📚 Notes from the Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

Read Notes from the Underground

Notes from Underground (pre-reform Russian: Записки изъ подполья; post-reform Russian: Записки из подполья, Zapíski iz podpólʹya; also translated as Notes from the Underground or Letters from the Underworld) is an 1864 novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and is considered by many to be one of the first existentialist novels.

It presents itself as an excerpt from the rambling memoirs of a bitter, isolated, unnamed narrator (generally referred to by critics as the Underground Man), who is a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. The first part of the story is told in monologue form through the Underground Man’s diary, and attacks contemporary Russian philosophy, especially Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done?. The second part of the book is called “Apropos of the Wet Snow” and describes certain events that appear to be destroying and sometimes renewing the underground man, who acts as a first person, unreliable narrator and anti-hero.

I have never read any of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works before and was always intrigued by the supposed associating between Notes from the Underground and Catcher in the Rye.

Like The Stranger’s Meursault and The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield, the Underground Man is our sole window into this world. As a result, we only get his skewed take on the “reality” in which he lives. Key to this reality is the Man’s status as “underground.” He identifies himself as underground for two main reasons. First, it establishes him as an outsider, and although this status is the source of much misery, it is essential for the reality he has created for himself. Second, it hints at the notion of revolution: there might be other Undergrounders out there waiting to unite against the oppression of their everyday lives. Ironically, the Underground Man is too apathetic to seek out other Undergrounders, creating further dissatisfaction in himself.

For me, the first person style of writing reminds me of Friedrich Nietzsche and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

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