Saturday, December 3, 2011

Notes from Underground: II.i


The first part being a sort of manifesto, the second part is a memoir. The u.m. tells how he alone was unique, developed, intelligent, and all those around him were dull-witted sheep.

The u.m. isolates himself, covering his own meanness with “morbid development.” How like him am I? He despised his equals and “felt convulsive pains in my heart and a hotness in my spine at the mere thought of the measliness of my attire and the measliness and triteness of my darting little figure” among “generals, cavalry officers and hussars, now to ladies.”

The main event of this chapter is the planning of revenge on a 6-foot tall officer who moved him without taking notice of him. U.M. stalks the officer, learns about him, and plots his revenge—this revenge takes the form of simply not giving way before him—of bumping into him. He obsesses, he upgrades his garments in the event that there is a public spectacle, he borrows money for the clothing, and he fails repeatedly to stand his ground.

Finally it is accomplished, he bumps into him and the officer ignores it, but the u.m. is elated. He stood his ground, and is sure that the officer only pretends not to have noticed.

There is another detail about a fine, lofty, and above all literary letter the u.m. wrote to the officer, “composed in such a way that if the officer had even the slightest notion of ‘the beautiful and lofty,’ he could not fail to come running to me to throw himself on my neck and offer me his friendship.”

Every time I read this book I cannot help but to see in the u.m a caricature of myself. Dostoevsky knew me too well—how? Is this so common? And am I so petty?

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