Notes from Underground
Fyodor Dostoevsky
translated by
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

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Notes from Underground

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Foreword to the First Vintage Classic Edition (1994)
Richard Pevear
Unity is not singularity but wholeness, a holding together, a harmony, all of which imply plurality. What the principle of this harmony is, the underground man cannot say; he has never found it. But he knows he has not found it; he knows, because his inner disharmony, his dividedness, which is the source of his suffering, is also the source of consciousness. Here we come upon one of the deep springs of Dostoevsky’s later work—not his thinking (Dostoevsky was not a thinker, or, rather, he was a plurality of thinkers), but his artistic embodiment of reality. The one quality his negative characters share, and almost the only negative his world view allows, is inner fixity, a sort of death-in-life, which can take many forms and tonalities, from the broadly comic to the tragic, from the mechanical to the corpselike [...]. Inner movement, on the other hand, is always a condition of spiritual good, though it may also be a source of suffering, division, disharmony, in this life. What moves may always rise.



text checked (see note) Aug 2023

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Notes from Underground

Translation copyright © 1993 by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

VI “Lazybones!”—now, that is a title and a mission, it’s a career, sirs. No joking, it really is. By rights I’m a member of the foremost club, and my sole occupation is ceaselessly respecting myself.
VII One’s own free and voluntary wanting, one’s own caprice, however wild, one’s own fancy, though chafed sometimes to the point of madness—all this is that same most profitable profit, the omitted one, which does not fit into any classification, and because of which all systems and theories are constantly blown to the devil. And where did all these sages get the idea that man needs some normal, some virtuous wanting? What made them necessarily imagine that what man needs is necessarily a reasonably profitable wanting? Man needs only independent wanting, whatver this independence may cost and wherever it may lead.
VIII You see: reason, gentemen, is a fine thing, that is unquestionable, but reason is only reason and satisfies only man’s reasoning capacity, while wanting is a manifestation of the whole of life—that is, the whole of human life, including reason and various little itches. And though our life in this manifestation often turns out to be a bit of trash, still it is life and not just the extraction of a square root. I, for example, quite naturally want to live so as to satisfy my whole capacity for living, and not so as to satisfy just my reasoning capacity alone, which is some twentieth part of my whole capacity for living. [...] there is only one case, one only, when man may purposely, consciously wish for himself even the harmful, the stupid, even what is stupidest of all: namely, so as to have the right to wish for himself even what is stupidest of all and not be bound by an obligation to wish for himself only what is intelligent.
In short, anything can be said about world history, anything that might just enter the head of the most disturbed imagination. Only one thing cannot be said—that it is sensible.



Apropos of the Wet Snow
X At least I’ve felt ashamed all the while I’ve been writing this story: so it’s no longer literature, but corrective punishment. Because, for example, to tell long stories of how I defaulted on my life through moral corruption in a corner, through a deficiency of milieu, through unaccustom to what is alive, and through vainglorious spite in the underground—is not interesting, by God; a novel needs a hero, and here there are purposely collected all the features for an anti-hero, and, in the first place, all this will produce a most unpleasant impression, because we’ve all grown unaccustomed to life, we’re all lame, each of us more or less. We’ve even grown so unaccustomed that at times we feel a sort of loathing for real “living life,” and therefore cannot bear to be reminded of it. For we’ve reached a point where we regard real ’living life” almost as labor, almost as service, and we all agree in ourselves that it’s better from a book.



text checked (see note) Aug 2023

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