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96 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1864
I finally can admit - I don't "get" Dostoyevsky. Perhaps my mind is a tad too shallow for his literary depths; perhaps my inner ball of sunshine deep deep inside refuses to see the world through Dostoyevsky's disillusioned glare.In this short and strange book, Dostoyevsky manages to create perhaps the most disturbing image of a human being in the entire 19th century literature. Let me jot down just a few of the epithets that came pouring into my head with every page I read: petty, bitter, miserly, resentful, selfish, pitiful, entitled, cruel, deeply unpleasant and frankly miserable. The person who finds disgusting satisfaction in little acts of petty nastiness. The person who perversely enjoys stewing in self-imposed misery and figurative self-flagellation over every perceived slight, building exquisite mountains out of molehills. The person who would thrive on humiliating others, but if unable to achieve that would just as happily thrive on self-humiliation and self-loathing. The person who in the confines of his little mind hides a true despot, but gets his sense of self-worth by assuming that everyone else is beneath his miserable but clearly enlightened and misunderstood self - despite the world pointing to the contrary. The person who'd quietly spit into your bowl if you haven't offered to share it with him - and then will internally torment himself for years over the act, feeling that the act of torment is enough to elevate him out of the mud.
But I don't need to "get" him to know the greatness when I see it, to respect his sharp writing, his keenly observant eye that does not let anything slip away, and his scarily clear perceptions of people and the layers in which they dress up their otherwise petty and pathetic selves.
And now I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and utterly futile consolation that it is even impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent man of the nineteenth century must be and is morally obliged to be primarily a characterless being; and a man of character, an active figure – primarily a limited being.
I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.
But it is precisely in this cold, loathsome half-despair, half-belief, in this conscious burying oneself alive from grief for forty years in the underground, in this assiduously produced and yet somewhat dubious hopelessness of one’s position, in all this poison of unsatisfied desires penetrating inward, in all this fever of hesitations, of decisions taken forever, and repentances coming again a moment later, that the very sap of that strange pleasure I was talking about consists.Divided into two parts, the first part, Underground is the abode of our unnamed narrator where he engages himself in all sorts of monologues ranging from talks of some really strange pleasures to the inevitable and self-imposed sufferings which further leads to the dissection of the human nature in the wake of reasoning, logic, goal, and most significantly, wanting & free will. All this is provided with a peculiar but apparently rational justifications or I thought they were rational in an unconventional but tremendously comical way.
And suddenly you hid your faceIt’s in the second part, Apropos of the Wet Snow where the whole setting turns biting cold though a sense of relief can be experienced with the presence of scathing satire, charming wit and ingenious story-telling. Here the narrator opens the door of his past and recounts the outlandish tales of his life which can invoke all sorts of emotions in a reader and also serve as the basis of first part hence rendering a meandering pattern to this work. And once you’ll get around the whole thing, don’t get baffled on finding a part (or whole) of your personality within the startling words originated from some dark, horrid place. The influence of Gogol can be easily observed in these stories and a comfort can be found that Dostoevsky deftly picked up the threads of Russian Literature where Gogol must have left them (It’s funny that I’m drawing out these conclusions after reading one book each by both authors so you can tell me if I’m wrong or exaggerating). In any case, I was left pleasantly surprised on finding that my preconceived notions were crushed and dusted and a new, although a little confused perspective was gained on contemplating the questions which our Underground Man has asked in this book.
In trembling hands and, filled with horror,
Filled with shame, dissolved in tears,
Indignant as you were, and shaken . . . Etc., etc., etc.