Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Bulgakov – The master and Margarita

The devil comes to Moscow and confuses all people – sometimes it seems that the devil is a metaphor for the secret police, because magically people disappear and suffer yet no one wants to talk about it. There is also a second story about Pilate, who wants to set Jesus free, but doesn’t manage due to various pressures from society and thus for the rest of his life (and afterlife) suffers.

Moreover it is a book about artists in a dictatorship where they are constantly under threat for what they write and what compromises they have to make and how to maintain integrity or don’t. Easy to say, to ignore the threat, but much harder to do.

Both stories unite the central theme of cowardice – or the self-accusation of cowardice

Bulgakov’s gentle irony is a warning against the mistake, more common in our time than we might think, of equating artistic mastery with a sort of saintliness, or, in Kierkegaard’s terms, of confusing the aesthetic with the ethical. (Bulgakov, 1966, p.xvii).

“’Why, actually, did I get so excited about Berlioz falling under a tram-car?’ the poet reasoned. ‘In the final analysis, let him sink! What am I, in fact, his chum or in-law? If we air the question properly, it turns out that, in essence, I really did not even know the deceased. What, indeed, did I know about him? Nothing except that he was bald and terribly eloquent. And furthermore, citizens,’ Ivan continuedhis speech, addressing someone or other, ‘let’s sort this out: why, tell me, did I get furious at this mysterious consultant, magician and professor with the black and empty eye? Why all this absurd chase after him in underpants and with a candle in my hand, and then those wild shenanigans in the restaurant?” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.117). “Well, what can be done about it? Man is mortal and, as has rightly been said, unexpectedly mortal.” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.117).

“Rimsky knew where he had gone, but he had gone and … not come back! Rimsky shrugged his shoulders and whispered to himself: ‘But what for?’” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.120).

“That is a fact. And a fact is the most stubborn thing in the world. (…) that your theory is both solid and clever. However, one theory is as good as another.” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.273).

“’Let me see it.’ Woland held out his hand, palm up.
‘Unfortunately, I cannot do that,’ replied the master, ‘because I burned it in the stove.’
Forgive me, but I don’t believe you,’ Woland replied, ‘that cannot be: manuscripts don’t burn.’” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.287).

“but good heavens, philosopher! How can you, with your intelligence, allow yourself to think that, for the sake of a man who has committed a crime against Caesar, the procurator of Judea would ruin his career?
‘Yes, yes …’ Pilate moaned and sobbed in his sleep. Of course he would. In the morning, he still would not, but now, at night, after weighing everything, he would agree to ruin it. He would do everything to save the decidedly innocent, mad dreamer and healer from execution.” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.320).

“‘He does not deserve the light, he deserves peace,’ Levi said in a sorrowful voice.” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.361).

“’Listen to the stillness,’ Margarita said to the master, and the sand rustled under her bare feet, ‘listen and enjoy what you were not given in life – peace Look, there ahead is your eternal home, which you have been given as a reward.” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.384).

“the master’s memory, the master’s anxious needled memory began to fade. Someone was setting the master free, as he himself had just set free the hero he created.” (Bulgakov, 1966, p.384).

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