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The Underground Man - Part V

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Well, and is it possible, is it really possible for a man to respect himself if he even presumes to find enjoyment in the feeling of his own humiliation? I’m not saying this out of any feigned repentance. In general I could never bear to say: “I’m sorry, Daddy, and I won’t do it again,” not because I was incapable of saying it, but, on the contrary, perhaps precisely because I was all too capable, and how! As if on purpose it would happen that I’d get myself into some sort of mess for which I was not to blame in any way whatsoever. That was the most repulsive part of it. What’s more, I’d feel touched deep in my soul; I’d repent and shed tears, deceiving even myself of course, though not feigning in the least. It seemed that my heart was somehow playing dirty tricks on me . . . . Here one couldn’t even blame the laws of nature, although it was these very laws that continually hurt me during my entire life. It’s disgusting to recall all this, and it was disgusting even then. Of course, a moment or so later I would realize in anger that it was all lies, lies, revolting, made-up lies, that is, all that repentance, all that tenderness, all those vows to mend my ways. But you’ll ask why I mauled and tortured myself in that way? The answer is because it was so very boring to sit idly by with my arms folded; so I’d get into trouble. That’s the way it was. Observe yourselves better, gentlemen; then you’ll understand that it’s true. I used to think up adventures for myself, inventing a life so that at least I could live. How many times did it happen, well, let’s say, for example, that I took offense, deliberately, for no reason at all? All the while I knew there was no reason for it; I put on airs nonetheless, and would take it so far that finally I really did feel offended. I’ve been drawn into such silly tricks all my life, so that finally I lost control over myself. Another time, even twice, I tried hard to fall in love. I even suffered gentlemen, I can assure you. In the depths of my soul I really didn’t believe that I was suffering; there was a stir of mockery, but suffer I did, and in a genuine, normal way at that; I was jealous, I was beside myself with anger . . . . And all as a result of boredom, gentlemen, sheer boredom; I was overcome by inertia. You see, the direct, legitimate, immediate result of consciousness is inertia, that is, the conscious sitting idly by with one’s arms folded. I’ve referred to this before. I repeat, I repeat emphatically; all spontaneous men and men of action are so active precisely because they’re stupid and limited. How can one explain this? Here’s how: as a result of their limitations they mistake immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and thus they’re convinced more quickly and easily than other people that they’ve located an indisputable basis for action, and this puts them at ease; that’s the main point. For, in order to begin to act, one must first be absolutely at ease, with no lingering doubts whatsoever. Well, how can I, for example, ever feel at ease? Where are the primary causes I can rely upon, where’s the foundation? Where shall I find it? I exercise myself in thinking, and consequently, with me every primary cause drags in another, an even more primary one, and so on to infinity. This is precisely the essence of all consciousness and thought. And here again, it must be the laws of nature. What’s the final result? Why, the very same thing. Remember: I was talking about revenge before. (You probably didn’t follow.) I said: a man takes revenge because he finds justice in it. That means, he’s found a primary cause, a foundation: namely, justice. Therefore, he’s completely at ease, and, as a result, he takes revenge peacefully and successfully, convinced that he’s performing an honest and just deed. But I don’t see any justice here at all, nor do I find any virtue in it whatever; consequently, if I begin to take revenge, it’s only out of spite. Of course, spite could overcome everything, all my doubts, and therefore could successfully serve instead of a primary cause precisely because it’s not a cause at all. But what do I do if I don’t even feel spite (that’s where I began before)? After all, as a result of those damned laws of consciousness, my spite is subject to chemical disintegration. You look—and the object vanishes, the arguments evaporate, a guilty party can’t be identified, the offence ceases to be one and becomes a matter of fate, something like a toothache for which no one’s to blame, and, as a consequence, there remains only the same recourse: that is, to bash the wall even harder. So you throw up your hands because you haven’t found a primary cause. Just try to let yourself be carried away blindly by your feelings, without reflection, without a primary cause, suppressing consciousness even for a moment; hate or love, anything, just in order not to sit idly by with your arms folded. The day after tomorrow at the very latest, you’ll begin to despise yourself for having deceived yourself knowingly. The result: soap bubble and inertia. Oh, gentlemen, perhaps I consider myself to be an intelligent man simply because for my whole life I haven’t been able to begin or finish anything. All right, suppose I am a babbler, a harmless, annoying babbler, like the rest of us. But then what is to be done if the direct and single vocation of every intelligent man consists in babbling, that is, in deliberately talking in endless circles?

"Notes from Underground"
By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Translated by Michael Katz