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Does anyone know of a phenomena called Bengali hour? More commonly known here as Filipino hour, but I’m just saying, South-West Asian people tend to be late for everything.

So, yes, the book at hand, The Master and Margarita, one of my favourite books ever. There’s oodles and oodles to say about this book and I’m going to try and say too much and get muddled up and not say anything, so please bear with me, but first:

Does anyone else think Tim Burton (not current Tim Burton, but like Tim Burton from 1993) should direct a film adaptation of The Master and Margarita? I think the two aesthetics would really jive together.

To try and ham-fist a clever segue from that point about aesthetics; it was brought up in the lecture that The Master and Margarita can be seen as a novel celebrating “art for art’s sake”, which I hadn’t considered before but makes complete sense for me.

I alluded, in a question, to the fact that The Master and Margarita feels much more post-modern than modern to me. The narrator’s voice is distinctly recognizable as a character in its own right that directly addresses the audience, and may in fact be Bulgakov’s voice (or a proxy/caricature of it), which reminds me a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. It moves with a haphazard grace, jumping through time and space and bending the standards of linear chronology (a staple of the post-modern novel), but more than all this; the novel comments, and alludes to (with the tongue placed firmly in the cheek) its own creative process.

The Master is a thinly veiled self-insertion (with a heavy dose of self-deprecation) of Bulgakov himself (Bulgakov referred to his last wife as “my Margarita”), as shown with the manuscript burning incident**. The Master mentions that his novel about Pilate ends with the lines “the fifth Procurator of Judea, the equestrian Pontius Pilate”, and the novel we read ends with those same lines (again, Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five says at the very beginning what words the book starts and ends with; “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time” and “Poo-tee-weet?” respectively).  This, at least to me, makes me wonder about the delineation between the fictional novel in the novel, and the novel itself; are they one and the same? The questions this raises about the boundaries between fiction and reality, or fiction and fiction (consider that this is a novel reworking a poem and an opera, reworking a play, reworking a legend, which could possibly be reworking reality). Still, this seems like a wry celebration of the very fact of writing the novel, or novels, or writing, in general.

Also, note how almost all the bureaucrats terrorized by Woland are also bureaucrats working in the area of “arts”. The Soviet Constructivist approach to art is mercilessly ridiculed here, with both Riukhin and Homeless declaring their poetry to be complete garbage (and Riukhin seems to understand how poetry actually works so little that he says Pushkin is remembered only through luck!). Bulgakov declares what many before and after him have; Soviet art isn’t art, it’s kitsch, and that this appropriation, this defiling of art seems to be one of the worst sins to commit within the world of The Master and Margarita. Even Koroviev and Behemoth chastise the members of Massolit for not being true writers (quick aside: the song “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones is said to have been inspired by this novel; funny, since it’s both scrawled in my lecture notes and mentioned by Miranda in the lecture). After learning that Bulgakov was forced to stop writing and instead worked as a “consultant” at a Soviet theatre and at TRAM, it’s easy to see where these feelings would stem from.

There’s the very prominent motif of magic. Throughout the novel, the almost fanatical secularism of the USSR is lampooned, to the point where they cannot understand the very obvious acts of the supernatural happening in front of them, but the counterpoint of Pilate and Yeshua’s spiritual connection, and the wonder and transcendence through that relationship, makes the loss of this in the lives of the modern Russians seem very tragic.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, this book feels very un-Russian. It has this anarchic (I think that Bulgakov also seems to imply that the artistic is very Dionysian, as many others have said, and Woland/Satan represents this chaotic nature, thus why his associates discuss the nature of writing and imagination), playful, joyous nature to it that most Russian literature lacks, and it is honestly very, very fun, in the way that makes me remember why I love books and stories and reading. The Master and Margarita is a celebration of the fantastical and the theatrical and the spectacular such as can only be found in art.

**I find it insane that Bulgakov burnt a manuscript of this book and rewrote it. I once lost twenty pages of poetry at a pizza place out in Langley and I can’t remember a lick of what I wrote. It makes me wonder just how much all the great writers and poets of the ages lost or forgot to write down.

Let’s all just pretend this wasn’t uploaded as late as it was. Faustus really is a fantastic play though. I’d love to stage it someday. Anyway, without further delay, here are my questions for Faustus:

1. What purpose does Marlowe’s constant self-parody in the play serve? (Referring to the juxtaposition of dramatic scenes/comedic scenes and their mirror relationship)

2. How are Wagner and (especially) Robin and Ralph able to use the black magic which Faustus had to sell his soul to obtain?

3. Related to the above; the use of books as containing knowledge, often fatal knowledge, is a prevalent image in Faustus. Does the play adopt a pro or anti-print stance (particularly regarding the dissemination of books)?

4. Of Faustus himself, not much is known at the beginning, apart from his intelligence and his base birth. How do particular presumptions of Faustus inform our understanding of his actions? Does our understanding of Faustus’ actions change because we know he is of base birth? Does our understanding of Faustus’ actions change if we presume him to be young? Old?

5. The play, after Faustus’ contract with the devil, does not have the clearest sense of chronology. How do Faustus’ attitudes at the end of the play compare to his attitudes at the beginning of the play? His relationship with Mephistophilis? What happened in the sections of the 24 years we did not see?

After Antigone’s Claim this is a subject I’ve been (re)thinking of lately. For a period in the summer, I suppose it could be said I had a masculine identity crisis for a number of reasons, given that I am perhaps not the best exemplar of the (cultural) male archetype.

For my money, I find that the concepts of ‘manhood’ and ‘womanhood’ are often determined in opposition to one another; that is that ‘manhood’ is the opposite of ‘womanhood’ and vice versa. I prefer to think of it as the opposite of childhood, but that’s just me.

Anyway, I’m boring, so here are interesting media links on this topic instead:

What does it mean to be man, explored through hands.

Trailer for a film exploring Western ideals of masculinity, and why they are poisonous.

The Replacements – Androgynous

Here come Dick, he’s wearing a skirt
Here comes Jane, y’know she’s sporting a chain
Same hair, revolution
Same build, evolution
Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss

And they love each other so
Closer than you know, love each other so

Don’t get him wrong and don’t get him mad
He might be a father, but he sure ain’t a dad
And she don’t need advice that’ll center her
She’s happy with the way she looks
She’s happy with her gender

Mirror image, see no damage
See no evil at all
Kewpie dolls and urine stalls
Will be laughed at
The way you’re laughed at now

Now, something meets Boy, and something meets Girl
They both look the same
They’re overjoyed in this world
Same hair, revolution
Unisex, evolution
Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss
And tomorrow Dick is wearing pants
And tomorrow Janie’s wearing a dress
Future outcasts and they don’t last
And today, the people dress the way that they please
The way they tried to do in the last centuries 

I had meant to do something else for my first blog post but this observation was too funny to pass up.

So, in my seminar someone offhandedly referred to the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (loquacious, innit?) as an apple, as is the popular conception. Of course, nowhere in the text does it state that it is an apple, so where does this stem from? Obviously the apple is (at least in Western Culture) the quintessential fruit, and one most associated with intellectualism and thus the transgression that implies (Newton’s apple, teacher’s apple, apple a day keep the doctor away). But later that day, while I was eating potato chips at the bus stop (I’m that guy, yes) I noticed that the French referred to it as pomme de terre, fruit/apple of the earth.

In Hebrew the fruit is referred to as Ha’adamah, fruit of the earth. Given that French is a Romantic language and early Christian translations of the Bible were in latin, it’s easy to see where the conception of it being an apple comes from.

Except that pomme de terre also means potato.

The forbidden fruit, with all the eroticism, transgression, and liberation that it implies for humanity, that which caused The Fall and our expulsion from Paradise, Original Sin, was a potato.

A potato.

Just picture it, a nude rosy cheeked Eve in the hue of youth, flush with the overwhelming discovery of knowledge and of her own latent sexuality, with the tempting serpent coiled round her shoulder in an insidious seduction, voluptuously, sensually, taking a bite out of a potato, before passing it on to Adam.

But if potatoes confer knowledge of good and evil, what is the fruit of The Tree of Life?



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