Thoughts on Dostoyevsky's Basement.

In the inexhaustible sources of the classics, with the possibility of new readings.

 "I want to serve the thirst of the soul of humanity. Man is a mystery. I will have to decipher it," Dostoyevsky wrote in his notebooks.  

  Dostoyevsky stands dazzled by the complexity of human existence. It recognizes human desire as the highest good, as a driving force, as man is called upon to choose between the risk of desire and the complacency of satisfied needs.

Who is the unsung hero of the Underground, the anti-hero as the author calls him?

"I am proud," Dostoyevsky continues in his notes, "because for the first time I have shown the true man of Russian society and for the first time I have condemned his crippled and tragic side at the same time. Tragedy lies in the consciousness of disability. I brought out of the Underground the tragedy, which consists of suffering and self-punishment, with the consciousness that there is something better, but which is impossible to win, and with the unshakable conviction of these unfortunates that they are unhappy and therefore not worth doing anything about to change".

According to Dostoyevsky's biographer Grossman, "Underground" is one of the author's most transparent pages. Never afterwards did he unfold his innermost thoughts with such completeness and honesty.

“I am a sick man… I am a bad man. An ungrateful man. "

 The right to illness, when life ceases to be attractive, when desire is constantly suppressed or thwarted. Refuge in disease, the only way for man to escape from inner conflict, as desire demands torturously. The difficulty to withstand the internal conflict, to process, metabolize and synthesize, that is to say, to be led to the constitution of the self.

The pleasure of suffering – the immense pleasure of maximizing the problem – "I felt like fighting this damage, as if it were my normal state" – the rust becoming one with the metal, the acceptance of the fatal.

Loneliness and alienation. Cavafy's walls... "imperceptibly closed me off from the world outside". Alienation from others leads to alienation from oneself as the formation of identity depends on interaction with others. Alienation from others leads to the loss of self, to the loss of the world.

 Loneliness, which consolidates the attitude against people: the anti-hero of the Underground, he wanted to win, because he saw others as enemies. Loneliness, which consolidates the attitude away from people: unbridged the gap between self and others. Closing in on oneself leads to a paranoid, miserable perception of the world. Isolation leads to the development of a lack of trust and the obsolescence of his feelings.

          The hero is looking for intensity in negative emotions, desperately fighting to stay alive "at least I was bad"! Since I am so insignificant, since there is no way for me to be recognized as good, since I go unnoticed, at least I can become bad.

 First of all, the hero of the Underground describes his ugliness. Will he be able to face his dark self in order to reach the core of beauty?

People who come for psychotherapy want to face their dark side and at the same time are afraid of the difficult things they are asked to feel. On the eve of the first session, they dream of basements with cobwebbed, dusty, forgotten things. But they are unsuspecting, that in the process of self-awareness, they will get to know better their strength and skills, their authenticity and longing for life, that is, they will touch the core of undifferentiated beauty that every human being has inside.

"There is someone in me who is more me than I," wrote St. Augustine.

But if one does not wish to get out of the rut, constantly remembers the harm done to him by others, insists on trauma and death, will go so far as to invent non-existent things against himself, deceives himself and avoids the risk of a authentic face to face meeting.

Life distortion the right to destruction.

It is exactly the opposite of the miracle of taking responsibility: In the first case, he happily looks for the slightest evidence that will confirm the evil, in the second, the decision is redemptive: to understand the true intentions of the other and to recognize my personal contribution to the failure and in failure.

"In the basement," he writes, "the solidly constructed but nevertheless dead end, in that poison of unsatisfied desires that has settled inside you, in that fever of hesitations and decisions you have made forever, while in a moment the regrets are back, in all of this lies the juice of paradoxical pleasure".

He despises himself, having knowingly deceived him – the tragedy lies in the consciousness of disability.  

The pleasure of self-abasement ultimately incriminates others, as it makes them unable to give pleasure and as they are called to apologize for their own development, for their own happiness. Does blaming others ultimately motivate self-humiliation? 

How to meet others when he despises himself, when his loneliness has become death, when he interprets them in his own way, without the torturous and liberating reflection in their eyes at the same time, when he seeks the self-fulfilling prophecy that it is better to come back in the miserable basement?

From existential impasse, it leads to relational impasse.

While he himself lives isolated in self-loathing, he gets angry that others ignore him.

He goes to meet others in ambivalence whether he regards them as superior or despises them, (or rather both), desperately seeking recognition, again insisting ambivalently, indiscriminately imposing himself, mercilessly humiliating them at the same time.

He leads himself with mathematical precision to humiliation and humiliation.

At some point the hero looks back on his hated childhood.

Dostoevsky's heroes live a sad childhood, as the author himself describes his own unhappy childhood.

"Cursed is that school, he writes, which makes children ugly."

It makes them ugly because it flattens them.

Image from the Pink Fleuds movie. The education system produces uniform, graceless, almost two-dimensional people. Image of some ungrateful Public schools, where there is neither host nor guest. A crisis of values, primarily a crisis of education.

The hero of the Basement as a child did not share his ghosts with his parents and everything became huge, terrifying, as he lacked the environment and inclusive parental gaze – "I was a dreamy and silent child, staring wildly in the eyes", he writes.

We come from our childhood. We are defined by our childhood experiences. But early personal vows also define us in the difficult moments of despair, when we struggle to accept the gift of life, untainted by parental failure and misery.

In self-entrapment, real others do not fit: "I used to despise others and I used to find them superior", she writes.

He publicly humiliates himself in front of old classmates. Always the meeting with the companions of youth acquires great importance, as each one confronts the life of the other, with their choices, tries to decode the course of others, compares themselves.

 The hero then seeks refuge in some young woman, whom he considers already humiliated and humiliated.

"I was humiliated, I wanted to humiliate," he writes, "I was trampled on, I wanted to make a show of power." Humiliation requires perpetuation.

It destroys the young harlot morally with images of a chaste life, images of conjugal devotion, images of maternal happiness. He presents her with the bleak future that awaits her, leading up to her sad death. At the same time as his need to humiliate her, he faintly discerns a human motive to help her. The inexhaustible potential of a human existence to contribute to the happiness of another existence is dimly seen. In trying to help, he discovers personal desires and skills. Shocking experience that someone can help another person to go beyond their own level.

Lisa bursts into sobs. "I shook her soul and broke her heart," he writes. But he feels embarrassed. It is a step before necrosis. Something did not want to die inside him, something resists in the depth of the heart and consciousness and manifests itself as a deep melancholy.

The change in Lisa's demeanor from something rough, cheeky and unyielding to something soft and shy puts him to shame himself – a token of kindness and humanity desperately struggling to be saved.

Lisa will return, she will look for him in the basement, because she allowed him to touch her, because she was able, while living in an alienated environment, to find within herself the spark of love that liberates.

The hero is shocked when he realizes that Lisa did not come back to listen to kind words, but to love, since for a woman all upliftment, all rebirth lies in love.

 He discerns that she understood what a woman who truly loves first perceives, the real situation of the beloved, his unhappiness. Despite his miserable confinement in the basement, he is able to move and discern, for a peak moment, the beauty and majesty of that soul, which he already considered deeply humiliated.

"And finally," he writes, "she was the heroine, while I was the humiliated and broken creature."

The awakening, the enlivening of the soul, when it can admire and be inspired by another existence.

Dostoyevsky achieves the reversal.

Awe of the writer who knows how to penetrate so deeply into the human soul and describe the most subtle nuances of emotions. Lisa can love and rise above the laws of necessity. It can claim exclusivity, the one that necessity led it to belong to everyone.

And the reaction of the anti-hero? "I hated you because I had lied to you," he writes.

I don't forgive you because you know my dark side.

It is then that self-disclosure brings terror, because closeness becomes threatening, since it brings to the surface all the bad things that one tries to ignore.

We are afraid of closeness, lest the other person absorbs us and we lose our freedom. We fear closeness, because it also reveals all the unearthly expectations from the relationship. The unearthly expectations that are enlisted to fill the emptiness of existence.

Heartbreakingly, the hero asks: "If love is a struggle that begins with hatred and ends in moral submission, I could not imagine what the subjugated object would do next"?

Love, hate, submission, power, loss of personal freedom. Victim and perpetrator in the same dead end.

"I have become unaccustomed to living feelings with my vain underground malice," he writes, "I have become unaccustomed to life, so much so that I feel an aversion to living life and cannot bear to be reminded of it."

He returns to the underground, unable to learn from the experience of contact with other human beings, unable to transcend himself, to expand his horizons of understanding the world, to bear to process the truth of another. He fails to accept love. And he returns back to the basement, with a knowledge that burns his hands and he must muster all the power to bury it.

Dostoyevsky poses existential questions about the meaning of life, having himself experienced poverty, neglect, loss, prison, illness, entrapment in passions, doubt, faith, transcendence, love.

He struggles to answer the fundamental questions of existence: Loneliness, meaning of life, love, romance, death. He recognizes the terror of freedom and the anxiety that corresponds, when man escapes from certainty and tries to synthesize the contradictory parts of himself.

The redemptive inner process makes solitude a laboratory of life, reconciling with oneself and with the world, because it includes others. The preparation for an authentic encounter is made, the time and space between genuine human relationships is made.

The question requires a personal answer:

Right to destroy or right to love?

I would like to finish by giving the author the floor again, as saved by his biographer:

"Regardless of the losses, I love life very much, I love life for life and strangely, I still continue to start living. I will soon be fifty years old and I can't at all realize if my life is ending, or if it is just beginning. This is what is the basic element of my character, maybe even of my creation."

 Only someone who loved life could write Underground like this.

 The hero of the Underground is aware that there is something better, but which is impossible to win. It is precisely this consciousness of the best that expresses Dostoevsky's view of the infinite charm of life and human relations and opens for the reader a small skylight in the basement, a possibility for subtle light rays of desire to enter.

Because, according to the poet…

That which I ignore shines in me.

And yet, it shines.