Binding Limits: Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground
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In Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, the underground man struggles between two opposing beliefs. The first acknowledges that his fictional existence has been predetermined, subject to his author’s conduct. The is the underground man’s insistence that the only possible world humans can live in undetermined world which extols and situates free will within a human. In order to try and solve this problem, the underground man turns to writing, to try and be honest with himself, probe into why he is this way, and to not reject any truth that comes forth, horrifying or not. Through this exercise, he comes to realize that his self awareness sheds light on how little control he has over his actions even though he continues to believe in free will. This understanding within the underground man, and acceptance from the reader, engenders with humility brings forth what I believe to be a humbling message to the now indurate reader, who, after reading Notes from Underground, returns to their own, undetermined world with a new sense of duty.
In the section titled “Underground,” the underground man discusses the notion of determinism. He states that to accept this theory, one’s actions become stripped from any ulterior motive. “That is to say, in life itself, [it] is bound to be nothing other than two times two is four – that is a formula; and two times two is no longer life gentleman, but the beginning of death” (pg 32). Moreover, that to believe two times two is four and that the outcome of four is unchangeable within the distance future, is something that the Underground man refutes. For one’s life to have any meaning or validity, actions must be understood as non-robotic; an answer to this question must not only be unknown, but more imp...
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...nd. The underground man concludes that it’s impossible to discover yourself without feeling fear, and the potential for feeling fear doesn’t give an excuse for one to not try, even if one’s within a book.
But we’re not the underground man. We’re not characters in a book. We can feel words and bring forth actions which transcend them. Our consciousness will never allow us to understand the complexity of life; we don’t live in a two-times-two world. If our future seems doomed, we have time at our disposal and the ability to utilize it for change. This concept is hard to live with. It brings with it that most rare breed of pain: the kind that’s removed only through acceptance and action. Once the pain settles, however, you’ll emerge out of that shattered lattice once called the underground, with and a deeper, clearer understanding of that which you are, we all are.