Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Nothing is as it first appears: The Master and Margarita
As predicted, Part II of Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita" does in fact introduce at last the 2nd title character; Margarita as it turns out or as best as I can understand it anyway to be the secret lover and devotee of the master - no, not Henry James, but the writer we'd met in Part I whose novel in progress about Pontius Pilate and the crucifixion remains unpublished and - in the weird Soviet way - even though unpublished gets bashed by the critics. Margarita takes it upon herself to try to rescue the singed pages and embers of the master's manuscript, which he'd tried to destroy by fire. So in this novel we see the author confined to a mental asylum, we see the acolyte who apparently rescues his works and, perhaps, enables their publication? (Margarita), and we read several chapters about Pontius Pilate and the crucifixion - so we know the master's works have been published and we're reading them - and we also know that Bulgakov did not publish the novel we're reading in his lifetime, so the master is apparently a version of Bulgakov himself - and isn't he also making himself therefore analogous to Jesus, and his manuscript analogous to holy scriptures? Yes, but not really - because our point of access to the Pontius stories is the trickster character sometimes identified as Satan - so the message is also that what may appear to be holy scripture is actually the devil's work: in short, the odd novel is full of complexities and built on many layers and it would take a team of readers to figure it all out - if in fact the novel can be figured out - The M&M doesn't feel like a Swiss watch so much as like a pinball arcade with lots of things happening all around us as we read: magic shows, beheadings, street riots, disappearances, mad men, prophecies, police raids - in part it's a portrait of its era of tyranny and oppression, particularly as the literary set of Moscow saw, lived, and experienced the time - and in part it's a fantasy world in which all emotions are brought to extremes and in which nothing is what it seems to be or as it at first appears.