Summary and Analysis
The narrator wishes that he could simply say that he is a sluggard or that he is lazy. This would at least be a quality and he could then be positively defined as "a sluggard." He says that he once knew a man who prided himself on being a connoisseur of Lafitte. The man died in tranquility believing that being a connoisseur of Lafitte was a great virtue. Thus, logically, being lazy could also be considered a career. By having been both a sluggard and a glutton, yet possessing "sympathies for the good and beautiful," he could have occupied his entire life with offering toasts to everything good and beautiful. And then he could die with dignity. In such a negative age, he says, it would be good to have something definite to say about oneself.
In this section, the Underground Man is attempting to define his own personality and, more important, he is trying to define his own existence. For the introspective person, one of the great difficulties of life lies in trying to define the nature of one's own existence. This has been a central problem of twentieth-century philosophy and has been the crux of the school of philosophy called Existentialism, particularly as expounded by Jean Paul Sartre. At this point, the reader should be aware that modern existentialists returned to much of Dostoevsky's writings in order to express much of their philosophy. Like the Underground Man, the existentialists believe that too many people define their own existence by what others think of them. Also, too many people try to define themselves by assigning a title or a definition to themselves.
The Underground Man says that he knew a man who lived contentedly throughout his life simply because he defined himself as a connoisseur of Lafitte. To be an expert, however, the narrator says, does not define one's essence or one's existence. To believe so is to live in self-deception. But the "connoisseur of Lafitte" took the definition of himself from what others thought of him or how others defined him. And, therefore, the Underground Man realizes that it is impossible for him to define himself as a sluggard, even though it would definitely mean that he was "positively defined; it would mean that there was something to say about" himself. But he knows, as a man of acute consciousness, that he could never really accept such a superficial classification and live meaningfully with it. But it would be very pleasant to be able to be stupid enough to do so.