Now I would like to tell you, gentlemen, whether or nor you want to hear it, why it is that I couldn't even become an insect. I'll tell you solemnly that I wished to become and insect many times. But not even that wish was granted. I swear to you, gentlemen, that being overly conscious is a disease, a genuine, fullfledged disease. Ordinary human consciousness would be more than sufficient for everyday human needs--that is, even half or a quarter of the amount of consciousness that's available to cultured man in our unfortunate nineteenth century, especially to one who has the particular misfortune of living in St. Peterburg, the most abstract and premeditated city in the whole world. (Cities can be either premeditated or unpremeditated.) I would have been entirely sufficient, for example, to have the consciousness with which all so-called spontaneous people and men of action are endowed. I'll bet that you think I'm writing all this to show off, to make fun of these men of action, that I'm clanging my saber just like that officer did to show off a bad taste. But, gentlemen, who could possibly be proud of his illnesses and want to show them off?
But what am I saying? Everyone does that; people do take pride in their illnessess, and I, perhaps, more than anyone else. Let's not argue; my objection is absurd. Nevertheless, I remain firmly convinced that not only is being overly conscious a disease, but so is being conscious at all. I insist on it. But let's leave that alone for a moment. Tell me this: why was it, as if on purpose, at the very moment, indeed, at the precise moment that I was most capable of becoming conscious of the subtleties of everything that was "beautiful and sublime," as we used to say at one time, that I didn't become conscious, and instead did such unseemly things, things that...well, in short, probably everyone does, but it seemed as if they occured to me deliberately at the precise moment when I was most conscious that they shouldn't be done at all? the more conscious I was of what was good, of everything "beautiful and sublime," the more deeply I sank into the moreass and the more capable I was of becoming entirely bogged down in it. But the main thing is that all this didn't seem to be occuring accidentally; rather, it was as if it all had to be so. It was as if this were my most normal condition, not an illness of an affliction at all, so that finally I even lost the desire to struggle against it. It ended when I almost came to believe (perhaps I really did believe) that this might really have been my normal condition. But at this, in the beginning, what agonies I suffiered during that struggle! I didn't believe that others were experiencing the same thing; therefore, I kept it a secret about myself all my life, I was ashamed (perhaps I still am even now); I reached the point where I felt some secret, abnormal, despicable little pleasure in returning home to my little corner on some disgusting Petersburg night, acutely aware that once again I'd commited some revolting act that day, that what had been done could not be undone, and I used to gnaw and gnaw at myself inwardly, secretly, nagging away, consuming myself until finally the bitterness turned into some kind of shamefull accursed sweetness and at last into genuine, earnest pleasure! Yes, into pleasure, real pleasure! I absolutely mean that. ...That's why I first began to speak out, because to know for certain whether other people share this same pleasure. Let me explain: the pleasure resulted precisely from the overly acute consciousness of one's own humiliation; from the feeling that one had reached the limit; that it was disgusting, but couldn't be otherwise; you had no other choice--you could never become a different person; and that even if there were still time and faith enough for you to change into something else, most likely you wouldn't even want to change, and if you did, you wouldn't have done anything, perhaps because there really was nothing for you to change into. But the main thing and the final point is that all of this was taking place according to normal and fundamental laws of overly acute consciousness and of the inertia which results directly from these laws; consequently, not only couldn't one change, one simply couldn't do anything at all. Hence it follows, for example, as a result of this overly acute consciousness, that one is absolutely right in being a scoundrel, as if this were some consolation to the scoundrel. But enough of this...Oh, my, I've gone on rather a long time, but I have really explained anything? How can I explain this pleasure? But I will explain it! I shall see it through to the end! that's why I've taken up my pen...
For example, I'm terribly proud. I'm as mistrustful and as senstive as a hunchback or a dwarf; but, in truth, I've experienced some moments when, if someone had slapped my face, I might even have been grateful for it. I'm being serious. I probably would have been able to derive a peculiar sort of pleasure from it-- the pleasure of despair, naturally, but the most intense pleasure occur in despair, especially when you're very acutely aware of the hopelessness of your own predicament. As for a slap in the face--why, here the consciousness of being beaten to a pulp would overwhelm you. The main thing is, no matter how I try, it still turns out that I'm always the first to be blamed for everything and, what's even worse, I'm always the innocent victim, so to speak, according to the laws of nature. Therefore, in the first place, I'm guilty inasmuch as I'm smart that everyone around me. (I've always considered myself smarter than everyone around me, and sometimes, believe me, I've been ashamed of it. At the least, all my life I've looked away and never could look people straight in the eye.) Finally, I'm to blame because even if there were any magnanimity in me, it would only have caused more suffering as a result of my being aware of its utter uselessness. After all, I probably wouldn't have been able to make use of that magnanimity: neither to forgive, as the offender, perhaps, had slapped me in accordance with the laws of nature, and there's no way to forgive the laws of nature; nor to forget, because even if there were any laws of nature, it's offensive nonetheless. Finally, even if I wanted to be entirely unmagnanimous, and had wanted to take revenge on the offender, I couldn't be revenged on anyone for anything because, most likely, I would never have decided to do anything, even if I could have. Why not? I'd like to say a few words about that separately.
"Notes from Underground"
By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translated by Michael Katz