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Chapter Four - The Pursuit 
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Post Chapter Four - The Pursuit
MM4 The Pursuit
This chapter gets the magic realism going in earnest, with a totally crazy madcap chase by the poet, trying to catch the cat who has caught the tram. Satan’s black cat, Behemoth, is a key character in The Master and Margarita. The cat behaves like a human being, in a totally impossible and absurd way.

What Bulgakov is doing with this magic realist method is illustrated by a comment from him that I just read in his diary, 24 March 1922, that life in Moscow is like a fairytale. What he means by this is that the Bolshevik government is insane, so things happen that any sensible person would regard as impossible.

This whole motif of the impossible informs The Master and Margarita throughout, suggesting that life under communism is a surreal nightmare. Because of his intense conservative opinions, Bulgakov cannot be published, and must find solace in his secret major novel, now recognised as possibly the greatest Russian work of literature of the communist era.

Sadly, as The Pursuit chapter begins, the editor Berlioz has just met exactly the fate predicted by Satan, after Berlioz' impertinent insistence to the devil’s own face that the devil was purely imaginary. The poet Ivan Nikolayich goes crazy, or so it seems, when he sees Berlioz’ head bouncing along the road, and gets it into his head that Satan (whom he thinks of only as a German tourist) has killed the editor and must be arrested for this monstrous diabolism.

So Ivan goes in pursuit of the criminals, but naturally the devil is too quick and evades him, firstly by making Ivan look a drunken fool, and then by splitting from his henchman and henchcat and running away.

So Ivan chases the cat, who jumps on a tram, pushes off a woman and offers the conductress ten kopecks. Ivan is naturally frozen into immobility by this astounding human action of a mere cat. When the conductress makes the cat get off, since animals are not allowed, even ones who pay, the odious cat Behemoth naturally waits for the tram to pass and jumps on the back, getting a trip without even paying.

The supernatural pursuit continues apace through the Arbat in central Moscow. After following his intuition about Professor Satan’s location, he embarrasses a naked woman in her bath, and ends up swimming naked in the freezing oily river and losing all his clothes and, what is of course more vitally important in a communist state, losing his papers.

Ivan's Satanic-inspired descent into madness looks complete when he traipses to the Moscow Poet Society carrying an icon, a candle and matches, wearing only underpants, where he will proceed to relate his seemingly insane tales of talking cats, murderous prophecy and the like.


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Post Re: Chapter Four - The Pursuit
I suspect the first people to report the Bolshevik abuses may have seemed like madmen, or more likely, seemed like saboteurs making up tales to discredit a system they disagree with. Fake news was not invented last year.

We are becoming familiar with this ambiguity. It is really difficult to assess tales of behavior in Venezuela, for example, where each side has been exaggerating about the other for many years now. Kafka recognized early the mind-scrambling effects of secret machinations and their bizarre cover stories, and I wonder if Bulgakov as well as the Latin American surrealists and magical realists were influenced by him.

Reading the wikipedia article about Bulgakov, I was startled to find that Stalin protected him because of the quality of his writing. I had thought Stalin incapable of putting art ahead of politics. This must surely have influenced Bulgakov's perception of matters. Is Satan (the German tourist) really supposed to be Stalin? I think Pilate might be a better symbol.



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Post Re: Chapter Four - The Pursuit
Harry Marks wrote:
I suspect the first people to report the Bolshevik abuses may have seemed like madmen, or more likely, seemed like saboteurs making up tales to discredit a system they disagree with. Fake news was not invented last year.
“Seemed”? More likely they were slandered by the communists who shamelessly made up lies about their enemies, to conceal how far Bolshevism had departed from all moral frameworks. When you read Stalin’s comments about wreckers and saboteurs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrecking_(Soviet_Union) it is clear this malicious purging of anyone who ‘undermines’ communist political directives was a purely totalitarian operation. Bulgakov artfully builds the image of the poet as like the ‘wreckers’ who were humiliated at Stalin’s show trials.
Harry Marks wrote:
We are becoming familiar with this ambiguity. It is really difficult to assess tales of behavior in Venezuela, for example, where each side has been exaggerating about the other for many years now. Kafka recognized early the mind-scrambling effects of secret machinations and their bizarre cover stories, and I wonder if Bulgakov as well as the Latin American surrealists and magical realists were influenced by him.
I have not read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez, the best known book of the magical realist genre, but I am familiar with Kafka, whose book The Trial is the classic of the numbing idiocy of modern bureaucracy. Kafka’s Metamorphosis has quite a magical realist tone, from the opening sentence where Gregor is surprised to find himself transformed into a cockroach. Interesting here that Bulgakov uses magical realism to satirise the absurdities of the political left whereas Marquez apparently uses the same method to satirise the Latin American right wing forces.
Harry Marks wrote:
Reading the wikipedia article about Bulgakov, I was startled to find that Stalin protected him because of the quality of his writing. I had thought Stalin incapable of putting art ahead of politics. This must surely have influenced Bulgakov's perception of matters.
The editors of Manuscripts Don’t Burn say Stalin went to one of Bulgakov’s plays fifteen times, and wrote of one of Bulgakov’s plays “Flight is one manifestation of an endeavour to stimulate pity, if not sympathy, for certain sections among the most contemptible anti-Soviet emigres [and…] is an anti-Soviet phenomenon.” Stalin goes on in his letter to suggest revising the play to add pro-Bolshevik scenes.
Harry Marks wrote:
Is Satan (the German tourist) really supposed to be Stalin? I think Pilate might be a better symbol.
My sense is that both Satan and Pilate are intended as satirical mockery of Bolshevik attitudes, Satan for his ability to do impossible things like the Man of Steel, and Pilate for his corrupt indifference to truth and dignity and rights.


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Post Re: Chapter Four - The Pursuit
This is definitely a wild chapter. Makes me think of the behavior in the west at the moment of "Social Justice Warriors." Completely insane. If not for videos uploaded to the internet, it would be hard to believe such loonies are running around free in society. SJWs are the result of Frankfurt School brainwashing. Comedian Steve Hughes comments on the phenomenon:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8OP8Rzi0r8

The copy of the book that I'm reading has this footnote:

"About a dozen extinguished primuses": The shortage of living space after the revolution led to the typically Soviet phenomenon of the communal apartment, in which several families would have one or two private rooms and share kitchen and toilet facilities. This led to special psychological conditions among people and to a specific literary genre (the communal-apartment story, which still flourishes in Russia). The primus stove, a portable one-burner stove fuelled with pressurized benzene, made its appearance at the same time and became a symbol of communal-apartment life. Each family would have its own primus. The old wood- or (more rarely) coal-burning ranges went out of use but remained in place. The general problem of “living space’, and the primus stove in particular, plays an important part throughout the Moscow sections of The Master and Margarita.

I was curious about the genre described and found this:

vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?arti ... ntext=jiws

It mentions a couple of writers, has some excerpts. A whole genre I wouldn't have known existed if not for the footnote. The communal apartment would be a good framing device for stories. Interesting footnote.


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Post Re: Chapter Four - The Pursuit
Interesting about communal apartments. They were common in the post-War years in Britain as well. Our friends in London were in a common apartment, with shared toilet and kitchen, right up until they were ready to have children in the late 80s. London is a special case, but the point is that such arrangements can be a result of economic pressures of income less than costs, not just of "shortages".

I agree that it would make an interesting setting for stories. Maybe none crossed the Atlantic, or maybe it's something the status-conscious British would rather not go into. When we in the States see stuff about British life without much money, it tends to be about gritty Northern industrial places, not about middle class people getting ready to move into something nicer.

If the primus stove features in this book, it is not in any part I have read yet.



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Post Re: Chapter Four - The Pursuit
Robert Tulip wrote:
MM4 The Pursuit
This chapter gets the magic realism going in earnest,.

You aren't just whistlin' Dixie. The whole chapter reads like one of those common dreams people have where they are either chasing something without ever getting closer to catching it, or conversely being chased and never able to run away fast enough to increase their lead.

To further comment on the points you've all made, it appears Bulgakov is using magical realism itself to represent life or the intellectual environment of Russia under Stalin. Robert points out he said life in Russia was like a fairytale, and I quite agree. I would go further and say he seems to feel (quite rightly) the government is the only entity with actual magical power, and moreover the ability to compel the people to see things their way. Is it possible for a cat to jump on a trolley and pay a fare? Of course, comrade, if we say so. Is it possible to pursue someone and never catch up with them? Of course! Is Satan operating in a real, tangible manner in Moscow? Absurd to even question it, comrade.

Totalitarian governments that succeeded for any amount of time realised the point isn't to control what people think, but to control the conversation itself. What people think ends up following as naturally as day into night because the only room for expression or analysis has already been determined by the government. Bulgakov frosts this cake with the poet looking like a crazy, disheveled person at the end of the pursuit, without the most important of all things, his papers. This is much like what we imagine the government would end up doing to anyone they wished to destroy: take their credibility, belongings, standing in the community and with the government, and the ability to move freely.



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