5/5 STAR RATING +++++
Dostoevsky is my most favorite literary master, and his psychological fiction has made a lasting impact on my views of both what is possible in literature to express, and how I view myself as a human being in the world. No one understands the many emotional and spiritual complexities that trouble the elevated mind like him. He most certainly must have suffered from a similar mentality as myself, and perhaps may have been a bipolar madman like myself. His own life was tumultuous, and he struggled with addiction to gambling, and poverty, as well as the kind of desperation his characters feel- not to mention the self-loathing and intellectualism of his characters. All mode of art tends to be a form of autobiography when done correctly, and Dostoevsky may have endowed his Underground Man with a side of his own hidden nature or his hidden ego.
The Underground Man is a detestable human being, and it is his nihilism which makes him so- his inability to become anything, but also his inability to find value in others, or in any undertaking or person or situation. He is a complex buffoon, who dwells on petty things, but with a razor like intellect. Even writing his monologues on paper seems detestable to the underground man- he finds himself to be reprehensible at every turn. Nothing is left to find value in when this short novella is finished.
I have sometimes traveled in these areas of depression, and have been desperate myself, or mistreated someone because of a feeling of superiority, as if I had a right to, or to make myself feel better and stronger than I was. I believe only a man who has been at low points of self-hatred could understand fully this most accurate character. It is the fact that he despises himself that all else follows, and everything he is becomes despicable for the mere fact he wants it that way- proving he is not a piano key and cannot be reformed.
The Underground Man is not just a complex neurotic man, but is also symbolic of the struggle modern man has to face in the post 19th Century world, that lack of meaning. Because of the death of the former aristocracy, the death of the relevance of Christianity, exemplified in the upheaval of socialism in the East, or democratic understandings in the West, and also the rise of Science and modern industry as powers of understanding the world, Man found himself at a crises and turning point, which Dostoevsky does well to elucidate. Of course, Dostoevsky was ahead of his time- more predicting the future and feeling the streams of thought coming in the future, since in his time the Czar still stood immovable in Russia. Dostoevsky doesn't provide any answers in this Underground Man, only poses the problem and the psychology of the nihilistic response to the crises of meaning- where nothing is sacred anymore, and nothing is valuable.
It has been called the first existentialist novel, and I believe it is- since it criticizes the Utopian views that humanity thru social reform can be perfected, or that Science can elevate him, or that he can be taught by a dogmatism to be perfected. Man is everywhere trying to show his freedom even in being a rogue.
And to be honest, and to write with candor here, the Underground Man may be detestable, but he is also an accurate portrayal of many thoughts exhibited that many people have felt about the world and themselves within it. Who has not been a rogue on purpose? or gotten himself into a very hopeless and strange situation only in order to play up the drama and hopelessness of life? As if it were deserving of a hidden person within us who mocks at us?
But, Dostoevsky is not just writing a bland philosophical treatise of the crises of meaning. He is giving us his nihilist in a psychological profile, a manic depressive who is narcissistic and vindictive and petty, who is base and full of malice. He is examining here a terrible side of all people, and the world, and our human nature- which is capable of many things, not all of them beautiful. He is going deep into the dark corners of the psyche- which is a place I am drawn to in my own fiction often.
The storytelling here is also why I love Dostoevsky- how he gives full volume to the experience of his character, mostly the emotional inward experience of a man. I must admit, I understand the anti-hero better than anyone. Being many times an outsider to everyone else's good time. And I have been bitter and angry and filled with narcissism myself at this. Dostoevsky struck a nail here with me, as all of his fiction does.