Clif Hostetler's Reviews > Notes from Underground, White Nights, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, and Selections from The House of the Dead

Notes from Underground, White Nights, The Dream of a Ridiculo... by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Dec 04, 2015

did not like it
bookshelves: novel
Read from October 11 to 15, 2011

This book is about a frustrated, powerless man with a disturbed mind and totaling lacking in any social skills. Reading about a person such as this is more repulsive than reading about a dangerous criminal since a story about a violent criminal usually has the makings of a mystery or thriller. This book is just plain disgusting.

I participated in a book group, Great Books KC, that met to discuss the book on October 28, 2011. This discussion exposed me to some alternative views of the book. One participant considered the portrayal so "over the top" that it was funny. Others pointed out that Dostoyevsky was responding to the rationalist who thought people would behave with enlightened self interest if they were properly educated. Dostoyevsky was wanting to show that people will act in ways that are opposite to their own self interest just to exert their independence and freedom.

I guess the reason I didn't like the book was because I don't agree with Dostoyevsky's view of humanity. I have more faith in humanity than he did.

The following are notes I picked up from various study guides that are a list of some of the major points of Notes from the Underground:
1) criticism of the idea that it is possible for humankind, by means of reason, to create a perfect society and to abolish suffering.
2) the idea that human imperfection is a law of nature and the cause of human suffering; by this reasoning suffering is, if not justified, at least made acceptable.
3) the idea that humans are essentially irrational and incomprehensible beings, capable of the most noble and at the same time the most base actions.
4) attack on rationalism,
5) attack on social utopianism and materialism,
6) the vision of humans as beings capable of the most incredible generosity and nobility and, at the same time, also of the greatest baseness,
7) the portrayal of human's motives as stemming ultimately from slavish desires to gratify their own self-will.

Dostoevsky believed that there was more to humans than reason and enlightenment. He was convinced that human beings were capable of the irrational as well as the rational, and that, in fact, the irrational was in many ways man's essential element and the rational was often only a flimsy construction built upon it.
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