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Chapter Seven - The Haunted Flat 
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Post Chapter Seven - The Haunted Flat
MM7 The Haunted Flat

“Woland, Professor of black magic,” said the visitor gravely.

This chapter presents an absurd surreal tragic satire on Bolshevik purges. At the start, the problem of the haunted flat is that its occupants keep disappearing without trace. This problem is a satire of life in Russia, where secret police routinely ‘disappear’ people who fit Stalin’s dictum ‘no man no problem’. But as Bulgakov notes, such events have consequences, with those who remain behind left in a distraught and mystified state as to what has become of their loved ones and acquaintances. And, compounding the trauma of loss with suppression, those who remain also know not to ask or discuss the problem, since the whoosh will then happen to them too.

The method of the purge began early in the life of the Bolshevik regime, but was perfected by General Secretary Joseph Vissarionovich. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purges_of ... viet_Union explains that in 1921 alone, about 220,000 members ‘left’ the Communist Party. As Stalin got into his straps, he began at small scale, with 3000 purgees executed in 1930, working up to the Kirov unpleasantness, when one third of the communist party were interned or executed, and the Great Terror, in which more than half a million party members died, with many more sent to the gulag. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge

Bulgakov explains that Anfisa, a devout and superstitious woman, ascribes the sudden unexplained absence of her neighbours to witchcraft. But we soon find the real cause. Berlioz the poet had his eye on their flat, and as a good communist was able to have the occupants murdered by the state. Or so it seems in the satirical subtext.

As we recall, Berlioz lost his head in unfortunate circumstances. His commo poet colleague Stepa who skullduggered to get a room in the same flat is recovering from last night’s drunken binge. When who should turn up but the devil himself! Mr Woland, as Satan styles himself, offers Stepa vodka, caviar and sausages, and then proceeds to kick him out of the flat – all the way to Yalta.

Woland has woven some weird hypnotic spell so Stepa cannot even recall arranging a completely mad contract with the devil to put on seven black magic shows in the Moscow Theatre. Yet the arrangement is confirmed, and when Stepa finds that Berlioz’ room is sealed, he appreciates that any discussion of this situation will cause him to be purged too. Quite difficult! Especially since he recalled a “politically dubious” conversation with Berlioz, and finds himself imagining Berlioz informing on him, (the reader may assume under torture).

Bulgakov’s bitter resentment about the operations of the Soviet state is on show in the satirical language in this chapter. The devil describes someone as “a scheming, quarrelsome, sycophantic swine” a description Stepa thinks to himself is amazingly “truthful, precise and succinct.” In fact here, Bulgakov is speaking about all communists, so the devil does not find it hard to get his character assassination right.

The devil is so forthright and brusque that Stepa thinks “the words were so unexpected and absurd that he decided he had not heard them.” That is how good communists operate, in the Orwellian world of doublethink and crimestop. This is an acute and painful satire of totalitarian mentality.

Soon the anthropic cat Behemoth and the befanged weirdo Azazello turn up by magic, the devil explains they need somewhere to stay, and hey presto Stepa is purged. But not before the fang has explained the charge sheet, which includes behaving disgustingly, getting drunk, carrying on with women, not doing a stroke of work due to complete incompetence, and driving around in a free car. Privilege has its risks.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu Oct 05, 2017 10:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Oct 05, 2017 10:34 pm
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Post Re: Chapter Seven - The Haunted Flat
Robert Tulip wrote:
This chapter presents an absurd surreal tragic satire on Bolshevik purges. At the start, the problem of the haunted flat is that its occupants keep disappearing without trace. This problem is a satire of life in Russia, where secret police routinely ‘disappear’ people who fit Stalin’s dictum ‘no man no problem’. But as Bulgakov notes, such events have consequences, with those who remain behind left in a distraught and mystified state as to what has become of their loved ones and acquaintances. And, compounding the trauma of loss with suppression, those who remain also know not to ask or discuss the problem,

And yet this aspect takes up such a small part of the chapter. Bulgakov gives most of it over to the Devil moving in, and Stepa's mystified attempt to cope with the Kafka-esque developments, stupefied as he normally is by vodka. The contract figures heavily: the artists of Russia had not realized, evidently, that they signed a pact with the devil. Khustov, the troublemaking toady, seems to have been the instrument of this pact.

Robert Tulip wrote:
“Woland, Professor of black magic,” said the visitor gravely.
Making things disappear is, of course, a routine part of a typical magic show.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Bulgakov explains that Anfisa, a devout and superstitious woman, ascribes the sudden unexplained absence of her neighbours to witchcraft. But we soon find the real cause. Berlioz the poet had his eye on their flat, and as a good communist was able to have the occupants murdered by the state. Or so it seems in the satirical subtext.
I didn't pick up on a role for Berlioz, but it might work. I am intrigued by the witchcraft reference, since it seems to be meant to be both taken seriously and not taken literally, at the same time. "Witchcraft, as is well known, only has to start, and then you simply can't stop it with anything." I believe this is an oblique reference to witch hunts, which find witchcraft even where it is not. But at the same time it is a reference to the disappearances in the story as a sort of spreading curse - if it was Berlioz, he in fact by "purging" occupants may have gotten the process going which led to the Devil moving in and thus to his own death.
Robert Tulip wrote:
when Stepa finds that Berlioz’ room is sealed, he appreciates that any discussion of this situation will cause him to be purged too. Quite difficult! Especially since he recalled a “politically dubious” conversation with Berlioz, and finds himself imagining Berlioz informing on him, (the reader may assume under torture).
Or not under torture. Berlioz seems to have been a kind of instigator, and his own demise may have been part of the irony of the paranoid society. Those who live by denunciation may die by denunciation.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The devil is so forthright and brusque that Stepa thinks “the words were so unexpected and absurd that he decided he had not heard them.” That is how good communists operate, in the Orwellian world of doublethink and crimestop. This is an acute and painful satire of totalitarian mentality.
Yes, I agree, but it is also another somewhat subtle exploration of the contrast between conventionality and the new world of machination. In this case Bulgakov portrays a web in which silence and forthrightness are equally useful, and may each be employed as called for. But the devil, being in an absolute position, is much more likely to be able to use forthright description than the ordinary apparatchiks.



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Sat Oct 07, 2017 6:23 am
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Post Re: Chapter Seven - The Haunted Flat
I am loving this book. Russian novels have an intense brilliance, and Bulgakov offers an intense and tragic satire on the early Bolshevik years from one who was persecuted and impoverished for the sake of his artistic integrity. The recrudescence of socialist thinking today is widely remarked, and it is a valid question how far the extremes described by Bulgakov have a resonance today.
Harry Marks wrote:
this aspect (purging) takes up such a small part of the chapter.
The overall satirical theme of the chapter is that Soviet Russia is a haunted flat, haunted by the wailing ghosts of everyone who has been purged. From the initial trauma of the neighbours who are mystified by the disappearances, through to the final magicking of Stepa thousands of kilometres away to Yalta, the message is that the politics of internal exile and execution has brutalised Soviet life, sending a chill message of silent conformity or death.
Harry Marks wrote:
Bulgakov gives most of it over to the Devil moving in, and Stepa's mystified attempt to cope with the Kafka-esque developments, stupefied as he normally is by vodka.
The chapter title, the haunted flat, is openly explained as meaning the problem of unaccounted disappearance of the occupants. The devil must purge Stepa, as all the previous occupants have been purged. The purge was a theme in Kafka’s The Trial, where the accused deals with a labyrinthine unaccountable bureaucracy, just as Stepa is baffled and disempowered by the hypnotic mystery of the devil’s astounding contract. The fait accompli, the event accomplished without warning, is part of the syndrome of the purge, and the devil must get Stepa out of the way to achieve his goals.
Harry Marks wrote:
The contract figures heavily: the artists of Russia had not realized, evidently, that they signed a pact with the devil.
Yes, and not only artists. The fact that Stepa is oblivious to the fact that he has in fact not only signed but paid a first instalment of an appalling deal, a bargain with the devil that no one in their right mind would entertain, is an excellent metaphor for Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat.

Woland’s idea of a series of seven black magic performances in the main theatre of the capital is outrageous and completely unbelievable. But then, the idea that the Germans would put Lenin in a sealed train from Zurich and inflict him on Russia as a weapon of war like a dose of botulism, as the Kaiser’s High Command actually did, much to everyone’s later chagrin, is Bulgakov’s moral equivalent to the satiric Satanic performance.

And Stepa’s presence in Moscow is inconvenient for Woland, hence Yalta beckons, a much more pleasant place to be purged to than the Kolyma or the White Sea Canal.
Harry Marks wrote:
I didn't pick up on a role for Berlioz, but it might work.
Berlioz is mentioned on the first page of the chapter as the co-tenant of the haunted flat with Stepa, and then again when Stepa finds that Berlioz has apparently been purged too, since his lock is sealed. (Stepa is unaware of the sad death). This practice of communists using political connections to have people arrested to get their flat was sadly common in Soviet times, according to Solzhenitsyn. That was easy since anyone owning a large flat was obviously a capitalist expropriator who deserved to be expropriated.
Harry Marks wrote:
I am intrigued by the witchcraft reference, since it seems to be meant to be both taken seriously and not taken literally, at the same time. "Witchcraft, as is well known, only has to start, and then you simply can't stop it with anything." I believe this is an oblique reference to witch hunts, which find witchcraft even where it is not.
The whole of The Master and Margarita draws strongly from Goethe’s Faust, comparing the Soviet system to the loss of soul resulting from the pact agreed between Dr Faustus and Mephistopheles the devil.

I was surprised to find from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sorce ... Apprentice that Goethe also wrote The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is the source of this idea of an unstoppable spell. And that idea was well and widely known, including by reference in The Communist Manifesto, where Marx and Engels compare modern bourgeois society to "the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells."

Of course everyone in Soviet Russia knew The Communist Manifesto backwards, so Bulgakov is engaged in a deliberate obvious irony with this satirical inversion, applying the spell-making accident to the Soviets rather than the bourgeoisie. Part of the meaning is that once the communists have taken control of the state, they can perpetuate their rule through unstoppable brazen thuggery.
Harry Marks wrote:
But at the same time it is a reference to the disappearances in the story as a sort of spreading curse - if it was Berlioz, he in fact by "purging" occupants may have gotten the process going which led to the Devil moving in and thus to his own death.
Yes, and this perpetuation of a syndrome of suffering is an old trope, even from the Ten Commandments, where God explains that he will "punish the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” The moral law of karma applied to this situation means that we are fated to copy those whom we react against.
Harry Marks wrote:
Or not under torture.
Given that OGPU/KGB used torture as a routine method to extract confessions in the Lubyanka, Berlioz would only need to be shown the instruments, like Galileo, to class this persuasion feared by Stepa as tortuous.
Harry Marks wrote:
Berlioz seems to have been a kind of instigator, and his own demise may have been part of the irony of the paranoid society. Those who live by denunciation may die by denunciation.
Paraphrasing the remark from Jesus about those who live by the sword at Matt 26:52. Yes, Bulgakov is presenting the Soviet maelstrom as a spiralling catastrophe, where the act of buying in by Berlioz and Stepa continues a cascading domino pattern, as they fall after pushing others over, living and dying by the toxic psychology of denunciation.


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Harry Marks
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