MJ Nicholls's Reviews > Notes from Underground

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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May 09, 2013

it was amazing
bookshelves: borscht-and-kvass, novellas, pre-1900s, nonreviews
Read from May 08 to 09, 2013 , read count: 2


“ . . . we’ve all grown unaccustomed to life, we’re all lame, each of us more or less. We’ve even grown so unaccustomed that at times we feel a sort of loathing for real “living life,” and therefore cannot bear to be reminded of it. For we’ve reached a point where we regard real “living life” almost as labor, almost as service, and we all agree in ourselves that it’s better from a book. And why do we sometimes fuss about, why these caprices, these demands of ours? We ourselves don’t know why. It would be the worse for us if our capricious demands were fulfilled. Go on, try giving us more independence, for example, unbind the hands of any one of us, broaden our range of activity, relax the tutelage, and we . . . but I assure you: we will immediately beg to be taken back under tutelage. I know you’ll probably get angry with me for that, shout, stamp your feet: “Speak just for yourself and your miseries in the underground, don’t go saying ‘we all.’” Excuse me, gentlemen, but I am not justifying myself with this allishness. As far as I myself am concerned, I have merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry even halfway, and, what’s more, you’ve taken your cowardice for good sense, and found comfort in thus deceiving yourselves. So that I, perhaps, come out even more “living” than you. Take a closer look! We don’t even know where the living lives now, or what it is, or what it’s called! Leave us to ourselves, without a book, and we’ll immediately get confused, lost—we won’t know what to join, what to hold to, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. It’s a burden for us even to be of it, we consider it a disgrace, and keep trying to be some unprecedented omni-men. We’re stillborn, and have long ceased to be born of living fathers, and we like this more and more. We’re acquiring a taste for it. Soon we’ll contrive to be born somehow from an idea.” (p118-9)


Man on a Bench: A Roman Anecdote. i) The littlest things can drastically alter a person’s mood. ii) For example, seeing a squirrel scurry across the road and shimmy up a tree. That would improve one’s mood. Seeing a squirrel flattened by an HGV hauler—that wouldn’t improve one’s mood. iii) But I knew this man. iv) He sat on benches all day long. Sometimes he’d feed the ducks, sometimes he’d sit and observe passersby. v) I spotted him on various benches across Edinburgh. He sat with a neutral expression. Looking. Most people, as people do, dismissed him as a creepy loner. vi) People are so very empathetic. vii) But I loved this man. viii) He was a modern day Underground Man. He sat on the sidelines of life, observing. Cold and detached. All day long. On benches. A visible nonentity, the bland face of self-erasure. ix) Chances are he had a family, or a cat. But when he sat on those benches, on his lonesome, the serenity oozed from this man. x) I took comfort in the fact that a person can be happy without people. That people are useful, and necessary, but essentially undesirable. xi) So whenever I spotted him around town, sitting blankly on his bench, my mood skyrocketed. xii) How brilliant to be alone, in the throb of a city, and to be content! xiii) I haven’t seen him in a long time. Hopefully he hasn’t committed suicide.
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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Paquita Maria Sanchez MJ, have you been taking ephedrine-containing cold medications today?

message 2: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Actually no, but I have had a synthetic related chemical called clonidine.

Paquita Maria Sanchez That explains it a bit! You are really CRANKing 'em out today, is why I ask. My apologies for the turbo-voting, but they are all just so goddamn funny.

message 4: by Arthur (new) - added it

Arthur Graham This book has been on my shelf for years, consistently making the cut move after move after move, and I still haven't even marked it to read! Remedying that now.

message 5: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King Excellent review MJ. I have this but I've never got around to reading it. Looked gloomy at the time...

message 6: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls I saw a production of this novel here in Glasgow last week. All set to see Crime & Punishment tonight . . .

message 7: by Lynne (last edited Sep 17, 2013 03:58AM) (new)

Lynne King Now "Crime and Punishment" is brilliant but as a play? Oh I don't know about that.

message 8: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls I'll issue a full report after the performance. I'm sure it'll be admirable . . .

message 9: by Lynne (last edited Sep 17, 2013 05:35AM) (new)

Lynne King Looking forward to it.

Michael "People are so very empathetic." That got a chuckle out of me. Perhaps if we recognize and despise the 'stillborn' quality in others, we can easier believe that it isn't in ourselves. Nice review.

message 11: by Yolande (new)

Yolande Awsome quote, and so true.

message 12: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca MJ wrote: ""Soon we’ll contrive to be born somehow from an idea.”"

You know, this guy must have been talking to Kelly, if not Mira....

message 13: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Thanks, Michael. Lynne: the stage version was excellent. They added inventive music and more comedic content, it was a really lively and exciting version.

message 14: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Scribble: Hang on, I just need to reply to some lunatic IMming me. Back in four.

message 15: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca You really ought to do something about your gaddish man-about-town availability, no wonder you're being tIMed.

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