“Why don’t we reduce all this reasonableness to dust with one good kick”

Sarah Altmejd by David Altmejd (Collection Victor Altmejd, Montréal), seen at the Musée d’art contemporain, Montréal

And it is then – this is still you speaking – that new economic relations will come, quite ready-made, and also calculated with mathematical precision, so that all possible questions will vanish in an instant, essentially because they will have been given all possible answers. Then the crystal palace will get built. Then … well, in short, then the bird Kagan will come flying. Of course, there’s no guaranteeing (this is me speaking now) that it won’t, for example, be terribly boring then (because what is there to do if everything’s calculated according to some little table?), but, on the other hand, it will all be extremely reasonable. Of course, what inventions can boredom not lead to! Golden pins also get stuck in from boredom, but all that would be nothing. The bad thing is (this is me speaking again) that, for all I know, they may be glad of the golden pins then. Man really is stupid, phenomenally stupid. That is, he’s by no means stupid, but rather he’s so ungrateful that it would be hard to find the likes of him. I, for example, would not be the least bit surprised if suddenly, out of the blue, amid the universal future reasonableness, some gentleman of ignoble, or, better, of retrograde and jeering physiognomy, should emerge, set his arms akimbo, and say to us all: “Well, gentlemen, why don’t we reduce all this reasonableness to dust with one good kick, for the sole purpose of sending all these logarithms to the devil and living once more according to our own stupid will!” That would still be nothing, but what is offensive is that he’d be sure to find followers: that’s how man is arranged. And all this for the emptiest of reasons, which would seem not even worth mentioning: namely, that man, whoever he might be, has always and everywhere liked to act as he wants, and not at all as reason and profit dictate; and one can want even against one’s own profit, and one sometimes even positively must (this is my idea now). One’s own free and voluntary wanting, one’s own caprice, however wild, one’s own fancy, though chafed sometimes to the point of madness – all this is that same most profitable profit, the omitted one, which does not fit into any classification, and because of which all systems and theories are constantly blown to the devil. And where did all these sages get the idea that man needs some normal, some virtuous wanting? What made them necessarily imagine that what man needs is necessarily a reasonably profitable wanting? Man needs only independent wanting, whatever this independence may cost and wherever it may lead. Well, and this wanting, the devil knows …

Fydor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage, 1994)


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