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Fyodor Dostoevski Philosophy 151 Winter, 2004 G. J. Mattey.

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1 Fyodor Dostoevski Philosophy 151 Winter, 2004 G. J. Mattey

2 A Utopian Vision ● Notes from Underground (1864) was written in response to N. G. Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done (1862) ● This book was in turn a response to a nihilistic character in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862) ● Chernyshevsky portrayed a utopian society populated by beautiful, healthy people and symbolized by a crystal palace

3 A Sick and Spiteful Man ● The narrator begins by declaring himself to be a sick and spiteful, as well as distinctly non-beautiful, man ● Dostoevski states in a footnote that this person is a representative of a type that must exist in present society ● He adds that in the first part of the work, the narrator tries to explain why his own type is an inevitable product of his society

4 A Spiteful Official ● Our narrator writes at age forty ● He has probably had liver disease since age twenty, but he refuses to see a doctor ● He was formerly a government bureaucrat ● He tells us that he was rude to his clients and took pleasure in his rudeness ● Yet he admits paradoxically that he was not really spiteful, but only amusing himself at the expense of his clients

5 Opposite Elements ● What caused the narrator’s spite was the recognition that even in his most extreme moments, he could not be spiteful ● Many elements contrary to spite have always been in him, though he has suppressed them ● This is the basis of his sickness ● If treated like a child, he might be appeased or even touched, though he would be ashamed of this

6 Characterless ● To be spiteful or kind, a rascal or honest man, a hero or an insect, is to have some kind of character ● Character is possessed by people of action, who are limited in intelligence ● Intelligent people, conversely, can not be anything: they can have no character ● This is the narrator’s “spiteful and useless consolation” for his wretched existence

7 Underground ● Having worked as a collegiate assessor, the narrator quit when he came into a small inheritance ● His living conditions have deteriorated – His dwellings are wretched – His servant is ill-natured, stupid, and smelly – The climate is bad for his health – It is too expensive for him to live where he does ● But he is not going away

8 Too Conscious ● To be too conscious is an illness ● Human beings only need a quarter of the consciousness of an intelligent inhabitant of a sophisticated city ● This claim is not directed at the “man of action,” since to be ill is no source of pride ● Absurdly, the narrator (as do others) prides himself on his illness

9 The “Sublime and Beautiful” ● In the presence of what was called the “sublime and beautiful,” the narrator thinks ugly thoughts and does ugly deeds ● His so doing did not seem to be accidental to him, but rather his normal state ● At first he was ashamed of his abnormality ● But he came to cultivate it, to the point where it brought him “real positive enjoyment”

10 The Last Barrier ● The narrator is writing to try to explain his enjoyment in his degradation ● The enjoyment of degradation is rooted in natural laws that govern the over-acute consciousness, so that there is no blame ● One feels that one’s degradation is horrible but cannot be overcome ● Or, if it could be overcome, one would do nothing to overcome it

11 The Enjoyment of Despair ● The narrator is hyper-sensitive ● He supposes that he would find enjoyment from being slapped in the face ● He would find enjoyment in his despair, his “consciousness of being rubbed into a pulp” ● He is always to blame due to: – His cleverness – His lack of magnanimity

12 No Response ● Even if the narrator had had magnanimity, he would have suffered from his sense of its uselessness – He would not not forgive the assault, since the slap was a consequence of a law of nature – He would not forget the assault because it is insulting, even if it is the result of a law of nature ● Nor could he have exacted revenge, since he could not have brought himself to carry it out, even if he had wanted to

13 The Direct Person ● In general, one who seeks revenge devotes his whole being to it ● He charges against his opponent like a raging bull with its horns down ● The only thing that can stop him is a wall ● The narrator envies such a man, despite his stupidity ● The direct person appears to be the normal person

14 A Mouse, Not a Man ● Confronted with the direct person, the hyper- conscious person regards himself as a mouse ● No one asks him to view himself in this way ● He may be a mouse of acute consciousness, but he is not a man ● He seems to have been born from a test- tube, not from nature

15 The Mouse in Action ● How does the mouse react when insulted? ● He may accumulate more venom than the natural man, who stupidly looks at his revenge as mere justice ● He creates a web of doubt and indecision and then retreats into his mouse-hole ● He becomes absorbed in cold, malignant, everlasting spite, which is magnified with the passage of time ● If he acts at all, he only hurts himself

16 The Stone Wall ● Confronted with the impossible, people of strong nerves stop their bellowing ● The impossible, the stone wall, is the violation of the laws of nature ● “Twice two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it” ● Although the narrator does not have the strength to knock the wall down, he is not reconciled to it because it disgusts him

17 Enjoyment in a Toothache ● If enjoyment is found in despair at not being able to overcome the stone wall, may it be found even in a toothache? ● People with toothaches moan malignantly ● The moans express the aimlessness of the pain: no one is responsible ● The educated man will moan only to amuse himself, thereby annoying everyone else

18 Ennui ● A person who finds enjoyment in self- degradation has no self-respect ● The narrator used to get into trouble where he was not to blame ● He took offense on purpose ● Later he felt remorse and a sick feeling in his heart ● The reason of these ingrained pranks was inertia, ennui

19 Primary Causes ● “Men of action” are able to act because they mistake secondary causes for primary causes ● But a person of reflection will recognize that primary causes are unattainable, due to an infinite regress ● The laws of nature thus dissipate anger ● So his only motive for revenge is spite: the desire to beat against the wall so as to perform some action or other

20 Golden Dreams ● The narrator might have done nothing from laziness ● Then he would have been able to respect himself ● He could have been a sophisticated sluggard and glutton, who drinks to the health of the “sublime and beautiful” ● He would be an “asset,” which is rare in the current negative age

21 Self-Interest ● It is a commonplace that if people were to know what is to their advantage, then they would act only according to them ● But this is naïve innocence ● Historically, humans have always acted against their own interests because they have disliked the beaten track ● What is to one’s “advantage” may be something that brings him harm

22 Advantage ● Advantage has been understood in terms of statistical figures and politico-economic formulas ● The advantages are supposed to be “prosperity, wealth, freedom, peace—and so on” ● Yet one advantage is left out invariably ● “The most advantageous advantage” motivates people to flout all laws and all the other “advantages”

23 Logical Exercises ● The most advantageous advantage breaks down all logical and social classifications ● All the systems of human “interests” are rendered nothing more than logical exercises ● The “predilection for systems and abstract definitions” lead to distortion of the truth ● The claim that civilization softens us is refuted by continual bloodshed

24 Which is Worse? ● We think that bloodshed is abominable, yet we still engage in it ● We may not be more bloodthirsty, but our bloodthirstiness is more vile ● Is not the present situation worse, because we should know better? ● Is it really the case that our problem is that we have not yet shed some old bad habits?

25 The Crystal Palace ● Modern thinkers claim that human actions are the outcome of laws of nature ● Humans are mere “piano-keys” ● Once this is known (it is claimed) human society will calm down and proceed on a scientific basis ● The “Palace of Crystal” will be built, and we will live in the halcyon days

26 Revolt ● If such a “rational” society were to develop, it would lead to boredom ● People would revert to cruelty because they would find life frightfully dull ● Someone will come along advocating the destruction of the beautiful palace in favor of “our own sweet foolish will” ● He expresses the fact that people in the end act simply as they choose to act

27 The Most Advantageous Advantage ● The narrator’s thesis is that capricious action is the most advantageous ● It cannot be classified within a system, because it works against the system itself ● Theorizers have postulated that human beings want a rational choice ● But what they really want is an independent choice, wherever it may lead

28 Piano Keys ● The narrator’s inclination to be skeptical about the origin of choice is opposed by the results of science ● If choice is reduced to a formula, then desire will come to an end ● Human beings will be transformed into piano keys without free will ● The advocate of science accepts this conclusion

29 Reason and Will ● The narrator is “over-philosophical” due to his forty years underground ● He allows that reason is an excellent tool for that rational side of man, which is “one twentieth” of the capacity for life ● Will, on the other hand, manifests all of human life ● We assert our will, stupidly, in order to assert our personality and individuality

30 Moral Obliquity ● The worse defect of the “ungrateful biped” is his moral obliquity and lack of good sense ● All of history is proof of this ● It is monotonous because it is the chonicle of fighting and more fighting ● All the products of the most disordered imagination have come to pass ● “The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational”

31 Never Enough ● Even if men lived in the most rational of societies, with all their needs fulfilled, they would still play some nasty trick out of sheer ingratitude or spite ● The reason is that they must prove that they are free and not piano-keys ● They will launch a curse upon the world – The ability to unleash a curse is what separates human beings from other animals

32 Coincidence ● It can be objected that human freedom can be preserved despite the total predictability of human action ● Human will may freely coincide with the laws of rationality according to which we act to promote our interests ● But this is no kind of freedom ● Free willing is something that cannot be tabulated in advance

33 Reformation ● The narrator states that he is joking ● But he has serious questions – Is it desirable to reform people according to science and good sense? – Why do people need reformation? – Is not “reformed” behavior sometimes not to people’s advantage? ● The answers of the reformers are only suppositions, which “may be the law of logic, but not the law of humanity”

34 Creation and Destruction ● Human beings have a creative side ● Even the most stupid practical person gets more out of the acting than out of accomplishing the end of acting ● It may be that humans love chaos and destruction because they are afraid of attaining their end ● Our lives do not begin and end with the ant- heaps we construct

35 Afraid of the End? ● Human beings go to great lengths to attain mathematical certainty ● But it may be that humans are afraid of attaining it, just as the narrator is ● When the end is attained, there is nothing else to look for ● Humans absurdly do not like what it is they have endeavored to attain, once they attain it

36 Suffering ● Why is it assumed that what humans seek to attain is well-being ● Perhaps they are just as fond of suffering ● Perhaps suffering is just as much a benefit to humans as is well-being ● It is sometimes very pleasant to smash things, whether it is good or bad ● Suffering is the origin of consciousness, which we will never renounce

37 A False Mansion ● The palace of crystal exists only in the imagination of men of a certain era ● The real situation is one more resembling a hen-house or a block of apartments ● Everything that has been constructed is subject to ridicule ● It would be good if there were something that could not be ridiculed ● We must at least hope for such a thing

38 The Underground Life ● Although the narrator envies the normal person, he does not want to be normal ● At first he praises the inertia of the underground life ● But then he retracts this and says only that he desires something different which he cannot find ● And he says that the whole diatribe was a lie

39 As if I Had Readers ● The imaginary audience to which the narrator has addressed his speech accuses him of dishonesty ● He responds that the audience itself is a fiction—that his is writing only for himself ● He is trying to be totally honest with himself regarding his “early adventures” ● To commit his thoughts to paper may be helpful in this endeavor, as well as to get rid of his oppressive thoughts of the past

40 At the Office ● The narrator describes his workplace ● He hated his fellow-clerks, who were lowly but did not care that they were ● His attitude alternated between despising them and feeling them to be superior to him ● He could not look anyone in the face ● He was conventional to avoid looking ridiculous to those upon whom he looked down

41 A Coward and a Slave ● The narrator was morbidly sensitive, as one should be at that time ● He was intelligent enough to know himself to be a coward and a slave ● To be a coward and a slave is was the normal condition ● No one is valiant: at the moment of truth everyone will flee

42 Romantic ● The narrator was not always in a morbid frame of mind ● He would sometimes become skeptical and indifferent ● He socialized with others ● He would reproach himself for being romantic ● But he would then be a realistic romantic, not a transcendental European romantic

43 Solitude ● The dalliance with social life soon ended ● The narrator spent most of the time alone ● His main activity was reading, from which he got pleasure, pain, and sometimes boredom ● To overcome boredom, he plunged into petty vice ● His “justification” was that he was depressed and had nothing in his surroundings that he could respect

44 The Officer ● One night, the narrator passed by a tavern and saw someone defenestrated ● He went into the tavern looking to get thrown out of a window himself ● Instead, a military officer unceremoniously lifted the narrator out of his way ● He did not protest (for which he would have gotten his wish), but instead resentfully retreated from the tavern

45 Moral Cowardice ● The narrator asserts that he was not a coward at heart, but a coward in action ● His action was based on “an unbounded vanity” ● He was afraid not of a beating, but of his actions being misunderstood by the rabble ● The officer himself would have insulted him before beating him and throwing him out the window

46 Revenge ● For years, the narrator nourished his spite and plotted revenge ● He found out the details of the officer’s life ● He tried to write a satire about him, but he could not get it published ● His “brilliant” plan was not to get out of the way when the officer came toward him ● But first, he had to borrow money to dress himself half-decently

47 Brief Respite ● The narrator could not work out the courage to carry out his plan ● His nerve failed him just before the would-be collision ● He resolved to abandon the plan ● When he was rehearsing the abandonment, he chanced into the officer and rammed him ● This made him feel avenged, and happy for a few days, but it could not last

48 Escape ● The narrator learned to endure his sickness ● But he also had a means of escape through his dreams of “the sublime and the beautiful” ● He became a hero, not a “chicken heart” ● He was full of emotion and positively happy ● He fancied reality as opening up to him as almost riding a white horse and crowned with a laurel

49 Fantastic Love ● The narrator felt a love that exists only in his fantasies, not in reality ● He was triumphant over everyone, who in turn recognized his superiority ● Then he forgave them all ● He fell in love, acquired a fortune, then gave it away ● But this is all “vulgar and contemptible,” as is the attempt to justify himself through this

50 Plunging into Society ● The period of dreaming would last a few months and would be followed by attempts to be sociable ● He carried this out by visiting his boss at his home on the boss’s day off ● But the scene there was stultifying, and the narrator did not interact with anyone ● He went home re-thinking his romantic resolve to embrace all of humanity

51 A Schoolmate ● The narrator’s other acquaintance was a schoolmate ● He had hated his schoolmates generally ● But he found in one of them “a certain independence of character, and even honesty” ● They had had close moments, but those moments were now an embarrassment ● The schoolmate probably disliked him

52 Crashing the Party-Planning ● The narrator visits his schoolmate, who has guests who are planning a party ● They pay no attention to him, treating him like a “common fly” ● The narrator’s failure in life magnified the hatred they had for him as a student ● The guest of the party is a vulgar, swaggering heir to a fortune, who “had been favored by the gifts of nature”

53 Zverkov ● The schoolmate Zverkov was to leave St. Petersburg, hence the going-away party ● The narrator had verbally attacked in him school when he was boasting about his future sexual exploits ● The attack was not out of sympathy for the women, but because the other students had applauded him ● Eventually they parted on good terms

54 Crashing the Party ● The three schoolmates planning the party decide on the place and the contribution ● The narrator insists on being included, claiming he is hurt by being left out ● The schoolmates agree reluctantly to include him in the festivities ● The narrator questions his own motives in agreeing to go ● But he justifies it exactly because it would be so unseemly for him to do so

55 Bad Memories ● Having agreed to attend the party for someone he scorned, the narrator recollects his school days ● He was an orphan who had been sent to boarding school by distant relatives ● At school, he was mercilessly taunted by the stupid other boys ● They were not “real people” in contrast to his dreaming: they knew nothing of life

56 Reaction ● The narrator did not desire the affection of his fellow-students, but instead longed to humiliate them ● His weapon was to excel in his studies ● He was no longer mocked, but he was still hated ● He wanted a social life, but it never worked out ● Once he had a friend, but he repaid his affection by tyrannizing him

57 The Real Thing ● The narrator was quickened by the thought of the party, though he was ill-prepared for it ● He brooded over how it would go, but still he thought it was “the real thing” ● He dreamed of getting the upper hand over these vulgar people ● Yet he recognized that he did not really care how it would turn out

58 Condescension ● The narrator was humiliated by arriving an hour early because he was not informed of a change in schedule ● Zverkov greeted him with condescension ● It startled the narrator to see the Zverkov really believed he was superior to him ● He was embarrassed to reveal the circumstances of his employment ● He starts to mock Zverkov’s speech

59 Drunk ● The narrator thinks it is an honor for the others to be with him, while they think it is an honor for him to be with them ● He decides to leave, but he stays ● He finally gets drunk and causes a scene by condemning Zverkov’s type ● He tries unsuccessfully to provoke a duel ● He waits for them to address him, but they ignore him

60 To the Brothel ● After dinner, the company retire to a sofa for more drinking ● The narrator walks back and forth between his table and the stove ● The revelers become even more drunk and decide to go to the brothel ● The narrator apologizes for insulting Zverkov, but he replies that it would be impossible for the narrator to insult him

61 Everything is Lost! ● The narrator borrows money to follow the party to the brothel, to try again to humiliate them ● In his mind, he humorously contrasts this reality with his romantic fantasies ● He declares himself a scoundrel for making fun of his situation ● But he dismisses the thought because he has committed himself to the act: “everything is lost!”

62 “I’ll Give it to Him” ● The narrator resolves that upon entering the brothel, he will “give it to” Zverkov ● He will pull the hair of the prostitute who once refused him and pull Zverkov’s ears ● Although he will be beaten up, he will have taken the initiative ● Then the duel will finally take place ● The plan, of course, was obviously absurd, and he stops en route but goes on by fate

63 Liza ● The revelers have already left the parlor when the narrator arrives ● There, he meets a somber young prostitute, Liza ● The narrator declares himself happy to be repulsive to her ● After a very long silence, he begins to question her ● He tells her horror-stories about the ultimate fate of the young prostitute

64 Sentimentality ● The narrator next paints a deeply sentimental picture of the life that Liza left ● He romanticizes the relation between father and daughter ● Liza points out that many fathers are eager to sell their daughters ● The narrator responds by saying that a woman in a bad marriage should count her blessings

65 Love ● The romantic theme is taken to even greater depths ● Love will overcome all quarrels between husband and wife ● “Love is a holy mystery” ● It should abide after the the first phase of marriage, culminating in a “union of souls” ● Even the most difficult times will seem happy, etc.

66 Bookishness ● Liza responds by telling the narrator ironically that he speaks “somehow like a book” ● In reaction, an “evil feeling took possession” of him ● He did not realize that her irony was covering up her feelings ● In an innocent persons, the feelings are kept back out of pride

67 Worthless Love ● Now the narrator turns his rage against Liza, doing his best to humiliate her ● He says that in other circumstances, he could fall in love with her ● But in the brothel, he can only dominate her ● Her love—her priceless treasure—is worth nothing here ● Any lover she had would have to share her

68 Consumption ● Liza’s ultimate fate is grim ● She will never be able to get out of debt ● She will move to more and more disgusting brothels ● Eventually, she will be sick from consumption ● She will be abandoned in the filthiest corner to die ● No one will remember her

69 Despair ● The speech had its intended effect ● The narrator had never before witnessed such despair ● He asks her forgiveness and gives her his address ● She fetches a letter from a medical student “who knew nothing” of her plight ● She wanted to show she was loved, though nothing would come of it

70 Aftermath ● After leaving, the narrator is amazed by his sentimentality and upset by the thought that Liza might call on him ● He repays his debt to his schoolmate, writing a noble letter ● He goes out into the busy street, wondering what is wrong with him ● He is worrying about Liza’s possible visit to his shabby underground hole

71 New Dreams ● The narrator considers going to Liza to explain himself and beg her not to come ● But this made him wrathful and determined to crush her ● He reflects on how easy it was to turn her life around with a few bookish words ● After she does not come around to visit, he begins to dream of saving Liza ● He fantasizes telling her that he knew of her love from the start

72 Apollon ● The narrator is distracted by the behavior of his servant, Apollon ● This dignified, elderly tailor despises him ● His behavior toward him was tyrranical ● In turn, the narrator hated Apollon ● He resolved not to pay him his wages ● Apollon responded by ritually staring at him

73 Visitation ● In the midst of the narrator’s confrontation with Apollon, Liza visits him ● He is humiliated by his ragged dress and his wretched dwelling-place ● Yet he professes not to be ashamed ● He becomes hysterical ● Liza begins to speak, saying that she wants to get away from the brothel

74 Confession ● The narrator reveals to Liza that the real object of his sentimental speech at the brothel was her humiliation ● He had no intention of saving her ● He was only playing with words, and wished that she and the others would go straight to hell ● He is an egoist who only played at being her hero, and he is ashamed

75 A Worm ● The narrator blames Liza for his own shame ● He has confessed to her the worm-like baseness of his existence ● He asks why she remains there, “confronting” him ● Then he realized that she, out of love, realizes that he is unhappy ● She rushes to him and embraces him—and he responds by being ashamed

76 Mastery and Possession ● At this point, there is a reversal of roles ● She is the heroine and he the humiliated creature ● He reacts in his usual way, by attempting to dominate and tyrannizing her ● He wants to master and possess her ● He hates her ● And she rapturously embraces him

77 The Final Insult ● Liza finally understands what the narrator is up to ● She retreats behind a screen, crying ● The narrator paces about, peeking in through a crack ● He was incapable of loving her because he could only tyrranize and show his moral superiority ● That is even how he conceptualized love, even in his dreams

78 “Peace” ● All the narrator wanted at this point was to be left alone ● He did not realize that she had come to love him, not to hear his “fine sentiments” ● “Real life” was again oppressing him, and he wanted only the “peace” of solitude ● When she was leaving, he tried to give her money, which she threw away ● This was the final act of cruelty

79 Remorse? ● The narrator pursues her fruitlessly ● He wanted to beg forgiveness ● Yet he realized that it was to no purpose ● He would only hate her tomorrow ● And he would try to dominate her ● He tried to rationalize his situation to say that losing her would be better for both ● “Which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?”

80 Oppression ● The narrator sums up by saying that the writing the story is not so much production of literature as corrective punishment ● A novel needs a hero, but the underground man is an anti-hero ● But are we not all cripples like him? ● Without books, we would have no idea what to do ● We do not know how to live and are oppressed at being real human beings

81 Crime and Punishment ● Two years later, Dostoevsky published his first great novel, Crime and Punishment ● The protagonist, Raskolnikov, in some ways resembles the underground man ● Leading an equally humiliating life, he sets out to do something real ● He commits a terrible crime in the name of a higher consciousness

82 Conscience ● The engine of the novel is the police investigation of the crime ● But the real theme is the gradual development of Raskolnikov’s guilty conscience ● He is aided in his purification by the prostitute Sonia ● In the end, he embraced Christianity and attempts to atone for his crime

83 The Idiot ● Another two years later, the second great novel, The Idiot, was published ● The central thesis is that a Jesus-like figure would find it impossible to survive in modern times ● Thus the book is an indictment of modern life as inhospitable to Christianity

84 The Possessed ● The third great novel came in 1871, three years after the second ● Here, Dostoevsky turns from the psychological arena to that of politics ● He portrays revolutionary reformers (as he once was) as utterly misguided ● The message is that only Christian faith, not political change, can bring salvation

85 The Brothers Karamazov ● The final great novel was his last, published in 1879 ● The Brothers Karamazov is a sweeping tale of morality ● The characters personify the main types of human being – The religious – The sensualist – The rationalist

86 Doubt ● In one place, the characters try to come to grips with the problem of evil ● How could God allow the immense suffering of children? ● Children are completely innocent and not deserving of any punishment ● A possible answer is that Jesus has the right to forgive everything, because of his own innocent suffering

87 The Grand Inquisitor ● The most famous passage in the book centers on an inquisitor in the Spanish Inquisition ● Jesus comes back to earth and is incarcerated ● He is told by the inquisitor that he has no right to return, since the welfare of souls has been turned over to the Church ● Jesus’s error was to invite humans to love him freely rather than enslaving them


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