Notes from Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky

philosophy Jan 1, 2023

Part 1

Jorge Luis Borges said:

Like the discovery of love, like the discovery of the sea, the discovery of Dostoevsky marks and important date in one's life.

I discovered Fyodor Dostoevsky late in my life. It took me many attempts over some years to complete The Brothers Karamazov. It is impossible, for a mediocre thinker and writer like me, to even begin to describe the depth and contours of Dostoevsky's writing. He is a God among writers; the all-seeing eye, revealing us to us, which we ourselves cannot fathom.
I recently read Notes from Underground. There is no way I could try to give an understanding of his work. All I can do is give you some of my memories from the book.

Notes from Notes

...that it is even impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something.

Of all the people that I have learnt something from and who I look up to, most have been unsuccessful in the conventional sense. It reminds me of Hesse who said in the Glass Bead Game, "Ruling does not require qualities of stupidity and coarseness, as conceited intellectuals sometimes think. But it does require wholehearted delight in extroverted activity, a bent for identifying oneself with outward goals, and of course also a certain swiftness and lack of scruple about the choice of ways to attain success."

I swear to you, gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.But all the same I am strongly convinced that not only too much consciousness but even any consciousness at all is a sickness.

Why does the underground man think this? He thinks of himself as the most wretched, vile creature. But is that because of his own dark thoughts or because he thinks at all, is conscious at all?

The more conscious I was of the good and of all this "beautiful and lofty," the deeper I kept sinking into my mire, and the more capable I was of getting completely stuck in it. But the main feature was that this was all in me not as if by chance, but as if it had to be so. As if it were my most normal condition.

The 'normal' condition of a scrupulous man is to be stuck in a mire of his own making, to be ever descending in to the abyss of the beautiful and the lofty, of the banal and the loathsome.

...pleasure of despair, of course, but it is in despair that the most burning pleasures occur, especially when one is all too highly conscious of the hopelessness of one's position.

And this reminds me of Rumi; and of Monsieur Zamana who wrote, "Rumi says there is a core of longing in every human being. Why this longing? Perhaps this longing is for longing itself Plato says we were once born with 4 hands and 4 eyes. And then we were split in half, separated. We spend our lives searching for our other half. To be full again. I do not know how the world works. And I do not know how the heart works. I am not a seeker of the truth. I only know the longing."

I'm to blame, first, because I'm more intelligent than everyone around me.

Who is to be blamed, after all? The one who thinks and does nothing or the one who does and thinks nothing? And what will this acceptance of blame do for the underground man? Absolve him of his deeds? Give him respite from his shame? Or give him even more pride that he is the benevolent perceiver who sees his own failings.

Perhaps I shall share more of my notes later.