Chapter Twenty One: Flight
To paraphrase Tears for Fears
, ‘the dreams in which I’m flying are the best I’ve ever had’. In Chapter 21, the invisible flying witch Margarita wreaks hideous revenge upon the literatchik Latunsky.
“Literatchik” is a neologism I have coined to describe a Literary Functionary of the State Apparatus. A literatchik is therefore a specialised Russian apparatchik working to ensure all published literature gives appropriate glory and obeisance to the wondrous power and brilliant leadership of the general secretary, the man of steel, and that appropriate guidance is provided by state organs to would-be literary wreckers and saboteurs.
Now the reader may recall, amongst the labyrinthine twists and turns of the plots and subplots and byways of The Master and Margarita
, that the Master, Margarita’s ardent lover, wrote a book about Pontius Pilate, and this very Latunsky of Dramlit had personally deemed that the State expectations of good writers were somehow difficult to find in it. This story echoes Bulgakov’s own personal trauma at the hands of the apparat.
There are a few concealed themes in this chapter. Firstly, an invisible witch is the epitome of subversion of the communist ideovomitology, which required totalitarian visibility of everything, and which saw witchcraft as a nefarious fascist practice serving the objective interests of the capitalist imperialist running dogs. Like in former witch crazes, such demon spawn are to be purged by the new reason-based society from which all magic and fantasy and kulak thinking have been radically excluded in favour of secular atheism and dialectical materialism, terrorised by democratic centralism. Under the communist vision of barfiction, writers were expected only to disgorge partially digested reflections of the perfect thoughts that had trickled down from above like a rain of sour piss. Heroinising a witch did not cut it against that chunderous Bolshevik standard.
Secondly, Bulgakov has clearly been secretly dreaming of revenge against the boneheaded functionaries who pulled his plays from the stage, stopped him from publishing, generally bullied and intimidated all freedom of thought, and arranged for the Cheka to borrow his diaries. Like the Master, Bulgakov had expediently burned all his papers after his interview in the Lubyanka where the KGB showed him the instruments. Little was he to know his diary would reappear, retyped by spy clerks, when the archive was later opened after 1989. As he says, manuscripts don’t burn
Courtesy of the demon Azazello’s magic witching ointment, Margarita flies on her besom above the streets of Moscow, wantonly smashing neon lights and teasing old ladies for arguing over nothing, inciting general perplexity and mayhem. Alighting at Dramlit, the crude newspeak edifice constructed to show the world how much communism values Dramatists and Literary Workers, she finds Latunsky’s flat, flies in through an open window, and ecstatically smashes his grand piano with the Hammer of Thor. The innocent instrument howls, wails, rasps and jangles in response to this indelicate hypermodern player, worse than John Cage
She floods the bath, judiciously adding her victim’s suit and a full bottle of ink, and amidst this burning pleasure, smashes everything in wild frenzy. A blue rain drips through the ceiling below, alerting the occupants of Dramlit House that all is not well in the domain of Latunsky. Accompanied by the futile whistling of the doorman, she smashes every window.
After tenderly telling a frightened little boy that she is his dream, Margarita flies high like a rocket, alone with the friendly silent moon, leaving the mad world of bitter Moscow far behind. Slowing down, she passes a dewy meadow and chorus of frogs. Who should turn up but her maid Natasha, riding a pig with the features of a man whose Schweinsteinian behaviour had caused his sad transformation. Natashka had also applied Azazello’s cream. Where they are off to, as they say, devil knows. Who ever said pigs don't fly.
Landing in a meadow, and immersing herself in a lake baptism, Queen Margot is greeted by a mysterious drunk in a suit, a bravura march played by fat frogs on wooden pipes, the adulation of naiads and naked witches, and a man with goat legs. A flying car driven by a crow wearing an oilcloth cap and gauntlets then takes her back to Moscow.
I now find myself wondering if this exercise in magical realism is the most fantastic and astounding episode in this book. Perhaps the next chapters will trump it.