Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Notes from Underground: I.viii–xi

Yesterday I read from I.viii–xi, finishing Part I.

The u.m. makes critical to man his “desires,” “will,” and “wantings.” Without these, he is just a “sprig in an organ barrel.”

You see: reason, gentlemen, is a fine thing, that is unquestionable, but reason is only reason and satisfies only man’s reasoning capacity, while wanting is a manifestation of the whole of life—that is, the whole of human life, including reason and various little itches.

Man wants what is not best for himself if only to rebel against the obligations of lifeless reason—the calendar of human behavior.

I think this is where the u.m. cannot be identified with D. Given what D. has said about individuality, I believe this individualism and the rebellion described—the significance of “wanting” to personality—is the mark of reason’s progeny. D. is pointing to something else. We see this pointed to most explicitly in I.xi, para 1.

The u.m. goes on to say that a man “will deliberately go mad for the occasion, so as to do without reason and still have his own way!”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Notes from Underground: I.iv-vii


The toothache and moaning wickedly, not as is necessary, but so as to make others miserable. Self-conscious of the effect, the irritation of others.

Now, it is in all these consciousnesses and disgraces that the sensuality consists.


How can a man of consciousness have the slightest respect for himself?1


Working up offense or love, playing at it results in the real thing, even as one is conscious that one is playing at it.

Men of action identify secondary causes as primary and feel at ease in acting. The man of conscience probes deeper, which results in constant doubt.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Notes from Underground: I.iii


The active and ingenuous man sincerely folds before a wall. The wall: laws of nature, conclusions of natural science, mathematics.

For the over-sensitive, overly cultivated man, the folding is a deflection.

  • Normal man, born of nature
  • Retort man, born of alchemy; i.e. reason

The retort man folds before the normal man as a mouse before a man.

Dostoevsky goes on to describe the mouse man, retort man in the depth of his insincerity. He wears contempt on his face, but it is merely masking shame. The normal man wants revenge as a form of justice—the mouse meditates on offenses done to him and fantasizes about revenge which he’ll almost never seek.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Notes from Underground: I.i-ii

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.

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.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reading Log

The last couple weeks I’ve been immersed in work-related stuff and haven’t managed to read much. My wife and I went to see a local production of the single-act play, “The Interview,” by Peter Swet, and we will be going to see Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” this next weekend. Local and inexpensive productions.

Sisters touched a nerve—hope for the future despite the endless fading of future into present. How dangerous and pointless it is to look to some vaguely defined future happiness just waiting “over there.” If we approach life that way, it will never fail to disappoint.

Something else on my mind, something that is expressed very well by Harold Bloom in his Preface to How to Read and Why:

Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. It returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness. We read not only because we cannot know enough people, but because friendship is so vulnerable, so likely to diminish or disappear, overcome by space, time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life.

The difficulty of communicating at a personal level is constantly on my mind. If lucky you learn to communicate with your spouse, and with—at most—a couple friends. Beyond that is a fog of half-measures, tentative approaches, and well-intentioned dishonesty. Perhaps it is no wonder that we make alliances over trivialities—they are rarely to be found in what is most important.