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Chapter Fifteen: Nikanor Ivanovich’s Dream 
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Post Chapter Fifteen: Nikanor Ivanovich’s Dream
MM15
By this stage, several plot streams are running alongside each other like murmuring brooks. And within each stream are Russian dolls within dolls.

Nikanor Ivanovich, the reader will recall, was caught in red-handed possession of four hundred American dollars, magically planted upon him by the accomplices of the devil.

Under interrogation as to the source of the money, Nikanor tells a fable considered better than Lafontaine, whose example may be read at http://www.longlongtimeago.com/once-upo ... -fontaine/

Now, after finding his questioners incredulous at his true explanation as to the source of the funds, Nikanor has a fevered dream in which a communist state apparatchik demands before a theatre audience that he give up his foreign currency.

Bulgakov, with his immense sympathy for Stalin’s pecuniary plight, explains that the story of The Covetous Knight shows the great Pushkin demanding funds go to the most worthy cases of hardship. Therefore, hard cash is safer in the state vault than in private hands. In a theatre of the absurd rather like a star chamber, the interrogator creates a mood of sheer terror at the risk of being found with money.

Within the ‘doll’ of Russia, we find the difficult life of Bulgakov, telling the magical realist imaginarium of The Master and Margarita, containing the story of an innocent resident, Nikanor Ivanovich, tormented by the devil. In that ‘doll’, Nikanor is hauled in for state interrogation, and in his hospital bed he has a dream.

As we open Nikanor’s dream ‘doll-in-a-doll-in-a-doll-in-a-doll-in-a-doll-in-a-doll’, a character, the famous actor Savva Potapovich Kurolesov, tells the story of another character. Nested inside the story in the dream in the novel in the satire of the communist state, we meet The Covetous Knight of Pushkin, who proves Stalin absolutely correct in the pure logic of his supreme deductive wisdom regarding the evil of private property.

The mental crushing by this arbitrary intimidation tax method was a central feature of the Bolshevik efforts to extract assets from the populace, as in polite requests that peasants inform the Cheka of the location of grain.

After the Pushkin fable, Bulgakov includes an amusing tale of the Grand Inquisitor asking if anyone else has money, at which a member of the theatre audience is foolish enough to follow holy Pushkin’s moral inspiration and confess.

You can well imagine the deathly silence when the question is repeated again to the rest of the audience.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sat Jan 13, 2018 4:58 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Jan 13, 2018 4:50 am
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Post Re: Chapter Fifteen: Nikanor Ivanovich’s Dream
It was indeed an intricately layered fantasia. I was reminded of the interrogation in "Darkness at Noon" by Koestler, in which the formal process was an elaborate pretense, both sides adjusted to the manipulative reality of what was going on, and it ended up being a kind of transaction in which the state got what it wanted from the main character by creating a sufficiently elaborate cover story of "alternative facts."

The doublespeak involved in indicting someone for a "crime" they did not commit, because "objectively" they might as well have actually committed it, was fascinating. Koestler came to conclusions strongly similar to those of Orwell.

Bulgakov is not working that vein exactly. Ivan is a guilty guy, just not guilty of the particular crime he has been framed for. (Reminds a person of OJ Simpson, sort of.) Bulgakov is clearly familiar with the manipulation of "optics" in which "voluntary confessions" serve layers of purpose and some combination of fear and guilt is at work on nearly everyone. The old KGB practice of setting a trap for one of their pawns is visible in a society in which nearly everyone at some point has a reason to want to deal in foreign currency, but they are meant to believe that is wrong and even criminal.

Lest we get too smug about transparency in the West, the interesting case of Walter Duranty and the rest of the Western press corps in Moscow, who collaborated (under pressure) with Stalin's regime in suppressing news of the famine in the Ukraine, sounds a jarring note of honesty about the machinations of the powerful reaching everywhere.

The main dissenting reports, reporting on the famine and the coverup, were efforts by Hearst to undermine Roosevelt, and consequently were easy to dismiss because of Hearst's reputation for yellow journalism. It is an important cautionary note for purveyors of fake news like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the Veritas project, that they have cried wolf so often no one will believe them when it comes to actual facts that really matter.



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Robert Tulip
Wed Jan 17, 2018 6:00 am
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Post Re: Chapter Fifteen: Nikanor Ivanovich’s Dream
Harry Marks wrote:
It was indeed an intricately layered fantasia.
A Prize of Four Hundred American Dollars to the first person who can correctly name the five Russian novelists whose names and depictions are on the five dolls pictured in the opening post of this thread.
Harry Marks wrote:
I was reminded of the interrogation in "Darkness at Noon" by Koestler, in which the formal process was an elaborate pretense, both sides adjusted to the manipulative reality of what was going on, and it ended up being a kind of transaction in which the state got what it wanted from the main character by creating a sufficiently elaborate cover story of "alternative facts."
Thanks for mentioning Koestler. This summary of Darkness at Noon prefigures the next chapter in The Master and Margarita, The Execution, and also illustrates the Kafkaesque qualities of the show trial system in Soviet Russia. Koestler was a remarkable eclectic genius, with his book The Sleepwalkers a great classic on paradigm shift in astronomy, informing his perceptions on politics.
Harry Marks wrote:
The doublespeak involved in indicting someone for a "crime" they did not commit, because "objectively" they might as well have actually committed it, was fascinating. Koestler came to conclusions strongly similar to those of Orwell.
Bulgakov’s own crime was that he was an Enemy of the People, at a time when such Objective Class Analysis meant more than that the Supreme Leader was unhappy with things you wrote. The subtleties that enabled Bulgakov to retain the protection of Stalin need not detain us here, and yet we may wish to mine those interweaving cultural patterns, as they strongly inform Bulgakov's deep perception of the psychological forces at play in the show trial of Nikanor Ivanovitch.
Harry Marks wrote:
Bulgakov is not working that vein exactly. Ivan is a guilty guy, just not guilty of the particular crime he has been framed for. (Reminds a person of OJ Simpson, sort of.)
Ivan is the poet who went insane after seeing the devil predict the decapitation of Berlioz the editor. Here we are working a different juicy vein of the book, where the devil steals a flat from Nikanor Ivanovitch and delivers him up to the Cheka. All are naturally guilty in Soviet Russia, so your comment about Ivan’s guilt applies as well to Nikanor. (I think Ivan’s worst crime was suggesting a tenner for Kant for promoting idealism.)
Harry Marks wrote:
Bulgakov is clearly familiar with the manipulation of "optics" in which "voluntary confessions" serve layers of purpose and some combination of fear and guilt is at work on nearly everyone.
Yes, and public media reporting of such impudent lies as reliable fact serves a practical propaganda purpose of sowing confusing, such that even where the truth can readily be found by diligence and logic, the finder finds his findings go unrewarded and unrecognised, because the mass media is so thoroughly befuddled by fantasy.

Once Stalin has defined the lode star, any ideas are readily suppressed that contravene what Orwell called ‘crimestop’ (the ability to avoid imagining Stalin may be less than fully correct).
Harry Marks wrote:
The old KGB practice of setting a trap for one of their pawns is visible in a society in which nearly everyone at some point has a reason to want to deal in foreign currency, but they are meant to believe that is wrong and even criminal.
I just love the friendly reassuring advice that of course money is safer in the state vault than hidden under damp floorboards! So patient, wise, merciful, avuncular and kind! Bulgakov makes it difficult to imagine how an Enemy of the People could think differently.
Harry Marks wrote:
Lest we get too smug about transparency in the West, the interesting case of Walter Duranty and the rest of the Western press corps in Moscow, who collaborated (under pressure) with Stalin's regime in suppressing news of the famine in the Ukraine, sounds a jarring note of honesty about the machinations of the powerful reaching everywhere.
That shocking example of Duranty is exactly what I think about climate change, the Paris Accord and the need to discuss removing excess carbon from the air. People just don’t talk about it in polite company because of the perceived “moral hazard” of reducing political pressure for emission reduction. The inability to engage on climate policy is just like “fellow traveller” reporters who suppress information on communist tyranny because they support communist ideals.

Bulgakov is presenting an immensely valuable parable about the psychology of public information. Nikanor knows full well that his proof of facts means nothing against the might of the state and its ability to dissemble.
Harry Marks wrote:
The main dissenting reports, reporting on the famine and the coverup, were efforts by Hearst to undermine Roosevelt, and consequently were easy to dismiss because of Hearst's reputation for yellow journalism.
And does that not show more clearly than anything that our thinking routinely uses the ad hominem fallacy, assessing claims by our overall judgement of the reliability of the source rather than their internal logic? It is like today, absolutely nothing stated in any newspaper owned by Rupert Mordor can penetrate the carapace of readers who have decided he is up there with Professor Woland for reliability.
Harry Marks wrote:
It is an important cautionary note for purveyors of fake news like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the Veritas project, that they have cried wolf so often no one will believe them when it comes to actual facts that really matter.
Yes, scepticism about interests who cry wolf is a great reason why ‘playing the man not the ball’, as they put it in rugby, has such legs in politics. As Mandy Rice-Davies said of Lord Profumo “he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

Perhaps the fact that in American Football playing the man is all part of the fun of the collision makes ad hominem reasoning more popular in the USA. Disentangle thems dolls.

Nikanor would naturally tell the organs that the illegal currency found in his possession was planted on him by magic, wouldn’t he? After all, as we the reader know in the magical realist suspension, Nikanor is telling the simple unvarnished truth, and is thereby condemned to be mocked and ignored.


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Post Re: Chapter Fifteen: Nikanor Ivanovich’s Dream
Robert Tulip wrote:
A Prize of Four Hundred American Dollars to the first person who can correctly name the five Russian novelists whose names and depictions are on the five dolls pictured in the opening post of this thread.
I got the largest one by sufficient ability to transliterate Cyrillic.
Robert Tulip wrote:
the Kafkaesque qualities of the show trial system in Soviet Russia.
I was thinking of pointing out that the impenetrable system of public authority, as evoked by Kafka's troubling "The Trial", pre-dates the Russian Revolution. But the dissimilarities are strong enough to give Stalin some claim to originality.
Better, perhaps, to observe the twistings and kinks that large organizations get into when caught between despicable private actions they deem necessary and the possibility of facing a public accounting for such dirty deeds. I am looking forward with quite a bit of schadenfreude to the discovery process in New York State's lawsuit against the major oil companies for their behavior on climate change.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Ivan is a guilty guy, just not guilty of the particular crime he has been framed for. (Reminds a person of OJ Simpson, sort of.)
Ivan is the poet who went insane after seeing the devil predict the decapitation of Berlioz the editor. Here we are working a different juicy vein of the book, where the devil steals a flat from Nikanor Ivanovitch and delivers him up to the Cheka.
Thanks for pointing out my error. I may have been snagged by Nikanor's patronymic, I don't know. I admit I am having a little trouble keeping the characters straight, what with at least four plot strands going now, but I will do the best I can.

One of the early lessons in a good economics course will concern methods of allocating scarce goods. The Soviet system, for reasons that become obvious any time someone sets up an alternative to markets, held prices down and allocated by queuing (either standing in lines or putting one's name on a waiting list) or by connections. The second option gives a lot of insight into why the Party attracts, over time, the ambitious and unscrupulous. I intend to do some thinking about the extent to which this is the result of imposing a lie about the true scarcity of the goods. Certainly it is a convenient lever of power created by imposing the lie that the society does not function based on self-interest.

Both the apartment and the foreign currency are examples of the power created by these systems of central allocation.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I just love the friendly reassuring advice that of course money is safer in the state vault than hidden under damp floorboards! So patient, wise, merciful, avuncular and kind!
And yet the audience reacts in fear. Must be Nikanor's dreamstate befuddlement.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Walter Duranty and the rest of the Western press corps in Moscow, who collaborated (under pressure) with Stalin's regime in suppressing news of the famine in the Ukraine,
That shocking example of Duranty is exactly what I think about climate change, the Paris Accord and the need to discuss removing excess carbon from the air. People just don’t talk about it in polite company because of the perceived “moral hazard” of reducing political pressure for emission reduction.
Moral hazard is the wrong term, but never mind. I remember the first mention I saw of geoengineering was a discussion in the Atlantic - 10 years ago? 20? I forget. The conclusion in the article was that such methods of increasing the earth's capacity for carbon only delayed the reckoning. If emissions keep on growing exponentially, as they have, no such delay can do more than put off the need to stop GHG emission growth. That is correct, but it is sad if it has turned into refusal to discuss geoengineering, particularly since we desperately need some delay.

I have seen purity logic at work in the environmental community before. I accept GMO's pretty much completely, and nuclear power if it passes some hurdles for keeping externality costs down. But since much of the motivation for environmentalism comes from self-congratulation, most of my environmentalist friends are reflexively opposed to these impurities. Even those who are aware of the cost-benefit numbers usually feel they must stand for purity lest they lose their credibility with the less educated (both green types and the average citizens they seek to win over.)

Robert Tulip wrote:
The inability to engage on climate policy is just like “fellow traveller” reporters who suppress information on communist tyranny because they support communist ideals.
As you are probably aware, I have a similar reaction to your opposition to pricing or trading GHG externalities.

Robert Tulip wrote:
our thinking routinely uses the ad hominem fallacy, assessing claims by our overall judgement of the reliability of the source rather than their internal logic?
Strictly speaking, ad hominem concerns itself with the character of the debater rather than with the substance of the argument. We often just talk about "deflecting" these days, which includes ad hominem. But when it comes to journalistic credibility, the character of the source is not a deflection at all.

Anyone who believes the WSJ editorial page, or anything Rush Limbaugh says, deserves what they get, for example. The fact that these sources may occasionally deal in truth is merely an indication that one can find truth weighing in on both sides of an argument, which we already knew.

Interestingly, the steps needed to maintain credibility in the world of journalism are about the same as those needed in the work world: don't use lies to further your point of view, and apologize when you have made a mistake. Educated people can make allowances for the fact that different credible sources take opposite views sometimes, and that the arguments they list are the ones that seem salient and substantive to them, so that each downplays the arguments of the other.
Robert Tulip wrote:
It is like today, absolutely nothing stated in any newspaper owned by Rupert Mordor can penetrate the carapace of readers who have decided he is up there with Professor Woland for reliability.
My evaluation isn't that low, but I do greet his stuff with much more skepticism than I do for less polemical organizations with more concern for professional standards.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Perhaps the fact that in American Football playing the man is all part of the fun of the collision makes ad hominem reasoning more popular in the USA. Disentangle thems dolls.
Nice that you can see the humor in these ironies. A Trump supporter, asked to explain why the Dems lost the election in 2016, argued that they need to stop putting forward "Hermione Granger" types and go for the "Mischief Managed" types instead. That's my country, what can I say?



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