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Dostoevsky’s Notes From Undergound Reactions To An Overdeterministic Existence

1817 words - 7 pages

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Undergound - Reactions to an Overdeterministic Existence
Some of the works cited are missing

Dostoevsky presents his Notes from Undergound as the fragmented ramblings of
an unnamed narrator. On the surface, the character’s narration appears disjointed and
reaches no conclusive end ing until the author intercedes to end the book. However, a
close examination of the underground man’s language reveals a progression in his
collected ravings. After expressing dissatisfaction with the notion of determinism, the
underground man perceives the irony of his ultra-deterministic reality. Through his
narrative, the underground man discovers the truth about his predestined, fictional
existence.

Dostoevsky’s work is divided into two sections; throughout the first section,
“Underground,” the narrator discusses and resists determinism. The underground man
compares deterministic life to a mathematical formula, two times two equals four. He
suggests that, according to the deterministic model, life conforms to a set of predestined
events and actions, and its outcome is inevitable. The underground man condemns the
formula, asserting, “After all, two times two is no longer life, gentlemen, but the
beginning of death”(24). In his essay Narrative and Freedom, critic Gary Saul Morson
elaborates upon the narrator’s statement, adding, “For life to be meaningful and for work
to be more than robotic, there must be something not just unknown but still undecided”
(Morson 196-7). According to the underground man, the pre-existence of the solution
implies that no other conclusion may be reached; once one embarks on life, one cannot
escape the inevitable outcome of death. Morson emphasizes the underground man’s
resistance to determinism, stating, “Dostoevsky’s man from the underground believes in
but resents such a closed world. The underground man’s rebellion against determinism
and its consequences has become one of the most famous moments in modern thought,
and with good reason”(196). Morson observes that, although the underground man
denounces a deterministic world, he still believes that he lives in one.

The underground man’s resentment of determinism produces irony in that the
underground man’s true existence as a fictional character epitomizes determinism, as
Morson contends. Morson articulates the irony, stating:

“Here Dostoevsky makes shrewd use of metaliterary
devices. For all of his struggles to be free, the underground
man is doubly determined, not only from within the
narrative world but also from without; not only by the iron
logic of spite governing his actions but also by the fact that
he is the creation of someone who has plotted all his
actions in advance. His world is not just deterministic but
overdeterministic. What Dostoevsky has done here is to
make the very fact that the story is a story, that it has a
structure and has already been written, a sign of failed
choice and futile...

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