Google Search: Notes from Underground [Dostoevsky]
I stumbled upon a passage from Notes from Underground, and was struck by how it echoed — in an ironic way — the intellectual premise of the Superior Professor’s research (no, I have not yet expunged all my recollections of that experience).
The resonance is on a couple of levels: first in the content, the notion that simple human contrariness and choice, good, bad, or indifferent, can somehow be “fixed” by a legal framework of rationalism in contract law. Everything would be subject to contractual terms and there would be no margin of error or doubt.
But I’ll sit down and let Mr Dostoevsky say his piece . . . .
The — this is all what you say — new economic relations will be established, all ready-made and worked out with mathematical exactitude, so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye, simply because every possible answer to it will be provided. Then the “Palace of Crystal” will be built. Then … In fact, those will be halcyon days. Of course there is no guaranteeing (this is my comment) that it will not be, for instance, frightfully dull then (for what will one have to do when everything will be calculated and tabulated), but on the other hand everything will be extraordinarily rational. Of course boredom may lead you to anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden pins into people, but all that would not matter. What is bad (this is my comment again) is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold pins then. Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid; or rather he is not at all stupid, but he is so ungrateful that you could not find another like him in all creation. I, for instance, would not be in the least surprised if all of a sudden, A PROPOS of nothing, in the midst of general prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with a reactionary and ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting his arms akimbo, say to us all: “I say, gentleman, hadn’t we better kick over the whole show and scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!” That again would not matter, but what is annoying is that he would be sure to find followers — such is the nature of man. And all that for the most foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning: that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one’s own interests, and sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea). One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy — is that very “most advantageous advantage” which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.
The other resonance, the part that brought me up short when I read this, was the mention of a “Palace of Crystal” (it was the Crystal Palace in the other translation I read). This was the nickname I gave to the new building the UW School of Law moved into over the summer, inspired by the large skylights in the courtyard that illuminated the law library. They were always referred to as “the crystals” (I guess calling them skylights was vulgar) and coupled with the high expectations for the building as a means of unifying the institution gave me the name.
Anyway, the notion of a legal framework that obviates any other recourse — no more consumer protection laws, for example — is what the Superior Professor sees as her main chance for lasting legal fame. My experience in contractually-managed dealings with her suggest it’s a non-starter, but then I have no legal training (as she was wont to remind me) and therefore have no standing.