Notes From The Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Previous - Contents - Next
The long and the short of it is, gentlemen, that it is better to do nothing!
Better conscious inertia! And so hurrah for underground! Though I have
said that I envy the normal man to the last drop of my bile, yet I should
not care to be in his place such as he is now (though I shall not cease
envying him). No, no; anyway the underground life is more advantageous.
There, at any rate, one can ... Oh, but even now I am lying! I
am lying because I know myself that it is not underground that is better,
but something different, quite different, for which I am thirsting, but
which I cannot find! Damn underground!
I will tell you another thing that would be better, and that is, if I
myself believed in anything of what I have just written. I swear to you,
gentlemen, there is not one thing, not one word of what I have written that I
really believe. That is, I believe it, perhaps, but at the same time I feel
and suspect that I am lying like a cobbler.
"Then why have you written all this?" you will say to me. "I ought to
put you underground for forty years without anything to do and then
come to you in your cellar, to find out what stage you have reached! How
can a man be left with nothing to do for forty years?"
"Isn't that shameful, isn't that humiliating?" you will say, perhaps,
wagging your heads contemptuously. "You thirst for life and try to settle
the problems of life by a logical tangle. And how persistent, how insolent
are your sallies, and at the same time what a scare you are in! You talk
nonsense and are pleased with it; you say impudent things and are in
continual alarm and apologising for them. You declare that you are
afraid of nothing and at the same time try to ingratiate yourself in our
good opinion. You declare that you are gnashing your teeth and at the
same time you try to be witty so as to amuse us. You know that your
witticisms are not witty, but you are evidently well satisfied with their
literary value. You may, perhaps, have really suffered, but you have no
respect for your own suffering. You may have sincerity, but you have no
modesty; out of the pettiest vanity you expose your sincerity to publicity
and ignominy. You doubtlessly mean to say something, but hide your last
word through fear, because you have not the resolution to utter it, and
only have a cowardly impudence. You boast of consciousness, but you
are not sure of your ground, for though your mind works, yet your heart is
darkened and corrupt, and you cannot have a full, genuine consciousness
without a pure heart. And how intrusive you are, how you insist and
grimace! Lies, lies, lies!"
Of course I have myself made up all the things you say. That, too, is
from underground. I have been for forty years listening to you through a
crack under the floor. I have invented them myself, there was nothing
else I could invent. It is no wonder that I have learned it by heart and it
has taken a literary form ....
But can you really be so credulous as to think that I will print all this
and give it to you to read too? And another problem: why do I call you
"gentlemen," why do I address you as though you really were my readers?
Such confessions as I intend to make are never printed nor given to other
people to read. Anyway, I am not strong-minded enough for that, and I
don't see why I should be. But you see a fancy has occurred to me and I
want to realise it at all costs. Let me explain.
Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone,
but only to his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would
not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But
there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and
every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.
The more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his
mind. Anyway, I have only lately determined to remember some of my
early adventures. Till now I have always avoided them, even with a
certain uneasiness. Now, when I am not only recalling them, but have
actually decided to write an account of them, I want to try the experiment
whether one can, even with oneself, be perfectly open and not take
fright at the whole truth. I will observe, in parenthesis, that Heine says
that a true autobiography is almost an impossibility, and that man is
bound to lie about himself. He considers that Rousseau certainly told lies
about himself in his confessions, and even intentionally lied, out of
vanity. I am convinced that Heine is right; I quite understand how
sometimes one may, out of sheer vanity, attribute regular crimes to
oneself, and indeed I can very well conceive that kind of vanity. But
Heine judged of people who made their confessions to the public. I write
only for myself, and I wish to declare once and for all that if I write as
though I were addressing readers, that is simply because it is easier for me
to write in that form. It is a form, an empty form--I shall never have
readers. I have made this plain already ...
I don't wish to be hampered by any restrictions in the compilation of
my notes. I shall not attempt any system or method. I will jot things down
as I remember them.
But here, perhaps, someone will catch at the word and ask me: if you
really don't reckon on readers, why do you make such compacts with
yourself--and on paper too--that is, that you won't attempt any system
or method, that you jot things down as you remember them, and so on,
and so on? Why are you explaining? Why do you apologise?
Well, there it is, I answer.
There is a whole psychology in all this, though. Perhaps it is simply
that I am a coward. And perhaps that I purposely imagine an audience
before me in order that I may be more dignified while I write. There are
perhaps thousands of reasons. Again, what is my object precisely in
writing? If it is not for the benefit of the public why should I not simply
recall these incidents in my own mind without putting them on paper?
Quite so; but yet it is more imposing on paper. There is something
more impressive in it; I shall be better able to criticise myself and improve
my style. Besides, I shall perhaps obtain actual relief from writing.
Today, for instance, I am particularly oppressed by one memory of a
distant past. It came back vividly to my mind a few days ago, and has
remained haunting me like an annoying tune that one cannot get rid of.
And yet I must get rid of it somehow. I have hundreds of such reminiscences;
but at times some one stands out from the hundred and oppresses me.
For some reason I believe that if I write it down I should get rid of it.
Why not try?
Besides, I am bored, and I never have anything to do. Writing will be a
sort of work. They say work makes man kind-hearted and honest. Well,
here is a chance for me, anyway.
Snow is falling today, yellow and dingy. It fell yesterday, too, and a few
days ago. I fancy it is the wet snow that has reminded me of that incident
which I cannot shake off now. And so let it be a story A PROPOS of the