Notes From Underground
79 pages

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79 pages

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'I am a sick person. I am a spiteful person. An unattractive person, too . . .'In the depths of a cellar in St. Petersburg, a retired civil servant spews forth a passionate and furious note on the ills of society. The underground man's manifesto reveals his erratic, self-contradictory and even sadistic nature. Yet Dostoyevsky's disturbing character causes an uncomfortable flicker of recognition, and we see in him our own human condition.


Publié par
Date de parution 25 octobre 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780857861283
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow in 1821. He has written many works of fiction including Crime and Punishment , The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov . He died in St. Petersburg on 9th February 1881. Natasha Randall is a writer and literary translator. Her translations include We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov. Her writing has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement , New York Times , Los Angeles Book Review and more.
Also by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Poor Folk
The Double: A Petersburg Poem
Netochka Nezvanova
Uncle’s Dream
The Village of Stepanchikovo
Humiliated and Insulted
The House of the Dead
Crime and Punishment
The Gambler
The Idiot
The Eternal Husband
The Adolescent
The Brothers Karamazov

Mr. Prokharchin
Novel in Nine Letters
The Landlady
The Jealous Husband
A Weak Heart
The Honest Thief
The Christmas Tree and a Wedding
White Nights
A Little Hero
A Nasty Anecdote
The Crocodile
The Heavenly Christmas Tree
The Meek One
The Peasant Marey
The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

The Jew Yankel (unknown whether finished or not)

Winter Notes on Summer Impressions
A Writer’s Diary
Complete Letters

The Canons edition published in Great Britain in 2020 by Canongate Books
This new translation first published in Great Britain in 2012 by Canongate Books Ltd, 14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE
This digital edition first published in 2012 by Canongate Books
Translation copyright © Natasha Randall Introduction copyright © DBC Pierre
The moral right of the translator has been asserted
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available on request from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 78689 900 2 eISBN 978 0 85786 128 3

‘But, it also seems to us that we may stop here.’
Picture the human zoo as a nervous system. Artists and thinkers drift to the nerve-endings, seeking answers in the sparks of single filaments, feeding back flickers in which we see ourselves across the complex, because we’re connected, because even signals from the toes reflect us. Then a writer finds the brain-stem and sends ideas so central to who we are that they light the network at once and for ever.
That for me describes the scale of this little book.
I only want to spend a sentence on the story; you’ll be there in a page or two anyway. Have no fear of too many surnames in a Russian salon – this is a bitter tirade by one spiteful ex-civil servant who snipes at the ideas of his time from a basement in St Petersburg. The Underground Man is bizarre, brilliant, tragic, unexpected – our scholars will tell us he’s the first modern anti-hero, an early first-person voice, Dostoyevsky’s first great work, the seed of later masterpieces. And all this is true, but here’s the thing: within the concept of this disaffected man, and inside all his arguments, sits one stunning idea, one I feel is more relevant today than ever, one which not only made me sense a kindred spirit, but which licensed my humanity outright.
To even begin to introduce Notes from Underground I need to position air crashes and socks in your mind as extremes on the same spectrum. I’ll sketch the spectrum like this: following the tragedy of September 2001, a decades-long inquiry was completed into human responses to mortal danger. Reports from the twin towers were combined with air-crash studies to show who we really are when the chips are down. And it turns out that eighty-five per cent of us, when faced with death unless we act, will do nothing. Others will panic uselessly. So that’s extreme duress. At the other end of the spectrum – extreme absence of duress – is me finding socks. Which is to say, finding one, wandering around, leaving it behind, taking a shoe to find the other, returning with the sock but leaving the shoe behind. This is me, whose eyes only itch when there’s something on my fingers which will hurt them. I don’t say this is also you. But here’s the point: there are enough of me around to ask which imbecile ever thought it a good idea to base social, political, and economic systems on the assumption that humans will act purposefully and correctly, even in their own best interests. Look around us, at economies, ideologies.
All have failed because their systems assume we will do the right thing.
This is the gift of Notes from Underground . Dostoyevsky dropped a pill into the middle of the nineteenth century and the thing is still fizzing: existentialism . The notion that history is not built from purposeful steps. That we might not be interested, obliged or even able to do the correct thing – that we might not know what the correct thing is, or care.
That basically we might not end up wanting to do anything at all .
Why did the teenager cross the road? Because somebody told him not to. This is the essence of the Underground Man, running the other way just to prove his autonomous existence – except that in this case the philosophies grew far beyond the remit of a novel. They became ideas that continue to change the world. Notes from Underground first appeared in Russia in 1864, in the middle of one of history’s most fertile periods. Of course the author was speaking to his time, addressing the discourses around him, as you’ll see the Underground Man do in detail, but for me two things set the work apart from its time and pull it sharply into ours. The first is that Russian novels up to this point were concerned with action; they hung on what their characters did, while Dostoyevsky became concerned with motivation, with the curious machinations of the mind. He was a psychologist before psychology existed, and his observations were acute and universal. The second is the fact that the nineteenth-century themes addressed by the Underground Man are the seedlings of the themes of our day – industrialism, utopianism, western markets, the grip of science and technology on truth – and for me his arguments not only still apply but have new weight.
Still, all this thought is woven through the ramblings of an unpleasant and contradictory man, making it an artwork – the Underground Man spends the first section of this short novel in bitter monologue from his basement, and the second part narrating the scenes which led to his seclusion, and which may underpin his ideas. I say ‘may’ as he remains an unreliable narrator throughout. Only Dostoyevsky knew how much of the Underground Man was himself, but I can give you the clues I used to reconcile the author and his character.
I always felt a particular kinship with Dostoyevsky, perhaps from our having grown up in similar, walled compounds, having been warned not to explore outside alone, having ignored the warning and seen chaos, violence and cruelty first hand, and at a young age. Perhaps we were similarly addictive, rode similar roller coasters of fortune – we both took a kicking for second novels, both threw everything at our first. He even declared ‘ What matters is that my novel should cover everything. If it does not work I will hang myself .’
Whereas I would have driven off a cliff.
It’s easy to see historical figures as one-dimensional icons, their lives as full of aplomb as quotes by Oscar Wilde. But Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was not this way, and I realise the coincidences above are not the cause of my feeling; rather the feeling is one you and I both might have, in sharing his weaknesses. He was a sensitive man, as sensitive as a synapse, and deeply affected by life. He was insecure, by turns aloof or withdrawn, and one thing he almost certainly shared with the Underground Man was torment – while he wrote this book his wife lay dying, he was almost broke, having gambled his livelihood away, and his appeal as a writer was waning.
If this is your first Dostoyevsky, you’ve landed in a rich place. Notes from Underground sits bang in the middle of his output of major fiction. Moreover his story from this point has a happier ending, at least literarily, than the events above suggest. The books that followed include his masterpieces – the next work was Crime and Punishment – and all were coloured by the germ of this little book and its ideas.
Calculate the number of people across a century who were changed and inspired by Freud, Nietzsche, Sartre, Kafka, Orwell, and countless others – and know that they were changed and inspired by this book. It’s a hell of a club to join, and this new translation by Natasha Randall erases a century of awkward word-for-word interpretations, which is like turning it from black-and-white back into colour; something I feel has Dostoyevsky’s own blessing, as a translator of literature himself.
There can’t be a better moment for this book to find its way into your hands and your mind. I can only consign it to you with this advice:
Don’t read it because it’s great – read it because you don’t have to.

DBC Pierre
October 2012
I am a sick person . . . A spiteful one. An unattractive person, too. I think my liver is diseased. But I don’t give a damn about my disease and in fact I don’t even know what’s wrong with me. I do not seek treatment and have never sought treatment, though I respect medicine and doctors. Furthermore, I am superstitious to an extreme – well, only enough to respect medicine. (I am sufficiently educated that I shouldn’t be superstitious, but I am superstitious.) No, sir, I won’t seek treatment out of spite. And this, I suppose, you won’t deign to understand. Well, sir, I do understand it. Of course, in this case, I won’t be able to explain it to you, whom I season with my spite. I

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