Dostoevsky's "Notes From Underground"
This course is no longer being offered.
A response to the influx of both European rationalist and utopian tendencies within Russia, Dostoevsky’s novella examines the plight of the underground man, an overly-conscious individual who struggles to maintain free will in his confrontation with a society that rewards conformity and adherence to the maxim that “twice two always equals four.” While we will talk about the philosophy of the underground man in the context of Russian society in the mid-nineteenth century, we will apply Dostoevsky’s arguments to our own lives today, especially as our social interactions occur more and more on computer screens rather than in person.
"Notes from Underground" is a seminal text for Dostoevsky’s thought and is the seed from which his famous novels, such as "Crime and Punishment" and "Brothers Karamazov," were born. While we will focus on the primary text, the ideas of various philosophers will be briefly introduced (Rousseau, Nietzsche, Sartre), providing students with a foundation for further examination of these issues. We will focus on themes such as: the law of “I” versus the law of humanism; catastrophe of the violated individual, of his aborted freedom, dignity, and happiness (the plight of the “little man” in Russia); the sanctity of human personality as the seed for human freedom; 2x2=4 and The Crystal Palace; the superfluous man in Russia. We will also read Dostoevsky's "Dream of a Ridiculous Man," a beautiful allegory that serves as an answer to the underground man's plight.
- Analyze "Notes from Underground" as a critique of the age of criticism and of Russia’s penchant for adopting Western philosophies and institutions.
- Interpret Dostoevsky’s characters as expressions of his views on how life should be lived in light of what tormented him most " the fact that the existence of God cannot be proven rationally.
- Develop oral and written skills in analyzing literary works through class discussion, oral presentations, short response papers, and a final paper.
- Appreciate the universality of the major questions posed by Dostoevsky by considering how they still apply to our lives today.
There are no prerequisites for this course.