Monday, 10 March 2014

"Notes from underground"- fragmentary impressions

Currently reading "Notes from underground" by Dostoyevsky, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
1/ The 1st line of chapter 1 is: "I am a sick man... I am a wicked man. An unattractive man."
Reminds me of the 1st line of "Invisible man": "I am an invisible man..."
Besides this, and the fact that both narrators stay underground, I haven't seen anything else these 2 books have in common. 

2/ The 1st line of chapter 2 is: "I would now like to tell you, gentlemen, whether you do or do not wish to hear it, why I never managed to become even an insect. I'll tell you solemnly that I wanted many times to become an insect. But I was not deemed worthy even of that."
Is this an inspiration for Kafka's "The metamorphosis"?

3/ In chapter 7, Dostoyevsky launches attacks on and makes fun of Henry Thomas Buckle, who naively asserts that "man gets softer from civilisation and, consequently, becomes less bloodthirsty and less capable of war".
Reminds me of something Allen Ginsberg said that is quoted in "The electric kool-aid acid test" (Tom Wolfe), that no one wants war and conflicts only arise from misunderstanding and if people can just sit down and sort out the misunderstanding, they can avoid war. Such childish, simplistic mindset!

4/ Chapter 8, which stresses over and over again that human beings do not always use reason and cannot strictly follow some rational calculations and do the most profitable things all the time because we are human beings and not piano keys (an attack on utilitarianism?), makes me think of Stanley Kubrick's film "A clockwork orange", in which the leading character is 'cured' by a machine and meant to be a good citizen who commits no crime, yet he no longer has free will and the machine has turned him into a machine.

5/ Dostoyevsky's 'analysis' of the need for or even the enjoyment of suffering is an answer to the people who insist on forgetting sadness, avoiding negativity and looking at the bright side. This need is essential to us, to our wholeness, our growth, as much as foibles, stupidity and senselessness are a part of our nature which we cannot deny. 

Update at 6.44pm: 
6/ The bumping scene between the underground man and the officer in part 2 right away revokes images from "Invisible man". My hunch was right, there are more similarities between these 2 works. Though the word "invisible" doesn't appear in "Notes from underground", the same idea is there, the narrator is unseen. 
On a side note: whether I can develop it and use for my essay is another story, because their invisibility is different. In Ralph Ellison's narrator's case, he's unseen in the sense that people look at him and see the reflections of their own stereotypes and prejudices, or see him as a representation, an emblem, of something, instead of seeing his individuality. The underground man, on the other hand, is unseen because of people's loathing or his inferior status (unsuccessful), according to him, or simply because he's alienated from society. 

7/ Chapter 5 of part 2, an absurd situation with all the trouble about money, somehow makes me think of "Hunger", though I'm not sure if there's any equivalent scene in the Knut Hamsun book.

8/ The meeting of the former schoolmates, I can't read without thinking of a similar scene in "Mrs Dalloway" (Virginia Woolf). All the old feelings come back, all the dislike, all the feeling of inferiority and diffidence. Of course, closely linked to it is my own visualisation of future meetings between me and my former classmates (though the bright side is that such meetings are unlikely to happen, considering that I live in another country and they probably have left as well). 

9/ "Notes from underground" has humour, a kind of Kafka-like humour that I didn't find in "Crime and punishment". 
In fact, though for now I'm not able to put it into words, due to my own inadequacy, the more I read Kafka and Dostoyevsky, the more similar they appear, and I can see why Kafka regards Dostoyevsky as 1 of his blood relatives. 

10/ Before I finish reading, I already feel the need to reread the whole book right after finishing it. 

11/ If I'm not mistaken, "Taxi driver" was inspired by this book. Indeed, it's not difficult to see: alienation, loneliness, depression, self-loathing, misanthropy, bitterness, rage, contradiction, etc.  

Update at 11.05pm: 
12/ Another time the underground man compares himself to a fly, and another time, a bug. 

13/ The comparison may be a bit forced, but the dinner scene is reminiscent of the film "Inside Llewyn Davis". Like the narrator here, Llewyn Davis is, by general standard, a loser, and he's aware of it, but at the same time still has a contradictory feeling, a feeling of superiority. He dislikes his present life and cannot get anywhere better, for he's not talented enough, but he has a contemptuous look when sitting in a corner, listening to other people, such as Jim and Jean, or when singing Jim's song. 
Something I understand very well. 
It's tragic, good taste, or the ability to recognise genius and distinguish between talent and the absence of it, doesn't always go hand in hand with talent. 
But then I digress. That sentence fits "Inside Llewyn Davis" only, or, what do the Coen bros mean? is he meant to be a small talent, or a misunderstood artist? Maybe it only fits me. But definitely not the narrator in "Notes from underground". His intelligence and hypersensitivity are the reasons he cannot connect to the people around him. 

14/ Intelligence and hypersensitivity and high consciousness. Now doesn't this sound like Salinger's Seymour Glass? 

15/ Strange, now instead of writing an in-depth analysis of "Notes from underground", I throw out heaps of names in your face, like a pretentious ass. Can't help it though.  

Update on 11/3, 11.58am: 
16/ "What was to be done?" in chapter 5 of part 2 is clearly an allusion to "What is to be done?" by Nikolai Chernyshevsky, the book to which "Notes from underground" is said to respond. 

17/ I notice the monologue about a father's love for his daughter in chapter 6 is like what Mr Norton says about his daughter in "Invisible man", except that in Ralph Ellison's book, the love is pushed to the extreme, bordering on incest. 

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