My pursuit of the decadent movement around the globe has led me to the Russian variety, and one of its foremost practitioners Fyodor Sologub. I started to read his best known work The Petty Demon again, and, although it’s very good and acute, and I remember digging it when I first read it twenty odd years ago, it’s more a satiric work in the vein of Gogol and it just didn’t have the esoteric level that I’m enjoying from the decadents. Instead I got a copy of The Created Legend from a remarkable English print on demand outfit called The Echo Library ( www.echo-library.com ) created by a noble bookseller (aren’t they all – hahhah) dedicated to reprinting a lot of the classic literature our present materialistic literary world refuses to keep in print. And it is a remarkable work which reminded me quite a bit of Meyrink in its intermingling of contemporary political anxiety and eternal occult truths. In this case the anxiety is in the aftermath of the abortive Russian uprising of 1905 and the occultist is the mystery man Trirodov who is committed in the great tradition to finding his own immortality through knowledge and experiment rather than the grace of some overbearing deity. There are some thoroughly remarkable passages and effects in the book, but it really doesn’t hang together as a novel, perhaps because what is here published as The Created Legend is, in fact, just Drops of Blood, the first part of a trilogy by that name. But until that day that the other two parts are available, it’ll have to do.
One thing that occurred to me as I read was that all the appurtenances of the police state that we associated with Communist Russia, like secret police and informers denouncing people and sending them to Siberia, or even corrupt and brutal minor functionaries, were already firmly in place under the Czar, reminding us that these things did not exist because of Communism, but were part of the extant system. Similarly freedom was already being legislated away in Weimar Germany before the Fascists gained power. We are told because we’re not a totalitarian state that such things can’t be possible in our country as "Patriot" acts are passed, more autocratic power is afforded the President and organizations without oversight like Homeland Security fester, but clearly once Bush has put the mechanisms in place, even though he won’t be able to use them as he wishes, the precedent is now there and future presidents will have all the buttons at their fingertips.
I’ll begin with an interesting snippet from the introduction written in 1916 by one John Cournos (who, I’m shocked to learn, is most famous for his unhappy love affair with Dorothy L. Sayers!). The reference to Botticelli is especially interesting in light of my last blog entry:
Being an antithesis to the analytical novel, this novel treats sex, not as a psychology but as a philosophy; nuances are avoided, the feminine figure becomes a symbol, drawn, not photographically but broadly, in fluent, even exaggerated Botticellian outlines. The feminine figure, nude or thinly draped, has been used as symbol for ideas in the plastic arts ever since art was born; our puritans have never been faced with the problem of what some of the mythological divinities in stone would do is they should suddenly some to life, become human.
O.K., while I’m getting the image of a thinly draped Dorothy L. Sayers out of my mind, here’s some bits from the novel itself:
She gracefully threw off her clothes and stood before Tirodov with uplifted arms. She was sinuously slender, like a white serpent. Crossing the fingers of her upraised hands, she bent her whole body forward, so that she appeared more sinuously slender than ever, and the curve of her body almost resembled a white ring. Then she relaxed her arms, stood up erect, all tranquil and self-possessed, and said: I want you to take a good look at me.
Our dark, earthly nature is suffused with a cruel voluptuousness. Such is the imperfection of the human breed that a single human vessel contains all the deepest ecstasies of love and all the lowest delights of lust, and the mixture is poisoned with shame and with pain – and with the desire for shame and pain. From one fountain come both the gladdening raptures and the gladdening lusts of the passions.
Even in the tale of a poet in love with beauty, the nudity of a chaste body calls out the judgement of hypocrites and the rage of people with perverted imaginations, as if it were the arrogant nudity of a prostitute. The austere virtue of these people is attached to them externally. It cannot withstand any kind of temptation or enticement. They know this and cautiously guard themselves from seduction.