Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky

Fyodor PART I

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[2]        PART I
[4]        Underground*
[5]                  *The author of the diary and the diary itself
[6]             are, of course, imaginary. Nevertheless it is clear
[7]             that such persons as the writer of these notes
[8]             not only may, but positively must, exist in our
[9]             society, when we consider the circumstances in
[10]            the midst of which our society is formed. I have
[11]            tried to expose to the view of the public more
[12]            distinctly than is commonly done, one of the
[13]            characters of the recent past. He is one of the
[14]            representatives of a generation still living. In this
[15]            fragment, entitled "Underground," this person
[16]            introduces himself and his views, and, as it were,
[17]            tries to explain the causes owing to which he has
[18]            made his appearance and was bound to make his
[19]            appearance in our midst. In the second fragment
[20]            there are added the actual notes of this person
[21]            concerning certain events in his life. --AUTHOR'S NOTE.
[25]       I
[28]       I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I
[29]       believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my
[30]       disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor
[31]       for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors.
[32]       Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine,
[33]       anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am
[34]       superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you
[35]       probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I
[36]       can't explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my
[37]       spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not
[38]       consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only
[39]       injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is
[40]       from spite. My liver is bad, well--let it get worse!
[42]       I have been going on like that for a long time--twenty years. Now I am
[43]       forty. I used to be in the government service, but am no longer. I was a
[44]       spiteful official. I was rude and took pleasure in being so. I did not take
[45]       bribes, you see, so I was bound to find a recompense in that, at least. (A
[46]       poor jest, but I will not scratch it out. I wrote it thinking it would sound
[47]       very witty; but now that I have seen myself that I only wanted to show off
[48]       in a despicable way, I will not scratch it out on purpose!)
[50]       When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I
[51]       sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when I
[52]       succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the
[53]       most part they were all timid people--of course, they were petitioners.
[54]       But of the uppish ones there was one officer in particular I could not
[55]       endure. He simply would not be humble, and clanked his sword in a
[56]       disgusting way. I carried on a feud with him for eighteen months over
[57]       that sword. At last I got the better of him. He left off clanking it. That
[58]       happened in my youth, though.
[59]       But do you know, gentlemen, what was the chief point about my spite?
[60]       Why, the whole point, the real sting of it lay in the fact that continually,
[61]       even in the moment of the acutest spleen, I was inwardly conscious with
[62]       shame that I was not only not a spiteful but not even an embittered man,
[63]       that I was simply scaring sparrows at random and amusing myself by it. I
[64]       might foam at the mouth, but bring me a doll to play with, give me a cup of
[65]       tea with sugar in it, and maybe I should be appeased. I might even be
[66]       genuinely touched, though probably I should grind my teeth at myself afterwards
[67]       and lie awake at night with shame for months after. That was my way.
[69]       I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful official. I was
[70]       lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with the petitioners and with
[71]       the officer, and in reality I never could become spiteful. I was conscious
[72]       every moment in myself of many, very many elements absolutely opposite to
[73]       that. I felt them positively swarming in me, these opposite elements.
[74]       I knew that they had been swarming in me all my life and craving
[75]       some outlet from me, but I would not let them, would not let them,
[76]       purposely would not let them come out. They tormented me till I was
[77]       ashamed: they drove me to convulsions and--sickened me, at last, how
[78]       they sickened me! Now, are not you fancying, gentlemen, that I am
[79]       expressing remorse for something now, that I am asking your forgiveness
[80]       for something? I am sure you are fancying that ... However, I assure you
[81]       I do not care if you are. ...
[83]       It was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how to
[84]       become anything; neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an honest
[85]       man, neither a hero nor an insect. Now, I am living out my life in my
[86]       corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an
[87]       intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool
[88]       who becomes anything. Yes, a man in the nineteenth century must and
[89]       morally ought to be pre-eminently a characterless creature; a man of
[90]       character, an active man is pre-eminently a limited creature. That is my
[91]       conviction of forty years. I am forty years old now, and you know forty
[92]       years is a whole lifetime; you know it is extreme old age. To live longer
[93]       than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live
[94]       beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do:
[95]       fools and worthless fellows. I tell all old men that to their face, all these
[96]       venerable old men, all these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the
[97]       whole world that to its face! I have a right to say so, for I shall go on
[98]       living to sixty myself. To seventy! To eighty! ... Stay, let me
[99]       take breath ...
[101]      You imagine no doubt, gentlemen, that I want to amuse you. You are
[102]      mistaken in that, too. I am by no means such a mirthful person as you
[103]      imagine, or as you may imagine; however, irritated by all this babble (and
[104]      I feel that you are irritated) you think fit to ask me who I am--then my
[105]      answer is, I am a collegiate assessor. I was in the service that I might have
[106]      something to eat (and solely for that reason), and when last year a distant
[107]      relation left me six thousand roubles in his will I immediately retired
[108]      from the service and settled down in my corner. I used to live in this
[109]      corner before, but now I have settled down in it. My room is a wretched,
[110]      horrid one in the outskirts of the town. My servant is an old country-
[111]      woman, ill-natured from stupidity, and, moreover, there is always a nasty
[112]      smell about her. I am told that the Petersburg climate is bad for me, and
[113]      that with my small means it is very expensive to live in Petersburg. I
[114]      know all that better than all these sage and experienced counsellors and
[115]      monitors. ... But I am remaining in Petersburg; I am not going away
[116]      from Petersburg! I am not going away because ... ech! Why, it is
[117]      absolutely no matter whether I am going away or not going away.
[119]      But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure?
[121]      Answer: Of himself.
[123]      Well, so I will talk about myself.
[127]      II
[130]      I want now to tell you, gentlemen, whether you care to hear it or not, why
[131]      I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnly, that I have many
[132]      times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear,
[133]      gentlemen, that to be too conscious is an illness--a real thorough-going
[134]      illness. For man's everyday needs, it would have been quite enough to
[135]      have the ordinary human consciousness, that is, half or a quarter of the
[136]      amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy
[137]      nineteenth century, especially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit
[138]      Petersburg, the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole
[139]      terrestrial globe. (There are intentional and unintentional towns.) It
[140]      would have been quite enough, for instance, to have the consciousness
[141]      by which all so-called direct persons and men of action live. I bet you
[142]      think I am writing all this from affectation, to be witty at the expense of
[143]      men of action; and what is more, that from ill-bred affectation, I am
[144]      clanking a sword like my officer. But, gentlemen, whoever can pride
[145]      himself on his diseases and even swagger over them?
[147]      Though, after all, everyone does do that; people do pride themselves
[148]      on their diseases, and I do, may be, more than anyone. We will not
[149]      dispute it; my contention was absurd. But yet I am firmly persuaded that
[150]      a great deal of consciousness, every sort of consciousness, in fact, is a
[151]      disease. I stick to that. Let us leave that, too, for a minute. Tell me this:
[152]      why does it happen that at the very, yes, at the very moments when I am
[153]      most capable of feeling every refinement of all that is "sublime and
[154]      beautiful," as they used to say at one time, it would, as though of design,
[155]      happen to me not only to feel but to do such ugly things, such that ...
[156]      Well, in short, actions that all, perhaps, commit; but which, as though
[157]      purposely, occurred to me at the very time when I was most conscious
[158]      that they ought not to be committed. The more conscious I was of goodness
[159]      and of all that was "sublime and beautiful," the more deeply I sank
[160]      into my mire and the more ready I was to sink in it altogether. But the
[161]      chief point was that all this was, as it were, not accidental in me, but as
[162]      though it were bound to be so. It was as though it were my most normal
[163]      condition, and not in the least disease or depravity, so that at last all desire
[164]      in me to struggle against this depravity passed. It ended by my almost
[165]      believing (perhaps actually believing) that this was perhaps my normal
[166]      condition. But at first, in the beginning, what agonies I endured in that
[167]      struggle! I did not believe it was the same with other people, and all my
[168]      life I hid this fact about myself as a secret. I was ashamed (even now,
[169]      perhaps, I am ashamed): I got to the point of feeling a sort of secret
[170]      abnormal, despicable enjoyment in returning home to my corner on
[171]      some disgusting Petersburg night, acutely conscious that that day I had
[172]      committed a loathsome action again, that what was done could never be
[173]      undone, and secretly, inwardly gnawing, gnawing at myself for it, tearing
[174]      and consuming myself till at last the bitterness turned into a sort of
[175]      shameful accursed sweetness, and at last--into positive real enjoyment!
[176]      Yes, into enjoyment, into enjoyment! I insist upon that. I have spoken of
[177]      this because I keep wanting to know for a fact whether other people feel
[178]      such enjoyment? I will explain; the enjoyment was just from the too
[179]      intense consciousness of one's own degradation; it was from feeling
[180]      oneself that one had reached the last barrier, that it was horrible, but that
[181]      it could not be otherwise; that there was no escape for you; that you never
[182]      could become a different man; that even if time and faith were still left
[183]      you to change into something different you would most likely not wish to
[184]      change; or if you did wish to, even then you would do nothing; because
[185]      perhaps in reality there was nothing for you to change into.
[187]      And the worst of it was, and the root of it all, that it was all in accord
[188]      with the normal fundamental laws of over-acute consciousness, and
[189]      with the inertia that was the direct result of those laws, and that
[190]      consequently one was not only unable to change but could do absolutely
[191]      nothing. Thus it would follow, as the result of acute consciousness,
[192]      that one is not to blame in being a scoundrel; as though that were
[193]      any consolation to the scoundrel once he has come to realise that he
[194]      actually is a scoundrel. But enough. ... Ech, I have talked a lot of
[195]      nonsense, but what have I explained? How is enjoyment in this to be
[196]      explained? But I will explain it. I will get to the bottom of it! That is why
[197]      I have taken up my pen. ...
[199]      I, for instance, have a great deal of AMOUR PROPRE. I am as suspicious
[200]      and prone to take offence as a humpback or a dwarf. But upon my word I
[201]      sometimes have had moments when if I had happened to be slapped in
[202]      the face I should, perhaps, have been positively glad of it. I say, in
[203]      earnest, that I should probably have been able to discover even in that a
[204]      peculiar sort of enjoyment--the enjoyment, of course, of despair; but in
[205]      despair there are the most intense enjoyments, especially when one is
[206]      very acutely conscious of the hopelessness of one's position. And when
[207]      one is slapped in the face--why then the consciousness of being rubbed
[208]      into a pulp would positively overwhelm one. The worst of it is, look at it
[209]      which way one will, it still turns out that I was always the most to blame
[210]      in everything. And what is most humiliating of all, to blame for no fault
[211]      of my own but, so to say, through the laws of nature. In the first place, to
[212]      blame because I am cleverer than any of the people surrounding me. (I
[213]      have always considered myself cleverer than any of the people surrounding
[214]      me, and sometimes, would you believe it, have been positively
[215]      ashamed of it. At any rate, I have all my life, as it were, turned my eyes
[216]      away and never could look people straight in the face.) To blame, finally,
[217]      because even if I had had magnanimity, I should only have had more
[218]      suffering from the sense of its uselessness. I should certainly have never
[219]      been able to do anything from being magnanimous--neither to forgive,
[220]      for my assailant would perhaps have slapped me from the laws of nature,
[221]      and one cannot forgive the laws of nature; nor to forget, for even if it were
[222]      owing to the laws of nature, it is insulting all the same. Finally, even if I
[223]      had wanted to be anything but magnanimous, had desired on the
[224]      contrary to revenge myself on my assailant, I could not have revenged
[225]      myself on any one for anything because I should certainly never have
[226]      made up my mind to do anything, even if I had been able to. Why
[227]      should I not have made up my mind? About that in particular I want to
[228]      say a few words.
[232]      III
[235]      With people who know how to revenge themselves and to stand up for
[236]      themselves in general, how is it done? Why, when they are possessed, let
[237]      us suppose, by the feeling of revenge, then for the time there is nothing
[238]      else but that feeling left in their whole being. Such a gentleman simply
[239]      dashes straight for his object like an infuriated bull with its horns down,
[240]      and nothing but a wall will stop him. (By the way: facing the wall, such
[241]      gentlemen--that is, the "direct" persons and men of action--are genuinely
[242]      nonplussed. For them a wall is not an evasion, as for us people who
[243]      think and consequently do nothing; it is not an excuse for turning aside,
[244]      an excuse for which we are always very glad, though we scarcely believe
[245]      in it ourselves, as a rule. No, they are nonplussed in all sincerity. The
[246]      wall has for them something tranquillising, morally soothing, final--
[247]      maybe even something mysterious ... but of the wall later.)
[249]      Well, such a direct person I regard as the real normal man, as his
[250]      tender mother nature wished to see him when she graciously brought him
[251]      into being on the earth. I envy such a man till I am green in the face. He
[252]      is stupid. I am not disputing that, but perhaps the normal man should be
[253]      stupid, how do you know? Perhaps it is very beautiful, in fact. And I am
[254]      the more persuaded of that suspicion, if one can call it so, by the fact that
[255]      if you take, for instance, the antithesis of the normal man, that is, the
[256]      man of acute consciousness, who has come, of course, not out of the lap
[257]      of nature but out of a retort (this is almost mysticism, gentlemen, but I
[258]      suspect this, too), this retort-made man is sometimes so nonplussed in
[259]      the presence of his antithesis that with all his exaggerated consciousness
[260]      he genuinely thinks of himself as a mouse and not a man. It may be an
[261]      acutely conscious mouse, yet it is a mouse, while the other is a man, and
[262]      therefore, et caetera, et caetera. And the worst of it is, he himself, his very
[263]      own self, looks on himself as a mouse; no one asks him to do so; and that
[264]      is an important point. Now let us look at this mouse in action. Let us
[265]      suppose, for instance, that it feels insulted, too (and it almost always does
[266]      feel insulted), and wants to revenge itself, too. There may even be a
[267]      greater accumulation of spite in it than in L'HOMME DE LA NATURE ET DE LA
[268]      VERITE. The base and nasty desire to vent that spite on its assailant rankles
[269]      perhaps even more nastily in it than in L'HOMME DE LA NATURE ET DE LA
[270]      VERITE. For through his innate stupidity the latter looks upon his revenge
[271]      as justice pure and simple; while in consequence of his acute consciousness
[272]      the mouse does not believe in the justice of it. To come at last to the
[273]      deed itself, to the very act of revenge. Apart from the one fundamental
[274]      nastiness the luckless mouse succeeds in creating around it so many other
[275]      nastinesses in the form of doubts and questions, adds to the one question
[276]      so many unsettled questions that there inevitably works up around it a sort
[277]      of fatal brew, a stinking mess, made up of its doubts, emotions, and of the
[278]      contempt spat upon it by the direct men of action who stand solemnly
[279]      about it as judges and arbitrators, laughing at it till their healthy sides
[280]      ache. Of course the only thing left for it is to dismiss all that with a wave
[281]      of its paw, and, with a smile of assumed contempt in which it does not
[282]      even itself believe, creep ignominiously into its mouse-hole. There in its
[283]      nasty, stinking, underground home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed
[284]      mouse promptly becomes absorbed in cold, malignant and, above all,
[285]      everlasting spite. For forty years together it will remember its injury down
[286]      to the smallest, most ignominious details, and every time will add, of
[287]      itself, details still more ignominious, spitefully teasing and tormenting
[288]      itself with its own imagination. It will itself be ashamed of its imaginings,
[289]      but yet it will recall it all, it will go over and over every detail, it will
[290]      invent unheard of things against itself, pretending that those things
[291]      might happen, and will forgive nothing. Maybe it will begin to revenge
[292]      itself, too, but, as it were, piecemeal, in trivial ways, from behind the
[293]      stove, incognito, without believing either in its own right to vengeance,
[294]      or in the success of its revenge, knowing that from all its efforts at revenge
[295]      it will suffer a hundred times more than he on whom it revenges itself,
[296]      while he, I daresay, will not even scratch himself. On its deathbed it will
[297]      recall it all over again, with interest accumulated over all the years
[298]      and ...
[300]      But it is just in that cold, abominable half despair, half belief, in that
[301]      conscious burying oneself alive for grief in the underworld for forty years,
[302]      in that acutely recognised and yet partly doubtful hopelessness of one's
[303]      position, in that hell of unsatisfied desires turned inward, in that fever of
[304]      oscillations, of resolutions determined for ever and repented of again a
[305]      minute later--that the savour of that strange enjoyment of which I have
[306]      spoken lies. It is so subtle, so difficult of analysis, that persons who are a
[307]      little limited, or even simply persons of strong nerves, will not understand
[308]      a single atom of it. "Possibly," you will add on your own account
[309]      with a grin, "people will not understand it either who have never received
[310]      a slap in the face," and in that way you will politely hint to me that I, too,
[311]      perhaps, have had the experience of a slap in the face in my life, and so I
[312]      speak as one who knows. I bet that you are thinking that. But set your
[313]      minds at rest, gentlemen, I have not received a slap in the face, though it
[314]      is absolutely a matter of indifference to me what you may think about it.
[315]      Possibly, I even regret, myself, that I have given so few slaps in the face
[316]      during my life. But enough ... not another word on that subject of such
[317]      extreme interest to you.
[319]      I will continue calmly concerning persons with strong nerves who do
[320]      not understand a certain refinement of enjoyment. Though in certain
[321]      circumstances these gentlemen bellow their loudest like bulls, though
[322]      this, let us suppose, does them the greatest credit, yet, as I have said
[323]      already, confronted with the impossible they subside at once. The impossible
[324]      means the stone wall! What stone wall? Why, of course, the laws of
[325]      nature, the deductions of natural science, mathematics. As soon as they
[326]      prove to you, for instance, that you are descended from a monkey, then it
[327]      is no use scowling, accept it for a fact. When they prove to you that in
[328]      reality one drop of your own fat must be dearer to you than a hundred
[329]      thousand of your fellow-creatures, and that this conclusion is the final
[330]      solution of all so-called virtues and duties and all such prejudices and
[331]      fancies, then you have just to accept it, there is no help for it, for twice
[332]      two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it.
[334]      "Upon my word, they will shout at you, it is no use protesting: it is a
[335]      case of twice two makes four! Nature does not ask your permission, she
[336]      has nothing to do with your wishes, and whether you like her laws or
[337]      dislike them, you are bound to accept her as she is, and consequently all
[338]      her conclusions. A wall, you see, is a wall ... and so on, and so on."
[340]      Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and
[341]      arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that
[342]      twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by
[343]      battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it
[344]      down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone
[345]      wall and I have not the strength.
[347]      As though such a stone wall really were a consolation, and really did
[348]      contain some word of conciliation, simply because it is as true as twice
[349]      two makes four. Oh, absurdity of absurdities! How much better it is to
[350]      understand it all, to recognise it all, all the impossibilities and the stone
[351]      wall; not to be reconciled to one of those impossibilities and stone walls if
[352]      it disgusts you to be reconciled to it; by the way of the most inevitable,
[353]      logical combinations to reach the most revolting conclusions on the
[354]      everlasting theme, that even for the stone wall you are yourself somehow
[355]      to blame, though again it is as clear as day you are not to blame in the
[356]      least, and therefore grinding your teeth in silent impotence to sink into
[357]      luxurious inertia, brooding on the fact that there is no one even for you to
[358]      feel vindictive against, that you have not, and perhaps never will have, an
[359]      object for your spite, that it is a sleight of hand, a bit of juggling, a card-
[360]      sharper's trick, that it is simply a mess, no knowing what and no knowing
[361]      who, but in spite of all these uncertainties and jugglings, still there is an
[362]      ache in you, and the more you do not know, the worse the ache.
[366]      IV
[369]      "Ha, ha, ha! You will be finding enjoyment in toothache next," you cry,
[370]      with a laugh.
[372]      "Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment," I answer. I had toothache
[373]      for a whole month and I know there is. In that case, of course,
[374]      people are not spiteful in silence, but moan; but they are not candid
[375]      moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy is the whole
[376]      point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if
[377]      he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan. It is a good
[378]      example, gentlemen, and I will develop it. Those moans express in the
[379]      first place all the aimlessness of your pain, which is so humiliating to
[380]      your consciousness; the whole legal system of nature on which you spit
[381]      disdainfully, of course, but from which you suffer all the same while she
[382]      does not. They express the consciousness that you have no enemy to
[383]      punish, but that you have pain; the consciousness that in spite of all
[384]      possible Wagenheims you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if
[385]      someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching, and if he does not,
[386]      they will go on aching another three months; and that finally if you are
[387]      still contumacious and still protest, all that is left you for your own
[388]      gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as
[389]      you can, and absolutely nothing more. Well, these mortal insults, these
[390]      jeers on the part of someone unknown, end at last in an enjoyment which
[391]      sometimes reaches the highest degree of voluptuousness. I ask you,
[392]      gentlemen, listen sometimes to the moans of an educated man of the
[393]      nineteenth century suffering from toothache, on the second or third day
[394]      of the attack, when he is beginning to moan, not as he moaned on the
[395]      first day, that is, not simply because he has toothache, not just as any
[396]      coarse peasant, but as a man affected by progress and European civilisation,
[397]      a man who is "divorced from the soil and the national elements," as
[398]      they express it now-a-days. His moans become nasty, disgustingly malignant,
[399]      and go on for whole days and nights. And of course he knows
[400]      himself that he is doing himself no sort of good with his moans; he knows
[401]      better than anyone that he is only lacerating and harassing himself and
[402]      others for nothing; he knows that even the audience before whom he is
[403]      making his efforts, and his whole family, listen to him with loathing, do
[404]      not put a ha'porth of faith in him, and inwardly understand that he might
[405]      moan differently, more simply, without trills and flourishes, and that he is
[406]      only amusing himself like that from ill-humour, from malignancy. Well,
[407]      in all these recognitions and disgraces it is that there lies a voluptuous
[408]      pleasure. As though he would say: "I am worrying you, I am lacerating
[409]      your hearts, I am keeping everyone in the house awake. Well, stay awake
[410]      then, you, too, feel every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero
[411]      to you now, as I tried to seem before, but simply a nasty person, an
[412]      impostor. Well, so be it, then! I am very glad that you see through me. It
[413]      is nasty for you to hear my despicable moans: well, let it be nasty; here I
[414]      will let you have a nastier flourish in a minute. ..." You do not
[415]      understand even now, gentlemen? No, it seems our development and our
[416]      consciousness must go further to understand all the intricacies of this
[417]      pleasure. You laugh? Delighted. My jests, gentlemen, are of course in
[418]      bad taste, jerky, involved, lacking self-confidence. But of course that is
[419]      because I do not respect myself. Can a man of perception respect himself
[420]      at all?
[424]      V
[427]      Come, can a man who attempts to find enjoyment in the very feeling of
[428]      his own degradation possibly have a spark of respect for himself? I am not
[429]      saying this now from any mawkish kind of remorse. And, indeed, I could
[430]      never endure saying, "Forgive me, Papa, I won't do it again," not because
[431]      I am incapable of saying that--on the contrary, perhaps just because I
[432]      have been too capable of it, and in what a way, too. As though of design I
[433]      used to get into trouble in cases when I was not to blame in any way. That
[434]      was the nastiest part of it. At the same time I was genuinely touched and
[435]      penitent, I used to shed tears and, of course, deceived myself, though I
[436]      was not acting in the least and there was a sick feeling in my heart at the
[437]      time. ... For that one could not blame even the laws of nature, though
[438]      the laws of nature have continually all my life offended me more than
[439]      anything. It is loathsome to remember it all, but it was loathsome even
[440]      then. Of course, a minute or so later I would realise wrathfully that it was
[441]      all a lie, a revolting lie, an affected lie, that is, all this penitence, this
[442]      emotion, these vows of reform. You will ask why did I worry myself with
[443]      such antics: answer, because it was very dull to sit with one's hands
[444]      folded, and so one began cutting capers. That is really it. Observe
[445]      yourselves more carefully, gentlemen, then you will understand that it is
[446]      so. I invented adventures for myself and made up a life, so as at least to
[447]      live in some way. How many times it has happened to me--well, for
[448]      instance, to take offence simply on purpose, for nothing; and one knows
[449]      oneself, of course, that one is offended at nothing; that one is putting it
[450]      on, but yet one brings oneself at last to the point of being really offended.
[451]      All my life I have had an impulse to play such pranks, so that in the end I
[452]      could not control it in myself. Another time, twice, in fact, I tried hard to
[453]      be in love. I suffered, too, gentlemen, I assure you. In the depth of my
[454]      heart there was no faith in my suffering, only a faint stir of mockery, but
[455]      yet I did suffer, and in the real, orthodox way; I was jealous, beside myself
[456]      ... and it was all from ENNUI, gentlemen, all from ENNUI; inertia overcame
[457]      me. You know the direct, legitimate fruit of consciousness is
[458]      inertia, that is, conscious sitting-with-the-hands-folded. I have referred
[459]      to this already. I repeat, I repeat with emphasis: all "direct" persons and
[460]      men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited. How
[461]      explain that? I will tell you: in consequence of their limitation they take
[462]      immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and in that way
[463]      persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that
[464]      they have found an infallible foundation for their activity, and their
[465]      minds are at ease and you know that is the chief thing. To begin to act,
[466]      you know, you must first have your mind completely at ease and no trace
[467]      of doubt left in it. Why, how am I, for example, to set my mind at rest?
[468]      Where are the primary causes on which I am to build? Where are my
[469]      foundations? Where am I to get them from? I exercise myself in reflection,
[470]      and consequently with me every primary cause at once draws after
[471]      itself another still more primary, and so on to infinity. That is just the
[472]      essence of every sort of consciousness and reflection. It must be a case of
[473]      the laws of nature again. What is the result of it in the end? Why, just the
[474]      same. Remember I spoke just now of vengeance. (I am sure you did not
[475]      take it in.) I said that a man revenges himself because he sees justice in it.
[476]      Therefore he has found a primary cause, that is, justice. And so he is at
[477]      rest on all sides, and consequently he carries out his revenge calmly and
[478]      successfully, being persuaded that he is doing a just and honest thing. But
[479]      I see no justice in it, I find no sort of virtue in it either, and consequently
[480]      if I attempt to revenge myself, it is only out of spite. Spite, of course,
[481]      might overcome everything, all my doubts, and so might serve quite
[482]      successfully in place of a primary cause, precisely because it is not a
[483]      cause. But what is to be done if I have not even spite (I began with that
[484]      just now, you know). In consequence again of those accursed laws of
[485]      consciousness, anger in me is subject to chemical disintegration. You
[486]      look into it, the object flies off into air, your reasons evaporate, the
[487]      criminal is not to be found, the wrong becomes not a wrong but a
[488]      phantom, something like the toothache, for which no one is to blame,
[489]      and consequently there is only the same outlet left again--that is, to beat
[490]      the wall as hard as you can. So you give it up with a wave of the hand
[491]      because you have not found a fundamental cause. And try letting yourself
[492]      be carried away by your feelings, blindly, without reflection, without a
[493]      primary cause, repelling consciousness at least for a time; hate or love, if
[494]      only not to sit with your hands folded. The day after tomorrow, at the
[495]      latest, you will begin despising yourself for having knowingly deceived
[496]      yourself. Result: a soap-bubble and inertia. Oh, gentlemen, do you
[497]      know, perhaps I consider myself an intelligent man, only because all my
[498]      life I have been able neither to begin nor to finish anything. Granted I am
[499]      a babbler, a harmless vexatious babbler, like all of us. But what is to be
[500]      done if the direct and sole vocation of every intelligent man is babble,
[501]      that is, the intentional pouring of water through a sieve?
[505]      VI
[508]      Oh, if I had done nothing simply from laziness! Heavens, how I should
[509]      have respected myself, then. I should have respected myself because I
[510]      should at least have been capable of being lazy; there would at least have
[511]      been one quality, as it were, positive in me, in which I could have believed
[512]      myself. Question: What is he? Answer: A sluggard; how very pleasant it
[513]      would have been to hear that of oneself! It would mean that I was positively
[514]      defined, it would mean that there was something to say about me.
[515]      "Sluggard"--why, it is a calling and vocation, it is a career. Do not jest, it
[516]      is so. I should then be a member of the best club by right, and should find
[517]      my occupation in continually respecting myself. I knew a gentleman who
[518]      prided himself all his life on being a connoisseur of Lafitte. He considered
[519]      this as his positive virtue, and never doubted himself. He died, not simply
[520]      with a tranquil, but with a triumphant conscience, and he was quite right,
[521]      too. Then I should have chosen a career for myself, I should have been a
[522]      sluggard and a glutton, not a simple one, but, for instance, one with
[523]      sympathies for everything sublime and beautiful. How do you like that? I
[524]      have long had visions of it. That "sublime and beautiful" weighs heavily
[525]      on my mind at forty But that is at forty; then--oh, then it would have
[526]      been different! I should have found for myself a form of activity in keeping
[527]      with it, to be precise, drinking to the health of everything "sublime and
[528]      beautiful." I should have snatched at every opportunity to drop a tear into
[529]      my glass and then to drain it to all that is "sublime and beautiful." I should
[530]      then have turned everything into the sublime and the beautiful; in the
[531]      nastiest, unquestionable trash, I should have sought out the sublime and
[532]      the beautiful. I should have exuded tears like a wet sponge. An artist, for
[533]      instance, paints a picture worthy of Gay. At once I drink to the health of
[534]      the artist who painted the picture worthy of Gay, because I love all that is
[535]      "sublime and beautiful." An author has written AS YOU WILL: at once I drink
[536]      to the health of "anyone you will" because I love all that is "sublime and
[537]      beautiful."
[539]      I should claim respect for doing so. I should persecute anyone who
[540]      would not show me respect. I should live at ease, I should die with
[541]      dignity, why, it is charming, perfectly charming! And what a good round
[542]      belly I should have grown, what a treble chin I should have established,
[543]      what a ruby nose I should have coloured for myself, so that everyone
[544]      would have said, looking at me: "Here is an asset! Here is something real
[545]      and solid!" And, say what you like, it is very agreeable to hear such
[546]      remarks about oneself in this negative age.
[550]      VII
[553]      But these are all golden dreams. Oh, tell me, who was it first announced,
[554]      who was it first proclaimed, that man only does nasty things because he
[555]      does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightened, if his
[556]      eyes were opened to his real normal interests, man would at once cease to
[557]      do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being
[558]      enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own
[559]      advantage in the good and nothing else, and we all know that not one
[560]      man can, consciously, act against his own interests, consequently, so to
[561]      say, through necessity, he would begin doing good? Oh, the babe! Oh,
[562]      the pure, innocent child! Why, in the first place, when in all these
[563]      thousands of years has there been a time when man has acted only from
[564]      his own interest? What is to be done with the millions of facts that bear
[565]      witness that men, CONSCIOUSLY, that is fully understanding their real
[566]      interests, have left them in the background and have rushed headlong on
[567]      another path, to meet peril and danger, compelled to this course by
[568]      nobody and by nothing, but, as it were, simply disliking the beaten track,
[569]      and have obstinately, wilfully, struck out another difficult, absurd way,
[570]      seeking it almost in the darkness. So, I suppose, this obstinacy and
[571]      perversity were pleasanter to them than any advantage. ... Advantage!
[572]      What is advantage? And will you take it upon yourself to define with
[573]      perfect accuracy in what the advantage of man consists? And what if it so
[574]      happens that a man's advantage, SOMETIMES, not only may, but even
[575]      must, consist in his desiring in certain cases what is harmful to himself
[576]      and not advantageous. And if so, if there can be such a case, the whole
[577]      principle falls into dust. What do you think--are there such cases? You
[578]      laugh; laugh away, gentlemen, but only answer me: have man's advantages
[579]      been reckoned up with perfect certainty? Are there not some which not
[580]      only have not been included but cannot possibly be included under any
[581]      classification? You see, you gentlemen have, to the best of my
[582]      knowledge, taken your whole register of human advantages from the
[583]      averages of statistical figures and politico-economical formulas. Your
[584]      advantages are prosperity, wealth, freedom, peace--and so on, and so
[585]      on. So that the man who should, for instance, go openly and knowingly
[586]      in opposition to all that list would to your thinking, and indeed mine,
[587]      too, of course, be an obscurantist or an absolute madman: would not he?
[588]      But, you know, this is what is surprising: why does it so happen that all
[589]      these statisticians, sages and lovers of humanity, when they reckon up
[590]      human advantages invariably leave out one? They don't even take it into
[591]      their reckoning in the form in which it should be taken, and the whole
[592]      reckoning depends upon that. It would be no greater matter, they would
[593]      simply have to take it, this advantage, and add it to the list. But the
[594]      trouble is, that this strange advantage does not fall under any classification
[595]      and is not in place in any list. I have a friend for instance ... Ech!
[596]      gentlemen, but of course he is your friend, too; and indeed there is no
[597]      one, no one to whom he is not a friend! When he prepares for any
[598]      undertaking this gentleman immediately explains to you, elegantly and
[599]      clearly, exactly how he must act in accordance with the laws of reason and
[600]      truth. What is more, he will talk to you with excitement and passion of
[601]      the true normal interests of man; with irony he will upbraid the short-
[602]      sighted fools who do not understand their own interests, nor the true
[603]      significance of virtue; and, within a quarter of an hour, without any
[604]      sudden outside provocation, but simply through something inside him
[605]      which is stronger than all his interests, he will go off on quite a different
[606]      tack--that is, act in direct opposition to what he has just been saying
[607]      about himself, in opposition to the laws of reason, in opposition to his
[608]      own advantage, in fact in opposition to everything ... I warn you that
[609]      my friend is a compound personality and therefore it is difficult to blame
[610]      him as an individual. The fact is, gentlemen, it seems there must really
[611]      exist something that is dearer to almost every man than his greatest
[612]      advantages, or (not to be illogical) there is a most advantageous advantage
[613]      (the very one omitted of which we spoke just now) which is more
[614]      important and more advantageous than all other advantages, for the sake
[615]      of which a man if necessary is ready to act in opposition to all laws; that
[616]      is, in opposition to reason, honour, peace, prosperity--in fact, in opposition
[617]      to all those excellent and useful things if only he can attain that
[618]      fundamental, most advantageous advantage which is dearer to him
[619]      than all. "Yes, but it's advantage all the same," you will retort. But excuse
[620]      me, I'll make the point clear, and it is not a case of playing upon words.
[621]      What matters is, that this advantage is remarkable from the very fact that
[622]      it breaks down all our classifications, and continually shatters every
[623]      system constructed by lovers of mankind for the benefit of mankind. In
[624]      fact, it upsets everything. But before I mention this advantage to you, I
[625]      want to compromise myself personally, and therefore I boldly declare
[626]      that all these fine systems, all these theories for explaining to mankind
[627]      their real normal interests, in order that inevitably striving to pursue
[628]      these interests they may at once become good and noble--are, in my
[629]      opinion, so far, mere logical exercises! Yes, logical exercises. Why, to
[630]      maintain this theory of the regeneration of mankind by means of the
[631]      pursuit of his own advantage is to my mind almost the same thing ...
[632]      as to affirm, for instance, following Buckle, that through civilisation
[633]      mankind becomes softer, and consequently less bloodthirsty and less
[634]      fitted for warfare. Logically it does seem to follow from his arguments.
[635]      But man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that
[636]      he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the
[637]      evidence of his senses only to justify his logic. I take this example
[638]      because it is the most glaring instance of it. Only look about you: blood
[639]      is being spilt in streams, and in the merriest way, as though it were
[640]      champagne. Take the whole of the nineteenth century in which Buckle
[641]      lived. Take Napoleon--the Great and also the present one. Take North
[642]      America--the eternal union. Take the farce of Schleswig-Holstein ....
[643]      And what is it that civilisation softens in us? The only gain of civilisation
[644]      for mankind is the greater capacity for variety of sensations--and
[645]      absolutely nothing more. And through the development of this many-
[646]      sidedness man may come to finding enjoyment in bloodshed. In fact,
[647]      this has already happened to him. Have you noticed that it is the most
[648]      civilised gentlemen who have been the subtlest slaughterers, to whom
[649]      the Attilas and Stenka Razins could not hold a candle, and if they are
[650]      not so conspicuous as the Attilas and Stenka Razins it is simply because
[651]      they are so often met with, are so ordinary and have become so familiar
[652]      to us. In any case civilisation has made mankind if not more bloodthirsty,
[653]      at least more vilely, more loathsomely bloodthirsty. In old days
[654]      he saw justice in bloodshed and with his conscience at peace exterminated
[655]      those he thought proper. Now we do think bloodshed abominable
[656]      and yet we engage in this abomination, and with more energy than ever.
[657]      Which is worse? Decide that for yourselves. They say that Cleopatra
[658]      (excuse an instance from Roman history) was fond of sticking gold pins
[659]      into her slave-girls' breasts and derived gratification from their screams
[660]      and writhings. You will say that that was in the comparatively barbarous
[661]      times; that these are barbarous times too, because also, comparatively
[662]      speaking, pins are stuck in even now; that though man has now learned
[663]      to see more clearly than in barbarous ages, he is still far from having
[664]      learnt to act as reason and science would dictate. But yet you are fully
[665]      convinced that he will be sure to learn when he gets rid of certain old
[666]      bad habits, and when common sense and science have completely
[667]      re-educated human nature and turned it in a normal direction. You are
[668]      confident that then man will cease from INTENTIONAL error and will, so to
[669]      say, be compelled not to want to set his will against his normal interests.
[670]      That is not all; then, you say, science itself will teach man (though to my
[671]      mind it's a superfluous luxury) that he never has really had any caprice
[672]      or will of his own, and that he himself is something of the nature of a
[673]      piano-key or the stop of an organ, and that there are, besides, things
[674]      called the laws of nature; so that everything he does is not done by his
[675]      willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently we
[676]      have only to discover these laws of nature, and man will no longer have
[677]      to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him.
[678]      All human actions will then, of course, be tabulated according to these
[679]      laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and
[680]      entered in an index; or, better still, there would be published certain
[681]      edifying works of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons, in which everything
[682]      will be so clearly calculated and explained that there will be no
[683]      more incidents or adventures in the world.
[685]      Then--this is all what you say--new economic relations will be
[686]      established, all ready-made and worked out with mathematical exactitude,
[687]      so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye,
[688]      simply because every possible answer to it will be provided. Then
[689]      the "Palace of Crystal" will be built. Then ... In fact, those will be
[690]      halcyon days. Of course there is no guaranteeing (this is my comment)
[691]      that it will not be, for instance, frightfully dull then (for what will one
[692]      have to do when everything will be calculated and tabulated), but on the
[693]      other hand everything will be extraordinarily rational. Of course boredom
[694]      may lead you to anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden
[695]      pins into people, but all that would not matter. What is bad (this is my
[696]      comment again) is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold
[697]      pins then. Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid; or rather he is
[698]      not at all stupid, but he is so ungrateful that you could not find another
[699]      like him in all creation. I, for instance, would not be in the least
[700]      surprised if all of a sudden, A PROPOS of nothing, in the midst of general
[701]      prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with a reactionary and
[702]      ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting his arms akimbo, say to
[703]      us all: "I say, gentleman, hadn't we better kick over the whole show and
[704]      scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the
[705]      devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!"
[706]      That again would not matter, but what is annoying is that he would be
[707]      sure to find followers--such is the nature of man. And all that for the
[708]      most foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning:
[709]      that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may
[710]      be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and
[711]      advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one's own
[712]      interests, and sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea). One's
[713]      own free unfettered choice, one's own caprice, however wild it may be,
[714]      one's own fancy worked up at times to frenzy--is that very "most
[715]      advantageous advantage" which we have overlooked, which comes
[716]      under no classification and against which all systems and theories are
[717]      continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know
[718]      that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them
[719]      conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What
[720]      man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence
[721]      may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil
[722]      only knows what choice.
[726]      VIII
[729]      "Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say
[730]      what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded
[731]      in so far analysing man that we know already that choice and
[732]      what is called freedom of will is nothing else than--"
[734]      Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself I confess, I was
[735]      rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what
[736]      choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I
[737]      remembered the teaching of science ... and pulled myself up. And here
[738]      you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a
[739]      formula for all our desires and caprices--that is, an explanation of what
[740]      they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they
[741]      are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real
[742]      mathematical formula--then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel
[743]      desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by
[744]      rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into
[745]      an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires,
[746]      without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do
[747]      you think? Let us reckon the chances--can such a thing happen or not?
[749]      "H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view
[750]      of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in
[751]      our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a
[752]      supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on
[753]      paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to
[754]      suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then
[755]      certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come
[756]      into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it
[757]      will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and
[758]      in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves.
[759]      And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated--because there
[760]      will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will--so, joking
[761]      apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them,
[762]      so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some
[763]      day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone
[764]      because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it
[765]      in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned
[766]      man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to
[767]      calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could
[768]      be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should
[769]      have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to
[770]      ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances
[771]      nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is
[772]      and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas
[773]      and tables of rules, and well, even ... to the chemical retort, there's no
[774]      help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted
[775]      without our consent ...."
[777]      Yes, but here I come to a stop! Gentlemen, you must excuse me for being
[778]      over-philosophical; it's the result of forty years underground! Allow me to
[779]      indulge my fancy. You see, gentlemen, reason is an excellent thing, there's
[780]      no disputing that, but reason is nothing but reason and satisfies only
[781]      the rational side of man's nature, while will is a manifestation of the whole
[782]      life, that is, of the whole human life including reason and all the impulses.
[783]      And although our life, in this manifestation of it, is often worthless, yet
[784]      it is life and not simply extracting square roots. Here I, for instance,
[785]      quite naturally want to live, in order to satisfy all my capacities for
[786]      life, and not simply my capacity for reasoning, that is, not simply one
[787]      twentieth of my capacity for life. What does reason know? Reason only
[788]      knows what it has succeeded in learning (some things, perhaps, it will
[789]      never learn; this is a poor comfort, but why not say so frankly?) and
[790]      human nature acts as a whole, with everything that is in it, consciously
[791]      or unconsciously, and, even if it goes wrong, it lives. I suspect,
[792]      gentlemen, that you are looking at me with compassion; you tell me
[793]      again that an enlightened and developed man, such, in short, as the
[794]      future man will be, cannot consciously desire anything disadvantageous
[795]      to himself, that that can be proved mathematically. I thoroughly agree, it
[796]      can--by mathematics. But I repeat for the hundredth time, there is one
[797]      case, one only, when