Saturday, 24 May 2014

Dostoyevsky's underground man on reason, life and suffering

"What is to be done with the millions of facts testifying to how people knowingly, that is, fully understanding their real profit, would put it in 2nd place and throw themselves onto another path, a risk, a perchance, not compelled by anyone or anything, but precisely as if they simply did not want the designated path, and stubbornly, willfully pushed off onto another one, difficult, absurd, searching for it all but in the dark."

"... what is man without desires, without will, and without wantings, if not a sprig in an organ barrel?"

"You see: reason, gentlemen, is a fine thing, that is unquestionable, but reason is only reason and satisfies only man's reasoning capacity, while wanting is a manifestation of the whole of life- that is, the whole of human life, including reason and various little itches. And though our life in this manifestation often turns out to be a bit of trash, still it is life and not just the extraction of a square root."

"Shower him with all earthly blessings, drown him in happiness completely, over his head, so that only bubbles pop up on the surface of happiness, as on water; give him such economic satisfaction that he no longer has anything left to do at all except sleep, eat ginger bread, and worry about the noncessation of world history- and it is here, just here, that he, this man, out of sheer ingratitude, out of sheer lampoonery, will do something nasty. [...] It is precisely his fantastic dreams, his most banal stupidity, that he will wish to keep hold of, with the sole purpose of confirming to himself (as if it were so very necessary) that human beings are still human beings and not piano keys..."

"... why are you so firmly, so solemnly convinced that only the normal and the positive, in short, that only well-being, is profitable for man? Is reason not perhaps mistaken as to profits? Maybe man does not love well-being only? Maybe he loves suffering just as much? [...] For man sometimes loves suffering terribly much, to the point of passion, and that is a fact. Here there's not even any need to consult world history; just ask yourself, if you're a human being and have had any life at all. As for my personal opinion, to love just well-being alone is even somehow indecent. [...] I'm certain that man will never renounce real suffering, that is, destruction and chaos. Suffering- why, this is the sole cause of consciousness. Though I did declare at the beginning that consciousness, in my opinion, is man's greatest misfortune, still I know that man loves it and will not exchange it for any satisfactions..."

(Fyodor Dostoyevsky- Notes from Underground, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)


  1. Di,

    Marvelous quotation from a marvelous work. It's probably my favorite from Dostoyevsky. Any time I find myself falling into the delusion that humans are rational and reasonable and will work solely for their own good, I dust off the _Notes_ and administer the antidote.

    1. Yeah I read some of your posts on this book. Love it too, more than "Crime and Punishment", but I must read other works by Dostoyevsky.
      I suppose you must have read the post on "beyond eastrod" about some psychologist who called social media a waste of time and bloggers narcissists? There's hardly any real connection, but the way that killjoy criticised people for wasting time (on 'pointless' things?) somehow made me think of the underground man.