September 11, 2008

Upon further review

Maybe twenty years ago I was assigned, and read, Notes from Underground. Astonishingly, it did nothing for me. Now, as I grab it off my shelf this morning as a distraction from the fifty or more administrative flies I ought to be swatting this morning, I read this:

I was a spiteful official. I was rude and took pleasure in being so. I did not take bribes, you see, so I was bound to find a recompense in that, at least. (A poor jest, but I will not scratch it out. I wrote it thinking it would sound very witty; but now that I have seen myself that I only wanted to show off in a despicable way, I will not scratch it out on purpose!)

When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when I succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the most part they were all timid people -- of course, they were petitioners.


But do you know, gentlemen, what was the chief point about my spite? Why, the whole point, the real sting of it lay in the fact that continually, even in the moment of the acutest spleen, I was inwardly conscious with shame that I was not only not a spiteful but not even an embittered man, that I was simply scaring sparrows at random and amusing myself by it. I might foam at the mouth, but bring me a doll to play with, give me a cup of tea with sugar in it, and maybe I should be appeased. I might even be genuinely touched, though probably I should grind my teeth at myself after-wards and lie awake at night with shame for months after. That was my way.

And I feel a little less alone in the world. I wonder if I should go back and reread every book I read before turning forty?


--S. said...

Only the ones that didn't speak to you, I think. I'm not so sure I want to re-read anything I ~loved~ before I turned 30, at least.

Michael said...

You wrote: "I wonder if I should go back and reread every book I read before turning forty?" My reply: just the short ones that did nothing for you. Although I must say I tried Andre Gide's The Immoralist, a nice short book, three times and never got much of anything out of it.

JB said...

Notice how I did NOT delete S's insightful comment with wanton abandon, as she is wont to do with mine?