Novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, written in 1864 but very applicable to today. Written in the first person by a man who both despises and seeks out affection from fellow humans -- he needs them but cannot stand them, and he cannot stand himself although he has an incredible ego. Just read it, it's great. :)

The genius of this book lies in that it is neither a manifesto nor a story, it has both! The underground man discusses at great length the advantages and pitfalls of being intelligent, raising a 'blue pill-esque' problem. This book is like a set of instructions on how to 'not fit in' well (if that makes sense).

Interestingly enough, 'Notes from the Underground' is an inappropriate translation of the title, especially now with the counter culture connotations that go with the word 'underground'. In Russian the word used refers to the crawl-space under the floor boards of a house; Dostoyevsky wanted to conjure the image of someone who was not part of society but at the same time was not apart from it, not someone who was part of a culture that rises in response to another one. Therefore, a more appropriate title would be 'Notes from the Crawlspace', but that makes no sense.

As mentioned above, you really must read Notes from the Underground/Notes from Underground to experience the book as gestalt. If you keep your eyes open, you'll notice tons of carefully-veiled insights. The book is divided into two main parts: the manifesto (only about 50 pages in my edition) and the story (the other 100). Anyhow, onto the meat of the book.

Dostoyevsky's psychology and philosophy are quite simply stunning in this book, and because of this it is quite difficult to pin down exactly what Underground man is trying to say. But he says quite a bit in Part I, "Underground." He does some wonderful commentary on "advantages," namely that the most important one is, in essence, spite; he almost worships human irrationality. Human consciousness is a disease, but all men love their diseases. Their moans and screams give him control of those around him, allowing him to bring them to his agony and pain. He also comments on the state of modern man, questioning as to whether or not we're (19th century Russia) really out of the barbarian age. He questions vengeance and justice. He violently assaults humankind's view of itself.

Now, Part II of the book, "On the Occasion of Wet Snow," is a story of his youth, beginning at age 24. Dostoyevsky puts the manifesto of Underground man into practice as we learn why our anti-hero is what he is. The vengeance that he has for a certain officer is simply spell-binding; page after page goes on to describe how Underground man plots his revenge on the officer for moving him out of the way at a tavern. This part of the story mostly deals with his concept of perverse pleasure. The second part deals with a classmate reunion and his night with a whore. We learn what Underground man meant when he talked about his attempts to leave his underground. As the story progresses, he spends a night with Liza. I can't describe it very well. You just have to read it. The profound--and often contradictory--nature of Underground man truly shines in this final portion, as he even makes pokes at determinism and the psychology of personality. Although it is easier to read and understand, this second portion of the book is by no means any less deep as the first.

As I mentioned above, there are many little interesting insights hidden throughout the book, and perhaps my favorite one is where he comments on Cleopatra enjoying poking her slave girls' breasts with golden pins. Although 19th century Russia is more "civilized" than ancient Egypt, he notices that they do much the same thing (physicians with syringes). Underground man feels that our civilization has in no way made our barbarism any less.

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