An anecdote and then the antidote.
I am/was an underground man. The first time I read Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes from Underground’ I was twenty or twenty-one, a couple years younger than the novel’s protagonist during its second part, ‘An Occasion of Wet Snow’. I was going through my own ‘occasion’ at the time and in a beatific synchronicity I found my life mirrored in the novel’s pages. I have never felt anything like it, before or after: the once firm barriers between fiction and reality dropped from me and I was left feeling as if Dostoevsky had somehow tapped my psyche in order to fuel his creation. The unspoken reality I knew had been uttered and it was immensely comforting to have that seal broken. I have since revisited that wet snow evening many times, never once spared a proper wounding.
Still I am not the same person I once was, and I cannot say with any certainty what others feel as they age but I consider my life somewhat fractured. Looking back I think of myself not as one person but at least three, separated chronologically in time, roughly one a decade. There is a bit of Alzheimer’s to my nostalgia when I reflect on my underground years, I begin to think of myself as a separate person, one with a largely different repertoire of associations running through his mind, one wounded and frankly quite ill. I cannot penetrate his psyche save for the mementoes left behind, they hold something that if used properly resonate some of the feeling-in-use mostly obscured by my memory and its new co-ordinates. I recently unearthed just such a box of mementoes from that time period, long buried in my parent’s basement. Contained within are at least three unfinished novels, reams of tangential poetry, a guttural expression of life crammed between a lot of incidental things like empty shot bottles, fragments of wall-collages, photographs, and mixtapes. When I come in contact with these items I remember some things about this other person but they are not the same of course, and I have learned that there is a considerable difference between the act of feeling something and the state of living in accordance with it; one is not necessarily contained in the other, one has to bring whatever else one has to it in order to set up camp there. I come by these feelings of the other me lately like an unprepared scout, with none of the provisions needed to stay around for long, no matter how alluring the prospect may be.
Herein lies the challenge of self-analysis: the closer the inspection of a particular feeling the less defined it becomes, until eclipsed by awareness it ceases to be anything. It is like a video camera aimed towards its outgoing image rendering itself into infinity; a fraction to the left, a fraction to the right and there is still something, but to look directly inward gives in to the holographic conceit of knowledge. So is this tiny feeling that I captured in these songs… I can only nod to you with some gesture of assurance that ‘it happened’ and hope you understand, for even to me it is a half-understanding. To know you feel something is a silly proposition, you feel it wholly and it shatters thought and in the aftermath one pieces together a record. I sense that the feeling is properly enshrined in this playlist because something of the familiar melancholy lingers when I listen to it and I feel not quite so fractured, almost whole.
A quick note on what exactly this represents because it would be false to say these twelve songs encompass the whole of the text. I have made at least three failed attempts to do that and I could not balance my want of harmony in the work by the fractured two part nature of the story, so I recently decided to focus solely on the second part, ‘On the Occasion of Wet Snow’, and once I did that everything came together wonderfully. Gone was the impulse to crowbar in the heavy sounds of a ranting elder self-destructive; what is left is the distillation of youth at the moment of corrosion, something I truly identified with during my bout with the bottle in my early twenties. For those who do not know what this chapter entails, I can describe it briefly as follows: The unnamed protagonist of the story is remembering a pivotal moment in his young life, a moment which quite possibly comes to define his later cynical ways. He seeks to establish a reputation among his peers on a rare night out and in the process gets exceedingly drunk and thoroughly embarrasses himself. The night ends with the protagonist alone with a woman of ill-repute and the tenuous relationship that blossoms over night and into the next day becomes his richest experience of love.
The entire ‘Notes From Underground’ Mixtape in one long stream
Feel free to message me for the playlist, if interested.
Some choice quotations from the novel that I feel are captured in this playlist:
“I was never able to dream consistently for more than three months, after which I would develop an irresistible urge to plunge into society” - notes p 69
“1) I detest phrases, phrasemongers, and pinched waists 2) I hate smut and I hate people who relish smut 3) I love truth, sincerity and honesty”. - notes P. 90
“The fact is that at those very moments I was more clearly and vividly aware of the revolting absurdity of my imaginings and the entire reverse side of the medal than anyone else in the world could have been. and yet… “ notes, p. 98
“Now’s just the right moment to throw a bottle at them all, I thought, and, picking up a bottle, I… poured myself a full glass.” notes, p. 91.
“Nasty day for a funeral!” I started again, to break the silence. P. 105
“She understood out of all this what a woman, if she loves sincerely, will always understand before all else. She understood that I was myself unhappy.” notes, p145
“And enter my home openly and freely - full mistress of it all!” - notes pg. 131
“They won’t let me… I can’t be… good” - notes, p. 145