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  • Rob Will

Dostoyevsky’s Notes From The Underground

Self Portrait, Notes From The Underground

A few days ago I finished reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes From The Underground. It’s quite a good little book.

In the first part of the book, the first 28 pages, the nameless author of the “Notes” rambles on in an almost stream of consciousness style; basically, about why he is writing with little interspersed social commentaries full of paradoxical self-analysis.

The last 63 pages of Notes consist of the nameless Underground Man telling some stories from his Life. He does so in the same self-analytical style that he used in the first part, a style one might consider bordering on Solipsism.

I think perhaps Dostoyevsky presents his Underground Man in this light as a reflection of the self-absorbed and ego-centric nature of our society. Perhaps, this is why he left the author of the Notes nameless. Or, maybe he did so to emphasize the profound feelings of alienation the author experiences — causing one to think of the alienation of Mankind …Do we truly know each other? Do we as a society care about each community, each person in every community? Do you have someone — or multiple people — who you can truly talk to and share your Self with? I can’t help but think of the great charge of the Mystics and Sages: Know Thy Self — with Dostoyevsky adding “Know Thy Neighbor Too.” And indeed one can imagine Mr. Fyodor also adding “Love Thy Neighbor As Well.”

As is the case with many characters in his other works, Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man is full of contradictory ideas and emotions. In presenting his characters as such,

Dostoyevsky compels the reader to contemplate the cause and effect relationship behind every emotion they experience and every action they partake in. It seems that he almost demands that society take a more psychoanalytical — or perhaps I should say psycho-social — approach to investigating the collective problems facing Humanity.

Concerning writing style, Dostoyevsky’s form is brilliant. He has the ability to pull one deep into his characters mindset, allowing the reader to see as they see, feel as they feel. Dostoyevsky writes with a beautiful artistic flair that draws you in and pulls you close to the story. Before you even realize it you’re face-to-face with the character, staring into each other’s eyes and suddenly the depths of his psyche become visible.

No, more than visible — you have the profound feeling of being at one with him. His fears, pain, happiness, anxiety and love is yours. The penetrating psychological insight Dostoyevsky offers in Notes is quite amazing — especially considering that the book was written in 1864, before the field of psychology even existed!

Years ago I read Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and his Crime and Punishment. I wasn’t as impressed with them as I thought I would be. I’m rather sure that this was because I read the two books not long after reading Herman Hesse’s Demian, which is a masterpiece of metaphor, allegory and symbolism. So, I was on a deeply symbolic vibe when I read the Dostoyevsky and Mr. Fyodor presents his themes in a more straight-forward manner.

Nevertheless, reading Notes From The Underground has given me a new appreciation of Dostoyevsky. I think I’ll be reading — and perhaps re-reading — more of his works in the future.


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