Socially Constructed Reality and Meaning in Notes from Underground Essay

Socially Constructed Reality and Meaning in Notes from Underground Essay

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Socially Constructed Reality and Meaning in Notes from Underground

Just as the hands in M.C. Escher’s “Drawing Hands” both create and are created
by each other, the identity of man and society are mutually interdependent. According to
the model described in The Sacred Canopy, Peter Berger believes that man externalizes
or creates a social reality that is in turn objectified, or accepted by him as real. This
sociological model creates a useful framework for understanding the narrator’s rejection
of ultimate reality or truth in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. The reality
in which the narrator tries to live in part II, and the reality that he rejects in part I, are
both created and, as such, are ultimately meaningless. The underground man’s refusal to
objectify social reality causes a feeling of meaninglessness and raises a fundamental
question of purpose that confronts people of all dispositions.

Berger’s theory is based on a dialectical relationship between man and society. To
explain his theory he defines three terms. “Externalization is the ongoing outpouring of
human being into the world. Objectivation, the attainment by the products of this activity
of a reality that confronts its original producers as a facticity external to and other than
themselves. Internalization is the reappropriation by men of this same reality,
transforming into structures of the subjective consciousness,” (Berger 4). He believes that
society is a wholly human invention created by man’s tendency to externalize. This
created entity is then objectified by man, giving society and its features the appearance of
true reality. His newly created reality then acts upon and shapes man through
internalization. Man, his identity...


... middle of paper ...


...fulfills his societal roles. Chernyshevsky’s utilitarian is happy
when individual needs are met. The man of consciousness can be happy, even if his
happiness comes from the rejection of happiness altogether. There is no superior
happiness; there is no superior type of fulfillment. The individual achieves these ends by
acting individually. No hand can avoid drawing, and man finds completeness when he
fulfills the purpose that he has drawn for himself.

Works Cited
Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion.
New York: Anchor Books, 1990.
Escher, M.C. “Drawing Hands.” Cover of Norton edition of Notes from Underground.
Katz, Michael R., ed. Notes from Underground. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
2001.
Chernyshevsky, Nikolai. “What Is to Be Done?” Katz 104-123.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “Notes from Underground.” Katz 3-91

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