazed to have such thoughts brought to light. And written down over 100 years before I was born. I am nowhere near as unique as I once thought. This isn’t just a book that provides dialectic to progressive liberalism in the 19th c. It is a book that describes me, describes what I could be, gone to the utmost extreme.