NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND – FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

1. I am a sick man…I am an angry man. I am an un-attractive man. I think there is something wrong with my liver. But I don’t understand the least thing about my illness, and I don’t know for certain what part of me is affected. (p.3)

2. Now I go on living in my corner and irritating myself with the spiteful and worthless consolation that a wise man can’t seriously make himself anything, only a fool makes himself anything. Yes, a man of the nineteenth century ought, indeed is morally bound, to be essentially without character; a man of character, a man who acts, is essentially limited. (p.5)

3. Perhaps you think I’m mad, gentlemen? Let me make a reservation. I agree that a man is an animal predominantly constructive, foredoomed to conscious striving towards a goal, and applying himself to the art of engineering, that is to the everlasting and unceasing construction of a road – no matter where it leads, and that the main point is not where it goes, but that it should go somewhere, and that a well-conducted child, even if he despises the engineering profession, should not surrender to that disastrous sloth which, as is well known, is the mother of all vices, Man loves construction and the laying out of roads, that is in disputable. But how is it that he is so passionately disposed to destruction and chaos? Tell me that! But on this subject I should like to put in two words of my own. Doesn’t his passionate love for destructed and chaos (and nobody can deny that he is sometimes devoted to them; that is a fact), arise from his instinctive fear of attaining his goal and completing the building he is erecting? For all you know, perhaps it is only from a distance that he likes the building, and from close to he doesn’t like it at all; perhaps he only likes building it, not living in it, and leaves it afterwards aux animaux domestiques, such as ants, sheep, etc. Ants’ likes and dislikes are quite different. They have remarkable buildings of the same sort, that remain eternally undestroyed – ant-hills. (p.37)

4. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too. (p.39)

5. And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly, convinced that only the normal and the positive–in other words, only what is conducive to welfare–is for the advantage of man? Is not reason in error as regards advantage? Does not man, perhaps, love something besides well-being? Perhaps he is just as fond of suffering? Perhaps suffering is just as great a benefit to him as well-being? Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering, and that is a fact. There is no need to appeal to universal history to prove that; only ask yourself, if you are a man and have lived at all. As far as my personal opinion is concerned, to care only for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it’s good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things. I hold no brief for suffering nor for well-being either. I am standing for … my caprice, and for its being guaranteed to me when necessary. Suffering would be out of place in vaudevilles, for instance; I know that. In the “Palace of Crystal” it is unthinkable; suffering means doubt, negation, and what would be the good of a “palace of crystal” if there could be any doubt about it? And yet I think man will never renounce real suffering, that is, destruction and chaos. Why, suffering is the sole origin of consciousness. Though I did lay it down at the beginning that consciousness is the greatest misfortune for man, yet I know man prizes it and would not give it up for any satisfaction. Consciousness, for instance, is infinitely superior to twice two makes four. Once you have mathematical certainty there is nothing left to do or to understand. There will be nothing left but to bottle up your five senses and plunge into contemplation. While if you stick to consciousness, even though the same result is attained, you can at least flog yourself at times, and that will, at any rate, liven you up. Reactionary as it is, corporal punishment is better than nothing. (p.39)

6. ‘But this is not the time for thinking: now is the time for reality,’ I thought, with a sinking heart. (p.80)

7. Humiliation, after all, is purification; it is the acutest and most vivid consciousness! (p.150)

8. (…) which is better, a cheap happiness or lofty suffering? (p.150)

9. t all produces an unpleasant impression, for we are all divorced from life, we are all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We are so divorced from it that we feel at once a sort of loathing for real life, and so cannot bear to be reminded of it. Why, we have come almost to looking upon real life as an effort, almost as hard work, and we are all privately agreed that it is better in books. And why do we fuss and fume sometimes? Why are we perverse and ask for something else? We don’t know what ourselves. It would be the worse for us if our petulant prayers were answered. Come, try, give any one of us, for instance, a little more independence, untie our hands, widen the spheres of our activity, relax the control and we … yes, I assure you … we should be begging to be under control again at once. (p.151)

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