Quote 2

Oh, gentlemen, perhaps I really regard myself as an intelligent man only because throughout my entire life I’ve never been able to start or finish anything.

The Underground Man makes this statement in Chapter V of “Underground,” after having described the causes and conditions of his inertia. Just prior to this point in the novel, he has asserted that his intelligence is the cause of his inertia; now he suggests that his inertia is evidence of his intelligence. This reversal demonstrates the Underground Man’s belief that intelligence, or consciousness, must cause inertia and indecision in the modern era. According to the Underground Man, a man must be completely confident that he is doing the right thing before he can take action. He needs a “primary” cause, something solid by which he can justify what he does. A stupid man can imagine that he has found a primary cause, but an intelligent man knows that this primary cause is really a secondary cause, which is related to all kinds of different concepts and problems that would take an eternity to sort out. A narrow-minded man thinks that the reason he wants revenge on someone else is for the sake of justice; an intelligent man is aware that he is not motivated by justice at all. The intelligent man fails to find a satisfactory reason for the action he wants to perform, and, in fact, is impossible to find one. For the intelligent man, even the laws of nature and reason are suspect. Therefore, no intelligent man should ever be able to make up his mind to start or finish anything—no matter how simple. The intelligent man will constantly be aware that he has no concrete reason to take action, or will at least be aware that he has no understanding of the reason to take action.