Notes from the Underground - Part I: Chapters VIII Summary & Analysis

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Part I: Chapters VIII Summary

The writer talks of what would happen if there became a "formula" for all our "whims and wishes". He suggests that some people simply stop wishing because there'd be no point in wishing when the outcome is determined by a graph, but will quickly point out the flaw in that reasoning. Then he says that most of us make wishes based on what we think would be advantageous to us, but later find that wasn't the case. He says that most people, given the option to wish or to reason, with choose reason. Then he begins to argue the other side. He says that if that were the case, he could predict his life for the next thirty years and that everything he does would have been destined to happen because of that reason. The entire problem with this line of thought, according to the author, is that man simply wants sometimes to be free to do something just because he wants to do it—even if it goes against what would be advantageous to him and even if he has to wish for it.

The author says that life might sometimes be a "sorry mess" but that at least it isn't the result of a calculation of a square root. He then says that the "gentlemen" he's addressing will say that a person simply can't wish for something contrary to their own good, but the author disagrees. He insists that some people will wish for something not in their best interests simply for the sake of being able to wish. He says that some men will become vile, pernicious, and insensible for the sake of wishing for something that's not in their best interests and that they'll hold to those wishes to the bitter end. For the person who insists that there is free will but that reason is still in control, the author has a reply. He says that "two times two will be four even without my will. Is that what you call free will?"

The author next argues that you might try to "cure a man" by using reason, but poses the question how anyone can say that man should be remade. The writer points out that man sometimes needs a change— an outlet. He says that it doesn't matter whether it's ultimately good or ultimately bad in the grand scheme of things, the bottom line is that "smashing something is also very pleasant on occasion". However, man needs a creative outlet and the writer asks what would happen if man didn't have that. He says that is why man constructs a city, causes a war, and tears it down—so that there's something to build again.

The author then argues heavily against reason above wishes. He says that if "two times two makes four" is all there were to live by, an intelligent man would be forced to "stop up" his five senses and to "submerge himself in contemplation". Even that would be a dead end, according to this author, but at least he could—upon occasion—whip himself.

The writer sets up a particular situation in which he's searching for a place to escape the rain. He says that some might say a chicken house and a mansion are exactly the same if the only goal is to escape the rain. He says that's only true if the only purpose is to escape the rain. He won't be happy with the chicken coop until someone gives him a better idea and that will only happen if someone changes his desires.

The writer says that there are some things men won't admit to anyone other than a very close friend, and some things a man won't even admit to his friends. Finally, there are some things a man won't even admit to himself. Dostoevsky insists that the more decent a man, the bigger the list of things not to be admitted. To test this theory, the author writes that he plans to see if he can be entirely honest with himself.

The possibility that a person can be completely honest might exist, the author says. He's next going to try being completely honest with himself, though he notes that he's not expecting anyone else to read his notes.

Part I: Chapters VIII Analysis

At this point, the writer uses this literary device of "talking with" an audience. He points out that the reader might laugh and say, "There's no such thing as wishing", but that he says that's exactly the point he was trying to make—that "you've startled me for a moment". The author often uses this to argue a particular point. He'll say something, add a comment that the "gentlemen" will say in retaliation, then say that the "gentlemen" are correct or wrong and add why. He argues this back and forth as he's giving his opinion of whether man has free will and the bigger question—whether he desires it. This writer argues that man will use free will even when doing so means that he is going against what's good for him and that he'll do it simply because he has that choice.

The writer addresses the question of why a person works a full week, takes himself off to the bar and spends all his money, then ends up in jail. He points out that the man's actions may seem pointless, but then that man has completed a week's occupation. The writer then goes on to talk about the sameness—the "two plus two makes four" issue. He seems to approve of the workman's actions but doesn't address the fact that he is also doing the same thing over and over. It seems likely that he's pointing out that what the workman is doing outside should be advantageous for a man, and continues with that activity week after week.

The reference to the intellectual with nothing to do whipping himself could be a subtle reference back to Cleopatra sticking pins into her serving girls.

Some may take the attitude that only a man of low morals would have things to hide. The writer takes the opposite stand. He says that a decent man has more things that he won't admit to or will only admit to close friends than does the man of low morals and values. Looking at that critically, it's likely that is because the man of low morals and values isn't typically ashamed of his actions. Therefore, an action that a man of this type is ready to admit would be something a decent man would be ashamed of. The opposite is also true, that a decent man would be ashamed of things the man of low morals would tell anyone. It's not so much that the man of low morals has less to hide, but comes down to what they want others to know.

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