Re: Chapter 27: The Last of Flat No. 50
I rather enjoyed this chapter. Bulgakov seems at his best when he can satirize popular society with a light touch. For all the brilliance of the negotiation scene between Margarita and Woland, and of the "burial" of the assassination of Judas, this sort of bureaucratic Keystone Coppery feels more human. It just seems to roll off his pen with a droll chuckle of involuntary insight.
Like inside-out Stephen King, Woland's sinister puppetry becomes trickster stuff, faintly overheard and completely baffling. I loved the way he played with everyone's need to cover up the truth in the face of investigators who are determined to understand.
You may have taken this analogy further than you intended to, but it makes a fascinating historical analysis. There was a similar dumbfoundedness over the French Revolution. The Powers assumed that they could squelch the revolution just by combining against it, but Valmy showed that motivated troops could be led to overcome great odds when the enemy used the stultified tactics that had been adapted for mercenaries in the age of the gun.
Napoleon was eventually defeated by Russian self-reliance (built on the willingness to abuse the serfs mercilessly) and then, at Waterloo, by the combination of English independence (despite what Wellington said, Nelson showed it wasn't Eton but the yeomanry that defeated France) and Prussian discipline.
Don't forget that command and control also made the unimagined happen with rapid industrialization. The socialists after WWII had a strong argument for socializing industry, and in general it did far better than hindsight claims. The way to think of it is that the subtleties of producing quality eluded the brute force of command and control. For the task of producing quantity (which, I would argue, is actually the critical task facing the world today) command economies may be better.
In that sense Bulgakov's trickster motif may be oddly relevant. Rather than an argument that "evil spirits" may lurk in human temptation to dominate, to lie, to deny reality and to sell out integrity for a crust of status, one might instead argue the interpretation that human independence and freedom will always be hiding in the subtle machinery of human relations, so that power and its attempts to force a seemingly rational cover story are comically doomed even in their horrifying resort to unimaginable cruelty.
I can't imagine that Bulgakov, or his audience, would have seen much Hollywood film. But this uproarious evocation of the Nine Lives superstition reminded me of Hollywood at almost every turn. I couldn't help thinking he was just letting his most enjoyable character "go out with a bang."
And of course it was a resurrection. You have to take that seriously, in a book featuring Calvary, Judas and Pilate. If it was meant as a commentary on the resurrection of Jesus, it is one of the strangest bits of magical realism I have ever seen, with symbolism stretched to the breaking point and hope left at the slave auction.