Art for art’s sake

GOOD GOD THERE ARE ACTUAL TIMES WHEN WE’RE SUPPOSED TO UPLOAD THESE BLOG POSTS!

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.