Nutshell: proto-hipster suffering from hepatic encephalopathy throws tantrums and advances retrograde polemics.
Some of Dostoevsky's ugly politics leak out of the diaper of the fiction here, especially the pocvennicestvo
ideas. I understand that Chernyshevsky is vulnerable to critique, for instance, but utopian socialism's "Crystal Palace" should not be rejected simply because it might be "dreadfully boring" (26). (This is incidentally one of the objections to the altertopia in Clarke's [b:Childhood's End|414999|Childhood's End|Arthur C. Clarke|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320552628s/414999.jpg|209414].) It's also pre-fascistic tripe: "there will no longer be any actions or adventures in the world" (id.). Rather, "It is just this sort of spontaneous man that I regard as a real, normal person" (13).
We know narrator has hepatic encephalopathy (or some other mental disorder arising out of cirrhosis) because he tells us that he has untreated liver disease, apparently for two decades (7). The lack of medical treatment arises out of "spite" and "superstition." Perhaps a touch of masochism in the toothache episode (16-17)--or is it sadism?
Carries on about the "laws of heightened consciousness" (11), which is a prelude to similar sophomoric remonstrances in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Text is otherwise infected with an anti-intellectual's causeless disdain for "statisticians, sages, and lovers of the human race" (23). They engage in "nothing but sophistry" with their "theories explaining man's real, normal interests" (24). The only basis for opposition to, yaknow, smart people, is "one's own, independent, and free desire, one's own, albeit wild, caprice, one's fantasy, sometimes provoked to the point of madness" (26). Nevermind that "one's own desire" is inherited from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist government. It's 19th century slavophile teabaggerism.
Painted heavily with irony and parody, however, admitting dishonesty on several occasions (8, e.g.) and joking on others (32). Reveals itself to be a hidden source of RSB: "Suffering is indeed the sole cause of consciousness" (34).
Admission that "I myself have invented all your words. They're also from the underground" (38) is what Bakhtin, in [b:Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics|18816|Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics |Mikhail M. Bakhtin|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347703734s/18816.jpg|229152], meant by the polyphonic novel (loc. cit. at 50-53). Though he seems to consider this development a positive force for the arts, and far be it from me to disagree with the august Bakhtin, but, godsbedamned, it's a horrible text. Thereafter follow pointless episodes of antisocial venom, which nevertheless carry with them plenty of humor: losing stare-down contests with co-workers (46), get shoved aside in a tavern (50), schoolyard nostalgia (61), and so on. He’s so worthless that he grappled with a serf-owning aristocrat who abused servants “not in the least because I felt sorry" for the serfs, but simply because other people liked the aristocrat (62). Xenophobia on display (47). Claims to be "seething inside with ennui" (50), which is likely a clever oxymoron. Obsesses over haberdashery trivia, like the protagonist of [b:American Psycho|28676|American Psycho|Bret Easton Ellis|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348400564s/28676.jpg|2270060] (55). Mistreats downtrodden woman, dismissing her as “slut” (106); dicks around with his servant’s pay for imagined slights (108).
Constantly afflicted with financial problems, insists that he is “not ashamed of my poverty,” “poor but honorable” (112). This is one root of the issue: class-based alienation. Dostoevsky can’t see it because he believes in the unity of classes under church and tsar. It’s crazy talk, but, hell, sells well among cappy undergraduates, I guess.
Eponymous locus is the imaginary retreat for "our offended, downtrodden, and ridiculed mouse," who "quickly submerges himself in cold, venomous, and never-ending spite" wherein "he will remember every offense, to the last, to the most shameful detail" (14). It is therefore the politics of ressentiment
, if anything, and likely goes some distance in explaining Dostoevsky's douchiness otherwise. The oddity is that ideological ally Nietzsche will find ressentiment
to be the root of slave morality, democracy, egalitarian doctrine, even religion ([b:The Genealogy of Morals|80449|On the Genealogy of Morals|Friedrich Nietzsche|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1170982435s/80449.jpg|13751223] at I.10 et seq.). Dostoevsky's anti-hero would likely disagree.
Recommended for serious readers, despite the Steppenwolf
levels of worthlessness.