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The Underground Man - Part IV

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IV

“Ha,ha, ha!” Why, you’ll be finding enjoyment in a toothache next!” you cry out with a laugh.

“Well, what of it? There is some enjoyment even in a toothache,” I reply. I’ve had a toothache for a whole month; I know what’s what. In this instance, of course, people don’t rage in silence; they moan. But these moans are insincere; they’re malicious, and malice is the whole point. But these moans are insincere; they’re malicious, and malice is the whole point. These moans express the sufferer’s enjoyment; if he didn’t enjoy it, he would never have begun to moan. This is a good example, gentlemen, and I’ll develop it. In the first place, these moans express all the aimlessness of the pain which consciousness finds so humiliating, the whole system of natural laws about which you really don’t give a damn, but as a result of which you’re suffering nonetheless, while nature isn’t. They express the consciousness that while there’s no real enemy to be identified, the pain exists nonetheless; the awareness that, in spite of all possible Wagenheims, you’re still a complete slave to your teeth; that if someone so wishes, your teeth will stop aching, but that if he doesn’t so wish, they’ll go on aching for three more months; and finally, that if you still disagree and protest, all there’s left to do for consolation is flagellate yourself or beat your fist against the wall as hard as you can, and absolutely nothing else. Well then, it’s these bloody insults, these jeers coming from nowhere, that finally generate enjoyment that can sometimes reach the highest degree of voluptuousness. I beseech you, gentlemen, to listen to the moans of an educated man of the nineteenth century who’s suffering from a toothache, especially on the second or third day of his distress, when he begins to moan in a very different way than he did on the first day, that is, not simply because his tooth aches; not the way some coarse peasant moans, but as a man affected by progress and European civilization, a man “who’s renounced both the soil and the common people,” as they say nowadays. His moans become somehow nasty, despicably spiteful, and they go on for days and nights. Yet he himself knows that his moans do him no good; he knows better than anyone else that he’s merely irritating him no good; he knows better than anyone else that he’s merely irritating himself and others in vain; he knows that the audience for whom he’s trying to so hard, and his whole family, have now begun to listen to him with loathing; they don’t believe him for a second, and they realize full well that he could moan in a different, much simpler way, without all the flourishes and affectation, and that that he’s only indulging himself out of spite and malice. Well, it’s precisely in this awareness and shame that the voluptuousness resides. “It seems I’m disturbing you, tearing at your heart, preventing anyone in the house from getting any sleep. Well, then, you won’t sleep; you too must be aware at all times that I have a toothache. I’m no longer the hero I wanted to pass for earlier, but simply a nasty little man, a rogue. So be it! I’m delighted that you’ve seen through me. Does it make you feel bad to hear my wretched little moans? Well then, feel bad. Now let me add an even nastier flourish . . . .” You still don’t understand, gentlemen? No, it’s clear that one has to develop further and become even more conscious in order to understand all the nuances of this voluptuousness! Are you laughing? I’m delighted. Of course my jokes are in bad taste, gentlemen; they’re uneven, contradictory, and lacking in self-assurance. But that’s because I have no respect for myself. Can a man possessing consciousness ever really respect himself?

"Notes from Underground"
By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Translated by Michael Katz

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