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Bedeutung Magazine Issue 4: Intellectuals & Masses // a study of the depiction of the ‘average’ person by intellectuals

November 10, 2009

“There is nothing so annoying as to be fairly rich, of a fairly good family, pleasing presence, average education, to be ‘not stupid,’ kind-hearted, and yet to have no talent at all, no originality, not a single idea of one’s own—to be, in fact, ‘just like everyone else.’

Of such people there are countless numbers in this world—far more even than appear. They can be divided into two classes as all men can—that is, those of limited intellect, and those who are much cleverer. The former ofthese classes is the happier.

To a commonplace man of limited intellect, for instance, nothing is simpler than to imagine himself an original character, and to revel in that belief without the slightest misgiving.

Many of our young women have thought fit to cut their hair short, put on blue spectacles, and call themselves Nihilists. By doing this they have been able to persuade themselves, without further trouble, that they have acquired new convictions of their own. Some men have but felt some little qualm of kindness towards their fellowmen, and the fact has been quite enough to persuade them that they stand alone in the van of enlightenment and that no one has such humanitarian feelings as they. Others have but to read an idea of somebody else’s, and they can immediately assimilate it and believe that it was a child of their own brain. The ‘impudence of ignorance,’ if I may use the expression, is developed to a wonderful extent in such cases;—unlikely as it appears, it is met with at every turn.

This confidence of a stupid man in his own talents has been wonderfully depicted by Gogol in the amazing character of Pirogoff. Pirogoff has not the slightest doubt of his own genius,—nay, of his SUPERIORITY of genius,—so certain is he of it that he never questions it. How many Pirogoffs have there not been among our writers—scholars—propagandists? I say ‘have been,’ but indeed there are plenty of them at this very day.

Our friend, Gania, belonged to the other class—to the ‘much cleverer’ persons, though he was from head to foot permeated and saturated with the longing to be original. This class, as I have said above, is far less happy. For the ‘clever commonplace’ person, though he may possibly imagine himself a man of genius and originality, none the less has within his heart the deathless worm of suspicion and doubt; and this doubt sometimes brings a clever man to despair. (As a rule, however, nothing tragic happens;—his liver becomes a little damaged in the course of time, nothing more serious. Such men do not give up their aspirations after originality without a severe struggle,—and there have been men who, though good fellows in themselves, and even benefactors to humanity, have sunk to the level of base criminals for the sake of originality.”

The Idiot by F. Dostoevsky

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