Notes From Underground: Review

Oscillating Dimensions
4 min readJun 11, 2021

‘I am a sick man, I am a spiteful man…’

The opening of this book remains my favourite opening of all times. I have always dreaded to review anything written by Dostoevsky. But I am trying this once with this absolute beauty of a book.

I have read this book almost thrice and still believe that I have not been able to completely understand the profound depth of this novella.

This book was my introduction to the genius that is Dostoevsky. And also my introduction to existentialism as a philosophy. With whatever meagre understanding I did possess at that time, I was completely enthralled by the absolutely bewildering philosophies which were presented. I could relate with the underground man on so many levels that sometimes I did wonder whether I was being introduced to the deepest darkest demons hidden within my soul, waiting to be spoken to, scribbling through this fictional character.
But through my first read, I could only understand the silhouette of this underground man.

After reading other Dostoevsky novels and realising how deep an impression those works stamped upon me, I picked this up again. This time, I read some of the important parts from the novel.

This was followed by my third read recently. Through this, I realised, how beautiful my own demons, lurking behind the pretext of the underground man, actually are. This time I was not scared but felt privileged to be able to understand the various intricacies of the human soul that flow so naturally through the skin of this perplexed character. Ironically enough, the more his perplexity grows, the more easier it becomes to unwind my own existential self.

To explain it in a better way, there is one instance when the Underground man remarks and I quote,

I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is an illness- a real thorough-going illness.

The underground man appears completely lost, he is trying hard to make through this cobweb of his own existential crisis; all through his narration he has realised that free will is a very deluded thing and in his revolt to justify his freedom he wishes to perhaps make sense through the beauty of existence of a disgusting insect. But he knows, a human being, who is conscious enough, cannot even become that. He is too aware of his own self, too aware of his own limitations and too aware of these societal delusions that he cannot even be privileged enough to be an insect.
(I cannot help but wonder if Kafka was inspired by this line to write down one of the most magnificent pieces of literature, the tale of Gregor Samsa. But about that some other time.)

Through his own confusions and conflicts, he helps me, as a reader, to solve my own self. For he awakens in me a question that was always hidden inside but I was never aware enough to understand it. In my own world, as I find myself helpless in the various pathetic diadems of social lives, he comes up as a friend. I can now seek answers through him. Even as a character, he makes me feel less isolated in a world, so alien to the half-conscious existentialism thriving in me.
Up till now I did not know what was causing this mayhem in my soul, but his explanation tells me that it’s an illness, a real-thorough illness. So while searching for the questions itself, I could find my answers through his dilemmas.

There are many such poignant instances wherein, through his ramblings, so much is explained that it couldn’t have been possible to even be aware about those otherwise.

There were instances wherein I used to read a paragraph and then stare blankly for a while to absorb the meaning of it all. And I am quite sure there is so much more to understand even now.

Also, the best thing about the underground man is that he is not a hypocrite. He helps you see yourself in a new light, wherein you can at least try and be honest to your own self.
As when he says,

I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.

He is being positively honest mirroring the narcissism of our own selves through the very crisis we ourselves conjure.

Man being a piano key, the two plus two equals five and many more such analogies, only deepens the entire philosophy of the book and undoubtedly makes it one of the best books ever. It is one of those rare books which appear to be thin and small but are deeper than the very depths of the oceans.

Lastly, I could never be thankful enough to Dostoevsky for quite literally helping me through and changing my life.