Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Auditory Autism in Dostoevsky’s Underground Man

Fri31  Mar03:30pm(15 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 250


Daniel Schümann1
1 University of Cologne, Germany


In the West, there is a strong tendency in Dostoevsky studies towards reading Notes from (the) Underground as an ardent defence of human creativity against the delusive promises of dialectical materialism. While there may be a certain originality in the protagonist’s secret wish to defiantly stick out his tongue at the Crystal Palace, the European epitome of progress and development in the late 1850s and early 1860s, the question remains what exactly the Underground Man’s furious tirades finally lead to.

Paradoxically, Dostoevsky’s protagonist seems to attempt to write using various literary genres at the same time: Rousseauite confessional prose, political pamphlet, and sentimental povest’, while at the same time seesawing egocentrically between the conventions of spontaneous impromptu speech and a well-rehearsed reading from his elaborately written manuscript.

In an attitude which Mikhail Bakhtin termed “speech with a backdoor” (слово с лазейкой) in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, the Underground Man seems to be constantly changing his perspective. This means that what looks like a dialogue with his audience and / or readership at first glance, is effectively nothing more than an autistic monologue that is finally cut short by the fictitious editor of the tale.

By taking a closer look at the pervasive theme of the auditory in Notes from (the) Underground, this paper aims at discussing the application of psychological concepts used to describe the condition of autism spectrum disorder with regard to the Underground Man. This may not the only case of an instance where modern readers can find later psychological insights prefigured in a literary character conceived by Dostoevsky.