Notes from the Underground, preface & Ch. 1


This is something I started writing this morning, after not-quite-enough sleep and a-little-too-much coffee&Dostoevsky. A few people who know me might find it interesting, so I thought I'd publish it publicly rather that anonymously like most of the trash I put up on the web. More chapters might follow, if the world is really as brutal and unfair as the cynics say it is.

Notes from the Underground


Daniel Jackson


Take the man--and damned is his name. What is man, but a beast that has opposable thumbs and is ungrateful for them? What is man, but the most miserable creature ever to rise out of the sea and gain dominance over he rest of his world?

Take the man, and ask: “what is it about man, moreso this man, that drives him?” He sits in a coffee-shop—a café, if you will—and he ponders the many misfortunes--or at the least missed opportunities--of his life. He makes misery his primary mode of relaxation! Despair seems his most valuable pursuit. “If only I had made different decisions back in High School...” he thinks to himself. “Why did I marry so young? I could have had five more years of living the good life” he thinks to himself. “But it was worth it, I suppose...” he thinks—then “but I shouldn't have stuck with the first job for so long. I should have gone into my brother's business venture. With the two of us, we could have made a real killing. We could have been millionaires—maybe even billionaires. I could have been...” And then he laughs to himself and takes another sip of his soy latte. (His wife says that dairy isn't good for his colon, and he wants to keep the proctologist out of the picture for as long as he can...)

I posit that man is a being driven by the miserable desire for self-definition. He is a child who has subsumed childishness into an ideology of “responsible productivity.” And he is miserable every moment of his life. Give him a Christmas bonus, and he resents the fact that he will squander it on frivolous trinkets, or—much worse—the plodding and diabolical accumulation of “5% interest guaranteed.” What is five percent interest on a bonus of a few thousand? Even fifty thousand (we all laugh, “a man with a fifty-thousand-dollar bonus has no right to be ungrateful,” but I beg your indulgence as I prove my point) in five-percent looks like a pittance when compared to the drudgery that is required to earn it, and when compared to the enormous profit of the behemoth-corporation that provides it. “What I really wish” says this man, without fail, “is that I had spent more time last year with my family. Maybe then they wouldn't all think I'm such a dork. Maybe my wife would still think I'm exciting if I were more spontaneous.” Or perhaps: “...that I had taken that trip to New York with my brother instead of working on the MacPherson account, which we lost anyway.” Or further to the point: I wish that I had stood up to Greg when he passed me over for promotion. I was the right man to take over as vice-president, not John.”

Notice that all of these examples involve a man who, against all reason, wishes to define himself as something he is not, in spite of the reality that has crashed down upon the proverbial “house of cards.”


And that's as far as I got, folks, before I realized that I wasn't actually writing my version of Notes from the Underground, but simply re-writing Dostoevsky's voice with different words (and perhaps failing, though I'm confident that I'm quite capable of writing in “brooding existential.”

It stays as it is, though, to prove the point: even as someone well aware of the concept, I am a slave to this impulse of irrational self-definition. Even as a man who imagines a desire to write something truly new, my irrational urge to assume an established persona rears its head and shows me what's really going on.


rush said...

You've captured some recognizable elements of western man. I look forward to more of these postings.

Naomi said...

Interesting way to give insight into someone's life... defining them by what they are not! But I have given up even defining my own life by what I am. It is a lot less work (although not necessarily easier) to define myself by who God says I am, and certainly a lot less depressing!!