Mystery Bouffe And The Start Of Soviet Censorship

Despite being a revolutionary and futuristic masterpiece by Mayakovsky, Meyerhold and Malevich, Mystery Bouffe was the first victim of Soviet censorship.

On a warm day one hundred years ago a small group of friends heard the first-ever play by a Soviet dramatist. Poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was reading Mystery Bouffe to a group that included the Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatoly Lunacharsky, and the famous theater director, Vsevolod Meyerhold.

The play was an aggressive piece of Bolshevik propaganda, opening at the Petrograd Conservatoire in 1918 for three performances, with stage decorations and costumes designed by Kazimir Malevich. This first piece of Soviet theater seemed to be pure brilliance, with three giant radical artists celebrating the Revolution’s first anniversary. But it didn’t turn out well.

The creative process was all but sabotaged, and the audiences indifferent. Lenin called it “hooligan communism.” But why such hostility to a show that seemed so in line with the times?

Things started ominously. A few days after the October Revolution, Lunacharsky as the Commissar of Enlightenment convened a meeting to discuss revolutionary approaches to art in the new era. Hundreds of artists were invited, but only five showed up, among which were Mayakovsky and Meyerhold.

Why such a low turn out? These were still deeply uncertain times, and even though all theaters were under Lunacharsky’s control, many artists were not sure about throwing their lot in with the Bolsheviks. But these five did. Meyerhold’s biographer, Edward Braun, called this “a hazardous act of faith.”

Mystery Bouffe is by any standards a strange play, written in Mayakovsky’s trademark energetic and tumbling verse. The story is the Biblical parable of Noah’s ark transplanted into the industrial age. The flood is the Revolution, cleansing the world of the bourgeoisie. The ‘new common man’ leads the proletariat to a mechanized paradise, where tools and even food obey humans.

The play’s cast was huge, with over 70 characters acting in a declaratory and rhetorical style. The conservative Actor’s Union labeled it “futuristic,” which according to Mayakovsky’s biographers Ann and Samuel Charters, is the “word they gave to everything they didn’t understand.”

We are certainly very far away from the living rooms of Chekhov, Mayakovsky says as much in the Prologue. Other theater gives you:

“Uncle Vanya
And Auntie Manya
Parked on a sofa as they chatter

But we don’t care
About uncles or aunts:
you can find them at home – or anywhere!”

He did not want the play to imitate observable reality. This was also Malevich’s approach to the design, as he said: “I saw my task not as the creation of associations with the reality existing beyond the stage, but as the creation of a new reality.”

The play opened with actors coming onstage and ripping up posters of popular performances of that time. It was a declaration of war on Imperial-era theater.

The Petrograd Conservatoire was less than cooperative, and they refused to sell copies of the script. The doors to rehearsal rooms were boarded shut. Nails for the set were kept under lock and key. Actors were very suspicious of the project, and most refused to be involved. An advertisement was put in the paper: “Comrades! It is your duty to celebrate the great day of the Revolution with a revolutionary show.” In the end they had to use students, and Mayakovsky had to play several key roles himself.

Tellingly, most critics did not think the play worthy to be reviewed. Later, however, theater director Vladimir Solovyov wrote that, “it didn’t get across to the audience. The witty satirical passages…[were greeted] with stony silence.”

An outdoor performance was canceled, and the Futurists were banned from participating in forthcoming May Day celebrations. Bolsheviks worried that this style would put off the proletariat.

In retrospect, the experience suffered by this show anticipated the subsequent careers of Mayakovsky, Malevich and Meyerhold. Within 12 years of Mystery Bouffe they’d all be dead, and not from old age. Mayakovsky’s suicide in 1930 was no doubt largely due to mental health issues and his complicated relationship with Lilya Brick. But his constant struggles with the authorities had a huge impact on his inability to live and create.

Malevich’s artwork was banned and confiscated for being abstract and “bourgeois,” and he was imprisoned in 1930 where he developed cancer. He dabbled in figurative art in the early 1930s, but then died in 1935.

Meyerhold suffered the most: his performances were banned, his theater was closed, he was tortured, murdered and rewritten out of history. What began with the locked rehearsal rooms of 1918, ended in the inner chamber of Lubyanka prison in 1940.

Indeed, the optimism of the Revolution gave way to paranoia, censorship and murder in the 1930s. This is mostly attributed to Stalin’s personality and his insistence on promoting the stifling official ideology of Soviet Realism. This certainly played a huge role, but perhaps the truth is more subversive. The immediate reaction to Mystery Bouffe in 1918 was not unlike later arguments against the Avant-garde art in the purges; that it would not be immediately accessible to the common man and was therefore on the side of the bourgeoisie.

As Lunacharsky said of Mystery Bouffe, it was “incomprehensible to the new world.” The history of the play shows that Bolshevism and art had a troubled relationship from the very beginning. Even when they seemed to be toeing the ideological line, these artists were too independent and radical even in the supposedly experimental and revolutionary atmosphere of a hundred years ago.

Oliver Bennett contributes regularly to Russia Beyond. Courtesy of Russia Beyond.

The photo shows a sketch for Mayakovsky’s Mystery-Bouffe at the Rustaveli Theatre, 1924, by Irakli Gamrekeli.

Bruno Manz – Strange Portrait

There are numerous autobiographical testimonies about World War II and the Third Reich. The memoirs of former generals or soldiers engaged in telling their hardships and feats from a heroic perspective abounded for a time in German language.

Many of these authors were perfectly willing to accept that Hitler was a tyrant who dragged Germany to disaster, but not to give up pride in their exploits during the war, which they considered legitimate. Giving up their pride would have meant accepting the terrible absurdity of the adversities they had passed through. Is it not too high a price for those who had left the best youth in the battlefield? After all, our psyche requires us to be able to give meaning to our suffering, even if this meaning has to be fabricated.

With the advent of May 1968, the European mentality experienced a turning point that ended this attitude. Thereafter, the former heroic testimonies could only be self-published or appear in small publishing houses with a more than questionable political affiliation.

The heroic discourse was gradually becoming a stale and reactionary attitude, which was inappropriate in the new times. In return, the victims’ testimonies, a genuine literary genre with its own rules which had been formerly unnoticed, proliferated and spread more than ever. A new desire to be a victim, which was replacing the old pride of being a hero, began to emerge: in some extreme cases impostors appeared describing in great detail stories of survival in the concentration camps which they had never experienced. I may return to this in a future entry.

But the kind of testimony that has always shone eloquently for its absence is the unrepentant Nazi, despite the fact that a high percentage of the German population of 1945 consisted of them. The reasons for this absence are in and of themselves and are undoubtedly related to an unacknowledged feeling of shame.

However, we can barely count with direct testimonies of someone who recognizes himself as being deeply convinced of the truth of the Nazi worldview. It amazes me all the more that one of the most valuable testimonies of this type rarely appears in the endless bibliographies about Nazism and still does not even have a German translation. I’m referring to A Mind in Prison, the extraordinary memoirs of the German-born physicist Bruno Manz, published in 2000.

As the title suggests, Manz’s mind was imprisoned by the ideological and propaganda machine of the Third Reich, but also by the strong convictions held in his home. His father had always been an assured Nazi, and the deep love that the child felt for him facilitated inoculation of his ideological venom. It was easy for the Hitler Youth to do the rest. Later, the handsome soldier Manz ended up becoming an enthusiastic teacher who was responsible for, among other things, the indoctrination of Wehrmacht soldiers in Nazi ideology.

Apparently, Manz was lucky not to be directly involved in violent crimes; however, he was undoubtedly an ideological criminal, a truth about himself that he finally accepted with all its bitterness. The book also describes with unusual honesty the disturbing ideological liberation process he had to face after 1945.

Among other things, and though it took him several months, he ended up being forced to accept that the death camps were not a mere invention of Allied propaganda. Finally freed from his mental prison, in 1957 Manz emigrated to The United States and settled in the country of the former enemy, taking American citizenship. Ironically, he worked as a physicist in the missile development program of his new country.

Manz said that, as in many other German homes, in the entrance of his house in Dortmund there was a kind of domestic altar. Set in the middle was the Nazi flag; on top, a portrait of Hitler, and on either side pictures of Goebbels and Göring. Is there any better proof of how the National Socialism was a political religion?

Well, now let’s have a look at the valuable testimony of Manz:

The picture that represented the Führer was a technically inferior photograph of his profile that my father had bought at Nazi headquarters. From the very beginning my father was unhappy with this picture, but he put up with it for want of a better one. The stumbling block was the Führer’s shaggy hair, which was dotted with mysterious spots that looked quite unnatural and created the impression that the photograph had been tampered with. […] Apparently the Goebbels propaganda was also unhappy with the Hitler photograph, for it suddenly ordered the picture to be withdrawn from all shops and showcases. But no explanation was given, and that’s when the rumors started. The Stürmer, we heard by the grapevine, had launched an investigation, yet its findings were so sensitive that they could not be printed. They could only be transmitted by word of mouth, and then only to the most trustworthy. In this way, we eventually learned the “truth”. The pathetic photograph of Hitler was a sinister fabrication of the Jews. With great technical skill, they had woven all sorts of Jewish faces into Hitler’s shaggy hair, thus putting him on notice that they were still calling the shots. Now our eyes had been “opened.” Turning the picture around and viewing it from all angles, we “saw” a whole array of Jewish faces laughing and scoffing at us.

I was stunned. I am not sure whether my father took the affair as seriously as I did, but it was he who dug even deeper into the sinister plot. As the commotion was already cooling down, he surprised us at the dinner table with a view that tingled my spine. Turning Hitler’s profile upside down, he showed that his ear became a Jewish nose, his lower jaw turned into a bald forehead, a strand of hair was transformed into puffy lips, and so on. Now I was really frightened. If the Jews could penetrate the inner sanctuary of the National Socialist Party, was there anything they could not to?

The sudden withdrawal of Hitler’s photograph, which had a strong impact on the German population, was with no doubt due to image control measures of the Ministry of Propaganda. Trade with Führer portraits had become a big business, so images of poor quality proliferated. This was to be avoided at all costs. Moreover, Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, had exclusive photographic rights to the dictator. Any of these reasons amply explains the confiscation of the image referred to by Manz, without resorting to a conspiracy theory.

But in modern western civilization, conspiracy theories always had a big success. The extraordinary effectiveness of their argumentative mechanism has always fascinated me. By constructing false causal links, a conspiracy theory allows us to mark as true something that is nothing but a prejudice, a fear, an irrational hatred or mere suspicion.

There is always a conspiracy theory that will allow us to claim a rational attitude and a logical scrutiny to cover feelings that would embarrass us if we showed them in all their naked irrationality and primitivism. Conspiracy theories even allow us to be proud of our superior intelligence. After all, it was us who knew how to see Jewish faces in the image, where other ignorant mortals only see mere spots formed by chance.

Rare and valuable testimonies like these, though anecdotal, allow us to come closer to the mental mechanisms of horror. What matters is not so much to be aware of the tragic consequences of barbarism, but the simple and effective cognitive mechanisms that, at any given time, can make us a barbarian. In this sense, Manz has given us a priceless testimony.

Rosa Sala Rose lives in Spain.

The photo shows, “Das Wilde Jahd,” by Franz von Stuck, painted in 1889.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Twelfth Epistle

A few mornings later Nahum was late in getting to the shop. He explained to Ezra that he had done something for the first time in his life. I went to a large shop in the Market, the one that sells imported clothing, shoes and other types of linens.

The owner knew who I was, although we had never met. I explained to him that we moved out of town and would see less walk-in traffic, and then asked him if he would be interested in selling our sandals and other goods. He replied sure if I can make a profit.

I explained that if he took a larger order we would reduce the price and he could add on some as he had a store, not a shop like us. He did some fast calculating and said yes, let’s try twenty pair of sandals, and if it goes well I will place another order immediately. He continued by saying he would pay cash upon delivery for the twenty pair, but would need some credit when he placed a larger order. Nahum said that would not be a problem.

Ezra was very proud of his father and said that was a brilliant idea. He said I am going to find Isaac and ask him to assist us again. You go talk to Samuel and Ethan and tell them we would like to teach them the leather business and hire them full time.

The two boys could not wait to go home and tell their mother; finally she thought we will be able to live a normal life. She said to the two boys, I would like to say a prayer of thanks, as since we have expressed our love for Jesus, our lives have been blessed. The boys agreed and prayed with her.

Isaac and Ezekiel appeared at Ruth’s the next afternoon before Nahum got home. They were enjoying a nice visit when he returned. Isaac explained he would be delighted to assist them for a while and train the young men; he was so pleased to see them at some of his services too.

Ezekiel told his parents that he would be leaving again soon to assist another disciple, Philip, who was going to Greece, Phrygia and Syria. He did not know when he would return. His mother had enjoyed her sons company, wisdom and preaching for past few years, but she knew his life was dedicated to preaching about Jesus Christ and she must be strong and proud of him when he left.

The next week was a very busy one in the new shop. Isaac was working with the two boys and much to their surprise and pleasure Nahum and Ezra welcomed several new customers, local farmers, into their new shop, business was beginning to equal or even better that from the old shop.

Another surprise was happening in the shop too!!! Isaac was making great progress with Samuel and Ethan, but his trained eye suggested to him that Ethan was a magician with the needle!  He could not believe how fast and how accurate and strong his sewing was.  He said to him one day, why don’t you take that piece of nice soft leather and see if you can make a purse like this one.  A few hours later, Isaac could not believe his eyes. There was a beautiful purse with the stitching perfect. Each loop the same size as the last, just taut enough to hold the seam closed, but with no bunching! He certainly had a flair for sewing, something one would see in a seamstress’ class.

 Isaac showed it to Nahum and Ezra who were equally amazed! They asked him to make some more.

The next day Ethan had completed three more purses, each one a little bit different.

The twenty sandals were completed so Nahum drove his team of mules to the new shop the next day. After lunch he loaded the sandals and the four purses on his cart and drove off to see the Market Man.

He was pleased that Samuel had taken the lead, without being asked, to package the sandals in nice paper with the size written on it. They looked very presentable.

He dropped them off at the Market man and explained the purses to him. He was suspicious at first, asking if Nahum had imported them, Nahum assured him they were from his shop. Market man said they looked very much like some purses he had seen from Rome but were too expensive to sell in his place. He asked Nahum what he would charge and Market Man said no, not enough, I will ask this much.

Nahum was surprised and said ok, if you can sell for that much good luck. Nahum told him he would not charge him until they were sold.

Two weeks had passed since Nahum had delivered the sandals and purses. He decided to go check on Market Man tomorrow morning on his way to the new shop.

Nahum arrived just as Market Man was opening his shop. The market was very quiet, except for the diners and coffee places.

Market Man approached Nahum with a big smile on his face.  I sold all the sandals except one pair, the large black ones, I am saving them for a customer who is travelling now, but will buy them upon his return. He likes strong sandals and these will be just perfect.

But, the good news is the purses. I sold all four in two days and I have custom orders for six more and would like to stock twenty for my market. Let me explain.

One of my regular customers,  a wealthy lady, whose husband owns a large winery, came in  and saw the purses, she was so impressed she asked me if they were imported, I explained they were made locally. She bought one and asked if she could order two more to her specifications. I told her I would check and let her know. Here is what she wants.  He showed Nahum the specs but with his limited reading ability he asked Market Man to explain them to him. She wanted one purse made with many colours and a black trim. She also wanted a black purse with beads on it. Market Man said if you do not have beads go to my friend on aisle three and he will sell you some. He sells all kinds of beads, buttons and stones. Nahum said he would.

Two other ladies bought the other three and they too would like two more each custom designed and I have their request here too.

Nahum decided to drop by the tannery on his way back to the new shop and pick up some quality, bright coloured soft leather for Ethan to work his magic on.

When he arrived at the shop the men were anxious to hear his story and were delighted with what he told them.

The photo shows, “Th Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus,” by James Tissot, painted 1886 to 1894.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Eleventh Epistle

While the death of Isaac has been the most difficult challenge in his life, Nahum continues to look for answers. When he meditates daily, he often will sit for over an hour, alone, thinking of events in his life, trying to replace Isaac’s loss with memories of the amazing blessings God has provided him.

Yesterday, in his meditative state, he brought back the memory of his granddaughter being born.

His memory went like this:

The sounds of horses’ hooves bounding through the early morning mist startled Ruth as she was feeding her chickens early one Saturday morning. She was relieved when the horse and rider came close and she saw it was Samuel and he was smiling, she was very relieved. He got down from his horse and told Ruth that if she wanted to see her new granddaughter, she best be on her way to Elisabeth’s home as soon as possible. The rider then said he had a few more miles to go to tell Elisabeth’s folks the same news.

It was a matter of minutes until Nahum had the team hitched to the wagon and they were off to see their new granddaughter. The two families arrived a few minutes apart and by this time Hannah had Elizabeth and baby sister all cleaned up waiting for their families to arrive.

It had been a bit of a surprise birth as they thought Elizabeth had a couple more weeks before delivery, but as Ezra said to his mother, you know what little girls do they march to their own drummer.  Everyone was delighted; first of all, that both mom and baby were healthy, but also for little Paul who told everyone that it was a sister in his mommy’s tummy; he was right!

The families enjoyed their visit but decided to return home late in the afternoon, leaving the young family in the capable hands of Miriamne, Hannah and Ezekiel. They would return next week for more celebrations.

When the baptismal for little sister was held, she had not been named, Paul kept calling her simply “sissy”! At the ceremony Elizabeth asked Miriamne to come sit beside her; the fragile lady was so pleased for everyone, knowing they had been blessed with a son and now a daughter.

Elizabeth asked for everyone’s attention and started making a little speech. She thanked everyone for their kindness and generosity, for the wonderful family and group of friends they share, and then she said there was one couple who really had changed their lives, and for the better, as it turned out, and that couple was Yohanan and Miriamne.

This startled the aged lady as she was not expecting it! She looked a bit dazed by it all and was at a loss for words. Elizabeth recognized this and quickly drew the lady close to her and announced that their new baby was going to be called Miriamne! This really surprised her to the point where both Hannah and Ruth came over to give her added support. By now the tears were flowing like tiny rivers. She looked up at Elizabeth and said oh, Yohanan would be so pleased, but realizing she did not mention herself, she said of course I am too.

This broke the tension and everybody had a little chuckle which she enjoyed.  Ezekiel was the one who said we need to make a toast to Yohanan, Miriamne, Elizabeth and Miriamne. Everybody cheered and raised their mugs. It was a wonderful happy occasion for Nahum The Carpenter and his family and friends.

Those memories filled him with joy and temporarily replaced his sorrow.

Today, he continued his pleasant memory theme by recalling the wedding of his second son Ezekiel. Of course, his recall started by giving thanks to God again for the recovery of his son from the dreaded fever he came home with.

The wedding of Hannah and Ezekiel took place after Ezekiel had made two trips into the country spreading the Jesus story to some of the more remote towns and villages.

Nahum smiled as he was meditating as he recalled the story Ezra had told him after his brothers wedding. It went like this:

Ezra was very proud of his brother and enjoyed his company.  Ezra was one who liked to remember things from the past. Zeke would occasionally laugh at Ezra when he brought up stories from years ago. They both had a good laugh when Ezra asked Zeke if he remembered the night, he told his dad he did not want anything to do with that smelly leather shop. It was a fond memory!  I think our two lives have worked out quite well after going in two very different directions.

Ezra was bringing up some of the old days for a reason, he was mentally preparing for Zeke’s up coming marriage and he wanted to secretly get Zeke’s help in what he remembered and what he found funny or embarrassing. Ezra would use that at his wedding.

As one would expect, the wedding was causing a stir in and around the east end of Jerusalem. Ezekiel, along with Isaac, had preached to many people about this man Jesus and they had made many friends. People were loving the message they presented, basically to love your fellow man and to learn to forgive, also many of the old Jewish traditions were replaced with direct prayer to Almighty God through his son Jesus Christ. People liked this new way of worshipping.

Also, Hannah had become well known in all the communities around the clinic for her professional and loving manner in which she took care of her patients. It did not matter what religion, colour or creed, she treated them all fairly.

This meant many people were interested in the wedding of this young couple. Ezra and Elizabeth along with family decided on a very special wedding day for Zeke and Hannah.

Nahum pointed out to Ezra that since these Jesus following people were now being persecuted by both Jewish factions as well as Romans, that a quiet wedding might be the be the safest for all concerned.

Ezra discussed his options with his horse owner friends, with family and with some of his customers. It was decided to spread the word of the wedding quietly but widely and not to broadcast it to the public. They also decided to have the wedding ceremony on Yohanan’s church allocated property with the reception held in the fields of Ezra’s farm.

While Ezra was stressing and planning for the wedding, Nahum was spending many hours praying to God for advice. He wanted to speak to Claudius, the Roman Commander of the army around Jerusalem.

Nahum’s shops did a lot of business with the Roman army, fixing their wagons, carts, harness and leather sandals and clothing, but the contact with the army was purely business with literally no personal dialogue between the parties.

Finally, Nahum felt he had God’s approval to approach Claudius.

Claudius told Nahum that Rome had directed him to leave the new Jesus people alone as long as they did not cause any trouble. He added that he and his men appreciated the professional and quality workmanship Nahum’s shops provided. So, therefore he assured Nahum they would be safe.

Nahum rode back home a very happy man. He sang and praised God all the way to his home where he shared the news with Ruth, and later with Ezra.

The wedding took place as planned, it started out as a rainy wet day, but by noon it was sunny. Ezra had arranged with some friends to look after the guest’s horses and mules in his fields while the guests partied.

Isaac conducted a wonderful ceremony, stressing the contributions of the young couple to both the new Jesus church and the medical centre that helped so many people.  Following the ceremony, a huge reception was enjoyed by the guests, many of whom brought food and wine to the happy occasion. After dinner Ezra, aided by his talented wife Elizabeth gave a very humorous, loving roast of his brother. The crowd loved it and cheered at every joke Ezra told.

The celebrations lasted until the next morning when the guests retrieved their horses and mules and found their wagons and drove home.

Ezekiel and Hannah took a similar trip that Ezra and Elizabeth had taken a few years ago and spent three lovely days in a seaside resort.

They returned and immediately started setting up their new home. The next day Hannah returned to her clinic and Ezekiel met with some of his brothers to plan how they could continue to worship Jesus and avoid persecution.  It was a very stressful time for the new Christ people.

A new fear is gripping the city of Jerusalem! There are rumors of a Roman attack on the city in the next few years. The attack will be against the Jews, but the new Christians are worried they may be part of the attack too. Many have already fled to other countries.

Nahum and his boys have discussed the possibility of an attack either by Jews or Romans. Considering their relationship with many Jewish customers and the recent non-threatening actions of the Roman soldiers they have agreed to continue living their lives as they have been for seventy years.

Nahum and family are feeling safe, but many of their friends and customers have been slaughtered by Jewish rebels as they try to eliminate the followers of Jesus.

The Jews are also shocked and angry thousands of Jews are converting to this new Christianity every day. Even in time of persecution, Jesus word is bringing in new followers.

Nahum, while so grateful for all of Gods love and provisions but was a very worried man now.

The photo shows, “Maria, Sister of Lazarus, and Jesus,” Nikolay Ge, painted in 1864.

Eumeswil, Or Whither Human Excellence?

Ernst Jünger’s Eumeswil, one of the famous German’s last works, published when he was eighty-two years old, is often regarded as an exposition of libertarian thought. This is understandable, but completely wrong. Such a reading attempts to shoehorn concepts in which Jünger had little interest, or toward which he was actively hostile, into an exploration of unrelated themes.

Moreover, it ignores that in this book, though somewhat masked, Jünger has more contempt for so-called liberal democracy than dislike for what some call tyranny. Thus, this book is not a call to rework society, or individual thought, along libertarian lines. It is instead a call for human excellence, and a criticism of the modern West for failure to achieve it, or to even try.

One cannot really understand Eumeswil without reading, preferably first reading, Jünger’s earlier The Forest Passage, which was published in 1951, twenty-six years before Eumeswil. On the surface, they are very different—this book is cast as dystopian science fiction, and The Forest Passage is a work of philosophical exposition.

But Jünger himself explicitly ties the two books together, linking the earlier book’s concept of the “forest rebel” with this book’s concept of the “anarch.” In both books, the author’s focus on freedom, specific to each individual, is easily misinterpreted, because what freedom means to most people today is not what Jünger means by the term. Jünger means an internal, spiritual freedom, an elitist freedom, not the freedom of license and consequent ennui. This confusion drives all the misunderstandings of Eumeswil.

While they fit together, a key difference between the books is often, or always, overlooked. Both are analyses of how a man should live under tyranny. But the tyrannies to which the protagonist in each book reacts are completely different.

Thus, while there are some differences between the forest rebel and the anarch, those differences are best explained not by developments in Jünger’s thought, but by the differences in the tyrannies examined in each book. That is to say, Jünger is looking at a general problem of stifled freedom from two radically different angles—in the earlier book, from the perspective of those trapped by Communism or other totalitarian ideologies; in the later book, from those trapped in a much different type of tyranny, one into which Jünger saw the West decaying, having nothing to do with Communism.

It is the difference between 1951 and 1977, one which often escapes us now, but was very evident to a person of the time, and should be even more evident to us today, since the defects found in 1977 in bud form are now in full and poisonous flower, while the evils of 1951 have disappeared entirely.

Not much actually happens, plot-wise, in Eumeswil. Most of the book consists of the private musings of the protagonist, Martin Venator. He lives in the city-state of Eumeswil, somewhere in today’s Morocco, after an unspecified global apocalypse some time before. (The name comes from Eumenes, the most clever of the Diadochi, the “successors” of Alexander, who fought over and divided his empire. The theme of such decline is everywhere in this book, starting with the city name itself). Eumeswil is ruled by a man referred to only as the Condor, a soldier who overthrew the “tribunes,” the leading men of a broad oligarchic and quasi-democratic order, the “republic,” whose adherents viewed, and still view, themselves as beneficent and liberal, in contrast to the Condor, whom they naturally loathe.

Venator, a young man, has two jobs. By day he is a historian, or rather some type of graduate student; by night he tends bar in the Condor’s palace, at the Condor’s private bar. This permits him to observe the Condor and his aides, as they interact and discuss both high and low events. In Venator’s dispassionate telling, the Condor and his men are far from fiends; they are competent and genial men, highly intelligent and rational, concerned mostly with possible rebellions in the city, maintaining order, keeping the people happy, and not getting on the wrong side of people more powerful than they.

Of those latter, there are really two—the Yellow Khan, apparently either a very powerful neighbor or some sort of overlord, who sometimes comes for state visits that are a combination of pleasure and peril for the Condor and his men; and the vague “catacombs,” subterranean realms of some kind from which come advanced technology, still being developed by unspecified people, not unearthed from dead ones.

To accompany these external forces, to the south, across the desert, lies the “Forest,” a mutated, wild land, where (spoiler alert) at the end of the book the Condor leads an expedition, joined by Venator, and none of them are ever heard from again.

Under both the tribunes and the Condor, Eumeswil is a place that is waiting, passing the time, forever, so far as can be seen. There are no grand plans or any real hope for the future. Here, at the end of all things, not much happens. Perhaps it will come around again, though there is no sign of it. (As M. John Harrison says of “defeated, resigned landscapes” in The Pastel City, “Or was it just waiting to be born? Who can tell at which end of Time these places have their existence”)?

Those in Eumeswil birth few children; two maximum, not by law but because people can’t be bothered and see no reason to have more children. Abortion is illegal but ignored in practice, along with other vices, such as pederasty and drug use. From a libertarian perspective, pretty much everyone is free to do as he wants, as long as he does not overtly upset the public order (and does not challenge the ruler, on whom more later). History is mostly ignored; the entire society smacks of what is today called postmodernism. In other words, Eumeswil is a stand-in for the modern West, and its people, regardless of their formal type of government, are not analogous to those under Communism in The Forest Passage, but to Jünger’s West German compatriots of the 1970s.

Martin’s father and brother do not approve either of his job with the Condor or of his disinterest in politics. They were prominent partisans of the tribunes, although they were not punished upon their overthrow. (It is not even very risky to oppose the Condor, who executes nobody except a handful of criminals, and governs with a very light touch, though he does exile the most problematic dissidents to offshore islands).

They talk politics incessantly, making family dinners unpleasant, while they hedge their bets, preen themselves, and do nothing, just like all their class. Venator has little sympathy with them (exacerbated by, as he repeatedly notes, his father unsuccessfully having tried to get his mother to kill him in the womb), but fulfils his filial and family obligations.

Venator’s repeated references to his father’s attempts to kill him do not seem incidental; what Jünger appears to be saying is that men like Venator’s father, supposedly devoted to freedom, are in fact mediocrities with no future, happy to serve their own interests (“his rights,” as Venator bitterly calls his father’s attempt to murder him) when push comes to shove, and afraid to take responsibility or take action. They are, thus, the opposite of the forest rebel.

Venator respects the Condor; he has nothing but a distant contempt for the tribunes, even though they seemed to offer more political freedom. They “had stylized the word ‘human’ into a sublime concept.” But their lofty ideals “all cost money, which, however, they collected from concrete and not ideal human beings.”

The tribunes, moreover, were addicted to regulation, such as forbidding private collection of salt so as to maintain their tax revenue, “patrolling by customers inspectors, who ambushed the poor.” They even required the salt sold in government stores to have “mixed in additives that their chemists praised as useful, even though they were injurious.

The fact that men with such minds consider themselves thinkers is forgivable; but they also claim to be benefactors.” Worst of all, the tribunes offered, if not utopias, abstract visions. “ ‘There is no progress,’ I often hear my [father] say; he seems to regard this is a misfortune. He also says, ‘Standing still means going backward.’ ” The little people, in contrast, are satisfied if everyday life remains constant; they prefer to see their chimneys smoking, not their houses.” The type of progress that Venator’s father looks for, in other words, is not progress at all, but false forward movement paid for by others.

Much of the book is taken up with disjointed thoughts, ranging from discussions of how the Condor’s palace, or citadel, the Casbah, is situated a few miles outside the city (complete with references to Machiavelli on such placements), to talk of Venator’s girlfriend, to lengthy expositions of the thought of Venator’s various teachers.

To make sense of Eumeswil, you have to pay close attention, pick out, and weave together what Venator says. The only steady and obvious thread is that he clearly and repeatedly identifies himself as an “anarch”; we can presume, I think, that Venator is here a stand-in for Jünger himself. “Such is the role of the anarch, who remains free of all commitments yet can turn in any direction.”

The anarch is emphatically not an anarchist. The anarchist is focused on overthrowing the existing order, which inevitably leads to its replacement by something not to the anarchist’s taste. The anarch’s goal is, on the contrary, to remain aloof from all political systems. He obeys the law of the state, just as he obeys, automatically, the laws of nature. His internal freedom is what matters.

This concept, of internal freedom, is as far as most mention of Eumeswil ever gets. Venator says, “I am an anarch in space, a metahistorian in time. Hence I am committed to neither the political present nor tradition; I am blank and also open and potent in any direction.” He does not oppose the rules of the society in which he lives. “One must know the rules, whether one is moving in a tyranny, a demos, or a bordello. This holds, above all, for the anarch—it is the second commandment, next to the first: ‘Know thyself.’”

Usually, this conception gets a nod as a type of pure, Zen-like freedom: the sovereign individual, keeping himself internally liberated, but not choosing to fight for formal freedom in the temporal realm. In other words, as with The Forest Passage, a common present-day interpretation of Jünger’s politics is as libertarian—the freedom to do as one chooses, which is what we would have if everyone could take the actions that germinate in an anarch’s head. This is completely wrong. Jünger is instead pushing an elite freedom, the freedom to avoid the mediocrity and oppression of the collective, not the freedom to do as one pleases. The anarch can move in any direction, true, but to what end?

It is the petty and controlling, fake benefactory and semi-utopian, nature of the tribunes to which Venator objects, rather than to their laws as such. The key is that he rejects the tearing down of authority. “Although an anarch, I am not anti-authoritarian. Quite the opposite: I need authority, although I do not believe in it.”

Those would who have unbridled freedom are parasitical and destructive. “Why do people who leave nothing unchallenged still make demands of their own? They live off the fact that gods, fathers, and poets used to exist. . . . In the animal kingdom, there are parasites that clandestinely hollow out a caterpillar.

Eventually, a mere wasp emerges instead of a butterfly. And that is what those people do with their heritage, and with language in particular.” That’s what Jünger really thinks of libertarians, and it’s not pretty. And for the same reasons, Jünger pretty obviously had no use for what liberal democracy has become, with its closely related destructive rush to atomized freedom and total emancipation.

Most of all, Venator objects to the tribunes’ utopian schemes. Remember, in my reading, the tribunes, and Eumeswil itself, are stand-ins for the modern society of the West, which by the 1970s was offering so-called liberal democracy as a utopian panacea, with an insufferable smugness that reached its high point only a few years later in Francis’s Fukuyama’s “end of history.”

Jünger, a man who lived through all the horrors the twentieth century had to offer, had no interest in offering utopias, whether political or philosophical, and had seen first-hand who pays the price for dreams of false progress. At an early age, Venator, and doubtless his alter-ego, Jünger, “formed [his] conviction of the imperfect and peaceless nature of the world.” Given that conviction, all utopias are a mistake, because they are impossible, and only result in misery.

Along these same lines, Venator endorses the core idea of Carl Schmitt that pinning rationales for war on utopian visions of an abstract humanity, rather than a recognition of who the enemy is by nature, results in far worse killing. “If humanity is written on the standard, then this means not only the exclusion of the enemy from society, but the deprivation of all his human rights.” The implication is that for all the supposed freedom under the tribunes, which Venator’s father and brother claim to miss so much, it did not mean anything at all that mattered, and cost more than it brought.

On the other hand, Venator seems to have little objection to the Condor. Yes, Venator regularly, though dispassionately, refers to the Condor as a tyrant. But is he really? If he is, he has nothing to do with modern totalitarianisms. More than once Venator ties him to Periander, the Tyrant of Corinth who died in 585 B.C. Periander was one of the Seven Sages, men of wisdom and power, who also included Thales of Miletus (to whom, among others, the Delphic maxim “Know thyself” is attributed), and Solon of Athens.

Eumeswil is not even a police state. In fact, it allows all sorts of ordered freedoms, and many disordered freedoms, within the constraints of not too directly challenging the ruler. A modest amount of vice is allowed and it appears that there is a sizable amount of low-level corruption greasing the skids of day-to-day life. What shows most of all that he’s not a real tyrant is that Condor can and does openly move around, “discreetly accompanied,” on the public streets and the waterfront, talking to and joking with the people, with whom he is popular. If he is a tyrant, he is a tyrant in the mold of Augustus.

The Condor is explicitly not a despot, by which Jünger means capricious or interested in degrading people to show his power. As far as is evident, Eumeswil has the rule of law. A moderately free press exists. The justice system works. “Tyranny [i.e., the Condor] must value a sound administration of justice in private matters. This, in turn, increases its political authority.”

The Condor does not offer any ideology and is pleased to encourage education and what culture there is, as well as try to improve himself. “The Condor sticks to Machiavelli’s doctrine that a good military and good laws are the fundaments of the state.” Really, the Condor is not dissimilar to Machiavelli’s “new princedom,” like that of, say, Francesco Sforza (who took over Milan in the fifteenth century). (I suspect that a close reading of The Prince with Eumeswil would show quite a few interesting overlaps).

The Condor is fiscally prudent, ensuring a hard money economy and restraining state spending, all of which benefits the common people (and is in contrast to the tribunes, who talked of the common people but despised and harmed them).

ünger may not regard the Condor as ideal, but he regards him as having a form of excellence, of aristocracy, and he thinks little of the mass of the population of Eumeswil, and especially the political class of Venator’s father and brother, where language is degraded, history is ignored, and nobody is very interested in excellence, or, for that matter, true freedom—all just like today’s liberal democracies, but not like Augustan-style “tyrannies.”

Jünger makes it explicit that the anarch is the same as the forest rebel—or at least one conception of the forest rebel. In Eumeswil, however, Jünger seems less enamored of actual action by the forest rebel in The Forest Passage. He denigrates partisan bands and other commitments to political change (such as anarchism), as “stuffy air, unclear ideas, lethal energy, which ultimately put abdicated monarchs and retired generals back in the saddle—and then they show their gratitude by liquidating those selfsame partisans.”

Joining the partisans makes on dependent on them; the anarch’s goal is to avoid dependence, even while he serves someone, whether the Condor or someone else. “The difference is that the forest [rebel] has been expelled from society, while the anarch has expelled society from himself.” Really, though, that’s a distinction without a difference, because the result is the same.

Perhaps, I think, what Jünger is saying is that under a totalitarian tyranny, that of the forest rebel, action may make more sense (something covered in The Forest Passage in some detail), but under the modern tyranny of liberal democracy, action is futile, because it is not the government that is the problem, but the society. If you extend Jünger’s line of thought, the Condor points toward a possible solution to the flaws of liberal democracy, not something against which rebellion is either necessary or desirable.

So what does that imply for the anarch, who can turn in any direction, but presumably will, at some point, choose a direction? Jünger is explicitly not a reactionary in the sense of wanting to return to a better past. In the words of his alter-ego, “It is not that I am awaiting a return to the past, like Chateaubriand, or a recurrence, like Boutefeu [a Nietzsche-like figure]; I leave those matters politically to the conservatives and cosmically to the stargazers. . . . No, I hope for something equal, nay, stronger, and not just in the human domain. Naglfar, the ship of the apocalypse, shifts into a calculable position.”

Naglfar is the ship, in Norse mythology, that will ferry dead men to fight the gods in the final battle, Ragnarök. That is, Jünger wants a renewal, but he sees no way that Eumeswil can be renewed in the usual course of life. The Condor cannot do it, nor does he try. But it is significant, in this context, that the book ends with Venator and the Condor marching into, and disappearing into, the Forest, seeking that which they would find. That is, the book ends with the Condor himself turning forest rebel.

It is just as significant that Venator, the exemplar of the anarch, chooses wholly voluntarily to accompany the Condor as his servant, as his “Xenophon,” on this expedition. Both of them seek excellence and a renewal of things through human action; they are the opposite of José Ortega y Gasset’s “mass man,” the necessary end product of liberal democracy. As one of Venator’s teachers tells him, urging him to go, “A dream comes true in each of our great transformations. You know this as a historian. We fail not because of our dreams but because we do not dream forcefully enough.”

This is not the language of libertarian inertia or pleasure maximization; it is the language of Godfrey in the gate. Nor is it random (nothing in this book is random, even if frequently it is opaque) that in the very brief postscript written by Venator’s brother, committing Venator’s writing to a sealed archive (presumably because his thought is dangerous), he says smugly, “A great deal has changed in the city and, if I may say so, for the better.

The Casbah is now desolate; goatherds pasture their goats inside the walls of the stronghold.” The Condor, and the anarch, may have failed in their goals, but at least they dreamed great dreams, and, even more importantly, took risks to achieve them, unlike the decayed people of Eumeswil, ruled by the even more decayed class of the tribunes.

Thus, despite the common misconception (including that of the excellent Introduction by Russell Berman), this is not a book about the tyranny of Communism, or about tyranny in general, such as that of some banana republic authoritarianism. It is about the specific tyranny and flaws of liberal democracy, the fatal defects of which Jünger saw clearly long before most.

Like Václav Havel, Jünger did not believe that liberal democracy was the solution to much of anything, even if it was better than totalitarianism. Jünger may not have seen, or anticipated, all the specifics of the defects of end-stage liberal democracy, the core problem of which is Ryszard Legutko’s “coercion to freedom.” (Jünger does explicitly prefigure Legutko when he has Venator remark that in Eumeswil, “freedom was consumed for the sake of equality”). Nor did he, at least here, narrate the inherent defects of the Enlightenment project of atomized freedom.

Presumably someone more familiar with Jünger’s voluminous output (much of which is untranslated and which, in the German, runs to twenty-two volumes) could offer a more precise answer, and a more precise slotting of this book into Jünger’s thought.

But still, it is fascinating that Jünger saw our current future long before most, and, perhaps, he also saw possible paths toward, if not finding a solution, at least addressing the problems. Maybe that path is something less dramatic than disappearing into the Forest—but maybe it is marching into it, for nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Arbeit schaendet” (Work is a Disgrace), by Georg Scholz, painted 1920-1921.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Tenth Epistle

It has been almost three years since the tragic death of Isaac. Ruth and Nahum are still struggling with his death. It has affected them deeply to the point of depression. Ezra and Ezekiel have tried to console and help their parents but nothing they have done has made them feel any less remorseful.

Another contributing factor to their stress and poor health are the daily reports of mass murders of Christians in nearby towns and cities. Both the Jews, who resent the new Christian believers and the Romans who are angry that the Christians continue to state their belief in Jesus and his preaching ahead of the Roman Leaders.

Now a new fear is gripping the city of Jerusalem! There are rumors of a Roman attack on the city in the next few years. The attack will be against the Jews, but the new Christians are worried they may be part of the attack too. Many have already fled to other countries.

Nahum and his boys have discussed the possibility of an attack either by Jews or Romans. Considering their relationship with many Jewish customers and the recent non threatening actions of the Roman soldiers they have agreed to continue living their lives as they have been for seventy years.

Nahum and family are feeling safe, but many of their friends and customers have been slaughtered by Jewish rebels as they try to eliminate the followers of Jesus.
The Jews are also shocked and angry thousands of Jews are converting to this new Christianity every day. Even in time of persecution, Jesus word is bringing in new followers.

It is fifty years since Nahum took over his fathers carpentry and leather shop. The boys believe a celebration should be held in honour of this accomplishment.

The boys have been secretly planning an event that they hope will help bring some closure to the death of Isaac and the hundreds of his followers. They also hope it will bring some happiness back into the lives of their parents.

It is a large event they are planning, a huge amount of work and planning and even some fear of the Roman soldiers and the Jewish rebels. After all, Nahum was one of the mob who joined together and shouted CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! and some of those people have remained faithful to the Jewish faith but are still customers today.

After three months of talking, checking, enquiring (secretly) and praying about their plan, they have decided to tell their wives on Saturday night of the plan.

Following dinner, Ezra asked the two ladies to join them in the sitting room where the boys presented their plan. The ladies were awe struck and for some time did not reply. After a while, Hannah looked at Elizabeth and said do you think the ladies from the Guild would be willing to help with the food. There were about fifty women in the Guild, she replied, I am sure they would.

With that Hannah said, ok, lets do it! They all agreed they should keep it a secret from Ruth and Nahum, but should discuss it with the larger family before undertaking such a big event. They made a plan for each of them to reach out to various family members and get their approval. They are to meet again in two weeks.

Two weeks later the two couples met and exchanged the results of their respective visits. The visits all went well, and many of the visits resulted in offers to assist. Joshua said he had four large barrels of fine wine he would bring! That was an important aspect that they all smiled about.

The most important and dangerous part of the plan was the fact the event would be open for both the new Jesus people; Christians, and the Jewish community. They would also have to get the approval from Claudius and the Roman soldiers. Was this too dangerous a mix? Only time would tell.

The Christian community around this part of Jerusalem was not being persecuted by either the Jews or the Romans, however, only a few miles away there were horror stories of mass killings, tortures and persecution of the Christians. Would this Event be noticed by these factions who could easily slaughter hundreds of unarmed, innocent people.

Ezra and Ezekiel decided on a plan that would give them some assurance of a safe and danger free event. They would consult with various people to get their reaction to the idea.

When the boys reconvened the next week, they were pleased with the responses they got from their contacts. Ezra has spoken with some of his Jewish friends and leaders while Ezekiel visited Claudius.

They were assured from both fronts that there was no danger if they agreed to two rules. That there be no religious activities, and no political involvement or participation. Both boys agreed this could be attained, although they were very disappointed they could not talk about their new friend Jesus, but realized the danger that could come to them if they aggravated the Romans or the Jews. They decided to ask God for forgiveness and forged ahead with their plans.

Now it was time to get to work, and there was a lot of work for everyone. They decided they would have a meeting during one afternoon when they knew Nahum would be at home. Also, there would be no suspicions about a secret meeting held during the day.

On Thursday, fourteen people arrived at the shop. Ezekiel took the lead and presented the plans. He was supported by Ezra, Elizabeth and Hannah.

The Event would be a celebration of fifty years of Nahum The Carpenter. There would be an open invitation to anyone and everyone. There would be food, wine, children’s games, music, horse and wagon valet service, and Ruth and Nahum would be comfortably seated where all the guests could stop by and say hello.

This brief synopsis begged many questions! Who would do the cooking? Abraham had volunteered to cook a large steer on an open pit; Elizabeth and Hannah had spoken to two local Ladies Guilds and over forty ladies would look after the remaining food. Market Man had offered to bring large baskets of fresh fruit, and of course Joshua was bringing the wine.

Who was looking after the children: Hannah and Sara had reached out to three teacher friends and they agreed to assist along with several teenagers from the local schools. What about the horses and wagons. Here, Ezra was so proud of his “horse friends”, many had volunteered to meet the wagons and after unloading the passengers would drive the wagons to near by fields where there would be shade, water and hay for the animals. There were enough volunteers that they could take turns and still enjoy some of the festivities too.

What about the music? This proved to be another proud moment for the two boys. First of all Ezekiel had played in a band with some of his friends. They enjoyed sacred music as well as some of the present day modern music. They would play in an area where people could listen, dance and sing as they chose. Then, the big surprise came from Sara and Hannah. They had met a young girl, Demetra, while at medical school in Athens. As well as training in the medical field she was also an aspiring entertainer. She followed the music of Sappho and her brother accompanied her on the Lyre. Both Hannah and Sara had attended several of her concerts while training in Athens. Although her music was primarily Greek, her beautiful voice and amazing poetry of Sappho made for wonderful musical entertainment.

When contacted by Sara she agreed to come if she and her brother could be given some travel expense money and a place to stay. Hannah explained that the Medical Centre had saved enough to assist with travel expenses and Elizabeth had offered the new home that had been Miriamne and Yohanan’s apartment as a place to stay.

The participants were all nodding their approval as the couple explained their plans. Two final questions were asked: how many people did they expect, and who was going to pay for all this? Again, the boys explained they had done some research and came up a number of 300 guests! since much of the labour was being donated, most of the costs would be assisting in paying for the food.

The boys had prepared a budget for the purchase of the foods and to reimburse the ladies for the purchase of vegetables etc. This would not be an issue.

On Monday Ezra and Ezekiel retraced their steps of a few weeks ago and revisited the leaders to advise them the Event was a go. Now it is time to get to work.

The photo shows, “The Marriage at Cana,” by Tintpretto, painted in 1561.

Sergei Yesenin: Tragedy And Poetry

The prominent Silver Age poet was never far from controversy.

“My Russia, wooden Russia! I am your only singer and herald”

Sergei Yesenin was born in the village of Konstantinovo in Ryazan Region on Oct. 3, 1895. From the window of his house, he could see a church and the hilly bank of the Oka River – all of which he would often recall in his poems.

He began writing poems as a child, and when he left school, he headed to conquer the literary world of Moscow, where he published his first poems.

Soon, in search of fame, he moved to St. Petersburg, where he attended literary salons wearing traditional clothing, bast shoes or felt boots, with sheets of his poems wrapped in a rural headscarf.

The stunt – canny self-promotion in an age well before the PR industry – worked brilliantly, and the self-taught village poet with a mop of golden curls became incredibly popular. In 1916, he had the opportunity to perform to the family of Emperor Nicholas II.


“Infamy has come to me, / That I am an abuser and scandalmonger”

Yesenin also earned notoriety as a troublemaker. He was closely involved with the literary scene and often teased other poets. His best-known literary duels were with another famous poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky.

With his love of rural space, Yesenin did not accept his counterpart’s revolutionary and industrial poems. Mayakovsky, however, urged him not to waste his talent describing nature and dedicate it to Bolshevism instead.

During a public poetry reading Yesenin told Mayakovsky that he would not give “his” Russia to him: “Russia is mine! And you are an American!” To that, Mayakovsky replied sarcastically: “Take it, here you are! Eat it with bread!”

“Many women loved me, and I loved more than one, too”

Love is the second major theme in Yesenin’s work. A handsome ladies’ man, the poet had four children from his numerous affairs. His first common-law wife, Anna, gave birth to a son, Yuri, in 1914, but Yesenin left his family for St. Petersburg and only rarely visited the child.

In 1917, he married the beautiful actress Zinaida Reich, who gave birth to a daughter, Tatyana, and a son, Konstantin. The separated two years later, and Reich soon married the renowned director Vsevolod Meyerhold, becoming one of Moscow’s most famous actresses.

The poet’s second official wife was the American dancer Isadora Duncan. She was 18 years older than him and neither spoke the other’s language. Their marriage was full of endless scandals and lasted about two years. The poet accompanied Duncan on tour in Europe and America, where he would perform at parallel literary events.

Sofya, Yesenin’s third wife, was Leo Tolstoy’s granddaughter, Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya. The poet married her a few months before his death, and this was also an unhappy marriage. “Everything here is too filled with the ‘great old man,’ it is choking me,” Yesenin complained while living in Sofya’s home. It is Tolstaya who did a lot to preserve his legacy and left memoirs about him.

“Silly heart, don’t beat …”

Yesenin greeted the 1917 Revolution with enthusiasm and the hope that Russia would be transformed, but he soon saw the hunger, destruction and terror in the country, and began describing apocalyptic scenes: “the garden of skulls” and “rabid glow of corpses.”

In his long poem, “Pugachev” – about the famous rebel and impostor who organized a mass revolt against Catherine II – Yesenin turns to the theme of confrontation between power and the people. The Land of Scoundrels, another long poem, would continue this theme.

In 1924, a year before his death, in the poem. “The Return Home,” he describes a ravaged village with its poor wooden houses and a calendar portrait of Lenin hanging instead of an icon. Seeing Yesenin as an ideological and cultural danger, the authorities harassed the poet, bringing arbitrary court cases against him.

In 1925, nervous breakdowns, alcoholism and pressure from the authorities landed Yesenin in a mental hospital. A month later he was found hanging from a pipe in the Angleterre Hotel in Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was known in the Soviet Union). The previous day, Yesenin had composed his final poem, “Goodbye, my Darling, Goodbye,” in blood:

Goodbye, my darling, goodbye
My love, you are forver in my heart.
This farewell was preordained
As shall be our reunion.

Goodbye. No handshake or fond word.
Let’s not have sadness furrow the brow.
There’s nothing new in dying now
And nothing new in living either.

The official cause of death was suicide, but many alternative versions have been put forward in the last decade. The most common is that the troublesome poet was murdered by the Soviet authorities.

Inna Parfenova writes about literature and culture for Russia Beyond.

The photo shows a portrait of Sergei Yesenin. Provenance and authorship unknown.

Music Of The Renaissance

The spirit of change that was transforming so much of art and culture in the Renaissance also touched the musical styles of the period, the most important of which was polyphony, or the blending of several individual melodies, which ultimately led to the development of harmony.

By about 1500, polyphony included vocal orchestration, or the grouping of contrasting voices. This gave not only depth to the music and the singing, but also a rich texture, since various melodies could enter, depart and re-enter in a piece of work.

As well, this interaction of melodies was given greater color by the use of different rhythms for each of these melodies. This combination of various individual melodies to form a single musical mode reflected the ideals of the Renaissance, which always sought perfection and unity.

During this time, choirs were relatively small and consisted of 26 singers, exclusively male, in which the soprano parts were sung by boys or men who could sing falsetto, or a higher pitched tenor. Also, instruments began to be introduced as accompaniments to the choir. Only the choir of the Sistine Chapel was strictly forbidden to use instruments in its choral singing.

The Renaissance also saw the separation of music into religious and secular forms. The most important religious styles were the Mass and the Motet.

The Mass referred to the musical setting of that part of the Church worship known as the Ordinary, which consisted of five sections for which music was needed. The words of the Ordinary provided the text that Renaissance composers could set to music.

The Motet was the musical setting of those parts of the Church service that were not part of the Ordinary. Usually, the words used for Motets were familiar to the worshippers and provided composers with the opportunity to reach a profound expression that would be both moving and meaningful.

In fact, the composer sought to interpret the truth of the words through music. It was the motet that brought about a unique change in music – the unity of words and melody. It is something that we take for granted today, but we have to keep in mind that before the Renaissance, music always took a secondary role to the words. In the sixteenth century and onwards, both words and music were equally important.

The secular version of the Motet was the Madrigal, which was an intimate form of music, performed by a small group of singers, both male and female, accompanied by a lute. The Madrigal was in a sense chamber music, since it was created to provide entertainment for members of the aristocracy. Some famous madrigalists are Carlo Gesualdo (ca. 1560-1613) and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) in Italy; while in England we have William Byrd (1543-1623), Thomas Morley (1558-1603), and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625).

Many important composers flourished in this era, such as Guillaume Dufay (ca. 1400-1477), who was a popular French composer, and was the first one to write large-scale Masses for four voices. These massive works, which often reworked a famous melody, began a style that was to remain popular throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

He is also famous for writing beautiful instrumental pieces, such as “Se la face ay pale” and “L’Homme armé. “When, in 1420, the dome of the cathedral of Florence, built by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), was dedicated, it was Dufay who was commissioned to compose a special a dedicatory motet, which he called “Nuper rosarum flores” (“The Flowers of Roses”).

Josquin des Prez (ca. 1440-1521) was born in what is now Belgium, but moved to Italy, where he became the court musician to the Dukes of Milan and Ferrara, and later served in the Papal Chapel at Rome. He was very famous in his own time, and was often called the “Michelangelo of music,” and Martin Luther referred to him as “the master of notes.” Josquin’s music was effortless, which made full use of the flexibility of polyphony, while creating beautiful melodies. His most famous work is the “Missa Pange Lingua.”

Palestrina (ca. 1525-1594) was another renowned composer whose name is often used to illustrate the music of the Renaissance, since he was regarded, in his own time, as creating the purest and the most perfect melodies and songs. A careful balance of ascending and descending phrases that gives a smooth flow to his music marks his work.

A famous contemporary of his was Lassus (1532-1594), a prolific composer,  who created some two thousand works, both religious and secular. He transformed the contrasting melodies of polyphony into expressive harmony. He was a master of matching the mood of the words with appropriate music, and he could write songs that were deeply moving as well as those that were humorous.

His fame was such that the Emperor Maximilian II made him a noble, and he was much favored by Pope Gregory XIII and King Charles IX of France. One his most famous works is the religious piece entitled, “Tristia est anima mea” (“Sorrowful is my soul”), which was published in 1565.

It is often said that the Renaissance was a time of immense musical variety and richness, and it was one of the few times in musical history that so many acknowledged masters flourished at the same time.

 

The photo shows, “The Concert” by Gerard van Honthorst, painted ca. 1623.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Eighth Epistle

I should explain how the request to build wagons with seats on them came about. It all happened after the purchase of Yohanan and Miriamme’s farm, about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Here is the story!

What was once Nahum’s grandfather’s little leather shop is now a multi-functional operation.

It all started with a visit by Isaac to Miriamme and Yohanan’s. The elderly couple asked Isaac to invite Nahum and Ezra to come to their home for dinner on Friday.

Nahum and Ezra left early with Samuel and Ethan managing the shop. They rode their horses to see Yonanan and Miriamme.

Miriamme had prepared a sumptuous dinner and while the couple was certainly showing their age, they were both able to chat and converse very well.

After dinner, the couple surprised Nahum and Ezra when they presented them with a proposal that neither of them expected.

They told the men that they were now too old to run their farm and would like to sell it to Nahum and his son. They had two conditions, and they believed only Ezra could fulfill these conditions.

So, what are the conditions? Well, number one they wanted to be promised that the course piece of property at the east end of the farm, near the side road, would be the home of a future Christian Church.

Number two, they would like Ezra and Elizabeth to live in the main home and Yohanan and Miriamme would live in the small apartment. They would live separately, but wanted the security of knowing that someone was close by if/when needed. The amount they wanted for the farm was significantly less than the market value, partly because they had no heirs, but mainly because they wanted a Church built on their property.

Nahum and Ezra left with a promise they would return within three days with their answer.

When the two men reached town, they decided to meet with their wives immediately as this was a significant offer and affected all of them. They met at Nahums late into the evening.

The wives were more awe struck than the men! They could not believe they could be blessed with such a kind offer. They all agreed that Nahum should visit the Banker tomorrow morning to secure necessary credit and paper work.

The meeting with the Banker went well, Nahum had saved over the years and Ezra had received large gifts of money at their wedding. Also, Nahum was a respected businessman and member of the community so a small loan was no problem.

Nahum, Ruth, Ezra and Elizabeth returned to the couples home on Monday. Nahum said he would like to accept their offer and he had made arrangements with the Banker Man to transfer the funds into their account. Elizabeth startled the group when she stood and said she had another condition on the offer. Miriamme was quick to reply that the offer they had presented to Nahum was not open for dispute. But Elizabeth stood firm and said she insisted. Ok, Miriamme said what is it??

Elizabeth replied that the deal depended on Miriamme agreeing to teach Elizabeth how to cook and bake. The old woman jumped up and threw her arms around Elizabeth and said you will be my daughter. The deal was completed that night.

Now came the need to sell the old shop which was difficult for Nahum, because it had been handed down for four generations.

One day a well dressed man riding in an elaborate carriage stopped at the shop, looking for Nahum. His name was Jonathon; he was a very wealthy land developer who was looking for property to build an inn. He said he was talking to Banker Man who told him about Nahums shop being for sale.

He thought the site of the old shop was ideal as it was just off the main roadway and stood alone, not too close to any other buildings. Of course Nahum was anxious to sell, even though his heart was still aching about giving up his family property.

The discussions were very short, both parties agreed on a price and a closing date and both parties were happy!

Over the next six months a new shop was built with a modern, clean bright Medical Centre for Elizabeth.

One day just after the new shop opened a carriage stopped out front and Jonathon got out. Nahum welcomed him warmly and invited him for a tour.

Jonathon then said to Nahum and Ezra, within an hour a large wagon would be arriving with something for the new shop. A short time later a four horse team with a huge wagon arrived. The driver parked and two riders proceeded to climb up and open the load. They then dropped down two large crates.  Inside was some furniture. Nahum and Ezra went over and shook Jonathon’s hand and gave him a warm hug. Jonathon explained that when he was ordering furniture for his new inn, he thought you might like to have some new furniture for your office and lunch room. He added that he appreciated the honest way they had conducted the sale, and for the wonderful job Ezra had done on his lawns. He was very grateful.

While they were dismantling the crates Jonathon asked who the elderly couple was. When Ezra explained he walked over and introduced himself. Yohanan was so in awe of the carriage that he could hardly speak. He finally said, Mister that is the most beautiful carriage I have ever seen!. Thank you Jonathon replied, would you like to see inside, oh please may we? With that the driver was instructed to show them.

Jonathon then went over and whispered in Ezra’s ear. With a huge smile Ezra replied FOR SURE!!!!

When the couple got down Jonathon approached them and said, I am driving to my new inn to oversee the unloading of the wagon, and then I am returning home, would you like to join me? I will drop you off back here in about six hours. We can stop and have dinner on the way back.

The couple looked at each, neither one knowing what to say! They were both in such awe now. Finally Ezra said, ok let’s go, I will join you, I can sit with the driver and you two can stay inside. Oh my, Miriamme replied, let us go home for a few minutes to put on nicer clothes. Both men smiled and said take your time!

A few minutes later they returned nicely attired in their best clothes and Miriamme brought along some fresh biscuits she had baked and some cold tea. They were both so excited to ride in such a luxurious carriage. It was a monumental day for the couple.

**************

Elizabeth woke Ezra one early morning and said she was going into labour. Ezra called Miriamme from her sleep and the two of them helped Elizabeth deliver a healthy little boy. They said they would name him Paul, after the disciple Zeke had been working with. The grandparents were delighted.

A few weeks later a baptismal was held and the usual discussion by the grandparents took place with each pair claiming Paul looked like their side of the family. Elizabeth, Ezra and Miriamme all smiled to themselves. It was truly a happy gathering.

*************

During the next year Nahum and Ezra had the good fortune to purchase a blacksmith shop from old friend Seth who wanted to retire and actually move not far from the new shop.

Nahum was always proud at how the ladies in his family could speak freely and be part of any and all discussions. When the discussion of the blacksmith shop came up Elizabeth and Ruth with support from Hannah, said the blacksmith shop should be a separate building away from the main shop and the clinic. Nahum and Ezra were surprised and proud of the ladies for speaking up and making a good point. It was agreed the blacksmith shop would be away from the clinic and downwind too.

The deal went smooth with Seth supervising the transition and relocation. While this was taking place another friend mentioned to Ezra that his cousin was a blacksmith in Rome but wanted to return home. When Nahum and Ezra were interviewing the young man, Bartholomew or Bart, he asked if they had considered building wagons now that they had a blacksmith shop. They were surprised but said why are you asking? He said that a friend of his who worked at the same large plant in Rome, building wagons, was also looking to move back to the Jerusalem area.

It was not long after that Bartholomew, or Bart and his friend Ethan were members of the Nahum the Carpenter shop and they were now making sandals, repairing harness, fixing implements and building wagons! Much different to the shop of twenty years ago!.

When Joshua heard of this he was so anxious to see Nahum and ask him if he could order a new wagon. He ordered one for himself and two for neighbours. The wagon business had started.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

The photo shows, “The Forge of Vulcan,” by Francesco Bassano the Younger, painted in the latter part of the 16th century.

Shusaku Endo: Some Thoughts

Shusaku Endo’s short story, “The War Generation” explores the various facets of conflict that have become part of the human condition. Given that the thrust of the short story is an investigation into conflict, the theme of the story is humanity’s overcoming of hardship. Let us explore these concepts further.

Conflict takes various forms in the story. Primarily, we have the conflict between man and man. The Second World War, and the appearance of the B-29s that fly over the skies of Tokyo raining down death best exemplify this. We also have the conflict of man against nature in that there is an innate ferocity that nature possesses against which mankind must struggle. Thus, when Ono Mari first enters the restaurant, Konishi notes that the rain looks like “needles.” Also, Konishi loses his friend, Inami, to disease in Korea. Plus, there is the image of the sky looking like stuffed with “tattered cotton swabs.” This certainly mirrors the larger conflict of the War. Further, there is the conflict of man against himself. Thus, Konishi must struggle to overcome his own fear at being drafted into the army, and when his friend Inami is drafted, he can only comfort him saying that he will be getting his notice soon as well. This sort of resignation highlights the entire notion of death living side-by-side with the “war generation.” Death is all around them – in nature, in the air-raids, in the their struggle to eat and to survive. As well, the war has also dehumanized them. Konishi and his co-workers are merely cogs in the great machinery of the F. Heavy Industries factory. All the young workers yearn to be human; they yearn for human contact in the form of books and food, and then women. But the factory denies them their humanity; they are merely components that keep the war industry churning – while the recruits themselves supply the raw fodder on which the war industry runs.

The point of view of the story is the first person, with the narrator being Konishi. The point of view is his associative recollections, and observation. Thus, sitting in the restaurant, he sees Ino Mari walking in, and this opens the floodgates of memory about the war years. Of course, the first person narration calls into question the reliability of Konishi’s point of view, especially at the end, when we see the great gap that lies between his wife and his daughters. Konishi is extremely alienated from his family, symbolized by the fact that he cannot understand why his daughters like electric guitar music. Characterization depends on description. Thus for example, Ino Mari’s fine features are highlighted.

The setting of the story is two-fold. First, we have the restaurant where Konishi sits drinking sake, and when he sees Ino Mari, his mind wanders back to the war years and the days of his youth. There is frequent use of symbolism in the story. For example, we have Ino Mari’s violin, which captures the idea of all that is best in humanity, despite the fact that it is being handled by a young woman whose house had just been bombed, and it is playing to an audience who does not know if they will be bombed next. This further suggests the theme of humanity’s overcoming of hardship. Despite the hardships of the war, and the death of imminent death, Konishi and the music lovers gather to hear Ino Mari play Western music. And Ino Mari herself makes a supreme to make sure she shows up for the concert. Thus, there is a great redemptive quality of music in that it frees us from our hardships and unites us all in one as humanity. Despite the bombs, the people of Tokyo find time to sit down and listen to Fauré, Saint-Saens, and Beethoven. Thus, music transcends conflict, and allows us to become decent human beings.

Therefore, we see that Shusaku Endo’s short story “The War Generation” explores the idea of conflict, and comes to the conclusion that despite our differences there are things that unite us all as humanity.

 

The photo shows a print of the Sino-Japanese War, dated ca. 1904.