Babel — Fragments of an Underground Man


“The author of the diary and the diary itself are, of course, imaginary. Nevertheless it is clear that such persons as the writer of these notes not only may, but positively must, exist in our society, when we consider the circumstances in the midst of which our society is formed.”

~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground.

“Faced with the inescapable fact that human existence is mad, random, and pointless, one in eight of them crack up and go stark slavering buggo! Who can blame them? In a world as psychotic as this… any other response would be crazy!”

~ Joker in Batman: The killing joke, by Alan Moore.

The following notes can be considered to be made by an unnamed, imaginary character akin to the “Underground Man” from “Notes from the Underground”. Portrayal is not endorsement!


There’s no unity in direction. No unity in purpose. Just as nature is divided against itself with the factions competing against each other with temporal periods of stasis, the acutely aware individual is divided against himself with competing impulses and drives that seek domination and recognition as the identity of the individual. This individual may achieve periods of equilibrium within himself but it is never invariable. The greatest battle for him has always been the striving after a unitary goal and meaning for his life. He has always been torn between the multiplicity and vicissitudes of his impulses, desires, sorrows and personalities. He can never choose one joy for another, nor one sorrow for another, nor one thought for another consistently and invariably. Even if he manages to achieve that impossible feat of choosing a singular idea, he can never live without regret of having to let go of the others. And on that account of failure to enact the choice without looking back, it has never been a true choice. The only difference between an average man and a schizophrenic whose identity has dissociated into a restive multiplicity is the degree of tensions between the various modes of the mind and the awareness of those tensions. The average man need only put himself in the extraordinary circumstances of the latter to confound his own equilibrium and to evaluate the strength of his purpose.

Supposing that it may be possible for someone to completely embody a unitary meaning and not have any regrets and that someone has indeed achieved it, what if that person develops a nervous disorder by chance and loses his memories and equanimity he achieved?! What if he is restored again to his old ordinary human ways, far below the heights he once soared, due to that disorder! Could this absurdity be addressed? Is one really at the helm of affairs of life? Is fatalism not inherent in this?

Never has there been an atomic action and never will there be. This untenability of unity itself proves the futility of purpose. Non-unity is as true of the externality as it is also of the internal world. Nothing, not even one’s thoughts and memories can be trusted for they are inherently fallible. Also, one’s ‘agency’ itself is determined by a multitude of external and internal factors! The notion that one holds absolute dominion over one’s agency is in strict scientific literalness utterly preposterous. And it follows that one can’t identify oneself with one’s agency, let alone what one becomes with that agency! And it is the plight of an acutely aware one to endure the torment of this debilitating solitariness amidst all. The torment of a nonlocal and disjunct or perhaps nonexistent identity. Such person quivers and breaks down into a fit of tears when he thinks of the word ‘I’, which was once his most cherished illusion! The individual has seen through the veil, from behind which his self was orchestrating all the charades and postulating grand narratives of identity; and he recognizes with a keenest sense that he is no more an “In-dividual”. From that epiphany onwards his identity is blown into splinters. He listens not to his conscience for there’s none. His psyche is no more monolithic; rather he hears myriad voices, each no less specious and untrustworthy to each other; each trying to present him an identity. Oh, how many letters each of those personas has corresponded with the others; how dissonant they are with each other; and how complementary they are, at times; the most nerve-racking experience the pathetic individual has to endure is his lucid awareness of this condition, unlike some people with multiple personality disorders, who are not conscious of it.

But alas, there’s no place, person or thought he can seek refuge in but everything to run away from. No place of succor for his flayed and encumbered mind. Every notion has become remote, every pleasure frustrating and every sorrow overwhelming. For nothing can be truly rationalized if he doesn’t seek the refuge of metaphysics. And of all, there are no answers to the question of Suffering! It is revealed to him that it is absolutely irrational in nature! No justification can assuage it. And at that moment when he realizes suffering as absolutely irrational, the pangs of despair dig deep into his grieving heart. Now, how else to characterize this condition if not as schizophrenic! And no one is endowed with a comprehensive omniscience to give that unity which can redeem this individual. It seems that the culmination of evolution of consciousness is this very dissolution! Not the dissolution of consciousness or capacity to experience itself but a dissolution of its coherence and locus, and yet ironically an acute awareness of this very predicament! It’s not as though he is surrounded by absolute darkness and maddening silence. No! It’s when he is surrounded by the world and he couldn’t perceive any sign of coherence and sense! He realizes everything is Random Noise! This is the peak of Consciousness to him! Babel! Nature is the Mother of all Irony! If there’s one pure unity in nature, it is in its sustained irony and chaos. Existence is conditional and we are all fated to chance!

The tower of Babel is not just symbolic of the society but of the mind too! In both realms of man, it’s an ascension into chaos! Both within and without! Babel — gate of God, huh? I think the fallen ones from that legend ‘invented’ the entity God to prevent themselves from ascending into madness again! Man can’t endure his own exaltation into that tumult! It seems, in that state of din and discord both within and without one has just two options: growth and decay. And every activity is perceived in terms of mere pleasure and pain. Nothing more. But there’s no other reason or argument that can substantiate or justify either of these choices. There’s no inherent value or meaning.

Also he can’t stand to face the proposition that there was no ‘conscious identity’, no ‘personality’ which induces that chaos. Because that would mean that chaos was ‘inherent’ and inevitable with his ascent. Ergo, it would mean that the fruits of his toil, his sweat and blood, his invaluable sacrifices, his endurance of suffering for the greater good, is the very annihilation of all these including his own self and that such annihilation is not ‘caused’ by anything but himself! He will be left with no choice, nor freedom from his agonies! On the one hand, he can’t simply endure suffering without working to overcome it and on the other hand, he can’t accept that his own workings will lead to a greater suffering, a suffering which pulverizes his agency and purpose! He can’t accept both! He wants to rebel against his suffering and do something about it. And he doesn’t want to overcome it to the extent that he becomes aware of his nothingness and that of his deeds! So he created a third way and took flight from this inescapable predicament! Thus he created God! And he said God will punish him if he never worked and also if he tried to climb too high! And he created Daedalus and Icarus too! He took upon the identity of Daedalus and with great grief and sympathy buried Icarus!

Like Daedalus he wants to fly from his present imprisonment and unlike Icarus he doesn’t want to soar too high to his own death!

You see, this is the true utility of the concept of the Divine! To ‘protect’ man’s agency from complete impotence on one side and from complete annihilation on the other. This is achieved by using the Divine as boundaries on either sides! The sense of agency is preserved from his own acute awareness! God is the “Enchantment” that man cast upon himself to be oblivious of the “Hell” that is “Real”! Man by his volition descended from the heights because he held himself dear! Not because there was a God who punished him! Man restrained man; Man chastised man! He chose to forget what he became aware of! : Daniel Dennett on consciousness

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