Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Underground Man

"Notes from Underground" by F. Dostoevsky... I started reading this book because it intrigued me... okay, the person who gave me the book piqued my curiosity too…(just a little bit, though).. Well now I could go on and write about me...but I guess I shall desist from narcissistic contemplations and write about the Underground Man (UM) who harangues about his condition and position in his society. I'm not sure if I can call it his society, because it doesn't exist anywhere else but in his head. He berates this society, he hates it, he believes that he is despised because he is vile and asocial. Yet all along his display of detached anger, he stops now and then, turns volte face on that particular point of his argument. He deliberately tries to take the reader elsewhere. He wants to show the reader that he is an equal turncoat as the UM himself. That is why he pauses with the 180 degree turn only to hear the reader go ‘yeah’ in his mind. Then, the UM wants the reader to also realize that he agrees with the opposite. Quite the opposite! What the UM needs is love, unconditional and accepting all his flaws. All he attempted to do was have relationships with people without having a relationship actually. Maybe he was scared of any little loss that may accrue because there could be always an end to any relationship. Towards the last 30 odd pages of the book, his real self comes to light. He has met the whore but he shames her with his cruel words.

I finished reading the book in the morning today and I am very sad. I didn’t want to let go of the UM. Perhaps because of the compassion in me, but then the book could have been written so that the reader may feel compassion… (You see, I don’t trust the UM or Dostoevsky anymore!) if the latter is the case then I have once again been taken for a ride… slimy bugger…that coot Dosto! Anyway, the UM fell in love with the whore Liza, and he realized it after he was cruel to her. For four days, he remained suspended in love for her. It bordered on the brink of madness. He desperately wanted for he to love him. She does and she comes over to his place to let him know. She is not entirely without shame. Aware, actually of her own status and life so far, she ventures to speak with enormous trepidation. However her hesitant attempts are met with violence on his part. At first he lets her see through to his loneliness, she does and soothes him as he cries upon her breast, bawling like a child. As things lead from one to the other, and time goes on, the UM wants to test her again. After she is dressed, just before she leaves, he presses five rubles in her palm. What he tried was not a test of whether she loves him or not, but whether he could be loved at all. She did not understand him, how could she, when he (who had read so much) could not even do so himself. His act, yes, undoubtedly cruel, seemed vicious to her. Needlessly vicious!! She leaves the house and he turns to see the crumpled note lying next to the couch.

Of course he realizes! Of course he is crushed! Of course he never sees her again! Of course he goes underground to write his harangue! Of course he is lonely! Of course she could never come back or understand him!

He wanted her to save him from him.
She wanted him to save her from her.

None understood the other. None helped the other. None loved the other. None saw beyond his or her self. They both lost, not just the other, but the opportunity to know themselves. The only one chance at passion available for the two of them, yet they squandered it away in an idiotic move at maintaining their egos in the face of social mores and their own unique though commonplace adjustments to them.
ENDNOTE: Dostoevsky should have carried on writing in this style...simple, incisive and provocative. This book was not a success, and so he meandered into the other style of writing evident in the "Brothers... or "Crime...


abhay k said...

good that you wrote a review as I had read the book and forgot it completely.
I see a continuation though in the style of writing of this book and the others works of the author. Foe example even in the Crime & Punishment such psychological tensions govern the roles of the characters.

xanjukta said...

yeah..the psychological dichotomy exists, but his writing style definitley gets more narrative and less like neitsche!!!

Omair said...

been a while since I've had a chance to look over the blog. Obviously saw the rest, but Dosto obviously catches the eye.
Your writing style has emerged quite interestingly since you've started writing, and now has both languid, unsettled humour, and a terse, sharp efficiency to it at other times.
Quite like.

Siddharth Soni said...

Never read anything from Dostoevsky. But feel like reading this one. Thanks for a good clear account.

Ebony said...

Good for people to know.