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The Parallax View

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The Lofty and the Beautiful

I consider myself a cultured, respectable individual. Sometimes this is mistaken for being pretentious and lacking courage. Books, in our day and age, are a relic of the past. Even people who still read mostly do it off of an electronic pad known as the Kindle or its many competitors like the E-reader and so on and so forth. But to me there is nothing like holding a book in your hands, particularly something old and rusty with yellowed pages and that stale smell that old books have. When I was younger, I tried reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, one of the most famous novels ever written. I think I got up to page 80 when I realized it wasn’t for me.

I am significantly older and wiser now and I decided to give another Dostoyevsky book a try, this time Notes from the Underground, a first person quasi-memoir whereas the narrator literally speaks to the reader about a wide sort of things; his contempt for society, his (in)sanity, the rules of common courtesy, poverty, education, art, history, and so on. The narrator is very critical of Russian society, and of the world as a whole during the 19th century. It is a difficult book to read. It is a heavy task to say the least, even though the entire book only runs 153 pages in length. The language is difficult to gauge because, frankly, it was written nearly 150 years ago in a language that is very difficult to translate properly so that the reader is affected the way the author intended. Thus, it is a task to sift through the novel, a morbid assortment of thoughts and ideas that have to be read and re-read several times for it to make sense.

One of the phrases that the protagonist repeats several times throughout the first part of the book is “The lofty and the beautiful”, derived from an essay written by Immanuel Kant. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what the author meant. But it’s something that stuck with me while I was reading the novel. It sounds like a good title for a British mini-series, doesn’t it?