I said I might do a post of Dostoevsky quotations. Why not. Notes from Underground is so quotable. The voice of the narrator is so strong.
Now, then, what can a decent man talk about with the greatest pleasure?
Answer: about himself.
Well, then, I, too, will talk about myself. (I.1., 5)
Strong with irony. One of the great critical debates over Notes has been about this narrator. To what extent does he represent Dostoevsky? Many critics, friends and enemies, have taken the book, especially its first third, as distilled Dostoevsky.
A novel needs a hero, whereas here all the traits of an anti-hero have been assembled deliberately; but the most important thing is that all this produces an extremely unpleasant impression because we’ve all become estranged from life, we’re all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We’ve becomes so estranged that at times we feel some kind of revulsion for genuine “real life,” and therefore we can’t bear to be reminded of it. Why, we’ve reached a point where we almost regard “real life” as hard work, as a job, and we’ve all agreed in private that it’s really better in books. (II.10., 91)
This is from the last page, one of the texts declarations that the narrator is not Dostoevsky. This is where it really helps to know that Dostoevsky is parodying Chernyshevsky, and perhaps others, that the Underground Man is an extreme case. “Soon we’ll conceive of a way to be born from ideas” (91). None of which means that some pure Dostoevsky is not smuggled into the parody.
In short, man is made in a comical way, obviously there’s some sort of catch in all this. But two times two makes four is an insufferable thing, nevertheless. Two times two makes four – why, in my opinion, it’s mere insolence. Two times two makes four stands there brazenly with its hands on its hips, blocking your path and spitting at you. I agree that two times two makes four is a splendid thing, but if we’re going to lavish praise, then two times two makes five is sometimes also a very charming little thing. (I.9., 24)
Dostoevsky and the Underground Man nod in agreement. They both feel the need for a Counter-Enlightenment blast against Chernyshevky’s radical Enlightenment. ”I felt how they swarmed inside me, these contradictory elements” (I.1., 4). I am usually an Enlightenment kind of fellow myself, but after a good dose of Chernyshevsky, I too begin revising my multiplication tables.
Although capable of sitting around quietly in the underground for some forty years, once he emerges into the light of day and bursts into speech, he talks on and on and on… (I.10., 26)
Now I am identifying a little too closely with the Underground Man.