Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground


The thing with Dostoevsky’s “underground man” may be explained this way:

"I behaved nicely, as a great guy. True, Liza? You are a prostitute but I want you to understand that for me you are a real person, a wonderful girl, I am going to save you from a miserable life."

But later on it seems that he changed his mind:

"That’s what you thought, ah ah… But I am not a good guy at all, Liza, I know all the tricks about how to behave in order to look like a great guy but I am a bastard… You know what? I just wanted to seduce you so you would believe me and love me… Later on, having got you, I would oppress you and make you a docile slave of my disgusting will of power... "

Then he proves it, behaving as a bastard. And poor Liza leaves.
Then he misses her and runs after her but she disappeared forever and he is desperately alone. So, he really liked her.

He doesn’t want people to believe that he acted nicely and sincerely. He doesn’t believe that he is good; he is his own enemy and his most ruthless detractor. He needs to inform people who believed in his sincerity and integrity that he is a scoundrel.

All the book is about that. About deconstructing himself and about dropping the mask. He believes that indeed he is a man with a mask - it’s in our human nature, no special talent needed to be a rogue. But he cannot allow other people to be mislead by his mask, by what he looks like. Then he portraits himself all the time in the worst manner. It’s his way of being honest, his way of proving that he is a good guy after all.

"I am a bad guy, the worst you can find among people around. I am a liar, I am vain, I talk too much. But since I am the one who warns you about who I am, well, that kind of makes me a good guy too. Got it?"

But this book is first of all a ferocious attack on the optimism of science (it happened with many writers at that time and later and explains the return to subjectivism and the disbelief regarding an objective look at reality). It is a ferocious attack on psychology as a scientific way of understanding human behavior. That’s why the book spends so much time talking about human contradictions, opposing reality as it is and people as they are to the idealistic views of the politicians and system makers.

Dostoevsky questions our capacity of reforming ourselves, doubts our capacity of knowing anything and ourselves first of all. It’s a denunciation too of the way we interpret external behavior and connect it with truthful feelings and thoughts. Does Dostoevsky believe that we are good? It looks like he believes that we are bad: we sometimes know what is good and what would be the best for us and still we do evil and act impulsively against our own interest and disrespecting our great principles. Is knowledge possible? Is progress and a better society possible? Can human beings love other human beings? He talks about us being happy and what does he say about that? That we need first of all to be independent, free: independent of all science, of all systems, of our own belief that we are good and know how to do good. But to be independent isn’t also what makes us first of all interested in our own pleasure?

J. E. Soice

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