I’ve just reread Notes from Underground for a class I’m teaching and it remains as troubling and fascinated as when I first read it. It also still feels true.
This book touches all of my most persistent insecurities. The narrator is troubled by an education that operates as prefabricated thought robs him of all sense of spontaneity and authenticity. Is he living or is he merely acting out roles? He is also troubled by a too acute perception of the world that reveals it to be unbearably false and silly. (Or is his vision simply distorted by exaggerations?) He feels unlovable yet he needs love. He wants to act, to make something worthwhile or beautiful, but he cannot find any basis to begin to do so. He is unhappy and knows that this is because he either lives better and more truly than those around him or because he doesn’t really live at all. And he has no idea how to tell which option is true.
As dark as this book can be, I remember how inspiring it was when I first read it. At the time, I felt as if there were high walls holding me back in every direction and that they were insurmountable and impossibly solid. But they seemed to crumble when they came in contact with this book. The Underground Man was abject, but he was glorious too.
Now all these years later, the book looks different to me. Now I see how much the Underground Man bemoans the absence of the legitimate constraints that make action possible. Lacking those constraints he can’t even be lazy: “I wish I were a lazybones. That would be something.”
The book lives still.
Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
On their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,
Proving the only one in step are you.
Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
The meaning what it must of meant to had.
The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
But evolution do not stop for that.
A mutant languages rise from the dead
And all them rules is suddenly old hat.
Too bad for we, us what has had so long
The best seat from the only game in town.
But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.
(Guardian, April 27, 2005)
Watched this with the Beav out of the blue, and it was ok. It is a John Hughes reprise, a Pretty in Pink for the kids today, which is great. Every generation needs an “it’s so hard to be richly completely me because I’m awesome and grown up but no one understands me at all, and I feel things really deeply” movie. I need (or at least would enjoy) that movie.
This one was disappointing but also had some great moments. But mostly it got me thinking about genre.
But first a few small things. The night scenes in the truck driving through the tunnel are great. Perfect teen-movie moments. The main actor was good looking enough to make me assume we will see him around for awhile. Just wish he was a better actor. I liked the main actress too and loved that she was made up to mimic Sheedy from The Breakfast Club. The problem? (And yes I am sliding into the problems part of this post…) the director dressed her up to look like the Freak after the Princess has made her up. Who would dress up like Ally Sheedy after the “black shit” around her eyes is gone? And the gay character was not horrible so that’s good.
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