“I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me.”
The beginning to Notes From The Underground, Dostoyevsky’s famous novella. The book that launched the existentialists. The character who hisses like sulfuric acid in the souls of those who read him. Who recognize him.
The Underground Man—the unnamed narrator—gets under my skin. Got under my skin thirty-five or forty years ago or so and has remained there. Seething. Bubbling.
A man who remains perversely independent. Not heroically independent. Not courageously independent. Vilely independent. Rebelliously independent. And solitary.
A pathetic man. A bathetic man. A person who describes himself as lazy. Who is certainly withdrawn. Fearful of others and their opinions of him to the point of morbidity.
A person who lives in extreme poverty rather than work and be forced to socialize with others. The banal conforming unconscious others who flow around him like a river around a discarded and rusting industrial appliance.
Consciousness for The Underground Man is a disease. His awareness of his own moral degradation is a disease. His self-pity and self-loathing.
He cannot bring himself to be like the people around him, because they are vile. They are unaware of their herd-like nature and are therefore inexcusable. But so is he, in the extreme form of moral consciousness that he cultivates like a fungus in himself.
As I say, this is one of my particular congress. He lunges out into the world occasionally. In fact, there are periods in which his voice can regularly be heard above the others.
Ah, there you are, I sometimes think. There you are again. Where have you been? It’s been awhile.