Notes From Underground Critical Essays

From the beginning of the text, Dostoevsky 's Underground Man demonstrates symptoms that would immediately draw the attention of the Freudian analyst. (7)The character himself has enough insight into the workings of his psyche to understand that there is something most definitely wrong with him, and enough intelligence to reject the ease of a physical explanation.

He introduces himself to the reader with the following observation: I'm a sick man... On the surface, the reader-as-analyst has access to other superficial manifestations of the Underground Man's problems as well, such as his anger, his low self-esteem and his defensiveness.

Writers have been animating their characters with psychological insight as early as Sophocles, and Freud himself acknowledged his debt to literature.

(5) Nor is it unusual to find this trait in Dostoevsky, whose work and psyche have been explored by Freud.

At all the critical moments of his confession he tries to anticipate the possible definition or evaluation others might make of him, to guess the sense and tone of that evaluation, tries painstakingly to formulate these possible words about himself by others, interrupting his own speech with the imagined rejoinder of others.(3)The result of this constant interaction is that the "genuine life of the [Underground Man's] personality is made available only through a dialogic penetration of that personality, during which it freely and reciprocally reveals itself."(4) What is suggested here is the psychoanalytic method, which might well be described, to use Bakhtin's words, as the "dialogic penetration of a personality." If Bakhtin would read Notes from Underground as a dialogue between the protagonist and his reader, it is also, more specifically, possible to read the text as the interaction of a patient and his analyst.

The reader must assume not simply the role of imaginary listener, but the more active role of analyst as well, carefully reading the clues provided by Dostoevsky in order to understand the Underground Man's psychic composition.In complete retreat from soci Dostoevsky’s most revolutionary novel, Notes from Underground marks the dividing line between nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, and between the visions of self each century embodied.In complete retreat from society, he scrawls a passionate, obsessive, self-contradictory narrative that serves as a devastating attack on social utopianism and an assertion of man’s essentially irrational nature.But, like all of Freud's patients, the Underground Man evades observation even as he invites it.He uses his powerful intellect throughout the course of the narration, adroitly defending against his own and the reader's access to his innermost feel- ings.Describing the discourse of Dostoevsky's Man in Notes from Underground, Mikhail Bakhtin concludes that it "cannot be seen as a lyrical or epic discourse, calmly gravitating toward itself and its referential object; no, first and foremost one reacts to it, responds to it, is drawn into its game."(1) Bakhtin 's last word should be carefully noted, for there is a game going on in the text.A Freudian perspective on Notes from Underground will reveal the nature of that game, the identity of its players, and the small detail that contains the key to its solution.Dostoevsky has not only illustrated in a clear and systematic way certain neurotic tendencies which Freud himself would identify and explore in his own patients, but he has also anticipated the methodology which would come to be known as 'psychoanalysis'.It is not unusual to find that still another literary text anticipates Freudian psychoanalysis in interesting ways.Consider the situation suggested by the Underground Man himself: ...listen carefully some time to the moans of a nineteenth century intellectual suffering from a toothache... He certainly knows that he's not helping himself by moaning like that.No one knows better than he that he's tormenting and irritating himself and others for nothing...


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