October 21st, 2008

The Master And Margarita: Marginal Notes

1. Everyone ought to read this book.

2. This is what life is like in a police state- weirdly, creepily normal.  People sit on park benches in the sun, go to restaurants, manage their careers- and "disappear "as if by magic.  These disappearances are accepted as routine and only glancingly discussed.  Everyone is afraid of everyone else because anyone could be a snitch. Bulgakov's references to the apparatus of terror are so delicate, so discreet you could easily miss them.

3. Woland and his gang are a mask and metaphor for the secret horrors of the police state. They draw the infection. They tumble its secrets onto the streets.

4. There are three novels in one- each belonging to a different genre-  An historical/theological epic, a knockabout comedy and a romantic love story. They coil round and round one another like snakes.  There is no single point of view, no single dreamer. Every reality is more or less compromised. The least unreal characters are the most far-fetched.

5. All men are good men. "Bad" men are good men corrupted by vice- and the worst vice is cowardice. Evil is an illusion, a failure of men to live up to their inherent goodness, a lapse into banality and fear. Woland, the black magician, the dark archangel, is a minister of divine justice. He tests, he punishes, he saves.  
6. Koroviev and Behemoth are an infernal Laurel and Hardy, the gothic elements come out of German expressionism (Goethe as mediated by Murnau), the Pilate story, with its huge sets, crowd scenes and crane shots couldn't exist without Griffith and de Mille. In spite of its huge debt to cinema the book is almost certainly unfilmable.

7. Andrew Lloyd Webber planned a musical version, but shelved it, deciding it couldn't be done. Thank Heavens for that.