Notes From The Underground

ISBN: 048627053X

This is a depressing book that basically says “life sucks.” It describes how all humans are limited by a “wall” that places torturous constraints on existence. For example, a mere toothache can upend your life and make you a slave to the pain, to no inherent fault of your own.

To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond forty? … sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows.

The author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, differs from Mark Twain in saying that men do the opposite of what’s in their best interests for random and illogical reasons (Twain believes that actions that may seem disadvantageous on the surface actually benefits the man in some way). He does this in a babbling, stream-of-consciousness style that, while I’m sure was impressive in 1864, will frustrate the modern reader. He prefers massive paragraphs that have many words but say painfully little.

I did not understand that she was hiding her feelings under irony, that this is usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded, and that their pride makes them refuse to surrender till the last moment and shrink from giving expression to their feelings before you.

The best way to describe this book is a man undergoing a nervous breakdown angrily sharing his grievances. While the author has been commended by such luminaries as Sartre and Nietzsche while being credited with writing the first existential novel, the hands of time has decreased enjoyment that you could get from this type of classic.

…which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings?

Read More: “Notes From The Underground” on Amazon (free Kindle edition)

25 thoughts on “Notes From The Underground”

  1. This is Doestoevsky for teens. Roosh, you should really review “A Hero of Our Time” by Lermontov; I’ve yet to read another book that is so thoroughly “red pill” that is considered a classic. It’s a pretty quick read too. “The Brothers Karamazov” is Doestoevsky’s best and deals a lot with issues of masculinity, but is dense and lengthy and can be a little preachy about religion as is Doestoevsky’s want.

  2. “He prefers massive paragraphs that have many words but say painfully little.” – I’d stay away from Nicholas Nickleby then if I were you! I got bogged down on page 550ish after one too many page-long paragraphs of speech that didn’t actually say anything pushed me over the edge.

  3. First off, this is a difficult book to translate (Constance Garnett did a decent job, but Pevear & Volokhonsky didn’t). So pay attention to the translator: Russian literature is tricky to start with, but it can be seriously hurt in translation.
    Second, this isn’t the sort of book you read for enjoyment. It’s meant to be a warning. Over at The Last Psychiatrist, you can get a glimpse of what Dostoyevsky was really driving at:

    Enjoyment? Better to consider it validation: in the suffering, in being the mouse, in being Underground is an identity, an individualism, a defining of the problem as you vs. them. You are not-them, and so you are better.
    This is narcissism; sometimes despair is the only pleasure you have.
    The lesser read Part 2 describes his relationship with a prostitute. He more than insults her; like a psychic he astutely identifies her inner dreams and external hardships, and then predicts the misery that is her future. He later says he did it to have power over her, which is only partly true. He does it because he wants her to see him as knowing. The power over her was to get her to see him the way he wanted to be seen.
    But she has a good soul, she’s a woman, and she’s a prostitute: she’s three times more perceptive than he is. He knows she’ll eventually be able to see right through him– to see him as he really is– not even as a bad person, just not as he wants to be seen. This is the worst thing that can happen. To preempt this, he degrades her: to cause her to leave.
    And of course, she does.
    One of the best depictions of narcissism, ever. Study it.

    1. Really? I hate the Constance Garette translations. She’s an interpreter of the word and not an actual translator of it. A feeler, the emotion of the word. She’s best suited for those cheap Barnes and Nobles abridged versions. Richard Pevear & Larissa are better translators if you actually care about an accurate translation. If you want an easy read, yes go with Constance.

  4. Few people appreciate the literary value of books like this alone without in depth study of the philosophical concepts and intellectual history behind them. It is a great work in the context of the nihilism that grew in the 19th century in reaction to the ideas of the Enlightenment.
    Reading classical works alone discretely is like randomly dipping yourself into the timeline of great ideas without understanding their place in the whole evolution of human thought.
    I suggest using a college’s curriculum such as stanford’s SLE as a guideline and reference for the themes and philosophy and go through the works that interest you from the Ancients->Enlightenment->Post-modernism. Context is all.
    Oh and if you haven’t read it, Plato’s passage “The Allegory of the Cave” is a MUST – the original red-pill metaphor upon which the The Matrix is based.

    1. I took SLE while Mancall was the program director. It did a subpar job covering the Enlightenment at least when I went through. Though if you wanted exposure to Greek mythology, the Torah, Christian apology a la Augustine, Cervantes, Dante, Shakespeare, a smattering of Eastern texts (probably Mancall influence).. then fast-forward to modernism, it was great.

  5. It’s his worst book, even worse than Raw Youth, the second part just doesn’t work in my opinion. Brothers Karamazov and Demons are outstanding masterpieces though, but they are a lot longer than Notes. I’d recommend those two.

    1. I thought Demons was a complete bore as well as The Idiot. Brothers is the pinnacle of his work and I think Crime and Punishment is next best, but I admit to liking C&P less and less as I get older.

  6. That wasn’t much of a review. Not sure who your audience is here either. The average 20-something who has never read Russian literature? If so, they deserve a little more context and information. You write for a living. So try to polish your blog posts a little more – this read like a 20 minute draft.

  7. Roosh proves once again his mettle and merits by his willingness to take on the darkest, most obscurantist of modern literature: the Russian novelists. Praise to our brother for setting the intellectual bar high here on ROK.
    The Slavic soul is a dark and impenetrable forest to begin with, but Dostoyevsky is on a whole other level of despair and nihilism. Come to think of it, pretty much every Russian movie I’ve seen is just as bleak and tortured. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one frustrated by this so-called “classic”.
    The only thing I can say in Dostoyevsky’s defense is that I have heard that it is difficult to translate the Russian classics. I suppose you could say that about any foreign literature, but this point seems to come up frequently in discussions on the Russian classics. I myself am ignorant of Russian and can offer no opinion one way or the other. All I can say is that I share Roosh’s opinion. I also found Kafka to be unreadable, even though everyone said he was great.
    But any intellectual journey is worthwhile, if only to tell us what we do not like. And you never know…maybe in 10 years, Roosh, you’ll pick Dostoyevsky up again and find something there you didn’t see earlier.

  8. Phinn-
    kafka and camus……FUCK YEAH. going through “letters to felice” again. a bit oneitis-ish, but still am interesting. read. which reminds me, i need to re-read “thus spoke Zarathustra”.

    1. Yeah, Nietzsche was the man.
      Did you roll in from Mardi Gras at 4 am to post on RoK about existentialist writers? YOU are the man!

  9. Roosh I feel you slightly miss the point of the book. The “underground” man is the focus not man in general. The underground man is the one Doestoevsky paint as a sterile dreamer.
    The key in its interpretation is to know identify the traits of the underground man. He position in society, his his inability to affect change the reason why.
    I was forced to read this along with several commentary books that really open up Doestoevsky to the uninitiated.

  10. Sorry so many typos in my comment.
    I meant the “Underground man” is the focus of life without meaning not Everyman. Partly of his own creation. He is a man who has prostituted himself to the power structures he once railed against and now finds himself absorbed into it. Sterile, defeated. Kinda like “leftist” liberals who now find themselves in power unable to affect real poverty. Instead focusing on issues. Failing to challenge the rich / the bankers yet obsessed with gay rights.

  11. Roosh this is a novel about a specific type of person, not a novel about life in general, and Dost’s treatment of the protagonist is one of criticism. The walls you mention in your first paragraph which the protagonist of the novel discusses extensively are usually walls of the narrator’s on creation. In fact there are long passages about how the good man or the man of action sees a wall and tries to walk around it, or go over it, or go through it, but this underground man just sits in front of the wall with his head in his hands.
    He exalts his own suffering, he lives entirely in his own head and that’s why he is such a failure. He wants to confront on the street the military official who insulted him, but can never meet the official’s eyes when they pass one another. He finally gets some kind of human affection from a prostitute, but when that affection comes at the cost of giving up his childish narcissism he takes the embarrassingly contrived step of insulting her by giving her money.
    Essentially, the underground man is the opposite of what the RSD guys talk about with “being present”; he’s always at least partly swimming in his own thoughts rather than interacting honestly with the world around him, and his actions are mostly a scared child’s defense mechanisms rather than manful direct interaction with the world. For a different treatment of a similar character in very different circumstances I would suggest The Gambler by Dostoevsky.

  12. I always kind of thought that the Underground Man was Doestoevsky’s non-noble take on the “superfluous man” archetype of Russian literature. Eugene Onegin and Pechorin had the benefit of being rich and suave, but not the UM.

  13. Roosh – I really like a lot of your work. I’m disappointed that you didn’t get Dostoyevsky here. He’s not writing to say that “life sucks” – though he’s definitely a realist about the human condition. The Underground Man is meant to illustrate a picture of the person caught up in resentment – the person who has big ambition and is thwarted by every obstacle that he comes up against. Eventually all of us must come up against the so far undefeated obstacle of death – and many people capitulate to despair and resentment. I think the chapter of his interaction with the young woman should have been especially telling for you and the readers here. He passionately loves and hates the young woman he comes into contact with – and in his actions, where he seeks to destroy her confidence and sense of self – must remind us of ourselves in our more jaded interactions at some point. The ambivalence is also another characteristic of the ‘man sphere’ it hates (modern feminist batshit insane) women, but also yearns to possess them and bring them into their sphere of godly orbit. This double attitude is a characteristic symptom of deep resentment. TL;DR the book is about resentment – not how life sucks.

  14. Maybe you had a poor translation? A few times I’ve started reading a classic that I’ve downloaded in the free Kindle edition and found it terrible until I dug up a better translation. Well worth it to research the best translation before starting.

  15. His prose are for affect. If you’re anxious, fidgety, or nauseous while reading, then you are experiencing the antihero’s sickness. Rather than a narcissist, he is more aptly described as a paranoic. Anyone who has dealt with paranoia knows how the most minor details become earth-shattering affronts to the meaning of one’s life: grudges are created over passing glances, hours are spent contemplating the
    affect/sound of word choice in distant and otherwise forgotten conversations with persons of insignificance, days are wasted in wishing that one could have acted slightly differently in the past- fantasizing that one did act differently and hoping/planning to make the correction in the future.
    Inevitably, the symptoms of over-contemplation and over-analysis manifest themselves as a sort of paralysis in the face of live action, creating even more fodder for the paranoid mind to latch onto and mourn. The desire for significance and the experience of insignificance set the stage for the drama. Indulgence in
    narcissism seems to be a solution, but success is key. One’s life hangs in the balance: if he cannot become as god, then he might as well be dead. In spite of asserting his will (which is good enough for the non-contemplative), if it has no effect, then his will is nothing but masturbation. The masturbatory
    life on display is what makes us cringe while reading the Notes.

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