JUDY KRAVIS

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Wednesday, 4 November 2020

I went to university wanting to know what philosophy was, and I got Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

I, for instance, am horribly sensitive. I'm suspicious and easily offended, like a dwarf or a hunchback. But I believe there have been moments when I'd have liked to have my face slapped. I say that in all seriousness— I'd have derived pleasure from this too. Naturally it would be the pleasure of despair. But then, it is in despair that we find the most acute pleasure, especially when we are aware of the hopelessness of the situation. And when one's face is slapped—why, one is bound to be crushed by one's awareness of the pulp into which one has been ground.

An irritated man down a mouse hole. You go round a corner and it gets worse. Forerunner of existentialism, if you like. Actual rant and agony, humiliation and defiance: I can tell you anything and I can go on for as long as I like. At least Kafka was happy in his burrow, resting and checking the defences. 

Anyone who can make Kafka seem cosy ...

Now let's look at this mouse in action. Let's assume it has been humiliated (it is constantly being humiliated) and that it wishes to avenge itself.  ...  The nauseating, despicable, petty desire to repay the offender in kind may squeak more disgustingly in the mouse than in the natural man, who, because of his innate stupidity, considers revenge as merely justice, whereas the mouse, with its heightened consciousness, is bound to deny the justice of it. Now we come to the act of revenge itself. In addition to being disgraced in the first place, the poor mouse manages to mire itself in more mud as a result of its questions and doubts.  And each question brings up so many more unanswered questions that a fatal pool of sticky muck is formed. ...

Truth is crooked, as Nietzsche said.

Humiliation is purification, says Dostoyevsky.

Actually the notes of this lover of paradoxes do not end here. He couldn't resist and went on writing. But we are of the opinion that one might just as well stop here.

Tsypkin, who is jewish, is replenished by Dostoyevsky, who hates jews. By trying to understand someone who hates you, by following in his tracks, photographing the Petersburg he inhabited, you find a semblance of yourself. I find a semblance of myself, a semblance among semblances.

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