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Chapter 24: The Master is Released 
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Post Chapter 24: The Master is Released
The tottering Margarita, after the seemingly imaginary Satanic ball, finds herself in the company of Satan and his crew. in Berlioz' flat. She asks the cat if the clear liquid he has poured for her is vodka, and indignant, the mad fool cat informs her it is pure alcohol, unadulterated by water. This weirdo cat is particularly upside down all the time. Normal indignation in such a circumstance would be vented at the suggestion he was plying her with liquor of any type, not that the drink was only half proof. The cat then eats salt and pepper pineapple, a recipe I have not yet tried. After saying the ball was grand, and being contradicted by the devil who complains it gave him a migraine, the appalling sycophant cat immediately reverses his opinion to agree with his master.

The conversation turns to the assassination of the innocent sacrificial victim at the ball. It turns out the Baron was shot by Azazello, who then vies with the cat for the right to murder Latunsky, the critic whose bad review of the Master had so upset Margarita. At least she has the human decency to reject this Satanic offer. Azazello then proves his capacity with a gun by shooting a selected pip from a hidden seven of spades, firing over his shoulder, which distinctly impresses Margarita. The cat tries to repeat the trick but instead kills the owl sitting on the mantelpiece and also hits the clock, blaming his hopeless aim on everyone else for gossiping about him.

The Mad Hatter’s tea party continues, until Margarita is ready to go. She feels black depression at the lack of any offer to reward all her work for the devil at the ball, and not being able to go home, announces her plan to drown herself in the Moscow River. She shows her pride by refusing to ask for anything, and the devil congratulates her for this attitude, asking her to name her reward, echoing the Herodian reward brought to Satan at the ball. She only asks for the salvation of Frieda, the ghost woman at the ball who constantly smothered her own baby, since she had promised to help her and would feel guilty to let her down. This is an exercise of pure compassion by Margarita.

The devil says he can’t help, seemingly deflating this request, but then says that is only because he lacks power to forgive, a power that Margarita has. In bursts the ecstatic Frieda, Margarita pronounces her forgiveness for her crime, and again tries to go. But not so fast. The devil has still not granted a reward since he claims he did not do anything to save Frieda. Margarita must ask for something for herself, so she asks for the return of her lover, the Master, who then miraculously walks in the window on a moonbeam.

Bulgakov displays a mastery of dramatic tempo in this chapter. The surreal supping with Satan sees hopes rise and fall and rise again several times like billowing waves in the sea. The next crushing is that the Master is indeed returned, but he seems broken, like as one tortured in the Lubyanka, Stalin’s massive political dungeon that still stands in central Moscow.

His flat gaze, his fear of torment, his hallucinations, all speak of the deep trauma routinely inflicted on enemies of the people by the monstrous Bolsheviks. Restored by a glass of the devil’s fire water, the Master begins to come to his senses, and proceeds to engage in conversation with the old adversary, explaining to the devil that while in the madhouse the young poet Ivan had told him all about the events at the Patriarch Ponds.

The Master tells Satan he would prefer to consider him a figment of hallucination, but must believe in him. The parable here is that we would prefer to believe that evil does not exist in the world, but cannot avoid the evidence of our senses. The fool cat then offers to prove he is a hallucination by showing that he has no shadow, but is told to shut up.

Next comes the most celebrated line in The Master and Margarita, as the Master explains Margarita’s regard for him based on his burnt novel. At this, Woland informs him that manuscripts don’t burn, and, via the mad cat, the devil produces a full copy of the destroyed novel, with a laugh like a clap of thunder.

This line, manuscripts don’t burn, became a celebrated story of the Russian underground samizdat typewritten documents, and served as the title of Bulgakov’s posthumous diaries and letters. The great irony is that the KGB retyped Bulgakov's diaries when they invited him in for a chat and inspection of the instruments. The secret police gave the originals back to the author, which he burnt, in sheer terror at the fear of being caught again with heretical literature.

Presto, these burnt manuscripts reappeared like magic in 1991 from the belly of the beast, vomited from the vaults of the Lubyanka during the five minutes of sunshine after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The conversation continues, but that is enough for today.


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Post Re: Chapter 24: The Master is Released
Robert Tulip wrote:
The tottering Margarita, after the seemingly imaginary Satanic ball, finds herself in the company of Satan and his crew. in Berlioz' flat. She asks the cat if the clear liquid he has poured for her is vodka, and indignant, the mad fool cat informs her it is pure alcohol, unadulterated by water. This weirdo cat is particularly upside down all the time. Normal indignation in such a circumstance would be vented at the suggestion he was plying her with liquor of any type, not that the drink was only half proof.
I think I will be re-reading this chapter in years to come, like I used to get out the battle scenes from Lord of the Rings and re-read them. So many strands are pulled together, so much insight reflected on several levels like the colors inside a crystal.

The upside-down cat is a marvel. He evokes Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat, whose guidance is so cryptic it mocks the whole idea of guidance. In many ways he also evokes the Fool, the joker who can pose behind stupidity to speak dangerous truths. Behemoth presents himself as straightforward but keeps turning out to be crooked after all, partly from absurd pride (which a cat would have) and partly from pretend politeness for the sake of maintaining a sham of moral tidiness. Just like real cats, he is a tidy, playful killer with a sense of pride and a need to be stroked. He is a comedy of manners for the totalitarian state in a few bold strokes. And he is a wicked mockery of the Artist, who stumbles into giving away the truth with his foolish efforts to deny it out of his own pride.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Azazello then proves his capacity with a gun by shooting a selected pip from a hidden seven of spades, firing over his shoulder, which distinctly impresses Margarita.
Bulgakov does not miss the coquettish, flirting side of Margot. He has a sharp eye, and does not go in for sparing his hero or heroine. It's one of the weaknesses of Eros, to be besotted with one kind of excellence and yet vulnerable to the next one that comes along, even to women attracted to Bill Clinton (or Dear Leader!) despite themselves (men are even more vulnerable, I hasten to add, but it isn't usually power that turns them on).

Robert Tulip wrote:
The Mad Hatter’s tea party continues, until Margarita is ready to go. She feels black depression at the lack of any offer to reward all her work for the devil at the ball, and not being able to go home, announces her plan to drown herself in the Moscow River. She shows her pride by refusing to ask for anything, and the devil congratulates her for this attitude, asking her to name her reward, echoing the Herodian reward brought to Satan at the ball.
Here we get to the knot at the center of it all. Margot has taken the devil's temptations, but used them for spite of her nemesis and now, for rescue for her true love. We sense that she is above the preoccupations with triviality that Woland used with such aplomb to embarrass the good ladies of Moscow. Now Woland, who is morally complex and manages to do his work of leading people astray without needing to lie, approves of her pride. Admiration and contempt, Bulgakov seems to be saying, are outside the currents of despair and trust by which the world is brought to reveal its corruption, as literature stands aside from the world of power, or even as Salome's brilliant dancing led Herod to forget himself.

Robert Tulip wrote:
She only asks for the salvation of Frieda, the ghost woman at the ball who constantly smothered her own baby, since she had promised to help her and would feel guilty to let her down. This is an exercise of pure compassion by Margarita.
I disagree slightly. "I am a frivolous woman" Margot declares, in one of those looking glass quotes at once so insightful and so ironic. It is terribly true and wonderfully untrue at the same time, in a masterful use of the "This statement is untrue" paradox. It is not so much true compassion as an attack of conscience on her part. Her heart went out to Frieda, but revulsion and pride were in the thick of her promise. She remembered her promise just in time, in a kind of reversal of Peter's denial. In a space created by her reluctance to ask straight out for her true love.

Frieda is, of course, a kind of horrible Sisyphus, of despair rather than pride.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The devil says he can’t help, seemingly deflating this request, but then says that is only because he lacks power to forgive, a power that Margarita has.
He never actually says he lacks the power. "That's a different department" he says, as if he is a bureaucrat of spiritual administration. He deals in illusion and torment, not reconciliation and forgiveness. So Margot, his Queen for a Day, turns out to be from the department that can forgive. But she doubts it. "Will it be done as I say?" No answer except a sour look as Woland turns away. A brilliant echo of Jesus telling Peter (or perhaps all the disciples) "What you forgive on earth will be forgiven in heaven, and what you retain will be retained."

So she musters the faith (in the correct department, one surmises) or perhaps the anguish to offer forgiveness to Frieda.

Robert Tulip wrote:
In bursts the ecstatic Frieda, Margarita pronounces her forgiveness for her crime, and again tries to go. But not so fast. The devil has still not granted a reward since he claims he did not do anything to save Frieda. Margarita must ask for something for herself, so she asks for the return of her lover, the Master, who then miraculously walks in the window on a moonbeam.
In another marvelous twist, she receives her reward from Woland only by being willing to forgo it. Something like Frodo Baggins himself, one might say, even though he needed help from both a shadow side and a simple side to actually follow through on his resolution.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Restored by a glass of the devil’s fire water, the Master begins to come to his senses,

Effects of alcohol aside, this is another of Bulgakov's recognitions of complexity. The Master is weak, and has been all along, and the bracing dealings with the devil precipitated by his morally ambiguous lover are needed to restore his mental faculties. Even if his destruction is not just a picture of the effects of torture and prison, horrible as those are, we clearly have an expression that his art is something greater than his actual character. Which is a bit of clarity that the system will have revealed to him, one way or another.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The Master tells Satan he would prefer to consider him a figment of hallucination, but must believe in him. The parable here is that we would prefer to believe that evil does not exist in the world, but cannot avoid the evidence of our senses. The fool cat then offers to prove he is a hallucination by showing that he has no shadow, but is told to shut up.

Once again, there is no simple one-for-one representation of evil's reality. Artists who refuse to believe in the Devil because it is subversive to the Party's rule end up with their head rolling. Sycophants are just as expendable as fellow travelers, perhaps more so. Alternatively, those who insist on materialism in evaluating human affairs are blinded to the weaknesses of people which make a mockery of idealistic pretense to use power for the greater good. Better to accept plain evidence and avoid jesuitical self-delusion.

I think Bulgakov, like Jung, is using ironic word-play to suggest that we often blind ourselves. In this case it is our use of a pretense of realism, an insistence on dispensing with evocations of the dark forces at work among us, with which we choose to cover our eyes. It makes it easy to fool us using "the evidence of our senses", as we are full tilt into motivated reasoning and ideology hardly needs to trick us.

This is the territory one enters when "dealing with the devil", however. One begins to believe that the ends justify the means, and this turns easily into Macbeth's "whatever my hand finds to do" endorsement. In some ways Stalin can be left out of the interpretation of this novel altogether - even if things had not become half so extreme, the learned practice of manipulating with force and falsehood would still produce its share of sham, of ridiculous preoccupation with the petty, of selling people for a little advantage, and of violent suppression of challenges to power. I've seen it in a system not nearly as corrupting or intimidating.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Next comes the most celebrated line in The Master and Margarita, as the Master explains Margarita’s regard for him based on his burnt novel. At this, Woland informs him that manuscripts don’t burn, and, via the mad cat, the devil produces a full copy of the destroyed novel, with a laugh like a clap of thunder.

This line, manuscripts don’t burn, became a celebrated story of the Russian underground samizdat typewritten documents, and served as the title of Bulgakov’s posthumous diaries and letters. The great irony is that the KGB retyped Bulgakov's diaries when they invited him in for a chat and inspection of the instruments. The secret police gave the originals back to the author, which he burnt, in sheer terror at the fear of being caught again with heretical literature.

Presto, these burnt manuscripts reappeared like magic in 1991 from the belly of the beast, vomited from the vaults of the Lubyanka during the five minutes of sunshine after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Again, reflecting facets of irony. Truth doesn't go away, because it suits manipulative power to abuse "evidence" for its machinations. Truth also doesn't go away for the simple reason that it is true. The artist's inability not to see the evil around him is dangerous, and he would unsee it if he could (being no braver than other people, and facing such a pervasively ruthless system). But the poor, hapless chap is caught in his own clarity.

The mind of a paranoid narcissist is a hall of mirrors on the dark side of the looking glass. Spin and "truthful hyperbole" combine with "protect against the down side and the up side will take care of itself" and "fight back" (two of the principles from "The Art of the Deal") to make a world in which facts are only true if they support one's ego and its clawing for advantage, any pretense to objectivity is to be suborned as a danger in itself, the test of honesty is whether one is on the right side, and rules are temporary inconveniences to be dispensed with when sufficient power has been accumulated. By mocking honesty, truthfulness and integrity with sick, paranoid divisiveness, people are willingly converted from barbarian wannabes to true believers.



Last edited by Harry Marks on Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:47 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Chapter 24: The Master is Released
Harry Marks wrote:
I think I will be re-reading this chapter in years to come, like I used to get out the battle scenes from Lord of the Rings and re-read them. So many strands are pulled together, so much insight reflected on several levels like the colors inside a crystal.
Since my initial comments only addressed the first half of this jewel of a chapter, I will take this opportunity to blend in some discussion of the second half with reflections on Harry’s profound insights about it.

Cass Sunstein has a superb analysis of everyday Nazism in the next New York Review of Books, which helps to understand the authoritarian psychology that Bulgakov is satirising. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/0 ... ppen-here/

A theme in Russian fairytales is the restoration of everything to as it was before, as good triumphs over evil, for example in The Enchanted Ring. The Master and Margarita have been turfed out of their flat. Woland’s reward to Margarita for her services is to restore this previous happiness, in a strangely perverse inversion of the roles of good and evil.

The fairytale happy ending is updated for communist times. The scheming conniver Mogarych who denounced the Master to the authorities to get his flat is hauled in for questioning. Azazello leads the interrogation pack with his confiding nasal whine. This Russian syndrome of informing on people to get their property is extensively described by writers like Solzhenitsyn and Conquest. Mogarych’s shameless blubbering about how he renovated the stolen flat illustrates the craven amorality of Soviet times, but cuts no ice with Satan, who is delivering on his obligations to Margarita.

The devil can magically change the paperwork to ensure everything works out. The theme of the infernal corruption of Soviet officialdom, discussed further below in Behemoth’s dictation, emerges vividly with the smug hellish response to the Master’s fear about being caught again by the authorities, “Remove the document and you remove the man”. Soviet dissident writers have explained the difficulty that people from the free world have in understanding the perilous chill contained in this statement. The reader would also recall the poet Ivan’s problems after he lost his papers in his insane midnight swim in the frozen Moscow River in his futile pursuit of the cat.
Harry Marks wrote:
The upside-down cat is a marvel. He evokes Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat, whose guidance is so cryptic it mocks the whole idea of guidance. In many ways he also evokes the Fool, the joker who can pose behind stupidity to speak dangerous truths. Behemoth presents himself as straightforward but keeps turning out to be crooked after all, partly from absurd pride (which a cat would have) and partly from pretend politeness for the sake of maintaining a sham of moral tidiness. Just like real cats, he is a tidy, playful killer with a sense of pride and a need to be stroked. He is a comedy of manners for the totalitarian state in a few bold strokes. And he is a wicked mockery of the Artist, who stumbles into giving away the truth with his foolish efforts to deny it out of his own pride.
When the Master asks Behemoth if he is the same cat who boarded the tram, the flattered animal again preens with ridiculous comments about the infernal liberties people usually take in speaking to cats. You are right about this comedy of manners, since we can well imagine Bulgakov drawing his imagery for this monstrous animal from his tyrannical encounters with petty officials, as seen vividly in the episode of the certificate for Nikolai Ivanovitch to explain his absence after he turned into a flying pig to carry the witch to the ball.

This is worth quoting. After frowning about how such certificates can only be provided in exceptional situations, Behemoth dictates to the naked Hella seated at the typewriter, “This is to certify that the Bearer, Nikolai Ivanovitch, spent the night in question at Satan’s Ball, having been enticed there in a vehicular capacity (pig). (Signed) Behemoth.”

The intrinsic absurdity of this letter, entirely true within the magically real suspension of the novel, is a bitter comedy of manners, since we can hardly expect the recipient to make use of such a letter. But rather than asking the cat to dissemble with a more plausible alibi, Nikolai Ivanovitch only asks for the document to be dated, to which he receives the supreme reply from the cat ‘the document becomes invalid if its dated.’

All that is solid melts into air in upside down cat land. The cat’s offer to prove he has no shadow could well reflect some Cheshire sourcing in absurdist mathematical philosophy, fading to a grin, such as the line from Lewis Carroll’s cat ‘I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad.' https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~rgs/alice-VI.html

Harry Marks wrote:
Bulgakov does not miss the coquettish, flirting side of Margot. He has a sharp eye, and does not go in for sparing his hero or heroine.
The point is the compromise of despair, how a person ground down by bitter life will assess options in a practical immediate way, not by the principles of higher morality. Here Margarita is drawn to the seductive glamour of the demon’s accuracy with a gun, a bit like the French women who were shaved and pilloried for selling their bodies to the Nazis, falling for the aphrodisiac of power.


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