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Notes from the Underground

I’m reading a good book from my friend’s book list, ‘Notes from the Underground’ by Dostoevsky. Here are some passages that struck me:

The characteristics of our romantic type are: to understand everything, to see everything, and frequently to see it incomparably more clearly than our most distinguished intellects; not to be reconciled to anyone or anything, but at the same time not to balk at anything; to get round everything, to concede to everyone, to behave expediently towards everyone; never to lose sight of his useful, practical aim (some state apartments or other, pensions, medals), to keep his eye on this aim throughout all his enthusiasms and little volumes of lyrical verses, and at the same time to preserve inviolate the ‘beautiful and sublime’ within himself to his dying day, and incidentally to preserve himself completely, wrapped in cotton wool like some little piece of jewelry, which might for instance be for the benefit of this very same ‘beautiful and sublime’. He’s a person of breadth, our romantic, and the greatest of all our swindlers, I assure you of that…

The direct, legitimate, spontaneous result of consciousness is inertia, that is to say consciously sitting with folded arms. … All spontaneous people and men of action are active because they are dull-witted and limited. How can this be explained? This is how: as a result of their limitations they take immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and in this way they are more quickly and easily convinced than others that they have discovered an indisputable basis for their activity, and so they rest assured; and this is important. You see, in order to begin to act one must be completely assured beforehand that there are absolutely no remaining doubts. But how am I, for instance, to reassure myself? Where are the primary causes that I am to take my stance upon, where are my bases? Where am I to take them from? I practice thinking, and as a result any primary cause I have immediately drags another one in tow, one that is even more primary, and so on ad infinitum. And this is precisely the essence of any kind of consciousness or thought process. Again this must be a law of nature. And what, finally, is the result? Always the same thing. Remember, I was talking earlier on about revenge… It was said: man takes his revenge because he finds justice in it. This means that he has found his primary cause, he has found a basis for his action, namely: justice. Therefore, he is assured on all fronts, and consequently seeks his revenge calmly and successfully, being convinced that what he is doing is honourable and just. But, you see, I fail to see the justice here, neither can I find anything virtuous about it, and so, if I start to seek revenge then it’s really only out of spite. Spite could of course overcome everything, all my doubts, and therefore it could serve quite successfully in place of a primary cause for the very reason that it is not a cause. But what can I do if I lack even spite… Once again, as a consequence of these damned laws of consciousness, my spite is subject to chemical decomposition. Look–and the subject evaporates, the basis vanishes into thin air, the culprit is nowhere to be found, the offense is no longer an offense, but fate, something in the nature of a toothache, for which no one is guilty, and consequently one is left once again with the same way out–that is, to beat harder against the wall. And to give it up as a bad job because no primary cause has been found. But just try letting yourself be carried along blindly by your feelings, without reason, without first principles, banishing consciousness at least for the time being; hate or love, anything rather than sit with folded arms. The day after tomorrow, at the very latest, you will begin to despise yourself because you have knowingly fooled yourself. The result: a soap bubble and inertia. Oh, gentlemen, you know perhaps I only consider myself to be an intelligent person because all my life I’ve never been able to start or finish anything. Very well, very well, I’m a chatterbox, a harmless, annoying chatterbox, like we all are. But what can be done about it if the direct and single purpose of any intelligent person is to chatter, that is to say the deliberate pouring of emptiness into the void?


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