"Notes From the Underground"
The book “Notes From the Underground” is written in the form of a conversation, in which the author questions his purpose in life. Dostoevsky introduces himself as a man who lives underground and views himself to be a spiteful individual. However, Dostoevsky concludes that he is neither spiteful, nor heroic, but rather, he is nothing. He believes that man has an acute consciousness that renders our minds inactive. This is due to the fact that man considers too man outcomes in any given situation and, there for, no acts are performed as a result. In contrast, Dostoevsky is convinced that only the unintelligent can be successful. He believes that those who are foolish never consider all the possible outcomes of a situation and, as a result, are capable of performing acts due to that lack of questioning. Dostoevsky believes his intelligence is what is holding him back; his need to consider every consequence prevents him from completing a single task. Because Dostoevsky struggles with defining who he is as a person, he concludes that he can only be nothing, if he cannot agree that he is anything.
Dostoevsky’s writing takes on an existentialist viewpoint. Existentialism questions one’s concrete existence and the conditions of this existence. There is no predetermined essence that should tell us what it means to exist as human beings. This belief is known as the existence precedes essence, a core philosophy of existentialism. It states that the essence or nature of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence. Through consciousness, human beings create their own values and determine a meaning for their life because, in the beginning, the human being does not possess any inherent identity or value. As a result, human beings must project his or her own meaning into this world in order to define what he or she is.
A common analogy in existentialism is to imagine standing on a cliff and feeling afraid not just of falling off, but also of wanting to jump off. Dostoevsky demonstrates this fear in his inability to define who he is, or what he is as a human being. Dostoevsky introduces himself as a spiteful individual. However, he later admits that he was lying. He is neither a hero nor an insect, honest nor dishonest. He can only wish he was one of any of these things or more, because at least he would be something. His inability to define himself has left him with the feeling of being nothing. Dostoevsky’s intelligence has rendered him inconclusive. He is fearful of choosing a single word to define himself as a person; however, he is constantly searching for what that word is, for who he is. Like the cliff, Dostoevsky is afraid to fall. He is afraid he will wrong in self defining his over all being. But at the same time he desires that edge, he desires that meaning, to feel whole and reassurance as to who he is as an individual.