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Chapter Eleven: The Two Ivans 
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Post Chapter Eleven: The Two Ivans
MM11 The Two Ivans

Bulgakov here provides a masterful investigation into the schizoid mind produced by communism.

Ivan is ensconced in his asylum, where he is trying to write an account of the bizarre case of the death of Mr Berlioz. He wants his writing to be convincing. Unfortunately, the facts of the case make that objective difficult. The theme here is that when the starting point of a story is unbelievable, try as one might, the narrator cannot make a plausible account. A diabolical cat who jumps aboard street cars, a devilish stranger who explains details of the conversation between Christ and Pilate and then accurately predicts details of a gruesome accidental death. With material such as this, one must sympathise with the schizoid dilemmas that Ivan faces in trying to work out where to start.

Again as before, this amusing tale is a parable for the difficult fate of ordinary moral people trying to explain the evil events of Bolshevism. One can imagine them starting their story - the Romanov Tsar was in great difficulty, but then monsters appeared who butchered him and all the royal family in a basement. The revered royal family had become objects of hatred from the masses. They were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death in Yekaterinburg in July 1918. Their bodies were then stripped, mutilated, burned and disposed of in a field, at Lenin’s express orders, and then Lenin spun a web of lies for years about this gruesome deed. This incident gave licence to the descent into depravity that characterised the communist regime.

This is the sort of event that seems to be on Bulgakov’s mind as he presents the effort of Ivan to overcome his cognitive dissonance. As his efforts at coherence break down, and after the nurse arranges an injection and some hot milk, Ivan finds himself succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome, siding with his jailers, saying the clinic is not such a bad place, the doctors are smart, and famous and pleasant, and what is more, the evening air smells fresh after the storm.

What is happening here? The parable reflects how ordinary people must make the best of incomprehensible circumstances. Rather than accept that they have enabled a monstrous barbarity, the Russian people come to love their tormentors, avuncular Uncle Joe as father of the people.


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Post Re: Chapter Eleven: The Two Ivans
The two Ivans stand here for Russia, seeking to come to terms with the awful dilemmas produced by the incomprehensible innovations and insanities of communism, and ending up, as the voice of conscience represented by the devil aptly puts it, looking a fool. And schizophrenic to boot.

After his injection, Ivan enters a state of sweet dreamy lassitude, enabling a mental conversation between the new Ivan (communism) and the old Ivan (rationality). Communist Ivan says words to the effect of ‘move along, nothing to see here’ in recollecting the events of the decapitation of Berlioz, noting callously that it is not the end of the world, or at least of the magazine that Berlioz edited, since he can be replaced. Rational Ivan replies that these events should not be forgotten, since they are extraordinary and upsetting.

Bulgakov is satirising the moral emptiness of communism, with the general dysphoric need it creates among its captive population to justify its existence, despite its complete illegitimacy. Communism must rewrite history, just as Ivan must deny the import of the events he has just witnessed. Stalin would have critiqued this book with nine grams of lead if he knew about it.

Finally, like a Dostoyevskian chapter hook, another mysterious stranger appears on Ivan’s balcony with a warning hushing finger. The Master?


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Post Re: Chapter Eleven: The Two Ivans
Robert Tulip wrote:
Ivan is ensconced in his asylum, where he is trying to write an account of the bizarre case of the death of Mr Berlioz. He wants his writing to be convincing. Unfortunately, the facts of the case make that objective difficult. The theme here is that when the starting point of a story is unbelievable, try as one might, the narrator cannot make a plausible account.
I have been working with the notion that Bulgakov's true genius is in observing and analyzing the reactions of people caught up in the matter. So this section struck me with the narrator's being pulled in a number of directions. As you say, he struggled with the unbelievability of parts of it. But these were the parts he considered most significant. So he was caught up in many false starts and self-doubts.
Robert Tulip wrote:
One can imagine them starting their story - the Romanov Tsar was in great difficulty, but then monsters appeared who butchered him and all the royal family in a basement. The revered royal family had become objects of hatred from the masses.
then Lenin spun a web of lies for years about this gruesome deed.
I doubt if the deaths of the "revered family" represents any kind of comparison to the severed head of the magazine editor in the first chapters. Turning matters upside down was familiar by then - the French Revolution had practically institutionalized it - so unbelievability and inexplicability doesn't correspond well to it.

I think the process which Bulgakov himself probably struggled with was more the betrayal of the intellectuals and the idealistic ones by the "power guys" who came to run Russia. Woland is able to predict the future because he controls it, and so the Party brings its vague guiding prophecies to life with fierce imposition of its version of reality. Thus Lenin's lies are probably a better starting point than the execution of the tsar.

Robert Tulip wrote:
As his efforts at coherence break down, and after the nurse arranges an injection and some hot milk, Ivan finds himself succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome, siding with his jailers, saying the clinic is not such a bad place, the doctors are smart, and famous and pleasant, and what is more, the evening air smells fresh after the storm.
Yes, wasn't that interesting? Before anybody had a term for this fawning admiration for the "masters" who terrorize, Bulgakov observed it. The general process of rationalization and "adjustment" seems to be his point, but he manages to include in that the process of coming to find points to admire in those who take our freedom. Of course the same thing went on in feudalism and, to some extent, goes on still in capitalism.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Communist Ivan says words to the effect of ‘move along, nothing to see here’ in recollecting the events of the decapitation of Berlioz, noting callously that it is not the end of the world, or at least of the magazine that Berlioz edited, since he can be replaced. Rational Ivan replies that these events should not be forgotten, since they are extraordinary and upsetting.
Also very interesting. Most Russians must have experienced some of this inner dissonance, these two voices, and even moreso the intellectuals. Don't we all experience some of it ourselves, in trying to make sense of political events and systems? A strange inner dialogue between the me that wants things to make sense and the me that suspects it is all a cover story for naked aggression and manipulative exploitation? How those welfare queens are ripping me off? How the 47 percent are taking over to suck dry the energies of the creators (like Bain Capital!)? How Bain Capitial and KKR are trashing people's lives for an extra few million in "shareholder value"?

Robert Tulip wrote:
Bulgakov is satirising the moral emptiness of communism, with the general dysphoric need it creates among its captive population to justify its existence, despite its complete illegitimacy. Communism must rewrite history, just as Ivan must deny the import of the events he has just witnessed.
Just as "mind" is always rewriting its own history. Psychologists have learned how manipulative the whole process of narrative creation is. Eye-witnesses cannot be trusted. Fox News doesn't have to lie - just emphasize the scary bits all the time.



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