Notes from Underground, by Dostoevksy - Chapter 2 - Audio

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By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translation by Andrew R. MacAndrew

Chapter II - Read by Carole Bos, creator of Awesome Stories

Now I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, why I couldn't even become an insect.  

I must first solemnly declare that I tried many times to become one.  But even that was beyond me.  I swear that too great a lucidity is a disease, a true, full-fledged disease.  For everyday needs, the average person's awareness is more than sufficient, and it is about a half or a quarter of that of the unhappy nineteenth century intellectual, particularly if he's unfortunate enough to live in Petersburg, the most abstract and premeditated city on earth (there are premeditated and unpremeditated cities).

The extent of consciousness at the disposal of what may be termed the spontaneous people and the men of action if sufficient.  I bet you think I say that just to take a crack at men of action, and that this kind of showing off is just as much in poor taste as the saber rattling of that officer I mentioned.  But I ask you, who on earth goes around showing off his sickness, and even glorying in it?

On second thought though, I'd say that everyone does.  People do pride themselves on their infirmities and I, probably, more than anyone.  So don't let's argue about it - I admit my contention was inane.  But I still say that not only too much lucidity, but any amount of it at all is a disease.  That's where I stand.

But let's leave that for a moment, too.  Now tell me this: why, just when I was most capable of being conscious of every refinement of the "good and the beautiful," as they used to put it once upon a time, were there moments when I lost my awareness of it, and did such ugly things - things that everyone does probably, but that I did precisely at moments when I was most aware that they shouldn't be done.

The more conscious I was of "the good and beautiful," the deeper I sank into the mud, and the more likely I was to remain mired in it.  But what struck me was the feeling I had that, in my case, it wasn't accidental, that it was intended to be that way, as if that were my normal state rather than a sickness or depravity; so that finally I lost all desire to fight my depravity.  In the end, I almost believed (perhaps I even did believe) that it actually was my normal state.

But in the beginning, what agonies I went through in this inner struggle!  I didn't believe that there were others who went through all that, so I've kept it a secret all my life.  I was ashamed (perhaps, even now, I am still ashamed).

I reached a point where I felt a secret, unhealthy, base little pleasure in creeping back into my hole after some disgusting night in Petersburg and forcing myself to think that I had again done something filthy, that what was done couldn't be undone.  And I inwardly gnawed at myself for it, tore at myself and ate myself away, until the bitterness turned into something shameful, accursed sweetishness and, finally, into a great, unquestionable pleasure.  Yes, yes, definitely a pleasure!  I mean it!

And that's why I started out on this subject:  I wanted to find out whether others experience this sort of pleasure too.

I'll explain it to you:  I derived pleasure precisely from the blinding realization of my degradation; because I felt I was already up against the wall; that it was horrible but couldn't be otherwise; that there was no way out and it was no longer possible to make myself into a different person; that even if there were still enough time and faith left to become different, I wouldn't want to change myself; and that, even if I wanted to, I still wouldn't have done anything about it, because, actually, there wasn't anything to change into.

Finally, the most important point is that there's a set of fundamental laws to which heightened consciousness is subject so that there's no changing oneself or, for that matter, doing anything about it.  Thus, as a result of heightened consciousness, a man feels that it's all right if he's bad as long as he knows it - as though that were any consolation. 

But enough ... Ah, what a lot of words!  And what have I explained?  What's the explanation for this pleasure?  But I'll make myself clear!  I'll go through with it!  That's why I've taken up my pen.

I, for instance, am horribly sensitive.  I'm suspicious and easily offended, like a dwarf or a hunchback.  But I believe there have been moments when I'd have liked to have my face slapped. 

I say that in all seriousness - I'd have derived pleasure from this too.  Naturally it would be the pleasure of despair.  But then, it is in despair that we find the most acute pleasure, especially when we are aware of the hopelessness of the situation.

And when one's face is slapped - why, one is bound to be crushed by one's awareness of the pulp into which one has been ground.  But the main point is that, whichever way you look at it, I was always guilty in the first place, and what is most vexing is that I was guilty without guilt, by virtue of the laws of nature.

Thus, to start with, I'm guilty of being more intelligent than all those around me.  (I've always felt that and, believe me, it's weighed on my conscience sometimes.  All my life, I have never been able to look people straight in the eye - I always feel a need to avert my face.)

And then, I'm also guilty because, even if there had been any forgiveness in me, it would only have increased my torment, because I would have been conscious of its uselessness.  I surely would have been unable to do anything with my forgiveness: I wouldn't have been able to forgive because the offender would simply have been obeying the laws of nature in slapping me, and it makes no sense to forgive the laws of nature - but neither could I have forgotten it, because it is humiliating, after all.

Finally, even if I hadn't wanted to be forgiving at all, but on the contrary, had wished to avenge myself on the offender, I couldn't have done it, for the chances are I'd never have dared to do anything about it even if there had been something I could do. 

Why wouldn't I have dared?  Well, I'd especially like to say a few words about that.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5156stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

Media Credits

Chapter 2 of Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Doestoevsky (translated by Andrew R. MacAndrew), read by Carole Bos (creator of Awesome Stories).


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"Notes from Underground, by Dostoevksy - Chapter 2 - Audio" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Apr 21, 2019.
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