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The Inherent Quality of Nastiness

Legendary authors Fyodor Dostoevsky and Charles Baudelaire are known for their landmark works, particularly in their respective areas of fiction and poetry. Both were born in the same year in the great cities of Moscow and Paris, and thus were exposed to relatively similar pursuits of knowledge and consciousness of the time.

But while Dostoevsky presented the reader with the quintessential debate between opposing intellectual concepts such as good and evil, Baudelaire had a penchant for revealing the frailty of human nature toward ideals regarded then as evil; lust, sloth, hatred, and hypocrisy underlined his otherwise beautiful imagery, putting forth a clear message of his discovery of societal ills. Nastiness, conveyed in both Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes From Underground’ and Baudelaire’s ‘Paris Spleen’ as the evil inherent in humans born out of social conditions and conventions, is explicitly drawn and narrated in terms both personal and intellectual.

Dostoevsky appropriates the first-person experience of a victim of established beliefs and values and relegated to the literal darkness of the underground, while Baudelaire showcases the supposed glamour and beauty of urban life in Paris which blankets the real essence of its everyday occurrences, as well as its effects on the mindsets of the society rendered blind to the flaws of its ways. In both works, the reality of evil is ascertained as an intrinsic human trait made possible by the constant pushing of individuals by society into the dark alleys of confusion, depression, and need for survival.

The product in effect never comes closer to an acceptance of common consciousness, but a continuous descent to hopelessness, despair, and invisibility. II. Speaking From the Darkness: Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes From Underground’ Dostoevsky managed to create a character with a voice that belies his alleged residence in the underground; his incessant manner of conveying his thoughts, feelings, and observations go far beyond what is expected of someone with the ultimate decision to remain invisible and unfound.

Then again, his invisibility does not just refer to his actual location; it also connotes the results of his experience as a civil servant and the circumstances that have led him to the annals of bitterness and isolation. The novel’s first part explains the man’s thoughts about humanity and the world in general, as well as how his own actions are but reactions to the sorry state society has placed him in. However, he takes pleasure in the pain and cruelty of suffering, opining that it is common among humans to want to propagate the same feelings among others.

He also believes that man is a creature of habit and nature, unable to discern what is morally right or wrong. But in the midst of his enduring complaints about society and its rule over humans, he also proclaims his understanding of the core problem; and unlike others, he chooses to reserve any acts of revenge or anger and simply intends to keep to his mode of spite. This character would rather ensconce himself in the folds of inaction, because of his own inclination toward laziness.

The second part of the novel, a narrative that places the man in an actual social situation that reveals his real sense of self and society, somewhat debunks his original meanderings about his supposed inaction. His encounters with old school friends, the prostitute Liza, and his obsession with an intimidating officer all fell short of his claims regarding boredom and nonchalance; in all events, the man made real decisions and actions that corresponded with his feelings of insecurity and fear.

But when Liza shows him genuine compassion upon learning of these concerns, the man reverts to his default stance of bitterness and anger—thus showing how he can be no better than the society he had been criticizing. Evil in this story is merely positioned as a defense mechanism, a standard reaction to the imbalanced conditions produced by society. The man has an absolute grasp of this concept and appears to know its source and solution, but an encounter with anything that embodies the opposite—in this case, the prostitute—strips him of his resolve and rational decisions.

In the end, however, he realizes the error of his choices, which ultimately reveals how evil is not entirely inherent in humans; it is simply a product of reality and convention, and that humans are most capable of discerning between good and evil, between right and wrong. The choice to be evil or nasty is thus a defense mechanism done to mirror the same being forced upon humans, with the more intrinsic nature of reason and compassion deep inside. III.

Seeing Beyond Beauty: Baudelaire’s ‘Paris Spleen’ Many have probably misconstrued the term ‘spleen’ as that human body part, but in this text its other meaning is appropriated—that of anger or bad temper. Therefore the title itself hints at the theme of Baudelaire’s collection of prose poetry. But this is certainly not apparent at first reading, as the most common understanding would be of the author’s celebration of the beauty of Paris, his native city.

The four prose poems paint a vivid picture of modern Paris, including the popular mindsets and preoccupations of the time—theatre, travel, architecture, and social encounters—yet introduce several insights into each experience that forces one to look at it from a different angle. Dissatisfaction, human folly, pity, and longing for something outside of the literal bounds of place and thinking are directly alluded to by Baudelaire, through a mockery of the values and beliefs strongly promoted by society.

In “One O’Clock in the Morning”, the author despises the idea of shallow minds and trivial talk, and wishes to create poetry that would set him far apart from those he hates; in “Crowds”, he emphasizes the significance of solitude as a means to live completely, notwithstanding the common perception of living among others necessary to exist; in ‘Windows”, Baudelaire shows how society is centered on its own superficial representations, and ignores the reality of poverty and suffering; and in “Anywhere out of the World”, the author concludes his non-negotiable goal to remove himself from the ‘world’, or presumably, Paris.

There is much anger and conviction in each poem, conveyed with a complete adherence to sarcasm and wit. Baudelaire was known for exposing the evils of the world he lived in, which makes this collection a veritable commentary on Parisian society evoked though a cutting style that renders it insensitive, conceited, and blind. While the author’s unapologetic tone and words may seem harsh and even evil, it is obvious how he merely attempted to equate his observations of society’s ills with the context and language he used.

The fact that he correlated each ‘nasty’ comment with one of significance shows how the use of evil was meant to match the larger reality being observed. IV. Between Darkness and Ugliness: Comparing Notes and Spleen The man in ‘Notes From Underground’ and Baudelaire’s persona in ‘Paris Spleen’ may both be adjudged as nasty or evil, considering their respective and collective depictions of their societies’ conditions and norms. However, the presentations of such concepts in both are proven to be of sound reason, for they were meant to connect the purposes of progress and modernity with the effects on humanity.

In ‘Notes From Underground’, the man’s evil thoughts are expressed as a result of the conditions forced upon him by society, and thus remove from him any semblance of hope and optimism; he is nasty because people were nasty to him. One common expression of evil in logic is that it begets the same, therefore the acts or circumstances of nastiness produced the same in the man. But his true nature and feelings are revealed in the end, so the idea of evil is not entirely authentic.

The same may be said of Baudelaire in ‘Paris Spleen’, but only in the discussion of nature versus action; while Baudelaire speaks of the ugliness behind Paris’ renowned beauty and progress, he never shows a single moment of weakness or an instance wherein he is revealed to have submitted to the parameters he is being subjected to. The use of mockery and sarcasm which is in both works lends itself better in Baudelaire’s, since he never sways from its purpose, nor deviates from it to a more emotional stance. V. Conclusion

Though works such as Dostoevsky’s and Baudelaire’s are not usually viewed by most as appropriate literature to represent society and culture, the fact that they expose evil for purposes of correction make them essential reading. The use of ‘nasty’ characters with the corresponding dispositions is part of this goal, perhaps to invite criticism and controversy, yet would secretly be read by many. Humans are not inherently evil; they are, in fact, intrinsically good—thus the negative reaction to evil and nastiness in understandable.

But instead of showing the world through rose-colored lenses and exposing just one aspect of it, evil in texts provide the other side of humanity, one that would be evident if not for the presence of reason and judgment.

References Baudelaire, C. (2001). ‘Notes From Underground’. In Lawall, S. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 1800-1900, Second Edition, Volume E. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. , Inc. Dostoevsky, F (2002). ‘Paris Spleen’. In Lawall, S. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 1800-1900, Second Edition, Volume E. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. , Inc.

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