Sometimes details can hang up a whole story; for instance, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, I could never quite get past the fact that the unnamed narrator, the underground man, was a retired civil servant looking back over his life from the vantage point of forty. I’ll turn forty this year and don’t feel the slightest bit old or ready for retirement, though such is one of the big differences between living in St. Petersburg, Russia in the mid-nineteenth century and living in the United States in the early twenty-first.
The underground man’s life goes something like this: I’m superior, more refined, more aware of lofty ideals and beauty than my contemporaries and peers. Because of this they are not worthy of my time and attention, yet I need these people I loath to accept me. I’m humiliated by my need for acceptance and so I attempt to show I am better than them by humiliating them, but I lack the courage to do even this and so I make myself feel better by hating them, yet I crave their acceptance all the more. It goes round and round leaving me trapped in my hole like a mouse underground.
But I kept thinking… you’re only forty, man, you’re still young, get over it. Still, there’s real psychological truth to Dostoyevsky’s portrait of the man, unable to change and therefore stuck in the circular thinking that his moral superiority over everyone in his life is the cause of his debasement which in turn causes that sense of superiority. It’s a kind of hell, really, and the circular nature of hell is a recurring motif on Lost, a concept first introduced to Lost with Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (back in Season 2):
Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable.
And that is a perfect description of the underground man. Despite any amount of free will he may have, he’s trapped by his ego in a hell of his own making from which he’ll never escape. Of course that not escaping and instead choosing, against reason, a path that leads to destruction is exactly what the underground man is doing in order to prove his theory that human nature is to exercise free will even against the interests of oneself. In essence we can, and often do chose to destroy ourselves against all reason and opportunity to do otherwise.
So we make our own hells and dig our own graves. Isn’t that one of the themes of Lost, which constantly reinforces the notion that the characters’ exercise of free will has created the destinies from which they can’t seem to escape? Isn’t it the stubborn pride of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Sayid and Ben that forces them to continue on paths they know to be unreasonable? Who on Lost can actually break out of his self-created destiny? Will that person be the candidate to replace Jacob?
In Lost, Notes from Underground appears in the Season 6 episode “Everybody Loves Hugo.” Hurley finds it among Ilana’s things after she accidently blows herself up. I didn’t see it pertaining to one individual character or storyline in that episode so much as it reminds me of the whole situation on Lost, in which each of the characters is trapped by his or her own weaknesses. It makes me wonder if anyone on this show is going to find a happy ending and some kind of redemption or if they will all, like the underground man, wither away in their holes, forgotten by an uncaring world.
Or maybe they’ll end up on the bottom of the ocean as hinted in the Season 6 opener wherein the island was shown on the bottom of the Pacific. Perhaps one or more of our characters is doomed to become an underwater man before this is all over.
Notes from Underground is the second Dostoyevsky novel to appear on Lost, the first being The Brothers Karamazov back in Season 2, and it’s a tough book to enjoy, though it is good. Whatever that means.
Be sure to check out the rest of my Lost book club posts.