Saturday, June 30, 2007

2 + 2 = 4

Or, Further adventures in Spam.

The block of text at the top of the message which was there to get it past my spam filter had something intriguing about organising a Lermontov club, and the next message had an interesting block of text that was all about Pontius Pilate. I googled text strings and found that they were both extracts from a novel called ‘The Master and Margarita’, by Mikhail Bulgakov. I wasn’t interested enough to read it at the time, but the other day I saw it sitting there on the library shelves...

It was written in the 1930s, under the most appalling regime in human history, about which I will say no more. It would be a shame to live detesting the way you were forced to live and trying to transcend your horrible environment in the things you created, to have to look out of eternity and see people dragging that detestable environment into their discussion of your work.

Like Čapek, Bulgakov had some reputation as a humorist and died young a few months before the Nazis invaded his country.

‘The Master and Margarita’ does something I have often thought of, but never yet done. It is like the Matrix, where the imagined world within a world is more self-consistent and ‘real’ than the ‘real world’. In the Matrix this is accidental, because the unreal world draws on all the content of our world, while the ‘real world’ has been insufficiently imagined, but in Bulgakov’s book it done on purpose. The novel within the novel is entirely realistic and believable, with no supernatural aspects save one headache cure that could easily be psychosomatic. The novel itself is a riot of magical realism in which Satan careers through Moscow enacting quasi-poetic justice in a way reminiscent of the end of ‘That Hideous Strength’.

If the novel had come out when it was written, I think it would be more well-known than it is, as a type specimen of magic realism; but the manuscript could not be published until 1967, by which time the Latin Americans had staked out the magic realism landscape and it would no longer have appeared so original.

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