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Notes From Underground

In Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky explores modernity. In the novel, Dostoevsky is specifically referring to a toothache, but uses modernity as a larger metaphor.  The toothache is a phantom, a pain that is inflicted without cause, and therefore humans have no outlet for such pain, except hitting the wall with a fist.

Notes From Underground

Modernity is the toothache.  It is a very real pain that inflicts and has two solutions: rip out the tooth or live with the pain.  Most individuals have learned to live with the pain; their moaning is the paradox.  Morris moans at his toothache, and dreams of a time when society is rid of this pain, but does not ever actually actively try to remove the tooth.  Nihilism, on the other hand, rips the tooth out at the first available opportunity, exposing the raw and bloody cavity for the entire world to see: Here is the rotted out tooth; here is reality.

This may stretch the metaphor greatly, but the idea is that modern society has enabled us to enjoy the pain.  Life has become an era of constant, rapid change, accelerating towards the unknown. The twin forces of Industrialism and modernism have replaced stability and order with chaos and change.  “Modern mankind found itself in the midst of a great absence and emptiness of values and yet, at the same time, a remarkable abundance of possibilities”.  However, the only way to truly retain ones individuality is to reject everything in society and blend into the faceless masses.  Without recognition, we are free to become the hated public official who delights in making others miserable.  Dostoevsky and Nietzsche recognized that their society was one without values, but hoped, like Morris, that a new day would dawn and society would restructure itself.

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