Am I decent man? Perhaps.
I would use this opportunity to speak about myself with some pleasure (Dostoevsky 7). But I am not sure it is such a pleasure. Does decency really only allow me to speak about myself?
Certainly, speaking from my ownmost experiences discloses me to others. Except, none can know I am lying most of the time if I should lie.
So then… what can we say about the decency of someone like Dostoevsky’s Mouse in Notes from the Underground , a fellow who tells us that the decent man takes such pleasure in talking of himself but only a page before had himself admitted to lying to us about, all things, not getting a tooth pulled out of spite (6)? (Which was decent of him.)
This current blog entry is the outcome of a take home exam. Questions came from our readings of Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche.
Ironically enough, doing this test about Nietzsche and Dostoevsky brings out the Mouse, or if you prefer the Underground Man, in my personality. If I were being asked to just pick something that moves me to respond to another’s philosophizing, it would be, “Why are you so like me or I like you, you Mouse, you Friedrich?” But this test asks for something else, at least on the surface.
I can understand the notion of examining students. Other than an instrumental exercise from one authority figure to justify grades to another authority figure, the supposition for exams runs along how students should be challenged by some line of questioning that would allow them to demonstrate their understanding of texts. Good in theory.
But is it a philosophy of praxis or an ascetic technique?
Because I would just as soon not do it. I have contemplated saying, “To hell with this! To oblivion with everything I am asked to do as a graduate student—every assignment, every project, every job, etc et al. I prefer-not-to; I prefer wallowing in spite.”
It surprises me when it happens. Dostoevsky so captures this aspect of human being with his Underground Man, his homo subterran, that to read his novella is like looking in a mirror of structural self-awareness. Just like the Mouse suffering a toothache or some social slight, my blood sugar being out of control all week or discovering my liver is too fatty Wednesday can make me wheel back around on all surrounding me and reject the whole.
Who do I spite?
Such behavior neither heals the physical pain I feel nor really affects folks up the factory line in my professional life. The illness remains in me. Changing me. Freezing me in the rigor of a shallow revenge. These others that are a superficial cause will only register some disappointment at my behavior, experience some inconveniences, and then pass onward to the next fellow. (Maybe he will be a Gerbil instead of a Mouse.)
Who do I spite?
I spite myself. You can spite none but your own being.
Spiting, frozen, unmoved—a stillness unbecoming a being.
And whether reading the Mouse’s inner thoughts or studying Nietzsche’s treatment of Wagner The Genealogy of Morality, it is clear that resentiment is this stillness of non-becoming. The only person to be harmed ultimately is the one suffering from resentiment, caught up in the excess of his cause and unable to let go, a future determined by a past that throws being into a whiplash standstill.
The structure of resentiment—“imaginary revenge”—forbids becoming because there can be no movement, or if movement, only an unraveling in ill-themed fantasies in a justifying logistic (Dostoevsky 2004 21; Nietzsche 1997 20).
So pull the tooth. Stop the pain; rid the infection. Or at least, quit putting your tongue on the rotten tooth and forcing more agony on yourself.
Maybe I like the taste of pus.
At least stop rehashing that abysmal phone call from earlier today, can you? The call where you were yelled at for not catching an error in a letter then for not making a website then for… Well what is the point? It was your fault after all. Do not interrupt your responsibility with that interaction… That call that interrupted your “mechanical activity” (Nietzsche 99) to complain of failures and leave you to return to mechanical chases for the machine of quaint ascetic society.
Have I become nothing other than the phone call of a justly frustrated colleague all for such a sweet, delicious thing as saving the world from itself?
Ah, the “blessing of work” (Nietzsche 99)…
But there we are… the “still-born” life (Dostoevsky 113), the “bad conscience” (Nietzsche 49), the false sacrament—not the NOBLE LIE but the BAD FAITH that does not want to commit itself to self-knowledge:
The actual lie, the genuine, resolute ‘honest’ lie (listen to Plato about its value) would be something far too tough and strong for them; it would demand something of them that one must not demand, that they open their eyes to themselves, that they come to know how to distinguish between ‘true’ and ‘false’ with regard to themselves. The dishonest lie is the only thing fitting for them; everyone who feels himself to be a ‘good person’ today is completely incapable of approaching any thing except in a dishonestly mendacious way, in a way that was mendacious right down to its very depths, but innocently mendacious, true-heartedly mendacious, blue-eyed mendacious, virtuously mendacious. (Nietzsche 102)
Dostoevsky’s Mouse cannot be courageous enough to lie to himself honestly because he has lost himself in his self-justifications. He builds up an excess of emotional energy spilling outward on the page, wanting a “justice” he does not need—having never really suffered near so much as he claims—wanting against his own profit to blow his being by non-becoming (Dostoevsky 23-24).
Meh. I cannot be spite-full. That requires me being filled up with spite, with ill-will, with having what Nietzsche points out as the “anaesthetic for dull, crippling, long-drawn-out pain”: an “excess of feeling” (101; 103-106). I refuse that emotive slavery.
I cannot be spite-full. I would not will my illness of soul to worsen nor will my diabetes/fatty liver on any other person as justice.
I am a fool, perhaps.
But for Dostoevsky, that is the salvation, yes? My intelligence makes me too chickenshit (as Richard Owsley would say). My foolishness provides hope. The intelligent man can never become anything because, at least if he is an Underground Man, he is already what he will be, stone frozen by what happened to him.
The fool, on the other hand, leaps out because he is ignorant, not only of the world but of himself. He believes himself a dancing star in a constellation of honest lies.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from the Underground. New York: New Directions, 2004.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Genealogy of Morality. New York: Cambridge Univ Press,