Sunshine Recorder

I will admit that reason is a good thing. No argument about that. But reason is only reason, and it only satisfies man’s rational requirements. Desire, on the other hand, is the manifestation of life itself—of all of life—and it encompasses everything from reason down to scratching oneself. And although, when we’re guided by our desires, life may often turn into a messy affair, it’s still life and not a series of extractions of square roots. I, for instance, instinctively want to live, to exercise all the aspects of life in me and not only reason, which amounts to perhaps one-twentieth of the whole. And what does reason know? It only knows what it has had time to learn. Many things will always remain unknown to it. That must be said even if there’s nothing encouraging in it.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
… A novel needs a hero, whereas here all the traits of an anti-hero have been assembled deliberately; but the most important thing is that all this produces an extremely unpleasant impression because we’ve all become estranged from life, we’re all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We’ve become so estranged that at times we feel some kind of revulsion for genuine “real life,” and therefore we can’t bear to be reminded of it. Why, we’ve reached a point where we almost regard “real life” as hard work, as a job, and we’ve all agreed in private that it’s really better in books. And why do we sometimes fuss, indulge in whims, and make demands? We don’t know ourselves. It’d be even worse if all our whimsical desires were fulfilled. Go on, try it. Give us, for example, a little more independence; untie the hands of anyone of us, broaden our sphere of activity, relax the controls, and … I can assure you, we’ll immediately ask to have the controls reinstated. I know that you may get angry at me for saying this, you may shout and stamp your feet: “Speak for yourself,” you’ll say, “and for your own miseries in the underground, but don’t you dare say ‘all of us.’” If you’ll allow me, gentlemen; after all, I’m not trying to justify myself by saying all of us. What concerns me in particular, is that in my life I have only taken to the extreme that which you haven’t even dared to take halfway; what’s more, you’ve mistaken your cowardice for good sense; and, in deceiving yourself, you’ve consoled yourself. So, in fact, I may even be “more alive” than you are. Just take a closer look! Why, we don’t even know where this “real life” lives nowadays, what it really is, and what it’s called. Leave us alone without books and we’ll get confused and lose our way at once - we won’t know what to join, what to hold on to, what to love or what to hate, what to respect or what to despise. We’re even oppressed by being men - men with real bodies and blood of our very own. We’re ashamed of it; we consider it a disgrace and we strive to become some kind of impossible “general-human-beings.” We’re stillborn; for some time now we haven’t been conceived by living fathers; we like it more and more. We’re developing a taste for it. Soon we’ll conceive of a way to be born from ideas. But enough; I don’t want to write any more “from Underground… .”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

(Source: sunrec)

Link: On Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground

Many people would say that Dostoevsky’s short novel “Notes from Underground” marks the beginning of the modernist movement in literature. (Other candidates: Diderot’s “Rameau’s Nephew,” written in the seventeen-sixties but not widely read until the eighteen-twenties, and, of course, Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary,” from 1856.) Certainly, Nietzsche’s writings, Freud’s theory of neurosis, Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” Bellow’s “Herzog,” Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” perhaps Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” and half of Woody Allen’s work wouldn’t have been the same without the existence of this ornery, unstable, unmanageable text—the fictional confession of a spiteful modern Hamlet, an inhabitant of St. Petersburg, “that most abstract and pre-meditated city,” and a man unable to act and also unable to stop humiliating himself and embarrassing others. A self-regarding, truculent, miserable, paralyzed man. As I began reading “Notes” again recently (in Andrew R. MacAndrew’s translation for Signet Classics), I wondered if it had been overwhelmed by the books and movies that it has influenced. I wondered if “Notes” would seem like a dim echo, whether it still had the shock value that I remember from long ago.

Dostoevsky worked on the text in 1863 and published it the following year inEpoch, the magazine edited by his brother Mikhail. “Notes from Underground” feels like a warmup for the colossus that came next, “Crime and Punishment,” though, in certain key ways, it’s a more uncompromising book. What the two fictions share is a solitary, restless, irritable hero and a feeling for the feverish, crowded streets and dives of St. Petersburg—an atmosphere of careless improvidence, neglect, self-neglect, cruelty, even sordidness. It is the modern city in extremis. Dostoevsky himself had recently returned from exile, and his St. Petersburg life in this period was furtive and desperate.

The text itself purports to be the writings of a retired mid-level government bureaucrat. A family bequest has allowed him to quit his job, which he hated, and he is now forty, living with a servant whom he despises in what he calls “a mousehole.” In an introductory note, Dostoevsky explains that both the character and his “notes” are fictional, but that he represents a certain Russian type the public needs to know about. The underground man (the title, in Russian, literally means “notes from under the floorboards”) addresses an imaginary audience whom he refers to as “you” or “ladies and gentlemen”—presumably a representative group of educated, Westernized Russians. He alternately teases, insults, and abases himself before them. They are people besotted, he believes, with Western ideas of progress—the ideologies of utilitarianism, socialism, evolution, the greatest good for the greatest number, and so on. They are also enamored of German idealism—”the good and the beautiful” of Schiller’s rhapsodic writing. Is the underground man Dostoevsky himself? No, but he spouts many of Dostoevsky’s ideas and antipathies; the book is certainly an appropriate introduction to Dostoevsky the Slavophile reactionary who emerged in his final years.

But “Notes” is a canny work of literature, not a tract: Dostoevsky may have put his own ideas into the mouth of a brilliant man, but he undermined him as a self-destructive mess at the same time. The text, as academics might say, is multivalent, at odds with itself. It’s not so much that the underground man’s opinions are wrong—surely Dostoevsky thought that many of them were true, however wildly phrased—but that they were inseparable, like all opinion, from personal strengths and weakness, even personal pathology. We are inevitably subjective and self-justifying—that is one of the modern elements in the book. We are also entirely inconsistent. The underground man taunts his listeners, apologizes, criticizes himself, then gets aggressive, then collapses again. On and on. He pulls the rug out from underneath his own feet; he realizes he’s trapped in the prison of his own character. Hell is myself. No one would put up with this guy in his home for more than a half hour. He’s only possible—entertaining, funny, nasty—on the page.

In the first part of the novel, the underground man, after introducing himself, complains, in his ejaculatory, stop-and-start way, about the spectacular Crystal Palace built in London (this was back in 1851). He rails against everything that the building represents—industrial capitalism, scientific rationality, and any sort of predictive, mathematical model of human behavior. Could anything be more contemporary? You can easily imagine what Dostoevsky would make of modern sociology, psychology, advertising techniques, war games, polling of any sort. What’s wrong with such techniques, in both their cynical or ameliorative uses, was simply stated by Sartre, in 1945: “All materialist philosophies create man as an object, a stone.” The underground man says that, on the contrary, human beings are unfathomable, unknowable. Given the opportunity, they may deny, for themselves, the certainty that two and two makes four. Why? Because the mere right to deny the obvious may be more important than the benefit of sheepishly acknowledging it.

Predictors of human behavior, as the underground man says, generally assume we will act in our own best interests. But do we? The same question might be asked today, when “rational-choice theory” is still a predictive model for economists and sociologists and many others. When working-class whites vote for Republican policies that will further reduce their economic power—are they voting in their best interests? What about wealthy liberals in favor of higher taxes on the rich? Do people making terrible life choices—say, poor women having children with unreliable men—act in their best interests? Do they calculate at all? What if our own interest, as we construe it, consists of refusing what others want of us? That motive can’t be measured. It can’t even be known, except by novelists like Dostoevsky. Reason is only one part of our temperament, the underground man says. Individualism as a value includes the right to screw yourself up.

Having given us a rant, the underground man offers experience. He shifts back sixteen years. He is twenty-four. He recounts some strange incidents from his social life. For years, he harbored a grievance against an officer who had casually picked him up and moved him out of the way in a tavern. The moment was nothing, but his resentment knew no bounds. In the same year, he invited himself to a dinner party thrown by old school classmates; they were unworthy, crass young men—he hated them all—but he still longed for their respect. In the event, the dinner party is a disaster for him; he makes a fool of himself, and he winds up at the end of the evening sleeping with a lonely prostitute in a brothel and then talking to her for hours. She is a smart, decent girl, in desperate straits, and he condescends to her, lectures her, fears her. Will she come to him at home, make a man out of him? He needs her a lot more than she needs him.

Bourgeois sentimentalist that I am, I wanted the two of them to save each other, even if only for a few years, but, if I wanted that to happen, I could not have been reading as carefully as I should have been. The modern element in “Notes from Underground” is Dostoevsky’s exultation in human perversity. You can read this book as a meta-fiction about creating a voice, or as a case study, but you can’t escape reading it also as an accusation of human insufficiency rendered without the slightest trace of self-righteousness. If you begin by grieving for its hero, he upsets you with so much truth of our common nature that you wind up grieving for yourself—for your own insufficiency. “Notes” is still a modern book; it still can kick.

You ask yourself: where are your dreams now? And you shake your head and say how swiftly the years fly by! And you ask yourself again: what have you done with your best years, then? Where have you buried the best days of your life? Have you lived or not? Look, you tell yourself, look how cold the world is becoming. The years will pass and after them will come grim loneliness, and old age, quaking on its stick, and after them misery and despair. Your fantasy world will grow pale, your dreams will fade and die, falling away like the yellow leaves from the trees… Ah, Nastenka! Will it not be miserable to be left alone, utterly alone, and have nothing even to regret—nothing, not a single thing… because everything I have lost was nothing, stupid, a round zero, all dreaming and no more!
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, White Nights

(Source: theblackquill, via gravity-rainbow)

When I look back at the past and think of all the time I squandered in error and idleness, lacking the knowledge I needed to live; when I think of how I sinned against my heart and my soul, then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness … Every minute could have been an eternity of happiness! If youth only knew. Now my life will change, now I will be reborn.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky in a letter to his brother after his death sentence was converted to four years of hard labor in Siberia

(Source: ludimagister, via ludimagister)

Through error you come to the truth! I am a man because I err! You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes and very likely a hundred and fourteen. And a fine thing, too, in its way; but we can’t even make mistakes on our own account! Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense, and I’ll kiss you for it. To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s. In the first case you are a man, in the second you’re no better than a bird. Truth won’t escape you, but life can be cramped.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

(Source: gentles)

Link: Dostoevsky, Inequality, and Tsarnaev€'s Humanity

It begins with a once-promising student and a number of contributing factors that could perhaps have been tolerated in isolation, but in their confluence bring about horrific crimes.

The student is “a strikingly handsome young man, with fine dark eyes, brown hair, and a slender well-knit figure, taller than the average.” He lives alone in a city of thousands, and unbeknownst to his distantly located but eminently involved mother, he has abandoned his schoolwork. His ideological commitments have become increasingly extreme and convoluted, and despite evidently having maintained at one time a rational, moderate worldview, he has “recently become superstitious.”

He is poor, disenfranchised, and angry, and he is planning cold-blooded murder. The target is a matter of concentrated rage and coincidental opportunity. Though he has meditated upon murder for some time, his plans are expedited when it becomes clear to him that the perfect set of circumstances have arisen for him to carry out his attack without detection.

His reasons are in equal measures strange and sober. They represent grotesquely extreme incarnations of “the most usual and ordinary youth talk and ideas”: a distaste for greed, a disgust with the tyranny of the powerful over the oppressed, and a general sense of personal obligation to defend the world from its infectious elements.

In a tiny apartment lodged in a building of low-income housing units, he prepares himself and his instruments to carry out murder. It is a painstaking process that he approaches meticulously, but is nonetheless sped along by chance. With all of his materials and nerve mustered, he merely awaits his chosen hour.

And he will commit bloody murder. Those who know him best –– his closest friends, his mother, his sister –– will be shocked, devastated, concerned and horrified. They will struggle to explain why a young man with such promise, who had been at some earlier point in his life well adjusted, outgoing and sociable, would so recklessly destroy human life.

This is the story of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It is not the story of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But the tales of the two young men echo one another profoundly. A former struggling student with a few revolutionary leanings, Dostoesvky was a stranger neither to the incendiary potential of youthful malcontent, nor to the host of minor indignities that can turn once well-liked and talented young men lethal. Dostoyevsky’s underlying empathy and antipathy renders Raskolnikov at different points in the novel reprehensible and sympathetic, monstrous and all-too-human, inscrutable and familiar, like, for the people who knew him, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

There is never any doubt of Raskolnikov’s guilt. Dostoevsky’s interest was not in penning a frame-job or a defense. The questions one must pose to Crime and Punishment are never “Did he do it?” or “Will he be caught?”; but “What brought him to do this?” and “How?” Dostoevsky’s answer is that some disaffected young men, even erstwhile bright, sensitive, and happily integrated ones, are only able to house so many humiliations, slights, and estrangements within their persons before unleashing them, sometimes lethally, often times with little aim.

Like pressure cookers.

Link: When Dickens met Dostoevsky

Late in 2011, Michiko Kakutani opened her New York Times review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens with “a remarkable account” she had found in its pages. In London for a few days in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky had dropped in on Dickens’s editorial offices and found the writer in an expansive mood. In a letter written by Dostoevsky to an old friend sixteen years later, the writer of so many great confession scenes depicted Dickens baring his creative soul:

“All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”

I have been teaching courses on Dostoevsky for over two decades, but I had never come across any mention of this encounter. Although Dostoevsky is known to have visited London for a week in 1862, neither his published letters nor any of the numerous biographies contain any hint of such a meeting. Dostoevsky would have been a virtual unknown to Dickens. It isn’t clear why Dickens would have opened up to his Russian colleague in this manner, and even if he had wanted to, in what language would the two men have conversed? (It could only have been French, which should lead one to wonder about the eloquence of a remembered remark filtered through two foreign tongues.) Moreover, Dostoevsky was a prickly, often rude interlocutor. He and Turgenev hated each other. He never even met Tolstoy. Would he have sought Dickens out? Would he then have been silent about the encounter for so many years, when it would have provided such wonderful fodder for his polemical journalism?

Excerpt from The Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"…What is it restrains people from suicide, do you think?” I asked.
He looked at me absent-mindedly, as though trying to remember what we were talking about.
“I … I don’t know much yet… . Two prejudices restrain them, two things; only two, one very little, the other very big.”
“What is the little thing?”
“Pain.”
“Pain? Can that be of importance at such a moment?”
“Of the greatest. There are two sorts: those who kill themselves either from great sorrow or from spite, or being mad, or no matter what … they do it suddenly. They think little about the pain, but kill themselves suddenly. But some do it from reason—they think a great deal.”
“Why, are there people who do it from reason?”
“Very many. If it were not for superstition there would be more, very many, all.”
“What, all?”
He did not answer.
“But aren’t there means of dying without pain?”
“Imagine”—he stopped before me—“ imagine a stone as big as a great house; it hangs and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head, will it hurt you?”
“A stone as big as a house? Of course it would be fearful.”
“I speak not of the fear. Will it hurt?”
“A stone as big as a mountain, weighing millions of tons? Of course it wouldn’t hurt.” 
“But really stand there and while it hangs you will fear very much that it will hurt. The most learnedman, the greatest doctor, all, all will be very much frightened. Every one will know that it won’t hurt, and every one will be afraid that it will hurt.”
“Well, and the second cause, the big one?”
“The other world!”
“You mean punishment?”
“That’s no matter. The other world; only the other world.”
“Are there no atheists, such as don’t believe in the other world at all?”
Again he did not answer.
“You judge from yourself, perhaps.”
“Every one cannot judge except from himself,” he said, reddening. “There will be full freedom when it will be just the same to live or not to live. That’s the goal for all.”
“The goal? But perhaps no one will care to live then?”
“No one,” he pronounced with decision.
“Man fears death because he loves life. That’s how I understand it,” I observed, “and that’s determined by nature.”
“That’s abject; and that’s where the deception comes in.” His eyes flashed. “Life is pain, life is terror,and man is unhappy. Now all is pain and terror. Now man loves life, because he loves pain andterror, and so they have done according. Life is given now for pain and terror, and that’s the deception. Now man is not yet what he will be. There will be a new man, happy and proud. Forwhom it will be the same to live or not to live, he will be the new man. He who will conquer painand terror will himself be a god. And this God will not be.”
“Then this God does exist according to you?”
“He does not exist, but He is. In the stone there is no pain, but in the fear of the stone is the pain.God is the pain of the fear of death. He who will conquer pain and terror will become himself a god.Then there will be a new life, a new man; everything will be new … then they will divide historyinto two parts: from the gorilla to the annihilation of God, and from the annihilation of God to …”
“To the gorilla?”
“… To the transformation of the earth, and of man physically. Man will be God, and will betransformed physically, and the world will be transformed and things will be transformed andthoughts and all feelings. What do you think: will man be changed physically then?”
“If it will be just the same living or not living, all will kill themselves, and perhaps that’s what the change will be?”
“That’s no matter. They will kill deception. Every one who wants the supreme freedom must dare to kill himself. He who dares to kill himself has found out the secret of the deception. There is no freedom beyond; that is all, and there is nothing beyond. He who dares kill himself is God. Now every one can do so that there shall be no God and shall be nothing. But no one has once done it yet.”
“There have been millions of suicides.”
“But always not for that; always with terror and not for that object. Not to kill fear. He who kills himself only to kill fear will become a god at once…”

I love mankind,” he said, “but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams,” he said, “I often went so far to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,” he said. “On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

(Source: sunrec)

Link: Arrested Development Is The Brothers Karamazov

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, unless the family consists of a morally depraved patriarch and three highly differentiated siblings who, after years out of contact with each other, convene at the family home for a slowly escalating mess made inevitable by their respective and collective dysfunctions, in which case that family is unhappy in the same way as the Karamazovs.

If the same family is subjected to a criminal prosecution after being set up by a conniving quasi-sibling, if the brothers keep trying to mooch money off the family, and if the eldest brother is brash, the middle one smart, and the youngest one saintly, then we have to consider the possibility that this family actually is the Karamazovs, even if they call themselves the Bluths and they appear in an early 2000s Fox sitcom and not a nineteenth-century Russian novel. In which case Mitch Hurwitz (who has a degree in theology from Georgetown) is Dostoevsky. That’s probably the most farfetched parallel in this comparison. The rest are uncanny.

Once you realize that Annyong is Smerdyakov, everything else falls into place. [If I need to declare a spoiler alert for a show that has been off the air for six years and a novel published in the 19th century, then for courtesy’s sake, here it is.] He exists at the fringes of a family full of awful people, sort of a member and sort of not. No one suspects him of being the one-man conspiracy behind the set-up that brings the family down, partly because no one is quite sure it was a set-up at all, since the criminal charge against the family is just the sort of thing they would have done, whether they actually committed this particular crime or not. Everyone thinks he’s a simpleton, which also deflects suspicion. And remember that “Smerdyakov” is not a surname so much as a nickname meaning “Smelly,” so in both cases our villain’s name is a bad joke.

Kitty is Katya, the woman who nurtures a grudge against the family despite (or because of) her romantic interest in two of its members, and who has in her possession evidence that would clinch the prosecution’s case if she chose to reveal it, which she may or may not do.

Lucille Austero is Lise, a woman with a medical problem that limits her mobility and who starts off making eyes at the youngest son, then successfully romances him, then reverses herself and decides she wants to do whatever she can to hurt the family.

Tobias is Rakitin, the man who manages to stay involved in everyone’s affairs despite the fact that no one likes or respects him, whose plan to enter a more romantic profession (acting/journalism) is universally regarded as both unrealistic and annoying, and whose eager embrace of fashionable ideas (self-esteem and herbal medicine/socialism and materialism) makes him look even more foolish than he otherwise would.

Uncle Oscar is Father Zosima, an unworldly man of great gentleness and inner peace who is more of a father to the youngest son than the family patriarch is. Phoenix is Moscow, where Michael/Ivan keeps trying to escape to. And Fyodor Pavlovich’s taverns are his Cornballer. Some of these parallels are less critically fruitful than others.

G.O.B. is Dmitry. He’s a slave to his impulses. He’s the angriest Bluth and also the soppiest, when he gets sentimental. He lives off handouts and is always scheming to get more free money, which he feels he is entitled to morally if not legally. His lack of self-awareness frequently crosses the line into outright delusion. (If you don’t remember Dmitry as especially delusional, think of his scramble to obtain three thousand rubles in the hours leading up to his father’s murder. It was stupid of him to ask Mrs. Khokhlakov to lend it to him, for example, but “he had suddenly become totally convinced that she would not refuse him.” As the narrator says, “In spite of all his vices, Dmitry was very naive.”) G.O.B. even comes close to killing himself out of shame, in the season 2 episode “Sad Sack.”

Michael is Ivan. He is the smartest and most self-aware Bluth, a decidedly mixed blessing considering that it makes him the only one able to grasp just how awful everyone is. Most people think of Michael as the nice brother, but that’s only half right, since on an intellectual level he believes the ethical rules he lives by are idiotic. You shouldn’t put so much work into keeping together a family that isn’t worth it, his brain keeps telling him, just as Ivan keeps telling himself that he shouldn’t love a God who doesn’t deserve it. But both of them do the right thing in the end. As Ivan’s devil predicted, “You’re going to perform an act of great virtue, and you don’t even believe in virtue—that’s what keeps eating away at you.” This internal contradiction drives Michael to exasperation; if he were Russian, it would have driven him mad.

And Buster is Alyosha, not quite a Christ figure but certainly some sort of saint, as indeed he has to be to love his family. He is never judgmental although any reasonable person in his position would be. His good humor never fails, even when Jessie the publicist tells him to stay out of the spotlight because people find him odd and alienating (“I shall be neither seen nor heard!”) or a construction worker tells him to take his head out of his bottom. In the unwritten sequel to Brothers K, Dostoevsky planned to turn Alyosha into a revolutionary who ends up killing the tsar. Buster’s Army training could have come in handy for that.

At this point I can’t tell if I’ve proven that Mitch Hurwitz was definitely inspired byThe Brothers Karamazov, or if I’ve “proven” it the same way your crazy uncle can prove that the Denver Airport is ground zero for the worldwide lizard-people conspiracy. Certainly I wouldn’t want to ruin a good joke by taking it too seriously. But if AD is an updated version of TBK, then it’s worth asking what updates Hurwitz thought necessary in order to bring the story up to date, apart from the set dressing.

Dostoevsky’s intention with The Brothers Karamazov was to persuade Russians that their instinctive love of God was a great resource, and it would bring them true happiness if they would only stop enslaving themselves to reason or sensual pleasure. In the thematic map of AD, love of family replaces love of God as the thing that every keeps gesturing toward and no one quite achieves, but unlike Dostoevsky, Hurwitz doesn’t let anybody get redeemed in the end. Maybe that means he doesn’t think love is powerful enough to redeem a fallen mankind anymore, which would be a depressing assessment of our age relative to Dostoevsky’s. Or maybe it just means Hurwitz is saving the tragic but uplifting conclusion for season 4. “On the nextArrested Development: George Senior gets murdered, Michael goes insane, G.O.B. finds God, and Buster starts a revolution.” I would watch those Netflix episodes.

In consequence again of those accursed laws of consciousness, anger in me is subject to chemical disintegration. You look into it, the object flies off into air, your reasons evaporate, the criminal is not to be found, the wrong becomes not a wrong but a phantom, something like the toothache, for which no one is to blame, and consequently there is only the same outlet left again—that is, to beat the wall as hard as you can. So you give it up with a wave of the hand because you have not found a fundamental cause. And try letting yourself be carried away by your feelings, blindly, without reflection, without a primary cause, repelling consciousness at least for a time; hate or love, if only not to sit with your hands folded. The day after tomorrow, at the latest, you will begin despising yourself for having knowingly deceived yourself. Result: a soap-bubble and inertia. Oh, gentlemen, do you know, perhaps I consider myself an intelligent man, only because all my life I have been able neither to begin nor to finish anything. Granted I am a babbler, a harmless vexatious babbler, like all of us. But what is to be done if the direct and sole vocation of every intelligent man is babble, that is, the intentional pouring of water through a sieve?
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
… A novel needs a hero, whereas here all the traits of an anti-hero have been assembled deliberately; but the most important thing is that all this produces an extremely unpleasant impression because we’ve all become estranged from life, we’re all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We’ve become so estranged that at times we feel some kind of revulsion for genuine “real life,” and therefore we can’t bear to be reminded of it. Why, we’ve reached a point where we almost regard “real life” as hard work, as a job, and we’ve all agreed in private that it’s really better in books. And why do we sometimes fuss, indulge in whims, and make demands? We don’t know ourselves. It’d be even worse if all our whimsical desires were fulfilled. Go on, try it. Give us, for example, a little more independence; untie the hands of anyone of us, broaden our sphere of activity, relax the controls, and … I can assure you, we’ll immediately ask to have the controls reinstated. I know that you may get angry at me for saying this, you may shout and stamp your feet: “Speak for yourself,” you’ll say, “and for your own miseries in the underground, but don’t you dare say ‘all of us.’” If you’ll allow me, gentlemen; after all, I’m not trying to justify myself by saying all of us. What concerns me in particular, is that in my life I have only taken to the extreme that which you haven’t even dared to take halfway; what’s more, you’ve mistaken your cowardice for good sense; and, in deceiving yourself, you’ve consoled yourself. So, in fact, I may even be “more alive” than you are. Just take a closer look! Why, we don’t even know where this “real life” lives nowadays, what it really is, and what it’s called. Leave us alone without books and we’ll get confused and lose our way at once - we won’t know what to join, what to hold on to, what to love or what to hate, what to respect or what to despise. We’re even oppressed by being men - men with real bodies and blood of our very own. We’re ashamed of it; we consider it a disgrace and we strive to become some kind of impossible “general-human-beings.” We’re stillborn; for some time now we haven’t been conceived by living fathers; we like it more and more. We’re developing a taste for it. Soon we’ll conceive of a way to be born from ideas. But enough; I don’t want to write any more “from Underground… .”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

Crime? What crime?” he cried in sudden fury. “That I killed a vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman, of use to no one! … Killing her was atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out of poor people. Was that a crime? I am not thinking of it and I am not thinking of expiating it, and why are you all rubbing it in on all sides? ‘A crime! a crime!’ Only now I see clearly the imbecility of my cowardice, now that I have decided to face this superfluous disgrace. It’s simply because I am contemptible and have nothing in me that I have decided to, perhaps too for my advantage, as that … Porfiry … suggested!”

"Brother, brother, what are you saying? Why, you have shed blood?" cried Dounia in despair.

"Which all men shed," he put in almost frantically, "which flows and has always flowed in streams, which is spilt like champagne, and for which men are crowned in the Capitol and are called afterwards benefactors of mankind. Look into it more carefully and understand it! I too wanted to do good to men and would have done hundreds, thousands of good deeds to make up for that one piece of stupidity, not stupidity even, simply clumsiness, for the idea was by no means so stupid as it seems now that it has failed … . (Everything seems stupid when it fails.) By that stupidity I only wanted to put myself into an independent position, to take the first step, to obtain means, and then everything would have been smoothed over by benefits immeasurable in comparison … . But I … I couldn’t carry out even the first step, because I am contemptible, that’s what’s the matter! And yet I won’t look at it as you do. If I had succeeded I should have been crowned with glory, but now I’m trapped."

"But that’s not so, not so! Brother, what are you saying?"

"Ah, it’s not picturesque, not aesthetically attractive! I fail to understand why bombarding people by regular siege is more honourable. The fear of appearances is the first symptom of impotence. I’ve never, never recognised this more clearly than now, and I am further than ever from seeing that what I did was a crime. I’ve never, never been stronger and more convinced than now."

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

Link: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky Versus the Enlightenment Mythos

In the course of what is now titled “Continental Philosophy,” three figures stand out as preeminent thinkers able to probe the innermost depths of the human psyche in a way previously unknown since perhaps Shakespeare: Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.   These three were more or less contemporaries, and all shared a similar fascinating interest—that of tearing down the ideological idols of their day, and in particular, the facade the individual post-Enlightenment “modern man” conceived himself to be.  While these men certainly had differing worldviews and would likely have debated such grand topics as the precise meaning of God and man’s relation to Him in the universe, they shared a similar distaste for hypocrisy, lies and falsehood, and made it partly their authorial iconoclastic goal to unmask such veils.

Francis Bacon had made it his goal as an early Enlightenment luminary to tear down what he perceived to be idols in his Novum Organon—idols of the tribe, cave, marketplace and theater.  Idols of the tribe meant the destruction of abstracted social ideals foisted upon reality; idols of the cave referred to  myopic interpretations of reality according to a particular fancy of some individual academic; idols of the marketplace refers to the misappropriation of word and thing, assigning an undue identification between the two, assuming that out talking an opponent has then caused the reality of the topic under discussion to actually exist as such; and idols of the theater, where ideas are erected on a false presupposition of theology or metaphysical speculation, becoming ensconced in the public discourse.1 This tractate encompasses the impetus of the Enlightenment and its obsession with what Rene Guenon called the “reign of quantity.” Everything is measured and classified according to some quantitative stricture of man’s reason.  Scientific knowledge, or more specifically, scientism, becomes the dominant paradigm by which all things are measured, be it religion, politics, economics and the marketplace, all things are in potentia capable of rational formalization and, like a big algorithm, all of humanity’s ills simply await the solution of the academy and its laboratory calculators. 

Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky would take this same methodology and turn it in on itself.  Is it possible that Bacon and his Enlightement progeny were guilty of the very things he sought to destroy?  Did the philosophes erect idols of their own?  For Nietzsche, the influence of Soren Kierkegaard must first be mentioned.  Kierkegaard had struggled with the complacency and formalism of the Lutheran official church of his day, resulting in an introspective journey that would cause him to even question the nature of the self. Kierkegaard did not, however, analyze the self from some kind of privileged, abstracted “scientific” view as is found in someone like Descartes and his cogito, but rather in the dialectical relationship of the self with itself and the other.  In The Sickness Unto Death, the self must come to despair (the sickness), and reveling in its own finitude, find solace in a relationship with an infinite God.  For Kierkegaard, this is the only way to escape the continual dialectic fallen man is trapped in by virtue of being a son of Adam.

For these three secular masters of suspicion [Marx, Nietzsche and Freud] the illusion that must be unmasked are those of self-interest masquerading as duty and virtue, and egoism pretending to the world and to itself that it is altruism.  Nietzsche’s example of the spirit resentment giving rise to a demand for revenge but posing as love and justice is a kind of paradigm.  But sin is no more than selfishness via-a-vis my neighbor.  It is also the failure to love God with all my heart.  Human self-deception now includes the will to autonomy from God alongside the will to dominance over my neighbor. Inevitably its introduction into the story adds the whole new dimension to the art of suspicion.2

Herein enters Nietzsche’s departure from Kierkegaard, while retaining his “art of suspicion.”  Rather than succumb to a moral system that leads to inevitable failure and misery (the Christian scheme), fomenting in ressentement and hatred for others under the guise of “love,” while plunging further and further into sickness to find “salvation” from the self that is supposedly created good by God, Nietzsche turns Kierkegaard’s suspicion on Christian morality itself, as well as upon the Enlightenment.

For Nietzsche, the Enlightenment had given rise to critique, or the art of suspicion, and in so doing, had tossed aside God.  This is the meaning of the famous “God is dead” phrase.3 Rather than being a factual claim about what Nietzsche believed in regard to some ontological scheme (as its often misinterpreted to mean), it’s a descriptive statement about the current and future state of Western Civilization and its relation to the Judeo-Christian God.  The Enlightenment had successfully critiqued previous metaphysical and theological assumptions inherited from the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Ptolemy, Augustine and Aquinas, only to find itself still seeking a grand narrative that amounted to the exaltation of an idealized and abstracted view of “man” or “mankind” or “humanity.”  With Immanuel Kant, for example, extrapolating a categorical moral imperative should logically lead to a world government where humanity is guided by reason and harmony—a veritable scientistic utopia!  Yet with Kierkegaard and then Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky (as we shall see), we begin to see the problem with this abstraction.

Yet Descartes’ cogito was not something Kierkegaard, Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky could completely avoid.  The seeds of individualism had been laid. Descartes, himself somewhat of a rationalist, could not have foreseen the existential dilemma his cogito would create, but his turning of man’s gaze in on itself to deconstruct the psyche would result in the existentialists deconstructing the mythos of the Enlightenment.